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Sep 06

SERGE GAINSBOURG AND JANE BIRKIN – “Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus”

FT + Popular35 comments • 10,814 views

#277, 11th October 1969

Within Gainsbourg’s career this sounds to me like a stopping point between the sharp pop songs he was writing for himself and others in the 60s and the more drawn-out, high-concept records he made in the 70s: “Je T’Aime”s bass-heavy langour could be a practise run for bits of 1971’s terrific Histoire De Melody Nelson. If it wasn’t for the bass, in fact, “Je T’Aime” would be a pretty dire record – neither the somewhat prissy string arrangement or the soft-focus blur of the organ have aged that well, but the bass makes the song work as an insistent slow dance.

Precious few of its ’69 listeners would have worried much about Gainsbourg’s career (though rather more would have cared about slow dances) – in the wider pop world he was just an archetypal filthy Frenchman, one enthusiastically living up to that archetype by debauching a fluttering English rose. Actually Birkin’s performance is much better than Serge’s – he is on gravelly seducer autopilot, whereas she gets the harder job of coming on record while still carrying the tune (her stabbed “viens!” and “reines!” at the end show how well she does it).

Few foreign language songs get to number one in Britain – this one was helped by radio ban controversy and a bottleneck in the single’s availability. But foreign language hits in general weren’t unheard of in the 1960s – Eurovision winners in whatever language tended to do alright, for instance. In the case of “Je T’Aime”, the language barrier must have helped sales by making the track more viable as a romantic record, as well as preserving its porno mystique.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    weej on 13 May 2010 #

    Aside from the obvious saucyness I’ve always found this song to be terribly sad – and the clumsy use of it as faux-porn music in comedy scenes seems to show a complete misunderstanding of its meaning. Genuine porn music should surely communicate *ahem* rising interest, rather than a world-weary disillusionment with the activity.

  2. 27
    richard thompson on 15 May 2010 #

    Jimmy Savile was hosting the show that night, it was the powers that be that banned it said he on a 1969 programme 30 years later,presumably they could speak fluent French, I was seven then and I didn’t start watching TOTP until The Archies and Rolf were number one.

  3. 28
    swanstep on 15 May 2010 #

    This is definitely some sort of masterpiece (I agree with the first two comments). That middle section (1 min 20 secs in) where Birkin’s piccolo voice rises up ‘Tu va…’ always manages to surprise me. I always think of Je t’aime as being a slow groover, and then just when I’ve got the song re-pegged after not hearing it for a while, out pops this quick delicious melody from nowhere that I’d forgotten was in there. That’s genius – it’s almost *too* sweet, it *is* a slip of a girl you’re going to get lucky with is the basic vibe. Very naughty – I can see exactly why it drove moralists mad at the time. It still sounds risque today, and shockingly intimate. I assume Je t’aime was a big influence on Moroder and Summer’s Love to love you baby in the mid ’70s. At any rate, the sleaze/sex-club side of disco (great backgrounder here) doesn’t decode properly without Gainsbourg’s cultured, sexy eurotrash in one corner.

    I think this is at least a 7 (and in any case significantly more than Tiffany’s lame-o ‘I think we’re alone now’ cover – the immediate spur for this note!)

  4. 29
    mapman132 on 21 Feb 2014 #

    I was aware of this record before, but had never actually heard it until I saw the official video on Youtube tonight. It was pretty much what I expected. It should be noted that this record wasn’t entirely unknown in the US despite lack of airplay – according to Wikipedia, it peaked at #58, and a much older co-worker of mine even commented on its scandalous nature once (it should be noted that he himself was far more amused than scandalized).

    On an entirely different note, I find it surprising it took this long for a foreign language song to top the UK chart with the continent just across the channel. In provincial America, we had already managed three: “Volare” (Italian), “Sukiyaki” (Japanese, not its original title it should be noted), and “Dominique” (French, a VERY different record from this one!).

  5. 30
    hectorthebat on 5 Jun 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Blender (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Songs to Download Right Now! (2003)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – Songs Cited to the 50 Coolest Records of All Time (2002)
    Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields) – The Best Recordings from 1900 to 1999
    Paul Morley (UK) – Words and Music, 210 Greatest Pop Singles of All Time (2003)
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 75
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 793
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – Top 20 Singles from 1954-1969 (2004) 17
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Le Nouvel Observateur (France) – Top 100 French Singles from 1951-1991 (1991) 10
    Rolling Stone (France) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 17
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 150 Songs from the 20th Century (1998) 9
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  6. 31
    Jimmy the Swede on 18 Oct 2014 #

    Bannockburn has just done this week in 1969 and “Je T’Aime” was number two having just come off the top. I got the distinct impression that Tony was a little uncomfortable about having to play it as he certainly paid the disc scant regard, not mentioning the hoo-haa that it caused or even that it had been number one the previous week. He is usually not lacking of quips to make about the records he plays but this time, absolutely nothing. He also called Gainsbourg “Gainsborough”, which was particularly galling…. (SWIDT?)

  7. 32
    CriticSez on 2 Apr 2016 #

    Funny how this was released in “’69”. This is tame by today’s standards! Much more explicit songs are being allowed to be broadcast nowadays!

    Oh, and #20, “Pillowtalk” is also the name of a BUNNY (by Zayn Malik) that we’ll get round to in many entries’ time.

    Proper review pending. This could be good, average or bad.

  8. 33
    weej on 2 Apr 2016 #

    The fact that it was 69 wasn’t lost on Serge – the fact that he released a single entitled “69 année érotique” should demonstrate this well enough.

    And Sylvia’s “Pillow Talk” is also excellent, by the way.

  9. 34
    swanstep on 28 Nov 2016 #

    I recently got to see the Gainsbourg-written&directed, Birkin-starring Je t’aime moi non plus (1976) film. It’s quite something. A well-shot, well-edited, clever entry in the sub-genre of “’70s art-sex films” that includes Last Tango, In The Realm of the Senses, Swept Away, maybe Night Porter, Salo, and a few other things too. JTMNP is probably much less seen and less-discussed than *any* of those other films. I wonder why? since I think it’s pretty jolly interesting, remarkable even, and deserves to treated in the same breath as its sub-genre peers. Various partial, instrumental versions (in varying tempi) of the underlying song occur throughout the film, with the fullest version finally melding together with Birkin dialogue+moans+whimpers at the, ahem, climax of the film.

    How the film works really has to be seen to be believed but here’s an outline to help you decide for yourself whether you want to track it down. JTMNP is set in a somewhat indeterminate desert space and time. The first two characters we meet are an apparently gay couple, Padovan and Kras (although Kras, played by Warhol icon Joe Dellesandro, seems likely to be an equal-opportunity lech given the opportunity) who work as garbage-men in this strange garbage-strewn landscape. They eventually run into Johnny (a short-haired/androgynous Birkin) serving in a weird cafe. Kras and Johnny gradually hit it off while Padovan looks on incredulous and appalled. They try to have sex… but Kras requires rough/unlubricated anal sex so things quickly grind to a literally screaming halt. Most of the rest of the movie consist of dates followed by Johnny’s increasingly submissive but still failed attempts to have this kind of sex with Kras. Miraculously ecstatic rough anal sex finally does arrives in the dump part of Kras’s garbage-truck which is heralded by the arrival of the full tune as I described above. There are a couple of major developments after this that I won’t spoil.

    The film builds a lot into this main arc of the film so you can probably read it in a bunch of different ways. The whole setting feels like a thesis statement about the waste-product ends of human civilization, and rough anal sex is some sort of symbol within that economy. (Gerard Depardieu shows up as a drifter at one point to announce that he won’t be doing any of this highly specific, highly symbolic screwing today because what he’s packing tends to put people into a hospital!)

    I mean this is really quite bizarre stuff, with the meta-level that Gainsbourg is casting and directing his wife in this scenario adding a further level of strangeness. Anyhow, if you’ve appreciated some of the other ’70s art-sex films I mentioned, then I’d guess you’ll find JTMNP (1976) worthwhile tracking down, and if not then probably not.

    Does JTMNP (1976) confirm suspicions about the original record’s level of filthiness? Perhaps. At any rate you’ll never hear the song in quite the same way after the film.

  10. 35
    Mark M on 30 Nov 2016 #

    Re34: Weirdly, they used to have copy of JTMNP in the Blockbuster in Crystal Palace – a friend rented it and gave a dazed summary of the plot similar to yours. It was often on the list of stuff I considered renting but never quite got round to, and then one day the Blockbuster had become a Poundland. (Ideally, it would have been the last movie I rented there, because the first, in 1990, had been Andy Warhol’s Heat, starring Joe Dallesandro).

    I’m not generally a fan of ’70s art-house sex movies, which tend to be tremendously grim, nor their later equivalents (Intimacy, 9 Songs… Netflix kept suggesting that I should watch Gasper Noe’s Love).

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