Maryse Letarte

Christmas is nigh (40 days and counting), Christmas-albums and -songs are being released. Really looking forward to Michel Legrand’s seasonal album, featuring guestspots from Olivia Ruiz, Carla Bruni and Coeur de Pirate (preview here). One of the bestest Christmasalbums of recent date was 2008’s Des pas dans la neige by Canadian songstress Maryse Letarte. Only original tracks, very atmospherical, solid songs. Her album is re-released with a French bonus track, a translation of Boom Boom (originally sung in English) (it’s a Christmassong, trust me). Tips about French x-mas tracks are welcomed in the comments. This also gives me the opportunity to say that Christmasmusicblog Christmas-a-gogo has opened! Listen to more Maryse via her Soundcloud-page

Maryse Letarte – Boom Boom

Mina Tindle

Mina Tindle (her real name is Pauline) is a French folkster who doesn’t sing with a heavy accent (just a charming one) and makes very pretty songs. Feist, Nina Simone, Fleet Foxes, Alela Diane, those are her favourites. She self-released an EP, that contains one French song. Love her high-pitched voice, and I wish she’d sing some more in the language of love. Mina’s supporting Coeur de Pirate in December in Belgium and France. See the video for her single To Carry Many Small Things here. See her do a Bob Dylan cover here. Go here to download a Caetano Veloso cover.

Mina Tindle – Plein nord (demo)

In other news: listen to the stream of the upcoming Christmasalbum by Michel Legrand + guests here. The songs with Coeur de Pirate, Renan Luce and Emilie Simon are up. Carla Bruni, Iggy Pop and Olivia Ruiz will no doubt follow

All Roads Lead to Melody 3 – the covers

The list of coverversions from Histoire de Melody Nelson-songs is long, and the interpretations vary. Jazzy, rockin’, pastoral, in various languages – it’s all here. If you know of more versions, please let me know. More on the superb reissue here, more on the use of samples from albumtracks here.

On Youtube:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt covers Melody here
Charlotte Gainsbourg covers Hôtel Particulier here
Dr Brazuk & Mt Crab cover La ballade de Melody Nelson here
Jean-Louis Murat covers La ballade de Melody Nelson here
Benjamin Biolay covers La ballade de Melody Nelson here
Les Provocateurs cover several Melody Nelson-tracks here
Aurèle covers La ballade de Melody Nelson here
Miam Monster Miam & Sopie Galet cover La ballade de Melody Nelson here


La ballade de Melody Nelson:
Vanessa Paradis & Johnny Depp
Aidan Bartley (English)
L&A Music
Mick Harvey (English)
Placebo (English)
The Serge Gainsbourg Experience (English)
Todd Bishop (instrumental, jazz)
Shahar Even Tzur (Hebrew version)
Fred Frith

Valse de Melody:
Aldo Romano, Baptiste Trotignon & Rémi Vignolo (instrumental, jazz)
Friture Moderne (instrumental, jazz)
Jane Birkin
Noel Akchoté (acapella)
Sasha Andrès & The Recyclers
Shahar Even Tzur (Hebrew version)
Todd Bishop (instrumental, jazz)

En Melody:
Kahimi Karie

Hôtel Particulier:
Michael Stipe (English)
Eric Elmosnino (From the movie Vie Héroique)
Mick Harvey (English)
Giorgio Bassmatti (Basque version)
Les Rita Mitsouko
Shahar Even Tzur (Hebrew version)

All Roads Lead To Melody 2 – the samples

Tracks from Histoire de Melody Nelson spice up tracks by rappers (De La Soul was the first band to sample Serge), triphoppers, singer-songwriters and French funnymen. Here’s a resumé of all tracks that have a Melody Nelson-sample. If you know of/have more, let me know. Tomorrow: the cover versions.


Sample source En Melody:
David Holmes – S***! S***! S***! (from the Ocean’s 13 OST) (2007)
De La Soul – Not over ’til the Fat Lady plays the demo (1991)

Sample source La ballade de Melody Nelson:
Soul Position – Survival (feat. Greenhouse effect) (2003)
French Cowboy – La ballade de Baby Face Nelson (2007)

Sample source Ah! Melody:
De La Soul & Cee-Lo Green – Held down (2001)

Sample source Valse de Melody:
Luke Vibert – Voyage into the unknown (also contains a sample of 69 Année Erotique) (1997)

Sample source Cargo culte:
Princess Superstar – You get mad at Napster (2002)
Massive Attack – KarmaComa (Portishead remix) (1995)
Lickweed – La structure et l’instinct (1997)
Mirwais – V.I. (2000)
David Holmes – Don’t Die Just Yet (1997)
Beck – Paper Tiger (2002)
Beatnuts – Superbad (1994)
2 Bal 2 Neg – La magie du tiroir (1996)
Pop Will Eat Itself – Home (1994)

EXTRA: two tracks mashing up Serge and jazz-singer Oscar Brown Jr, using Melody Nelson-songs. HERE

Rufus sings Serge

Rufus Wainwright sings Serge Gainsbourg’s Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais on the album by Serge’s son Lulu. Not the first time Rufus sings in French, and not the first time he sings a song that relates to Serge. It’s one of the few highlights on the From Gainsbourg to Lulu album. The music and arrangements are okay (love the Brazilian touch of l’Eau a la bouche), but having Iggy Pop singing in French has never been a good idea (remember?), Shane McGowan in French is godawful and the less that’s said about Lulu’s singing voice, the better. The Ballade de Melody Nelson-duet between Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp is so-so (I will do a post on Melody Nelson-related samples and covers later) and  Scarlett Johansson can act, but she sure can’t sing. Marianne Faithfull is an acquired taste, yes, but ‘Manon’ fits her quite good, I’d say. Still, it’s a disappointment. You can save up for Charlotte’s double-album, to be released in December.

Rufus Wainwright – Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais


All roads lead to Melody

‘We found ourselves working with a sort of UFO. We were building something completely unprecedented, without knowing how people were going to react to it. We weren’t in the process of interpreting a song or an existing score, nor was it merely a simple album with a series of songs.’ Says Jean-Claude Vannier in the extensive liner-notes to the superb reissue of 1971’s Histoire de Melody Nelson. Unprecedented, sure: the music was there before the lyrics. But the music and the lyrics weren’t made up from scratch. Arranger/producer Jean-Claude Vannier admitted to listening to a lot of Frank Zappa prior to the Melody Nelson recordings. He was autodidactic, taught himself by listening to Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and a lot of jazz (Evans, Monk). Serge, who devoured classic poetry, Russian classical music and jazz-standards (he said to Vannier: ‘You’re Cole, I’m Porter’) had trouble writing the lyrics. A case is made about the first appearance of Melody Nelson (=Jane Mallory Birkin), the nymphet in songs like l’Eau à la bouche and Une petite tasse d’anxiété (his duet with Gillian Hills). It is revealed (to me, at least) that music from Valse de Melody was used in a series of adverts for Martini (see here).

Melody was initially planned as a series of short stories, similar to children’s books. He explored this earlier with the series Marie-Mathematique, a comic strip on tv, for which Serge composed the music (only guitar and double bass) and recites the texts.  You can see 3 episodes of Marie-Math here. Also influential was L’histoire du soldat, a musical story  from 1917 by Swiss poet Ramuz and Russian composer Stravinsky. In the 80s, Serge played a role in a tv-adaptation of this piece (as the devil), but he sure was familiair with it from a young age. The lyrics in the piece aren’t sung, more spoken. You can see versions of the piece on Youtube here.

Andy Votel, mastermind behind the brilliant Finders Keepers label, wrote a big piece on who played on Histoire de Melody Nelson. For on the original album, no musicians were mentioned. Vannier was unsure. No notes were left, apparantly. But Tony Frank, who shot the album cover, discovered some pictures. By magifying some of the shots, bassplayer Dave Richmond was identified. When Votel contacted him, he said that he ‘never heard that album before’. ‘But there’s no doubt at all that that is me on all the tracks’. Richmond, who played on various KPM-library music records and sessions for many big name artists like Elton John, had a Burns bass guitar. ‘The Black Bison bass’ as he calls it, has a longer neck which helped the technique for getting that plopping or clicking sound that is so distinctive in the Melody Nelson-tracks. The sound is specific for his 60 watt Fender Bassman valve amp, and he flexible clean Rotosound bass strings. Votel cites Richmonds composition Confunktion (from a KPM album) as a good example of this technique. By the way, Richmond worked with Gainsbourg earlier, that’s his bass on 69 Annee Erotique.

The guitarplayer on the album is another session hand used before (and after) by Gainsbourg: Alan Parker. But who’s the drummer?  No-one knows. Not Dougie Wright, according to his diary he was at another studio during the three April dates in 1970. Not Terry Cox, who was in America with Pentangle. Barry Morgan maybe? Brian Bennett? Ronnie Verell? It will remain a mystery.

Another fun fact from the liner notes: the Hotel Particulier was based on the Parisian hotel where Oscar Wilde died. And on an actual brothel, visited by Vannier and Gainsbourg when they were recording Michèle Mercier’s La fille qui fait tchic ta tchic. The bronzes statues that are mentioned in the lyrics of L’Hôtel  Particulier, were in that brothel. The laughing girl you hear is Jane, who’s tickled by Serge.

Finally: on the extra album, called Les Sessions Melody Nelson that features longer and alternative versions, a track appears that wasn’t used on the official release. It’s called Melody lit Babar, Jane says in the liner-notes that this song was written to emphasize how young Melody was. And it’s a reference to the Babar-doll and -books that Jane’s first daughter Kate had. You can see that doll in the picture.

And that’s just a few of the discoveries and background provided by this fantastic reissue. You need this, trust me.

Dave Richmond – Confunktion
Michele Mercier – La fille qui fait tchic ta tchic
Serge Gainsbourg – Melody lit Babar

Ah, Melody

-M- and General Elektriks played a Melody Nelson-medley on Taratata last week:

Catherine Major

Ooh Canada. You’re spoiling us. Chloé Lacasse, Salomé LeClerc, Coeur de Pirate of course and now the third album by Catherine Major. Less 60s influenced then CdP’s album, but also piano-driven, lots and lots of strings and very touching songs.  You could say that Le désert des solitudes is more French, more classic chanson then Lacasse, LeClerc or CdP who are heavily influenced by American music culture. Which is fine with me, especially when I hear beautiful songs like Bien. Ooh Catherine.

Catherine Major – Bien

London Tribute

French born singer June Caravel made a (Camille-style) tribute to her new hometown London. Almost every word in the lyrics is referring to a street in the British capital. It took six days to shoot, and six days to edit. Read the full story here.