The news of France Gall’s death this week has hit me badly. She was – and is – my favourite French chanteuse of all time.
Her untrained vocals and girl-next-door sex appeal helped to make her one of France’s biggest stars.
She is the singer that opened my eyes to yé-yé. Her 1965 Eurovision winner, Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son, left me wanting to hear more of this exotic French sound.
It also set me on the road to becoming one of the English-speaking world’s authorities on Gallic girl pop of the 1960s. (Yes, really.)
“This year, I aim to have published a book I’ve co-written about another very well-known female French singer who started out at the same time as Gall”
France Gall found success in 1963 with Ne Sois Pas Si Bête, a track that received its first radio airplay on her 16th birthday. N’Écoute Pas Les Idoles, Laisse Tomber Les Filles, Baby Pop and Bébé Requin consolidated her success over the following years.
What set her apart from many of her contemporaries was that she had a team of top songwriters penning original material for her. Among them was her godfather, Serge Gainsbourg.
However, having the enfant terrible of the yé-yé generation behind her material brought its own challenges.
Gainsbourg was well known for the erotic subtexts of his songs. His 1966 composition Les Sucettes – ostensibly a song about a girl who enjoyed sucking lollipops – was a masterpiece of double entendre that was clear to everyone.
Everyone except Gall, that is.
She went into hiding when she realised her mistake. The fact that the disc sold by the bucket load only added to her sense of humiliation.
After a few years out of favour, Gall made a triumphant return in 1974 with La Déclaration D’Amour, composed by singer-songwriter Michel Berger. The pair would marry a couple of years later and he would write much of her material over the remainder of her career.
She stayed one of France’s top stars throughout the rest of the 1970s and 1980s. Résiste, Il Jouait Du Piano Debout and Ella, Elle L’a are among her greatest successes of the period.
My personal favourite from this later period is the 1976 single Ce Soir Je Ne Dors Pas, which she sings in her very lightest, most girl-like voice. I could listen to it on a loop.
Berger died suddenly in 1992. France Gall was, of course, devastated and withdrew from the music business after their daughter died 5 years later.
Now, at the age of 70 and after fighting cancer, Gall has left us too. I have been playing her music all week, as a way of keeping her close.
This year, I aim to have published a book I’ve co-written about another very well-known female French singer who started out at the same time as Gall. I’ve worked on the text with a celebrated French music journalist who has a string of successful biographies to his name.
Our manuscript is complete. I won’t say who the singer is, but if we find a UK publisher, trust me, you’ll know.