Serge, April, and France (Not Their Real Names)

I’m pretty sure I first heard about French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg from sarah. What I didn’t realize at first was that a good number of the songs on April March’s first album, Paris in April, were Serge’s compositions. April is really Elinor Blake, a former animator and member of a band called the Shitbirds, who took up French pop music when she was around thirty. This was around twice the age the original singer of her biggest hit, France Gall, was upon its 1964 release.

The song was originally called “”Laisse tomber les filles,” meaning “never mind the girls,” but Blake translated it as “Chick Habit” as well as singing the original French lyrics.

I’ve seen attempted literal translations of some of the Serge songs, and April’s versions aren’t that. They usually appear to maintain the sense of the original while substituting what I suppose would be American slang from around the same time the French songs were first released, with lyrics like, “You’re just jonesin’ for a spill” and “if he’s the big boss and you’re the hot sauce.”

The latter is from “Poor Lola,” a translation of the original “Pauvre Lola,” performed by Serge with Gall doing the laughing parts. I also found a relatively recent recording on YouTube of Jane Birkin, Serge’s long-time girlfriend and mother of his daughter Charlotte, singing the song, but the sound quality isn’t very good.

Getting back to April, she sings with a sassy quality that the originals didn’t generally have, but that fits them well.

This actually came to mind because of a recent post about Serge and France Gall from Drew, regarding a song called “Les Sucettes.” While ostensibly about lollipops, the references to oral sex are not at all subtle, but Gall claimed she didn’t realize they were there and broke off her partnership with Serge upon finding out. That the guy had a perverted sense of humor strikes me as quite obvious, but maybe Gall thought she had an innocent image to maintain, even at age nineteen.

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