Thursday, March 6, 2014

France invades Germany

[I’ve already given an overview of France Gall’s French language career over at Teleport City, but I thought I’d post this follow-up here, so as not to ignite in Keith fears that I am trying to turn his site into Ye Ye Girl Central. Those awaiting further film reviews, rest easy; I’ll be back to the usual nonsense in the coming days.]

"I’m a doll of wax, a doll of sound
My heart is engraved in my songs
Doll of wax, doll of sound
Am I better, am I worse
Than a fashion doll?
I see life through bright, rosy-tinted glasses
Doll of wax, doll of sound"

Winning the 1965 Eurovision song contest with the Serge Gainsbourg composition "Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son" (quoted above) turned French teeny-popper France Gall into a pop star with a global reach. Gall recorded numerous international versions of the song, including a Japanese language take, while ultimately being unable to beat the British poppet Twinkle to recording an English version under the title "Lonely Singing Doll".

One non-French speaking territory where “Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son” met with popular success was Germany, where the song was one of the biggest hits of the year. In response, a series of German versions of Gall’s French language hits were released into the market, but with little success. A team of German based songwriters -- including such hitmakers as Christian Bruhn and Kurt Hertha, as well as a young Giorgio Moroder -- were then recruited to fashion a sound for Gall that was more in tune with the “schlager” style of German popular music. The result was a series of singles targeted specifically at the German market that today stands as a complete repertoire wholly separate from Gall’s more well-known French sides. So insulated is this aspect of Gall’s career, in fact, that the only record of it that I could find on disc was the German import collection En Allemand – Das Beste In Deutsch.

The first thing you notice upon listening to En Allemand is how much louder the German version of France Gall is. The lighthearted whimsy of her French hits gives way to Teutonic bombast, the tinkling harpsichords and French horns replaced by barrelhouse piano and blaring trumpets. Gall, so often breathy and childlike on her French tracks, comes across the full on belter. If anything, this inspires a heightened appreciation for her power and range, although the naïve quirks that lent her vocals so much of their charm largely remain (with, for the German audience -- and according to the site Ready Steady Girls! -- an additional charm provided by her heavily accented German pronunciation).

The best example of this full barreled attack is on the 1968 track "Merci, Herr Marquis" (also found on Volume 3 of the essential Ultra Chicks compilation), which kicks off with an amped up male chorus peaking the microphones with what I think is a nonverbal exhortation (it sounds like "DOING! DOING! DOING! DA DOING!") before France comes in blasting the chorus. While this approach overall makes good use of Gall's youthful enthusiasm, it could easily come off as oppressive in its cheerfulness. Thankfully, these songs are so mercilessly catchy and crisply produced that, to an unrehabilitated pop fiend like myself, they are irresistible.

The only of Gall’s French hits given the German language treatment that appears on En Allemand is the baroque headspinner “Bébé Requin”, which appears in slightly remixed form as “Hafischbaby”. Beyond that, the only track likely to be familiar to the uninitiated is a spirited German reworking of the easy listening favorite “Music to Watch Girls By” (“Die Schönste Musik, Die Es Gibt”). What remains is pure lightweight pop, albeit noisome and brassy lightweight pop, which nonetheless leaves some room for experimentation. Bruhn and Georg Buschor’s “Der Computer Nr. 3”, for instance, features a host of retro-futuristic sound effects, as well as an authoritarian sounding robot voice, while the exquisitely named “Hippie Hippie” features an echoed out vocal chorus combined with one of the meanest 1960s bass tones I’ve ever heard. Pastiche also has a place within the collection, as with the honkytonk vogueing of “Dann Schon Eher Der Pianoplayer” and the Brazilian inflections given the carnivalesque cover of “La Banda” that opens the set.

Moroder’s contributions to the collection tend towards the more bubblegum end of things, and betray a barely suppressed fondness on his part for polka rhythms – not to mention, on “Mein Herz Kann Man Nicht Kaufen”, a shameless reliance on kazoos to provide a nagging, if adhesive, hook. The best of his tunes here is “Ich Liebe Dich – So Wie Du Bist”, which affixes a Beatle-esque chorus to the normal beer hall trappings. Bruhn, for his part, contributes some of the sets most go-go worthy numbers, including the aforementioned “Merci, Herr Marquis” and the hip swiveling “Links vom Rhein und Rechts vom Rhein” (“To the Left of the Rhine and the Right of the Rhine”).

But, of course, no matter how gifted the string pullers behind Gall’s “puppet of sound” might have been, any fan can tell you that hers is an appeal that is one hundred percent based in personality. Given that, I’m pleased to report that, for all its happy sturm und drang, Gall’s German sound does nothing to overwhelm or mask the coltish enthusiasm, irrepressible energy and naïve charm that has made so many listeners to her French recording love her so helplessly. I, for one, had an idiotic smile on my face the whole time I was listening to En Alemand. I hardily recommend it to anyone who’s enjoyed any of the more well-known fruits of this imminently lovable singer’s catalog.


Keith W said...

Lord knows I'd NEVER want to be associated with anything called Ye Ye Girl Central

Todd said...

If we call it Ye Ye Girl Central, they will come.

Or, at least, we can hope.

Todd said...

If we call it Ye Ye Girl Central, they will come.

Or, at least, we can hope.