France Gall
France Gall 1947-2018
Photo c. 1966. Click to enlarge.

Hello all, I've had to have a little break from blogging, so since this is my first post of the year, I want to belatedly wish you all a Happy New Year. Unfortunately, the year had a very sad start with the loss of an artist I hold very dear, France Gall. I have some special France Gall-related things to post, coming up soon. For now, I just wanted to share a few words about what France Gall has meant to me – if I can even begin to capture such a thing.

When I first heard France Gall's sixties music, my mind was blown. It was everything I loved in pop music, turned up to eleven. A lot of people describe something similar on discovering her for the first time. Gall has clearly meant a lot to so many, her infectious joy reaching beyond any particular time or place. She got to make some of the best, original music in sixties French pop (unlike her contemporaries, she hardly did any cover songs), and there are indeed many to credit for the brilliance of her songs. But there is undeniably something so special and appealing about Gall that made those songs truly amazing.

I have always really adored the young Gall's voice, so natural and expressive and unique. I know some simply write her off as not being able to sing, and while I can appreciate that her singing style isn't for everyone, I don't think that's a totally fair charge. She has a really lovely vocal tone, her pitch for the most part is good, and her timing is impeccable, even on very challenging jazzy numbers. Her main 'flaws' are that she has a limited range, and hits some notes audibly flat. She has some unusual techniques that show the untrained nature of her voice, like singing in falsetto, or getting kind of shouty when belting is required. Yet these imperfections have always been part of her charm to me, and even part of what I find pleasing to listen to. There are many singers, especially in punk, indie and rock, who are far from technically perfect – sometimes even quite bad – who are still enjoyable to listen to, and it's often because of their flaws, not despite them. I just find this a different, but still valid, listening experience than that of hearing a meticulous vocal. What fascinated me on hearing the slightly off-kilter quality to Gall's vocals was that the French had room for this approach in pop music so early on, well before the rock world saw this as an artistic choice elsewhere. 

It's interesting the French could recognise the appeal of vocal character over technical perfection, to the extent of making a pop superstar out of someone with a notably flawed voice. Character is what I look for in a vocal, whether technical skill is present or not, and hers was sweet, enthusiastic and wonderful at conveying emotion. There's a quote I wish I could find where Gall talked about a compliment she was thrilled to receive, where someone compared her to Édith Piaf. The comparison was not about ability – Gall was well aware she wasn't even close to Piaf's vocal mastery – but the gist was that she similarly sang with every fibre in her being. She had a small voice but sang with all her heart.

I think France Gall was the route deeper into 1960s French pop for quite a few people, moreso than even Serge Gainsbourg or Françoise Hardy, and that certainly was the case for me. Her music showed me what a wonderfully odd and gorgeous world sixties French pop could be, through those beautiful arrangements and melodies, quirky lyrics, and her unusual voice. Though she kicked off a rewarding foray for me into the many delights of the scene, nothing, of course, has ever topped her and she has remained, and always will remain, my absolute favourite.

French pop in this era was a well-oiled machine and, moreso than its counterparts elsewhere, there was a strong a visual component tied to the music. There are those gorgeous EP and album covers, as well as countless magazine photo shoots that showed off Gall's warm personality, cute style and stunning looks. Gall was a great beauty her whole life, but never had the ego that often accompanies that. What I found even more exciting than finding all those lovely pictures was discovering her videos. When I started collecting her television appearances and scopitones, it added a whole new dimension to my fandom. As deeply as I already loved her music, seeing her sing her songs enhanced them and gave me even more of a sense of who she was. There's a genuine sweetness and joy that comes across, and she seems natural, warm and unaffected. I find watching her performances gives me a feeling like little else, like some sort of relaxing shot of sunshine.

By all accounts, Gall was as lovely a person as she seemed. Jane Birkin, for example, shared a touching anecdote about how Gall showed up to offer support and help when Birkin's daughter, Kate Barry, died a few years ago. I tend to focus on her sixties career because that's the music I love so very much, so my main image of her is as a teenager and young woman, but of course, she had a long and successful career, and grew into more than just the sweet ingenue of the yé-yé years. She suffered a lot of hardships, like the loss of her beloved husband and musical partner Michel Berger, and later their daughter Pauline, who suffered from cystic fibrosis. She was also a breast cancer survivor. What an incredibly strong person she must have been to not only endure all this, but remain the kind and selfless woman Birkin recently recalled.

I admire who she went on to become as a woman, even if my interest in her music is mostly limited to those early years. Her later music is not bad by any means, it just is very much of its era, and the prevailing trends of seventies and eighties adult-oriented pop are not so much to my taste. But I've always felt happy for her that she found deep contentment singing Berger's songs, and that she felt way more connected to the words he wrote for her than to those of the songs she had sung as a girl. I respect that she continued her career on her own terms, and thrived doing so. 

Still, there's something so iconic about the young France Gall of the 1960s, such a fun, gentle and lovable presence, unguarded and radiating a natural sweetness and enthusiasm. Though I feel immeasurably sad at her passing, it's this image that will stay with me and continue to warm my heart.

Thank you, France Gall. Thank you for being you and brightening the world. Thank you for the beautiful music. It means more to me than I can ever express.

I have a series of tribute posts planned, and I shall get them up after I catch up on a few other posts that have been delayed. Meanwhile, you can have a look at the 'France Gall' tag to see older posts dating back to 2005, which include magazine scans, videos and some favourite songs.

Comment (1)

  • Joe  
    wow what a beautiful article on France.

    just like you i also have similar feeling for France Gall,it all started when i was 8 years old, in school we had to do a couple paragraph report on someone famous from another country, i ended up getting a magazine with french people to go through. being only a kid at the time i was not very interested in girls yet until i was going through that magazine and found a picture of France Gall, she was wearing a pink and yellow striped mini dress with yellow knee high socks, at that very moment i felt my heart skip, she was the very first woman that i ever thought was beautiful. i couldn't get over that picture i must of stared at it for 5 straight minuets until my teacher told me to get to work. Ever since that day France Gall has been the woman of my dreams. that was actually the only photo i have seen of her until i was a little older as i live in the USA and at the time modern computers were just coming out and there was not a whole lot of information on her yet.

    It wasn't until i was around 12 that i saw the first France Gall video i don't remember the site but it was way before youtube came out. it was a low quality VHS recording of Der Computer Nr3 she was wearing a blue mini dress. like you were saying when you see her in a video its a whole new experience. she has so many facial expressions and emotions when she is singing unlike most of the singers of the time who were stone faced. her dancing is a little weird but for some reason it works, it actually adds to her charm and makes her look more innocent and beautiful.

    I believe she had a beautiful voice that suits her well, yea in some songs its not the best like you were saying. but it make France Gall. even some of the most famous singers in the world like the Beatles there voices all sounded like that brown stuff you flush down the toilet or johnny cash his voice was so raspy and sounded like he was choking on a cigarette but people loved there style, passion and enthusiasm for the songs they sang and it made them who they are. there were actually very few people who were famous only for there voice. the only person i can think of at the moment is Roy Orbison. literally no expressions no emotion only voice. if you watch his music videos he just stands and sings and does nothing else besides blink his eyes but you cant even see that cause he is hiding under sunglasses. There are some songs were i believe France Galls Voice shines, one song in particular is john john all the low keys are perfect and i don't think anyone else could do better, it is such a peaceful song and one of my favorites to listen to when i am in a bad mood. some people would say different but i don't really care.

    if i had to list my top 5 favorite french France Gall songs i would have to say
    1.La Vieille Fille
    2.Bebe Requin
    3.La fille d'un garçon
    5.john john

    her german and italian songs are also excellent. my favorite German song would have to be computer nr3 its weird but i love it. Il mio amore e una ruotta is my favorite italian song and i actually listen to it more than any other song for some reason. sorry this is so random i am just writing what i am thinking.

    France Gall is my medicine, when i am feeling down, afraid or paranoid. When i listen to France Gall it does something to me,it has a positive mental effect on me, it makes me forget about all the bad in life, it makes me feel happy and warm watching her videos adds more effect every time i see her smile in a video it makes me want to smile. because of France Gall i am actually smarter, because of her i am a excellent artist i started drawing pictures of her until i became very good. i learned to play guitar because i wanted to learn some of her songs. it could go on and on.

    i am not gonna lie when i heard she passed these weird little water bubbles fell from my eyes something i very rarely experience. it was actually one of my goals in life was to one day meet her and thank her for everything her and her music has done for me.(thats a lot of hers) but i never got the chance, that is something i will probably regret for the rest of my life. there is not enough words in all the languages of the world to express how i feel about France Gall, to me she was the closest women to perfection that would ever walk gods green earth.

    France Gall was truly a magical person who stood out from everyone else, she did and will continue to spread happiness and joy around the world as she did for me.

    Its sad France Gall is gone but i am happy she was even here.

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