France Gall might not have had the sophisticated mystique of Francoise Hardy, the it girl “oomph” of Sylvie Vartan, or the continental sensuality of Bardot, but she was nonetheless an integral part of the Yeh Yeh Girl pantheon. It could even be said that her young age — 15 at the time of signing her first recording contract — made her the most accurate reflection of that uniquely French musical movement’s teeny bopper audience. As such, she presented a guileless naiveté that perhaps made her an ideal blank slate upon which some of France’s best professional songwriters could project their pop fantasies — the most well known of those being Gall “family friend” Serge Gainsbourg. Because, really, who better to entrust your teenage daughter’s fortunes to than Serge Gainsbourg?
The new RPM compilation Made In France: France Gall’s Baby Pop places a heavy emphasis on Gainsbourg’s contributions to Gall’s oeuvre, managing to fit in all of his compositions for her, with room remaining for a few other representative nuggets from what was actually a fairly varied pop career. As a songwriter, Gainsbourg typically played off of Gall’s wholesome image in a subversive and ironic manner that some might call mischievous and others exploitive. Gainsbourg-penned hits like “Baby Pop” and “Teenie Weenie Boppie” paired stereotypically buoyant bubblegum arrangements with pitch black lyrical content, all of which were sung by Gall with both disarming earnestness and eager-to-please enthusiasm. No doubt the most notorious of these was “Les Sucettes” (“Lollipops”), an at best one-and-a-half entendre ode to oral sex whose double meaning Gall would later claim to have been completely ignorant of at the time (though there are those who have doubts about that assertion, which are arguably supported by this promotional video.)
Perhaps the greatest triumph that Gainsbourg provided Gall was her 1965 Eurovision Song Contest win, as a representative of Luxembourg, with his “Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son”. A Japanese language version of that track makes for one of the most intriguing extras on Made In France –- and also suggests some interesting possibilities, given the song sounds like it was the inspiration for every tokusatsu series theme song from the 1970s. Other Gainsbourg chestnuts compiled here include the slinky “Laisse Tomber Les Filles” (reworked by April March as “Chick Habit” and heard during the closing credits of Death Proof) and a rare unreleased demo of his later solo number “Bloody Jack”, sung by Gall over the backing track to “Teenie Weenie Boppie”.
But as I alluded earlier, Gainsbourg was not the only figure from the French music scene to have a substantial hand in Gall’s career. Some of the others included France’s own father, Roger Gall, an established producer and songwriter who contributed to several cuts here. Another would be the British born producer/arranger David Whitaker, who helped make Gall’s bubblegum psych album 1968 one of the greatest French pop albums of the sixties. There is also singer and songwriter Joe Dassin, who contributed to one of Galls most musically adventurous tracks, “Bebe Requin” (“Baby Shark”), the arrangement of which not only flits from bubblegum to baroque to Dixieland over its many movements, but which also affords Gall the rare opportunity to sing from a predatory lyrical perspective.
Gall as a singer is far from great, but her untrained style makes for some endearing quirks, such as the goofy falsetto she breaks into whenever reaching for high notes. More importantly, she dedicates such open enthusiasm to the task that it’s hard not to be charmed by her. This apparent lack of veneer sets her apart from her fellow Yeh Yeh luminaries, as does her material. Unlike with the folk influenced Hardy — or Vartan, whose repertoire was heavy with French covers of English language rock and roll hits — Gall’s songs, in most cases penned exclusively for her, were pure pop, with all the of-the-moment urgency and seductive fizz that entails.
All of the above make any sampler of Gall’s work a pretty irresistible proposition, like a delightful collection of bite-sized musical bon bons (albeit with a bit of Gainsbourg supplied arsenic at their centers). Made In France’s inclusion of deep cuts and rarities makes it, in my opinion, superior to previous such samplers, and thus a great starting point for the curious. I would especially recommend the set to those who have already done some spelunking into the world of 1960s French pop, but have yet to make Gall’s acquaintance. Without her, you’re really not getting the whole picture.