France Gall, 9 October 1947 - 7 January 2018
At the centre of France’s home-grown 1960s rock’n’roll scene – affectionately known as yé-yé – was France Gall, a Parisian teenager with a voice that overflowed with joy and affection. Her records, written mainly by her father Robert Gall and French provocateur Serge Gainsbourg, were shouty yet tender pop confections with cool jazzy bass-lines and big-band brass, striking just the right balance between adolescence and adult. In 1965, she took home the top prize at the Eurovision Song Contest for Gainsbourg’s ear-splitting ‘Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son’, thus securing her stardom across the Continent.
Decades later her 60s catalogue became a hot commodity amongst musicians, record collectors and pop kids eager to get their hands on her gorgeous Philips EPs. Her 1965 single ‘Baby Pop’ became the name of a Tokyo record shop, New York Francophile April March scored an underground hit with her cover of ‘Laisse Tomber Les Filles’ and pop groups such as Pizzicato Five and Saint Etienne regularly dropped her name in interviews. The French public – a little less fixated on her 60s legacy – continued to support France Gall as she ushered in adulthood and began collaborating with her husband, Michel Berger, who would write and produce much of her material until his death in 1992.
For the girl who scowled at the mere mention of France’s post-60s material, I’ve come to adore Berger compositions such as ‘Samba Mambo’ from 1975, ‘Le Meilleur De Soi-Même’ from 1977 and her heavily synthesised tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, ‘Ella, Elle L’a’ from 1987. Soon after Michel Berger’s untimely passing, France was diagnosed with breast cancer, and four years later lost her eldest daughter to cystic fibrosis. In recent years she devoted much of her spare time to humanitarian work and her love of poker, but in 2015 the cancer returned, and on 7 January 2018 France Gall passed away at the age of 70 – just one month after the death of French rock’n’roll icon Johnny Hallyday. When British singer Jane Birkin heard the news, she was devastated. “I can’t believe she’s gone,” she said. Françoise Hardy, who often shared the stage and the spotlight with her yé-yé sister-in-crime, told Europe 1 that France Gall was a woman of fine taste and said that she listened to her music often. French president Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to both France Gall and Johnny Hallyday, saying, “If Johnny Hallyday felt like a big brother to the French people, France Gall was undoubtedly their eternal little sister, whose radiant fragility accompanied generations.”