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LUXEMBOURG 1965 - ”Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son”

Performed at Eurovision by France Gall

Music and lyrics by Serge Gainsbourg

Finished 1st at Eurovision

Listen to the song (wma)

Watch the performance (narrowband) (broadband - upgraded)

Voted the 14th best Eurovision song of all time.

THE SONG

The tenth Eurovision Song Contest staged in Naples on March 20th 1965 saw the competition being broadcast in Eastern Europe for the first time. The estimated television audience of 150 million was a new record, as was the number of competing nations. Eighteen countries took part in the contest, including Ireland for the the very first time. Over the previous couple of years the world of pop music had changed dramatically, with British bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones dominating the charts all over the world. Eurovision was in danger of being left behind, but the song that triumphed in Naples that night made some progress in bringing the contest back to the mainstream of 1960's pop.        

"Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son" (Wax Doll, Singing Doll) may appear to be just a chirpy disposable pop song and on first listening may sound like a French version of the songs of British female stars of the era like Lulu, Sandie Shaw or Petula Clark, but like much of the work of its controversial songwriter Serge Gainsboug, there's a subtext of manipulation and self doubt. At under two and a half minutes it is also one of the shortest Eurovision winners of all time.     

17 year old Parisian France's Gall's performance of the song at Eurovision was far from note perfect, but she certainly looked stunning in the very close-up camerawork of the Italian producer. The song was the 15th to be performed, in what was a pretty lacklustre field. Interestingly the Eurovision performance is faster than the recorded version and contains a slightly extended introduction.  

When it came to the voting, "Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son" took the lead on the votes of the first jury and led from start to finish. The only country to seriously threaten Luxembourg was the United Kingdom, who had a very similar entry "I Belong" performed by Kathy Kirby. Surprisingly, despite the the fact that Kirby was well known in Ireland, the Irish jury ignored "I Belong", instead awarding its top points to Austria, and giving Luxembourg its second highest vote. Luxembourg got the top points from Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Finland. Amazingly despite the fact that both the singer and songwriter of the Luxembourg entry were already hugely popular in France, the French jury did not award any points to "Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son".   

After its success at the Eurovision Song Contest "Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son" shot straight to the top of the French charts and also went on to be a big hit in most of Europe, although it missed out in both the U.K. and Ireland. This might have something to do with the fact that while the song was also released in Italian, German and even Japanese, France Gall never recorded an English version. There is however a very rare English version of the song called " A Lonely Singing Doll" recorded by British star Twinkle. "Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son" has also been more recently recorded by Belgian star Kim Kay and perhaps more surprisingly by Scottish indie band Belle And Sebastian.      

THE PERFORMER

Isabelle Gall, who was born in Paris on 9 October 1947, grew up in a musical family. Her grandfather helped set up the famous French children's choir Les Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois, while her mother, Cécile, was a singer. However it was her father, Robert Gall, who was the star in the family. He had risen to fame on the French music scene writing songs for a host of legendary French stars such as Charles Aznavour  and Edith Piaf. In her early teens Isabelle went on to form a group with her brothers. Then, thanks to a little help from her father, and having adopted the pseudonym of France, she recorded her first single, aged just fifteen. Released in September 1963, "Ne Sois Pas Si Bête" (Don't Be So Silly) went on to prove a huge hit in France selling over 200,000 copies. Encouraged by this success, France left school and went on to record a second single in 1964. Written by her father, "Sacré Charlemagne" went on to be another hit. France Gall went on to make a major name for herself in the yéyé craze (the fashionable 60's sound which fused Anglo-Saxon rock'n'roll with French variété). 

During this time, France Gall's career was aided by her union with the legendary singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, who had already written numerous hits for other French singers. When RTL approached Gainsbourg to write the 1965 Eurovision entry for Luxembourg, he personally chose France Gall to sing the song, and it was her Eurovision victory that brought international success. Gall recorded several other Gainsboug compositions including the controversial song "Les Sucettes" (The Lollipops). The 19 year old singer apparently failed to  grasp the full sense of Gainsbourg's famous double entendres and this song (which was a thinly veiled ode to oral sex) eventually helped end the pair's collaboration, although they did briefy re-unite in 1972 to record "Les Petits Ballons Frankenstein". In 1966, at the tender age of twenty, Gall was voted France's number one female pop star. Then, the following year, the young singer went on to score another huge hit with "Bébé Requin". 

France Gall then took a break from the music scene while always remaining in the media spotlight, dating 1960's idol Claude François, and then having a four-year relationship with another popular French singing star, Julien Clerc.  1974 proved to be a major turning point in France Gall's personal life as well as in her professional career. She first met the brilliant French singer/songwriter Michel Berger. Berger had started out performing his own work in the 60's and managed to score quite a few hits. But then in the early 70's his songwriting and production work had taken the upper hand and he had gone on to work with Véronique Sanson (producing her début album "Amoureuse") and Françoise Hardy. Shortly after France Gall's initial meeting with Berger they began a love affair. The relationship would also result in the spectacular blossoming of her career. Berger created a whole new repertoire for Gall and she soon made a major comeback on the French music scene, rocketing to the top of the charts with her single "La Déclaration". This proved to be the first of many hits which Berger wrote for Gall. In 1976 the couple married.

1978 went down in French music history as the year of "Starmania", the legendary rock opera which Berger co-wrote, casting  his wife in one of the lead roles. "Starmania" proved to be an enormous hit with the French public. In November 1978 France gave birth to a daughter, Pauline. Then, following her acclaimed performance in "Starmania", the singer returned to the recording studio to begin work on a new series of singles. She rocketed back to the top of the charts in 1980 with a brand new single entitled "Donner Pour Donner", a song she performed with Elton John.  In 1981 France Gall released her fourth album "Tout Pour La Musique" which yielded more hits and later that year Gall took another short break from her recording career after giving birth to her second child, Raphaël. In the next few years she gained major success thanks to her live shows, which sold out some of Paris's biggest music venues.

In 1985, Berger and Gall followed the Live Aid example and gathered together with some of France's biggest stars, recording the charity single "Chanteurs Sans Frontières". The couple also became involved with another major fund-raising project, which encouraged school children and their families to send food to areas hit by famine. France Gall returned to the studio in 1987 to begin work on a new album entitled "Babacar". This album was largely inspired by the singer's experiences in Africa. The album also includes the song "Ella, Elle L'a" which became a massive hit, and introduced a new generation to her music. France's next album, released in 1992, proved to be a major event in the French music world because it was a joint album with Michel Berger. However later that year while the couple were holidaying in their house close St Tropez, Berger suffered an infraction and he died on August 2, aged just 44. 

France spent several months grieving, but in the end she decided to resume her career, devoting herself to performing her late husband's work and she appeared in several high profile events to mark his life and music. She also recorded an album of his best known songs in Los Angeles. This album, entitled simply "France", was released to critical acclaim in 1995. Sadly, in the winter of 1997, tragedy hit France Gall's life once again, when her daughter Pauline died at the age of 19. France Gall withdrew from the showbiz world completely, and has made few major public appearances since, preferring to spend time in in Senegal, where she owns a house. She remains a well known and popular star in her native France. It is known that she will not be performing live in the "Congratulations" show. 

THE SONGWRITER

Serge Gainsbourg (real name Lucien Ginzburg) was one of twins born in Paris, on April 2nd 1928, the son of Jewish Russian parents who had fled their homeland during the revolution. He originally wanted to be a painter but initially earned his living as a piano player in bars, which introduced him to the world of jazz music. In 1951 he married Elisabeth Levitsky, the daughter of Russian aristocrats. After their marriage, he went back to work as an art teacher and spent his spare time directing the local choir, during this time he also started songwriting. He also began to get a name as a notorious womaniser, which would follow him throughout his life and led to his divorce in 1957.

In 1958, Lucien changed his name to Serge Gainsbourg and finally abandoned painting (destroying all his artwork in the process). His father found him a job as a pianist/guitarist at the "Milord l’arsouille" cabaret. It was while working in this cabaret that Serge met the famous singer/songwriter, author and jazz trumpet-player Boris Vian who inspired Gainsbourg to perform his own compositions in public. In 1959 he released his first album, and despite some critical reviews it became a huge success, yielding the single "Le Poinçonneur Des Lilas", also recorded by Juliette Gréco and now considered a classic of French pop music.     

By 1960 Gainsbourg was heavily into rock and roll in songs like "Requiem Pour Un Twisteur". He infused his tunes with rock and roll, mambo and Afro-Cuban rhythms, and he quickly became one of France's most respected songwriters. In 1964 Gainsbourg, in his own words "impregnated by American music" achieved his biggest vocal development; the introduction of Anglo-slang on tracks like "Ford Mustang". 

By the mid 1960s actresses and singers were queuing up to get the rights to Gainsbourg output. Big French stars like Dalida and Brigitte Bardot were joined by British singers like Marianne Faithful and Petula Clark, in recording his songs. It was with this background that Luxembourg's broadcaster RTL made the inspired decision to invite Gainsbourg to write their 1965 Eurovision entry. The song became one of his most famous and helped spread his reputation. In 1966, having recently got divorced from his second wife, Béatrice, Gainsbourg went to live at the "Cité internationale des Arts". Despite the fact that he was by now an established star on the French music scene, Gainsbourg lived in a small student’s room at the "Cité" for the next two years. Gainsbourg returned to Eurovision in 1967 when he composed the Monegasque entry "Boum-Badaboum", a seemingly cheery song, but with the theme of a nuclear holocaust. It finished 5th and failed to make much impact outside the contest. During the summer of 1967 Gainsbourg and Michel Simon co-starred in the film "Ce Sacré Grand Père".  Gainsbourg would go on to make a number of movies and TV films in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but none of these proved to be very memorable. The highlight of his acting career was  his role alongside Jean Gabin in "Le Pacha" in 1968. Gainsbourg wrote the theme for "Le Pacha", and the song "Requiem Pour Un Con" would soon prove to be another major hit.

In 1968 Gainsbourg met Brigitte Bardot again and the pair began a passionate love affair. Gainsbourg wrote a number of songs for Bardot, including "Harley Davidson", "Comic strip" and the famous duet "Bonnie and Clyde".  Gainsbourg also wrote the notorious "Je T’aime...Moi Non Plus" for Bardot and the couple recorded the song as a duet. Bardot, who was married to millionaire Gunther Sachs at the time, begged Gainsbourg not to release the song as a single and he respected her wishes. In November of that year British actress Jane Birkin recorded four of Gainsbourg’s songs including a new version of "Je T’aime...Moi Non Plus". Scandal broke out once again at the lyrics of the song, including a simulated orgasm, but this time Gainsbourg forged ahead and released the song as a single. It rocketed to the top of the charts all over Europe shortly and was the first song to top the British singles chart having been banned by radio and television. After its success Gainsbourg and Birkin became a legendary couple overnight and began a longterm romantic relationship.

Meanwhile Gainsbourg had continued to write material for other singers, composing two songs for the young French singer and former Eurovision contestant Françoise Hardy in 1968. Hardy would score a major hit with her double A-sided single featuring "L’anamour" and the famous "Comment Te Dire Adieu". By the end of the 1960’s Gainsbourg was proving to be France’s fastest-selling musical export. However after Birkin entered his life, Serge began to compose less material for other female singers and also stopped writing for himself, instead preferring to devote more of his time to his personal life. In 1971 Gainsbourg went on to write "Melody Nelson", an album based entirely around Birkin. The album proved immensely popular with the general public and the critics who hailed it as a "masterpiece".

By now Gainsbourg’s public image was becoming more and more provocative. When he was invited onto TV shows he appeared scruffy, unshaven, and he would habitually drink and chain-smoke through interviews. In later years, on a television show with a young Whitney Houston, Gainsbourg caused shock by repeatedly telling the American "I want to f**k you", which was clearly heard by the audience. However Gainsbourg’s rebellious stance and non-conformist attitudes began to win him a cult following among the teenagers who had hitherto ignored him. In 1975 Gainsbourg made a film version of "Je T’aime...Moi Non Plus" which attracted more controversy and was panned by the critics. Returning to music, he scored a massive summer hit in 1978 with "Sea, Sex and Sun". In the 1970's Gainsbourg discovered reggae and again attracted controversy when he recorded a reggaefied version of the French national anthem. Gainsbourg entered the Eurovision for the third and final time in 1990, writing the lyrics for the French entry "White And Black Blues" which finished a very close 2nd in Zagreb. A year earlier Gainsbourg had been rushed to hospital for an operation on his liver. His doctors insisted that he gave up drinking immediately, telling him it was a matter of life or death. On March 2 1991 Gainsbourg was found lying dead in his bedroom. He had suffered a heart attack, which had proved fatal. Gainsbourg's passing was marked with huge displays of grief in the French public and media. His reputation as one of the 20th Century's most original and accomplished songwriters is unquestioned.

BEST EUROVISION SONG EVER?

BEFORE THE SHOW I SAID : There's no doubt but that "Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son" is an absolutely great pop song and that it changed the face of the Eurovision Song Contest in a way that few songs have done since. As for being the best Eurovision song of all time, some might say that it is now quite dated and that while it represents its musical era very well, it does not have the timeless quality of some of the other songs in competition in Copenhagen. Its chances of victory are also reduced by the fact that French television is not showing the "Congratulations" show and that France Gall will not be in Copenhagen. For old time Eurovision fans however, this will be a great chance to reminisce and see a new generation of fans getting to hear a true Eurovision classic. 

AFTER THE SHOW I SAY : I wasn't overly surprised that this finished last in the "Congratulations" show. The song is very much a period piece and the live performance is very subdued compared to most of the other songs in competition.