Serge Gainsbourg in Le pacha

Anyone who knows me well knows that Serge Gainsbourg is my absolute hero.  I love his music but it’s not just that for me – I also love his writing, his films, his acting, his photographs; everything.  As his music is often written about but his career as an actor and director is largely overlooked I have decided to concentrate (for now) primarily on his films.

First up is Georges Lautner’s film Le pacha (1968) in which Serge appeared briefly in person playing himself and also appeared more extensively on the soundtrack; if you want to hear Requiem pour un con on a loop, get yourself a copy of this film – it’s worth it just to hear this repetitive music which was so fabulously ahead of its time.

As a bit of background, in 1966 Serge Gainsbourg made an appearance in Jean-Paul Le Chanois’ Le jardinier d’Argenteuil alongside Jean Gabin, who was starring and co-producing.  “As far as Gabin was concerned, the booze ups we were able to have together was unbelievable!  He warmed to me immediately.  During filming we laughed ourselves silly… As he was co-producer on the film, he asked me to do the music.  He invited me to his place, near Bois in Neuilly.  “Let’s go up to my daughter’s room,” he said to me, “there’s a piano.”  I play him a few snatches and he says to me: “Well, sonny, I find that absolutely charming!”

I’ve not got or seen Le jardinier d’Argenteuil yet but I have got Le pacha which they collaborated on again one year later.  “I made an appearance in Le pacha, as Gainsbourg, in a recording studio; I sing Requiem[…] whilst Gabin passes in front of me and we exchange a long look of total incomprehension.”  Yes, that about sums it up!

There is a slight problem with Le pacha if you’re English though; it doesn’t seem to be available with subtitles.  Now, although I just translated the texts above, my French is not brilliant – I get by and I try my best – and I do experience problems when trying to understand people like Gabin who has a low vocal register, appears to mumble, and in this film uses a lot of slang.  The perfect solution for me was the French subtitles for the hard of hearing, which meant I could get more out of the film than if it had been totally without titles.  Hopefully one day it’ll appear with English subs but until then I’ll have to make do.

The film is available on Gaumont DVD and if you’re lucky you’ll find the two disc edition, which has loads of extras worth a look including commentaries, making-of documentaries, photo and poster galleries, and the entire supporting programme that was shown before the film during screenings in 1968.

If you watch the film expecting to see a lot of Serge you’d be disappointed, but there are other reasons to watch it – and not just for the soundtrack either.  For one there is the lovely Dany Carrel (who I know chiefly from her appearances in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s L’Enfer and La prisonnière):

Secondly, there are some incredibly stylish sequences and cinematography, which somehow manage not to look out of place in what is essentially a very gritty crime film:

Even the criminals’ hideout has great imagery:

Yet another nod to Gainsbourg and Bardot’s Harley Davidson

And Joss has a pretty stylish office for a police commissionner as well

And there’s the story itself – whilst it’s never going to be considered a “quality” film, it’s got mystery, it’s got several explosions and loads of shootings going on; if you like that kind of thing, then you’ll love Le pacha.

Here’s my summary of the film, *SPOILER WARNING*:

The film starts with the funeral of Inspector Albert Gouvion (Robert Dalban), who was found dead in his apartment.  It is initially suspected that he had committed suicide after a police case he worked on went terribly wrong, but this appears not to be the case.  His friend and colleague, Commissioner Joss (Gabin), is carrying out investigations to find out what happened to his friend, who he affectionately refers to as a “con” (an idiot, but actually a bit stronger than that maybe even the c word, but if we want to be more polite then possibly asshole).

Whilst Gouvion may have been a war hero and a (seemingly) respected police officer, it seems that he had a few secrets that even his friend Joss did not know about.  His story begins when he is sent out on a job involving the transport of several cases of priceless and irreplaceable jewels from Boucheron, which are being sent over to Amsterdam.  While transporting the jewels towards the Belgian border, the fleet of vehicles comes under attack from a gang of criminals led by a character called Marcel Lurat, nicknamed Quinquin (André Pousse).  The gang crash a car into the police motorbikes, killing two policemen; shoot at the undercover police car with a bazooka; make the car and the lorry containing the jewels crash; they pull the lorry containing the jewels into the back of their own lorry and drive off leaving the wreckage behind them.

A controlled explosion of the lorry enables them to retrieve the cases of jewels, which they exchange for a case of money from a smartly dressed man called Brunet (Maurice Garrel).  The police are aware of only a few criminals in a position to handle such hot goods; Brunet is on their radar.

Back at the police station, Joss questions Gouvion (who survived the crash) as to what happened; Joss’ manner is very brusque, even with someone he calls a friend, and he gives the impression that he blames Gouvion for the incident and that he thought he wasn’t up to the job.  Gouvion leaves the station upset and is next seen dead on his apartment floor from a bullet wound, with a gun in his hand.  Joss does not feel any responsibility for this at all: “You don’t commit suicide after a slanging match!”  He refuses to believe that it’s a case of suicide.

Joss starts investigating with his colleague Marc (Jean Gaven).

Meanwhile, Quinquin is regrouping with his fellow gang members to share out the loot – or is he?  He goes to see two members who are hiding out, as they look at the suitcase of cash Quinquin sneaks up and shoots them both.  Not content with offing two of his gang members, he heads off to meet another one who is at home watching TV with his wife; Quinquin shoots them both.

He next heads off to meet Léon de Lyon (Henri Déus), who is waiting in his car in the woods.

In a nod towards Serge Gainsbourg, Léon listens to Bardot singing Harley Davidson on the radio in his car.  Quinquin approaches with a suitcase of cash and hands it over to Léon through his car window.  For a moment it looks like he is going to share the loot with Léon, but Quinquin’s not that kind; he gets his gun and shoots the unsuspecting Léon through his car door.  As Quinquin shoots, Bardot sings:  “Et si je meurs demain, c’est que tel etait mon destin…” – it means something like: And if I die tomorrow, it’s because this was my destiny.  Cheeky!

Quinquin pauses only to take the case of cash back and to push Léon’s car into the pond and watch it sink; then he’s off again.  Que m’importe de mourir, les cheveux dans le vent!

It’s after the death of Léon that Gouvion is found dead.  The police suspect Quinquin, but he has got himself an alibi from a bar owner who says he was playing poker in his bar on the night of the murder.  Joss shows he doesn’t care about following procedure as far as this case is concerned when he kicks all the clients out of the bar, interrogates the bar owner at gun point and smacks him in the face.  In the meantime, Quinquin’s accomplices are being found dead left, right and centre.

When Joss discovers that Gouvion had a girlfriend called Nathalie (Dany Carrel) who works at a club called Les Hippies, he heads off there to find out if she has any information for him.  Dany is a hostess at the bar, very attractive and far too young for Gouvion; Joss sees her across the room talking to Brunet.  When Brunet leaves the club, Joss speaks with him and then he heads over to Nathalie to question her.  As they leave the club together, Brunet watches from his car.  It certainly appears that Nathalie may be involved with the criminals, but everything is not always as it seems.  And this is what Joss finds as he is investigating the Gouvion case; did he really know his friend after all?  He didn’t even know that Gouvion had a girlfriend until one of his colleagues mentioned it.

Nathalie says that she and Gouvion used to see each other, but he became jealous over time thinking that she was seeing other men; he demanded that they live together, although she wasn’t sure that they would have enough money to live on.  From her clothes and her apartment you can tell she is used to luxury and a police inspector’s salary probably wouldn’t stretch to that.  Nathalie says that Brunet is a regular visitor to the club and that’s all.  She seems to have little else to tell Joss; it’s not a lot for him to go on.

Next stop for Joss is a recording studio where Emile Vergnes (André Weber), another suspected accomplice, is working with Serge Gainsbourg as guitarist on a track called Requiem pour un con.

Joss has received intelligence that suggests that Vergnes is going to be robbing a mail train but Vergnes says he’s just playing guitar these days.  Vergnes does, however, have some information that is useful to Joss – it turns out that Nathalie is the sister of Léon de Lyon; funny she didn’t mention that before… so Joss goes to see her again.

Nathalie swears that Léon didn’t ask anything of Gouvion and she says she doesn’t even know where her brother is – Joss tells her, rather cold-heartedly, that he’s in the morgue.  The police have been keeping it quiet about Léon’s death; they know Quinquin did it but they need their evidence.  Joss asks Nathalie if she would set up Quinquin, meet with him and propose a multi-million foreign currency job; knowing that Quinquin is greedy, it’s an offer he probably wouldn’t refuse.  Nathalie has to meet this man who killed her brother and act as if she knows nothing about it; she meets him in a groovy clothes store and discusses the job with him as the cops are watching on surveillance camera.  At first Quinquin acts disinterested but the amount of money on offer soon changes his mind.

The job is set up for the 19th of the month and Joss gives the details to Nathalie who calls Quinquin with all the information he will need; he says he needs to see her and although this was not part of the plan and she should inform Joss about the meeting, Nathalie heads off on her own with just a handgun for protection.  The meeting goes ahead but when Quinquin offers her a drink Nathalie reaches for her gun in her handbag; maybe she wants revenge for her brother’s death in the same way that Joss wants revenge for Gouvion’s death.  Whatever her reason, she’s too late because Quinquin has already shot her.  He does, however, have every intention of taking the job forward – just without Nathalie.

The job goes ahead as planned.  Joss gets ten men to work with him on the case; they are disguised as postmen taking delivery of the foreign currency (millions of francs worth, just in bags in the back of a train, as you do).  The gang of criminals including Vergnes, all dressed as postmen, get on the train and knock out the “postmen”, taking charge of the currency delivery.  When the train arrives at Troyes, they get off and tell the staff there that they are leaving the train early because they suspect an attack; they will now transport the currency by road to avoid being hijacked.  As they leave the station with the currency, they are suddenly chased by the station master – for a moment they think they have been rumbled but he has just realised that he will need to open the gates for them.

They look to have got away with it, but we know that Quinquin is sure to be lying in wait for them somewhere – he wouldn’t want to let such a large sum of money go to another gang.  But what I don’t understand is how Quinquin managed to get a gang together to work with him after the rather suspicious deaths of his other accomplices who worked with him on his last job.  That bit I’m just not sure about.  Anyway, lo and behold, the gang are hijacked by Quinquin and his men as anticipated.  Poor old Vergnes should have stuck to being a guitarist after all, because Quinquin wastes no time in wasting him.

But Quinquin may have been too hasty after all – as he waits in the disused factory where the meeting with Brunet and the handover is to take place, he finds Brunet is handcuffed.  In his confusion or perhaps figuring he’s not shot enough people yet, he shoots Brunet.  Inspector Joss, watching from the sidelines, hesitates and then shoots Quinquin, telling him to drop his gun or he’ll shoot again.  In the meantime there is a massive gun fight outside between Quinquin’s men and the police; it’s an absolute bloodbath, bodies strewn everywhere.

As Joss approaches the trigger happy but injured Quinquin, he tells him “Bullets are easier to give than receive, I’m sure you hadn’t thought about that?”  Quinquin wants to know why Joss shot him – it’s true that there was a hesitation before he shot and it was not exactly in self-defence.  Quinquin tells him what we already know: “On behalf of Albert Gouvion, my friend, the Emperor of Idiots.”

What a great little crime film and a must for any fan of Gainsbourg.

Other Information:

Serge Gainsbourg recorded Requiem pour un con for the soundtrack for Le pacha on 8 September 1967.  Around about 15 October 1967, Jean Gabin told Gainsbourg that he’d like him to make an appearance in the film.  Le pacha was premiered in Paris on 14 March 1968.

Look out for Georges Lautner (bottom row left) and Michel Audiard (I think he’s top row right) in the photofits:

Sources of information:  (i) Gainsbourg, Gilles Verlant, Éditions Albin Michel, 1992; (ii) Gainsbourg Et Caetera, Gilles Verlant / Isabelle Salmon, Éditions Vade Retro, Paris, 1994.  The (bad) translations are, as ever, my own.

Polnapop – La Poupee qui fait non x 6

One of the reasons I decided to do this blog was because as an English fan of French music I find I have very few people to talk to about my record and memorabilia collection; whilst quite a few people may have heard of Serge Gainsbourg, all they seem to know about him is the Whitney Houston story or, worse still, they have this idea that he was some kind of sex dwarf (even though he wasn’t short!).  It pains me greatly to hear what people think they know about him – they’re always wrong – and Joann Sfar’s film Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque) did not exactly help in that respect.  But I’ll get onto that some other time, because this first post is not actually about Gainsbourg; it’s about Michel Polnareff.  And if British people know very little about Gainsbourg, then unfortunately they know even less about Polnareff.  Well, there’s good news because I know loads about him and I can get it off my chest here.

Polnareff is still around and (supposedly) recording today, but for me the music he made in the 60s and 70s is the best of all.  So we’ll start at the beginning when Michel Polnareff was only 21 years old and he released his first EP La poupée qui fait non in May 1966.  I am using a number of sources of information for this article (see the end of this article for details) and you may well notice that some of the information – coming from Polnareff himself – contradicts other information; what can I say?  Polnamyth or Polnamythomane maybe?

La poupée qui fait non / Chère Véronique / Beatnik / Ballade pour toi (Ce que je cherche est en toi)

(Disc’AZ EP 1024, May 1966)

Polna poupee001

Back in May 1965 Polnareff was living the beatnik life, homeless, often starving (he claims that he once went 13 days and nights without eating a thing), and generally slumming it on the streets of Montmartre busking with his guitar or playing piano at La Crémaillère or the Clan d’Estaing to earn some money.

During this period he met an English girl called Sue who spoke with a lisp (I don’t know why that’s important, but Polnareff mentioned it so I am mentioning it too!).  She was hanging out at Montmartre with her mother, listening to Polnareff and his friends playing their music – she told him that if he should ever go to London, he should stay with them.  He took Sue at her word and later that year went to London, staying for five months (according to Polnaréflexion) or one month (according to Polnareff par Polnareff), even though, as he put it, he found her apartment “sordid, not clean”.  But beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

Whilst in London he visited Soho, Kings Road, and Carnaby Street, and tried his hand at selling some of his compositions to publishers in Denmark Street.  Polnareff says he went door-to-door introducing himself and his music:  “Voilà, I’m French, I write, I sing… …I must have seemed strange with my way of insisting on my talent and the big career that was waiting for me.”  But nothing doing…  One of the companies who turned him down was Southern, apparently.

Then in November 1965 Polnareff was presented with a chance to earn himself a recording career when he entered a talent competition at La Locomotive – the first prize was a contract with Barclay.    The finals took place on 12 February 1966 and, yes, Polnareff won – in one version of the story, Polnareff says it was with his versions of Peggy Sue and That’ll Be The Day (Polnareff par Polnareff) and in another he says it was with one of his own compositions called Second Hand Girl (Salut Les Copains, No 69, April 1968).  But did Polnareff want the prize?  No, he said he didn’t want to be a singer and he was only singing for his own amusement.  What?!!

The plot thickens on this one as Polnareff says in Polnaréflexion that he refused the prize and so it went to a singer called Alan Shelley who came second place; in Polnareff par Polnareff he says that he refused the prize and offered it to his friend Cyril Azzam who came in second place; elsewhere in Polnareff Le Roi des Fourmis Christian Eudeline quotes Jacques Mercier (Dynastie Crisis) who was there, as rhythm guitarist of les Rockers (the band who were accompanying the acts in the competition) – he said that Alan Shelley, who came second, took the prize in the end and that Polnareff was already recording his first single but had not told anyone else about it at the time.  In Salut Les Copains (No 69, April 1968) Polnareff indicates that it was a few months after turning down the Barclay contract that he was picked up by Éditions SEMI when a representative of theirs heard him singing on the streets.  But this is just not possible…

Given that the final of the competition took place on 12 February 1966 and that by early March Polnareff was in London recording with Jean Bouchety, I’d say Jacques Mercier’s version of events could well be right.  But how did this other contract and arrangements for the recording come about?

According to Polnareff’s school friend Gérard Woog, he introduced Polnareff to Lucien Morisse who was CEO at Disc’AZ and Programme Director at Europe 1.  Woog also worked as a talent scout for Rolf Marbot of Éditions SEMI (Société d’édition Musicale Internationale), which represented the entire Peer-Southern catalogue in France.  Woog convinced Polnareff to sign a contract with them, although apparently Polnareff wasn’t keen on the idea.

In Polnaréflexion Polnareff says that “a spectator” at one of his busking sessions at Sacré-Cœur asked him: “Don’t you want to record a single?” He says this “spectator” introduced him to Rolf Marbot and although Rolf Marbot was not too interested in what he heard, his female colleagues were absolutely thrilled.  In Polnareff par Polnareff the spectator is named as Woog and Rolf Marbot’s female colleagues are named as Huguette Ferly, Christiane Landrieux and the lyricist Vline Buggy; Polnareff says they were convinced he would become “a phenomenon”.

Huguette Ferly, who was the Artistic Director for Éditions SEMI, then introduced Polnareff to Jean Bouchety.  Bouchety was an arranger / producer who had played with the likes of Django Reinhardt in the 1940s and went on to arrange and produce for acts ranging from les Chausettes Noires, to Vince Taylor, and Jacqueline Taïeb of 7 heures du matin fame.  I also understand he may have been responsible for some of the music used in Prisoner Cell Block H – if so, you bloody ripper, Mr Bouchety!

Jean Bouchety (left, sitting) and Michel Polnareff (right, dozing on settee)

Bouchety was then working as an arranger for Barclay – the company that offered Polnareff a contract when he won the competition at La Locomotive – and Ferly asked him if he would consider working with Polnareff on his first single, which was to be La poupée qui fait non. 

Polnareff went to see Bouchety a few times and they recorded demos so Bouchety could work on the arrangements and lyricists could be brought in to work on the texts.  In Polnaculte Franck Gérald, who was roped in to write the lyrics for La poupée qui fait non, recalled meeting Polnareff at the time and noticing that he looked to be suffering from malnutrition, with bad teeth and skin so see-through that the veins were very prominent.

But despite being given this opportunity to make something of himself and to build a career in music, Polnareff seemed to be making demands over and above those usually indulged in as yet unproven talents.  Polnareff claimed that he insisted he would only record in England; in Polnaréflexion he says he told Rolf Marbot: “I’m not interested in singing in France.  In any case, I won’t stay here.  France is not ready for my music.  Listen, no, I’m sorry… I really prefer to go and work in England or America…”  But in Christian Eudeline’s Polnareff Le Roi des Fourmis (ECLIPSE Editions, 1997) Bouchety says he was in the habit of recording in London and so arrangements were made for the recording to take place there.  Polnareff had to meet Bouchety in London as he couldn’t bear to fly and so he travelled alone by boat.

The EP was recorded in March 1966 in the basement at Southern Music Studios on Denmark Street.  Polnareff didn’t play any instruments on the tracks.  Bouchety, not realising that Polnareff was a gifted and classically trained musician, wrote the sheet music for the tracks and called in Big Jim Sullivan to play rhythm guitar; Jimmy Page to play lead guitar; Reg Guest to play piano; and Bobby Graham to play the drums.  Although Bouchety couldn’t recall who else participated with the recordings, Polnareff says that John Paul Jones played the bass guitar.  Recording took one week, recording the music for the 4 tracks in one session; the vocals in another session; and the mixing took place in the final session.

But elsewhere Polnareff mentions in Salut Les Copains (no 69) that he had his guitar with him in the studio :  “I was scared to death but I knew what I wanted.  I had bought myself a twelve-string Hagstrom guitar, and I was very intimidated by the idea of playing in the company of experienced studio musicians like Big Jim Sullivan and Larry (sic) Page.  But it didn’t stop me from insisting on a [distorted] bass sound for the recording of La poupée qui fait non; from asking Big Jim Sullivan to play with his nails hitting all the notes; and asking Larry (sic) Page not to plug in his electric guitar.  Ah!  Let me tell you as well that all that took place in a studio 3 metres by 5 metres that was usually used for preparing Donovan’s demos and for his rehearsals.”

But if Rolf Marbot was ever annoyed by Polnareff’s supposed demands – recording only in London; his insistence that he be put up in “the biggest suite in the finest hotel” – then he wouldn’t have stayed annoyed for long as La poupée was a massive hit immediately, being played several times a day on all the radio stations in France and selling 200,000 copies in just two months.

In Polnaréflexion, Polnareff declares it was a worldwide success.  Not quite – even though Polnareff recorded the track in English as No, No, No, No, No, I’m afraid to say that it did nothing to light up the charts here.  Copies of the single in English are so scarce that it took me about 15 years to get hold of a copy (thanks to my lovely boyfriend who somehow tracked it down for me when I told him it was on my “most wanted” list).

One of the complaints I’ve had about my record collection is that it is essentially the same records over and over again with little variety; I don’t see what is wrong with that myself though.  Yes, I do have 6 copies of La poupée qui fait non on vinyl but they’re all different – here are the other 5 versions I have:

Italian language versions of La poupée qui fait non / Beatnik (Disc’AZ, J 35102X45)

Spanish issue of La poupée qui fait non EP, with Spanish titles but sung in French (Hispavox, HAZ 277-16)

German language versions of La poupée qui fait non / Beatnik (Disc’AZ, HT 300 019)

Dutch issue of La poupée qui fait non / Beatnik, sung in French (Palette, PB 40 261)

English language versions of La poupée qui fait non / Beatnik (Disques Vogue, VRS 7013)

But for those who have never listened to Polnareff before, what are the songs like?  And why would anyone want 6 copies of this rather fine single / EP?  Well, can I just pass on some advice first of all that you should get the vinyl EP or the vinyl version of the first Polnareff LP rather than any of the remastered CD versions, which have been “tidied” up, as the original versions are far superior; especially when it comes to the more garagey type tracks like Time Will Tell, which features on Polnareff’s third EP so won’t be discussed just yet…

Anyway, here’s a little bit of information about the tracks on the La poupée EP:

La poupée qui fait non:  A folk-pop song about an unrequited love; a girl who only says no to Polnareff and hasn’t yet learnt how to say yes!  He finds her very pretty and dreams about her but she doesn’t even listen to him or look at him, she just says no.  One of many songs where Polnareff complains about a girl not loving or wanting him.  The lyrics for this one were written by Franck Gérald, who worked as an in-house writer for Rolf Marbot’s SEMI.  Gérald says that in his demo version, Polnareff did not have any real lyrics and just sang sounds and English words like “you yeah”, which Gérald turned into la poupée (the doll), and “no, no, no, no, no”, which he turned into qui fait non (who shakes her head, or says no).  But in an interview in Mademoiselle age tendre (no 42)Polnareff said that the inspiration for the title to the song came from an incident that occurred in London – the story going something like this: he was in an antiques shop in London and he saw a very beautiful girl.  When she came in the shop he had been looking at a jointed doll made of jade.  As he was thinking about what he might say to the beautiful girl to get to see her again, he looked at the doll and its head appeared to move in a gesture that said ‘no’.  When he turned around the beautiful girl had gone and he never saw her again.   Franck Gérald also recalls the doll shop story in Polnaculte and says that it’s “totally false”!

Chère Véronique:  A pop song sung in the style of Buddy Holly or Adam Faith, with a sound similar to Trini Lopez’s If I Had a Hammer.  Another of Polnareff’s “poor me, she doesn’t love me” songs.  This one takes the form of a letter to an unrequited love called Véronique.  He tells her that he doesn’t want her to laugh when she reads what he has to say, but he dare not say it.  In fact he really doesn’t dare to say it because by the end of the song he has ripped up and burnt the letter so she will now never get to read it; she doesn’t get to hear about his love for her and how at night-time in his dreams he is able to touch her fingers, her loose hair and her blueberry eyes, but that the reality of the morning snatches her away from him.  In the letter he tells her how he spends the summer watching her from the branches of a tree; that he dreams of hearing her singing his song (an indication that the words are written for someone who is himself a singer); that the very next day he is having to go away to forget about her.  The irony of him singing that she will never get to read his letter is that presumably “Véronique” will get to hear this song and will know he loves her anyway.  So was this song autobiographical at all?  Erm, let’s hope not as Véronique is the name of the white hamster that sits on his shoulder on the cover of the EP.  Unless of course Véronique the hamster had a namesake, of course?  The lyrics for this one were written by a certain Vline Buggy.  Vline Buggy was in a fact a songwriting duo, comprising Evelyne (Vline) Konyn Koger and Liliane (Buggy) Konyn Koger.  But when Vline died in 1962, Buggy decided to continue writing under the name Vline Buggy, so these lyrics were actually written by Liliane Konyn Koger.  This track wasn’t included on Polnareff’s first album.

Polnareff and his pet hamster Véronique

Beatnik:  This is a song about “a long-haired tramp” who travels around with his twelve-string guitar (a Hagstrom like Polnareff’s? Probably…), singing come what may and looking for friendship, freedom and food.  The music has a kind of 60’s Manchester sound, a bit Hollies-like.  This is the “beatnik” as hero; even if he’s ready to faint from hunger he will still share his bread with a dog.  And “beatnik” as romantic; despite giving off the impression of being wild, a girl will still manage to capture his heart and he will sing endlessly for her because life is sweet when love calls to you.  At least this time he’s not bemoaning the fact that a girl doesn’t love him, I guess!  Again, this is another supposedly autobiographical track, with Polnareff seen as the beatnik character who was starving on the streets and singing to keep things together.  The lyrics were written by Franck Thomas, who was asked to write a text for “a beatnik” who was recording for Rolf Marbot.  Thomas had co-written Syvie Vartan’s 2’35 de bonheur and went on to co-write France Gall’s Bébé requin.  Interestingly, despite what Polnareff says about only wanting to record in England, in Polnaculte Franck Thomas says that although the music for this track was recorded in London, they went to Studio de la Gaieté near Bobino where Polnareff recorded his vocals.  Thomas says that he and Lucien Morisse were present and they were amazed at Polnareff’s talent; the soundman, someone called Roche, declared Polnareff a genius.  As with Chère Véronique, Beatnik was not one of the tracks included on the album.

Ballade de toi (Ce que je cherche est en toi): A folk ballad, with lyrics written by Anne Kopelman. This is a beautiful, sad little song about a relationship which has ended.  It’s about how short life is and how long it takes someone to find you and to realise that what they are looking for is you.  And then despite taking so long to arrive at this point, they so quickly decide to move on, by which time you have begun to realise that what you are looking for is them.  It has a very sad feel to it and lovely lyrics.  Heartbreakingly lovely.

All in all, an excellent EP and even more so when you realise that it was Polnareff’s first experience of recording his own music and singing in a studio setting; and what a special voice he has!

– – 0 – –

The English language version of La poupée has lyrics written by Geoff Stephens, presumably the same one who discovered and managed Donovan and co-wrote The Lights of Cincinnati with Tony Macaulay for Scott Walker; I like to think so.  Anyway, this seems to be a fairly faithful translation other than the acknowledgement he gets as a friend and brother in this version, in comparison with the total indifference he’s met with in the French original:

No no no no no

I give her my love
She says no, no, no, no
I give her my heart
She says no, no, no, no

Cos you’re only a friend to me
Only a brother to me

She’s a pretty little doll
Who says no, no, no, no
Just a little doll
And she knows I love her so

If I ask her to walk with me
She shakes her head at me

She’s a pretty little doll
Who says no, no, no, no
All the night time through
She says no, no, no, no

If I ask her to walk with me
Why can’t she ever say oui?

She says you’re only a friend to me
Only a brother to me

She’s a pretty little doll
Who says no, no, no, no
All the night time through
She says no, no, no, no

If I ask her to walk with me
I know she’ll never say oui

The English language version of Beatnik, with lyrics apparently written by Polnareff as no one else is credited (but I somehow doubt that he wrote them), is a much more pessimistic view of the beatnik life than the French language version.  Whilst the French beatnik would share his bread with a dog even if he was fit to faint himself, the English version gets into trouble with the police for stealing meat for dying dogs; the English beatnik’s mother died when he was “justalittlebaby” (Polnareff has to rush over the words in this verse just to make them fit in!) and his middle name is Lonely, but in the French version “all men are brothers” and he takes friendship with him when he travels the world.

Beatnik (English version)

His hair falls over his eyes
He gets up before sunrise
He’s 17 years, 17 years
They just don’t care
The world belongs to him
The world belongs to him

His mother died when he was just a little baby
His middle name is lonely
Lonely, lonely
They just don’t care
The world belongs to him
The world belongs to him

He gets some bread in his bag
A bottle of wine and a flag
People laugh at him, laugh at him
But they just don’t care
The world belongs to him
The world belongs to him

He ???
But he would fight and die for what he thinks to be true
They laugh at him, laugh at him
But they just don’t care
The world belongs to him
The world belongs to him

The police looked for him, he stole some meat
For a dying dog who had nothing to eat
They looked for him, they looked for him
But they just don’t care
The world belongs to him
The world belongs to him

His hair falls over his eyes
He gets up before sunrise
He’s 17 years, 17 years
They just don’t care
The world belongs to him
The world belongs to him

The world belongs to him (to fade)

If anyone can tell what the missing text is in this version of Beatnik, please let me know as I listened to it several times and just could not make sense of it.

– – 0 – –

Polnareff appeared on TV to perform and promote La poupée qui fait non on the following shows (and probably more):

Vient de paraître, 07.05.66, directed by Janine Guyon

Vient de paraitre 5Vient de paraitre 7Vient de paraitre 11Vient de paraitre 12Vient de paraitre 16Vient de paraitre 17Vient de paraitre 18Vient de paraitre 19

Têtes de bois et tendres années, 25.05.66, directed by André Teisseire

Tete de bois 51Tete de bois 52Tete de bois 53Tete de bois 54Tete de bois 56Tete de bois 58

Discorama, 30.05.66, directed by Raoul Sangla

Discorama May 66 4Discorama May 66 6Discorama May 66 8Discorama May 66 12Discorama May 66 14Discorama May 66 15Discorama May 66 17Discorama May 66 19

Douce France, 16.06.66, directed by François Chatel

Douce France June 66 19Douce France June 66 20Douce France June 66 22Douce France June 66 23Douce France June 66 25Douce France June 66 27Douce France June 66 30

Douches écossaises, 04.07.66, directed by Jean-Christophe Averty

Douches ecossaises 55Douches ecossaises 56Douches ecossaises 57Douches ecossaises 59Douches ecossaises 60

Jeunesse oblige, 16.07.66, directed by Denise Billon

Bienvenue chez Guy Béart, 18.11.66, directed by Raoul Sangla

Michel Polnareff Bienvenue 11Michel Polnareff Bienvenue 12Michel Polnareff Bienvenue 13Michel Polnareff Bienvenue 16Michel Polnareff Bienvenue 18Michel Polnareff Bienvenue 19

There was also an appearance on German TV (show unknown) where Polnareff sang half of the song in German and the other half in French:

And an appearance singing the track in Italian on a show apparently called Chez vous:

La poupée qui fait non – an absolute classic comprising just 3 chords!

The next Polnapop update will be on the subject of the Love Me, Please Love Me EP, but please be patient as I have other heroes to write about on here too…

Postscript August 2013:  Of course I keep accumulating records as I find them, so really this article needs to be renamed as I have more than 6 different copies of La poupée qui fait non now.  Here are a couple more I have added to the collection:

Polna poupee002

Love Me, Please Love Me / La poupée qui fait non 7″ disc AZ, Germany, HT 300022 (note the mis-spelling of poupée)

Polna poupee003

Love Me, Please Love Me / La poupée qui fait non 7″ Metronome, Germany, reissue 1974, M 25.620

Postscript February 2014:  I was recently given a copy of a German pop music magazine called Bravo from 21 November 1966 (number 48) and it includes the lyrics to Meine puppe sagt non, here they are for your sing-along pleasure:

Polna Poupee lyrics001No, the scan’s not wonky – it’s the layout of the page!

Also, it seems I now have all the TV shows mentioned in this article except Jeunesse Oblige – if anyone has this and can sell me a copy or trade a copy, please get in touch via the blog.  Ta!

Information sources:  (i) POLNAREFF Le Roi des Fourmis, Christian Eudeline (ECLIPSE Editions, 1997); (ii) Polnaréflexion, Michel Polnareff en collaboration avec Jean-Michel Desjeunes (Éditions Stock, 1974); (iii) Polnareff par Polnareff, avec la collaboration de Philippe Manœuvre (Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, 2004); (iv) Polnaculte, Benoît Cachin (Éditions de Tournon, 2007); (v) Salut Les Copains (No 69, April 1968); (vi) Mademoiselle age tendre (No 42, April 1968), article Michel Polnareff – mes “âme câlines” et moi, p78.

All (bad) translations into English are my own.  Thanks to Dave for photoshopping the Polnareff on the J’adore picture and for tracking down No no no no no for me after all those years.