He may have had a face like a gargoyle, but in the 1960s (not so young) Parisian provocateur and lothario Serge Gainsbourg scored several racy hit duets in France with animal-loving national icon and his then lover, the beautiful Brigitte Bardot. But global infamy arrived only after his coupling with Birkin, a gorgeous gamine 20 years his junior and the true love of his life.
Originally recorded as a breathy duet with Bardot, the couple re-recorded Je t’aime…moi non plus and it happened to rise to the top the UK singles chart exactly 96 days after my birth in ’69. You really couldn’t make it up.
Slightly awkwardly, the song title translates as ‘I love you… me neither’, which was inspired by a Salvador Dali quote: “Picasso is Spanish, me too. Picasso is a genius, me too. Picasso is a communist, me neither”.
Setting his salacious, Gauloise stained drawl against Birkin’s orgasmic panting and a doodling baroque organ borrowed from his classically trained youth, the track was the pornographic pop equivalent of an Emmanuelle movie.
With rumours of genuine groans of erotic pleasure on the recording allied with the song’s overt libidinal trajectory led to the BBC banning the record, resulting in the song’s delicious distinction of being the first ever banned number one in Britain.
Despite this, however, the single sold over six million copies worldwide, and Birkin has humorously commented that the song’s sexual charge has inadvertently led to numerous pregnancies. It also notched up bans in Spain, Brazil, and even in sex-aware Sweden, but strangely not in Italy, despite plus ça vilification from the Vatican. An attention-seeking eleven year old in Michigan named Madonna Louise Ciccone was taking notes.
Steve Pafford, Nice, France
Gainsbourg would over the years describe it as “the ultimate love song”, or an “anti-fuck song,” and in 1976 turned Je t’aime into a film starring Birkin playing opposite chiseled Warhol hunk and all round great guy Joe Dallesandro. If you love butt sex, you may like it, because this is a movie about a specific anus; that of the central protagonist Johnny, played by the director’s partner (contrary to popular belief, Birkin never married Gainsbourg, though she did leave her husband for him; the celebrated James Bond film composer John Barry). Outside the world of hardcore pornography there is surely no other movie produced in which the auteur has cast his missus in the role of the repeatedly buggered female.
Make mine a 69.
Though Je t’aime has been covered by numerous performers (salut, Donna Summer), it was rare it ever received an English translation for fear of losing its famous gallic charm. That changed in 1999 when YBA darling Sam Taylor-Wood’s first musical collaboration saw her provide the vocals for a Pet Shop Boys-produced version given to a various artists project entitled We Love You.
Taking the co-vocal duties was reportedly a Macintosh computer—although one might also suspect a disguised Chris Lowe may lay behind it. Incidentally, as Wayne Studer correctly points out, some Petheads have detected in this rendition a strong stylistic influence of the French electronic duo Air, particularly their 1998 album Moon Safari, which was released only shortly before.
Lastly, Jane Birkin is touring France at the moment, and on Saturday night I caught her show at the Southbank-like Brutalist Anthéa Theatre in Antibes. Incredibly, only a voice-less version of Je t’aime was used as intro music to mark her arrival.
The time Serge Gainsbourg told Whitney Houston he wanted to fuck her on live TV is here