Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson

Album Cover for L'Histoire de Melody Nelson by Serge Gainsbourg

Here’s a Friday night treat for you all – the complete concept film of Serge Gainsbourg’s classic “rock opera”, Histoire de Melody Nelson.

There’s little doubt that Melody Nelson, a short (27 minute) album released in 1971 is Gainsbourg’s masterpiece. If you’re a fan of the man (as are Air, Beck, Pulp, Portishead, and many many others – but that list somehow doesn’t do him justice), you know that already. Yet few have seen the feature-length rock video directed by Jean-Christophe Averty created for French TV. Starring Serge and his long-time lover, the gorgeous Jane Birkin (before hooking up with Gainsbourg, she was best known for the menage-a-trois scene from Blow Up), it’s a treat for fans, and a great place to start if you’ve heard of Gainsbourg but aren’t familiar with his music. Enjoy this funky psychedelic 60s flashback!

Les ailes de la Rolls effleuraient des pylônes
Quand m’étant malgré moi égaré
Nous arrivâmes ma Rolls et moi dans une zone
Dangereuse, un endroit isolé

Là-bas, sur le capot de cette Silver Ghost
De dix-neuf cent dix s’avance en éclaireur
La Vénus d’argent du radiateur
Dont les voiles légers volent aux avant-postes

Hautaine, dédaigneuse, tandis que hurle le poste
De radio couvrant le silence du moteur
Elle fixe l’horizon et l’esprit ailleurs
Semble tout ignorer des trottoirs que j’accoste

Ruelles, culs-de-sac aux stationnements
Interdits par la loi, le coeur indifférent
Elle tient le mors de mes vingt-six chevaux-vapeurs

Prince des ténèbres, archange maudit,
Amazone modern’ style que le sculpteur,
En anglais, surnomma Spirit of Ecstasy

Ainsi je déconnais avant que je ne perde
Le contrôle de la Rolls. J’avançais lentement
Ma voiture dériva et un heurt violent
Me tira soudain de ma rêverie. Merde!
J’aperçus une roue de vélo à l’avant,
Qui continuait de rouler en roue libre,
Et comme une poupée qui perdait l’équilibre
La jupe retroussée sur ses pantalons blancs

“Tu t’appelles comment?
- Melody
- Melody comment?
- Melody Nelson.”

Melody Nelson a des cheveux rouges
Et c’est leur couleur naturelle.

All Lyrics written by Serge Gainsbourg.

“Melody” 7:32 (Music by Serge Gainsbourg)
“Ballade de Melody Nelson” 2:00 (Music by Jean-Claude Vannier)
“Valse de Melody” 1:31 (Music by Serge Gainsbourg)
“Ah! Melody” 1:47 (Music by Jean-Claude Vannier)
“L’hôtel particulier” 4:05 (Music by Serge Gainsbourg)
“En Melody” 3:25 (Music by Jean-Claude Vannier/Serge Gainsbourg)
“Cargo culte” 7:37 (Music by Serge Gainsbourg)

Personnel
Alan Parker – guitar
Brian Odgers – bass
Douglas Wright – drums
Alan Hawkshaw – piano
Jean-Claude Vannier – arrangements, Orchestra Director
Jane Birkin – vocal parts

6 Responses to “Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson”

  1. Throb Goddardin

    This has always been my favorite Gainsbourgh album — for the arrangements as well as the high/low concept. Thanks for the bonus vid and photo fun, Bems. Now, that’s vividity!

    Reply
  2. bart plantenga

    merci pour le post m. bremler. nice, really nice. although a wonderful album and his obvious attempts to out john barry john barry as he took hold of barry’s gal birkin, what this album shows is that he more than any of his contemporaries [anglo or franco] understood and appreciated deep sound. that is why much of his work still sounds contemporary because he was able to hear the future. i think there are beaucoup l’autres great albums and selections. i tend toward his reggae/dub period which has been greatly enriched by the reissues of Aux Armes et Caetera and Mauvaises Nouvelles des Etoiles. I wrote the intro to the english translation to his wonderfully flatulent novel Evguenie Sokolov [TamTam Books located in LA] about the life of a f/artist. the afterword is by russell mael of the band sparks, also words of praise by john zorn and mark webber of pulp.

    Reply
  3. Reginal Ramsbottom

    Respectfully, I don’t happen to think G’s music sounds contemporary, nor that he “heard the future.” Miles Davis did that, not S.G. I happen to think his appeal is both accidental and contrived: He sounds dated and tasteless in timely tasty ways.

    No need to try to assess which Gainsborgh album is the best in the absolute sense. It isn’t that sort of music, nor does it want to be.

    In the first place, I could make twenty arguments for Melody Nelson destroying everything S.G. did in the way of reggae (a French national obsession they really should drop). None of it would matter to you, though (nor should it), because you hear his music differently than I (as you should).

    Second, musical excellence has nothing to do with fashion (a myopic-clique-clotted catwalk) or attitude (scratching post of radio jocks). Mere self-confidence should be enough. More than that defeats useful self-criticism.

    Rock journalism led listeners astray and now fans all gush the same neo-primitivist absolutes. It’s the musical equivalent of the philosophical incense fumes Bertrand Russell sought to clear.

    Reply
    • Momo2547

      we will never drop reggae music mon! what did g with reggae is a great work and is still considered as a classic by both reggae and serge’s fan in france. if YOU no like reggae just shut your mouth and pass your way!

      Reply
    • Magiclyrebird

      It’s a great album, and has a great video to match.  Bully for you if you’re gonna have a stab at slating it, while so many, many others agree that it’s a complete KILLER!

      Reply
    • omariomario

      @Reginal Ramsbottom,
      I think I appreciate your critique, but I would like to read it in much simpler, a layman’s, language, if you please. Much of it is over my head.
      Thank you

      Reply

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