Skip to Content

Histoire de Melody Nelson by Serge Gainsbourg []



The master melodist and provocateur, Serge Gainsbourg introduced a revolutionary recording with 1971’s Histoire de Melody Nelson. The French pop star abandoned an archetypal singing style in place of a soft and nearly spoken word delivery. This was achieved by the singer’s smokey, baritone voice captured by close microphone placement. The music behind this voice is expressive and experimental with shades of psychedelia. Groovy (and yes, there’s really no other way of putting it) electric bass lines, freak out fuzz guitar and busy drums supply the basic tracks that are augmented by a choral and haunting string score by Jean-Claude Vannier.

Jane Birkin, Gainsbourg’s then wife, appears on the front cover and also provides the voice of Melody Nelson. You see, this is a concept record. It tells a Lolita-esque tale of a middle-aged man out driving who accidentally hits a bicycling British girl. The man falls in love with his victim and a love affair follows. Melody soon decides to fly home and the man, now devastated, performs an African Cargo Cult ritual to make his love return. His desperation proves to be tragic as he discovers that this act of mysticism caused an airplane crash.

The songs of Serge Gainsbourg, and the Melody Nelson album in particular, have inspired many musicians including Air, Jarvis Cocker, Beck, Portishead, Sean Lennon and the Divine Comedy. Rarely has the marriage of lyrical ingenuity and musical arrangement been achieved in popular music.

Tagged: ,