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The day Gainsbourg propelled Eurovision into modernity

At the end of the line, the singer Marie-Claire Buzy, a time muse of Gainsbourg, tells us: In 85, I asked Serge to come and attend a studio session for the album I was recording in his honor, I love you Lulu. Then we went to dinner in a 19th century restaurantand and when he got out, he lay down in the middle of the road and he said, “Anyway, they’re going to recognize me. I can’t get run over!” Except that it was dark, poorly lit and dangerous, even though the street was almost empty. I was freaking out and begging him to get up! But he lay there for quite a while.” Serge Gainsbourg or audacity.

This audacity, Maritie Carpentier, producer of Radio Luxembourg in 1965, solicits it when she proposes to the singer to create, that year, the song which will represent Luxembourg at Eurovision, in Italy. Gainsbourg, still relatively unknown to the general public despite some successes of esteem, seduced Maritie Carpentier during her television appearances in two programs she produced, the “Sasha Show” by Sacha Distel and “Top à…”.

Frustrated with the confidential figures at which his first albums, those of his jazz period, have passed, Gainsbourg is looking for a bang. He, for whom the profession of singer consists of “pierce or puncture”announces on television that the year 1965 will be that of his consecration, even if it means abandoning jazz for rock, which is more accessible.

He accepts Maritie Carpentier’s proposal. He must compose a title for a young 17-year-old singer already seasoned, recommended through Denis Bourgeois, his former artistic director at Philips: France Gall. Gainsbourg retrieves the keys to the Eurovision truck. The adventure will be painful at first, then orgasmic.

Booed at rehearsals, acclaimed at the contest

From the rehearsals of the competition in Naples, a few days before the big show, which will be followed that year by 150 million viewers, France Gall and Serge Gainsbourg understand that, for them, the week will be long. The musicians of the Italian orchestra, which accompanies in music all the participants of the contest, are disturbed by the song composed by Gainsbourg for the occasion, “Poupée de wax, doll of sound”.

The Eurovision standards, the first edition of which took place in 1956, then revolved entirely around cutesy and languorous ballads reminiscent of the music of the 1930s by Lucienne Boyer or Léo Marjane. Until 1965 and Gainsbourg, the competition remained completely hermetic to rock, yé-yé and pop, which were already widespread in Europe. “This can be explained by the fact that the songs for the competition were chosen either by public television stations, which were neither musically innovative nor adept at change, or by a TV audience – which at the time voted by postcard – mainly made up of people elderly»analyzes Eurovision specialist Franck Thomas, creator of the reference French site on the competition.

In this context, the title composed by the man with the head of cabbage clashes. Frantic rhythm, pop sounds, sophisticated two-way lyrics and very present orchestration make “Poupée de wax, doll of sound” a UFO of modernity in the conventional sky of Eurovision.

“Gainsbourg has completely broken with tradition by composing for France Gall a song sung at a gallop, on a prestissimo rhythm”, analyzes the biographer Marie-Christine Natta, author of Serge Gainsbourg – Making of a dandy. “The Italian orchestra did not appreciate this rhythm of cavalry at all and did not hesitate to signify it to France Gall and Gainsbourg. From the first rehearsal, the musicians booed the song. During a classification by show of hands asked of the few present in the room during these rehearsals, the title is found even last. Annoyed, furious and discouraged by the mistrust aroused by the work he had composed, Gainsbourg left.

“The taste for provocation and the quest for novelty have guided him throughout his career, continues the biographer. There is therefore a certain logic in the fact that he wanted to take the opposite view of what was usually done in the competition. I assume that he must have greatly despised the musicians of the Italian orchestra who had booed his song, because they were people who did not want to leave a certain classicism.

“It was Gainsbourg, supports Franck Thomas. He was not afraid to present different things from what was done in the competition, I even think that was his main concern. Jane Birkin, in the podcast series Serge Gainsbourg by Melody Nelsonproduced in 2001 by Les Médias francophones publics, agrees: “As soon as he thought he was doing something he had seen or felt before, he would scream.”

This innovative freedom which Gainsbourg was able to enjoy within the framework of the competition, Franck Thomas also attributes it to the delegation he represented, Luxembourg: “It’s a country that was fearless, that tried unexpected things and, sometimes, it paid off. If Gainsbourg had proposed this song to the ORTF at the time, it would probably never have been taken.

And Eurovision changed centuries

Although France Gall has hardly seen this offended by Gainsbourg over the weekend, he finally reappears on D-Day at the headquarters of Rai, in Naples, to attend the performance of the young singer, who passes at the very end of evening.

To her great astonishment, the audience, unlike the local orchestra, was extremely enthusiastic, giving her a loud ovation at the conclusion of her performance. When the points awarded by the national juries (ten jurors per country) were revealed, the Luxembourg of Gall and Gainsbourg immediately took the lead in a ranking that it ended up triumphantly dominating – without any points from the Italian jury.

France Gall performs “Wax doll, sound doll” during Eurovision 1965. | Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone via Wikimedia Commons

Gainsbourg, acclaimed, holds its blow of brilliance. He falls into the arms of France Gall and, bouquets of flowers in their hands, these two return to Paris. The international success of “Wax Doll, Sound Doll” was immediate. The title becomes the first song created for Eurovision to go around the world: top 10 in eighteen countries, 20,000 sales per day, covers in Italian, German and Japanese, and key ring bearing the image of France Gall. , propelled to the rank of mega-star, marketed everywhere.

This 1965 edition, in addition to marking the beginning of a new and long-awaited period of glory for Gainsbourg, is a turning point in the history of Eurovision. “We can say that the competition changed musical century at that time under the influence of Gainsbourg, observes Franck Thomas. He led Eurovision on a track of more dynamic, more rhythmic songs. “Wax doll, sound doll” was the click that made it possible to say: “Ok, we can do that at Eurovision”.

In the years following the coronation of Gall and Gainsbourg, the participants and winners based on pop, rock or disco are more and more numerous, testifying to the transformation of a competition finally ready to plunge into the bath of his time. Among the most famous, the catchy “Puppet on a string” by the British Sandie Show, winner in 1967, the energetic “Vivo cantando” by the Spaniard Salomé, crowned in 1969, or the cult “Waterloo” by Abba , winner in 1974.

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At the same time, Lucien Ginsburg begins the most prolific years of his career, those which will make him a beacon of French musical heritage, still lit half a century later. Proof that daring always pays off, provided you don’t lie down in the middle of the road for too long.

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