Sunday, January 17, 2010

France Gall, The Lost Years?

In the early 60's, France Gall began a very long and successful career as a pop singer. But while most French pop singers were busy singing French versions of American or British hits, France Gall collaborated with many talented French composers and lyricists, including of course Serge Gainsbourg. People mostly know France Gall for those early sixties hits (ranging from a Eurovision winner, a song for kids and all the way to a scandalous double-entendre song about fellatio) and her career revival (thanks to her collaboration with husband Michel Berger) from the mid-seventies all the way to the late eighties.

But perhaps her most interesting period is the one that is also the most obscure: after a few commercial flops, she began in 1966 a relatively successful career in Germany (!). All the while, she recorded in France a few jazzy songs, such as this little gem:

It's 1968, France Gall is finally 21 and no more a minor, and she wants to exercise her freedom (she often disagreed with choices that were made for her by her entourage). She decides to join a few other artists to sign with a brand new record company, La Compagnie. What she records there is a hodge-podge of songs, some experimental, some silly, some just plain bad. But here's one of the "hippie" songs recorded then that I find particularly charming:

And here's a samba she recorded for la Compagnie, with some great orchestration. It kind of makes you feel like you're Peter Sellers and you've been invited to a very high-class party. the YouTube video is a very high-quality edit of vintage pictures:

In 1970, La Compagnie went under, and that was the end of that "free" period. France Gall then tries hard to make a comeback, which keeps failing until she finally meets Michel Berger. But that's another story, and not really an obscure one, so I'll leave it at that.

Friday, January 8, 2010

From the Fringes

I came across a great article on the always excellent Inrocks web site. If you thought the music I post here was obscure, wait till you go read that article and check out the YouTube videos that are on display there!

Just to give you a taste, here's a few that I thought were particularly interesting. It's crazy stuff, sometimes funny, often very psychedelic, but it's also completely free of inhibitions and therefore sincere.

Hasil "Haze" Adkins heard Hank Williams on the radio, and thought he was playing all the instruments by himself, so he decided to go ahead and do the same thing. This prolific one-man band inspired bands such as the Cramps, who famously covered his "She Said". Hasil had a fascination with hot dog and chicken. In fact, he wrote an entire album dedicated to chicken called "Poultry in Motion" (best album title ever?). Here's one of his chicken songs:

Wesley Willis didn't have a good life, and he decided to sing about it. The problem is, he was also schizophrenic and truly ill (he died at the age 40). The song below is probably autobiographical (for the lyrics, go to the YouTube page and click on "more info").

As for the last one, I really am speechless. The old man is apparently a local celebrity in Quebec.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Original and the Good Copies

If there's one adjective that qualifies Kate Bush best, it's got to be "original". But as hard as it is to think of what might have influenced her to come up with such creative output (maybe a mix of Bowie glam and Joni Mitchell folk?), it is very easy to see how much she in turn inspired other female artists. But first let's see what I'm talking about: on YouTube you can find a few rare videos of a Kate Bush TV performance at Efteling (an attraction park in the Netherlands) that I find mesmerizing, all songs from her debut album (and her best in my opinion) The Kick Inside. Here's the album opener, my favorite song:

Something you don't see much these days on TV is performances like these where the TV director works with the artist to create a nice setting and have fun with effects. Efteling was obviously the perfect place to visually accompany the magic of Kate Bush's music. This is particularly evident on Strange Phenomena:

And yes, she did perform Wuthering Heights! Here it is:

Now among the many who were influenced by Kate, many pushed the inspiration almost too far. In the following two cases, I don't mind it one bit: first, Tori Amos, who must be sick and tired of the accusation that she copied her. What do you think?

It's the piano, it's the voice, but it's also the song construction, no?

And here's something even more recent. Pascalito, a loyal viewer of EasyTeeVee, sent me this little gem: a song by French singer Nathalie Simon. You can even tell which Kate Bush albums must have influenced her the most: this song wouldn't have sounded out of place on Hounds of Love.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Vic Chesnutt R.I.P. (1964-2009)

Vic Chesnutt was "discovered" by REM's Michael Stipe in the late 80's-early 90's. His desolate acoustic songs provided an interesting counterpoint to the grunge music of that era (kind of like how ambient music goes hand in hand with techno). I guess you could put him in the same group as bands like Smog or Palace (hey, that could be a good idea for a blog post). I was lucky to have attended a concert of his around 1995, when About to Choke was released. I couldn't find any official videos of his music on YouTube, but the following should give you a good idea of what he was all about if you didn't know him, or to reminisce if you did.

This one is an excerpt from a recent album, North Star Deserter. The particular use of re-recording reminds me a lot of early Smog:

Here's a great acoustic version of an old song of his, Supernatural:

Let's finish with a nice grand finale:

Vic died of an overdose. He'll be missed by those of us who use music to lick their wounds.