Philippe Garrel's latest movie, Regular Lovers, opens in New York this week. One thing immediately caught my eye in the opening credits: music by Jean-Claude Vannier. Alas, the soundtrack is a very sparse piano one, quite far from Vannier's signature 101 strings. Still, a good pretext to post a few samples by this most brilliant of composers-arrangers.
For many, Vannier is known only as the man who did the luxuriant arrangements (which Beck shamelessly plagia…er, borrowed from on a Sea Change track) on Serge Gainsbourg's 1971 concept album Histoire de Melody Nelson. Vannier's profile was raised in the US and the UK with last year's CD reissue of his own 1972 album L'enfant assassin des mouches. Vannier and a starry cast of guest singers performed both Melody Nelson and L'enfant live at the Barbican in October ’06. Over the years he's also released solo albums; you can find some MP3s at the excellent Filles Sourires site.
But I love him best when he works with pop singers, and in a few glorious years in the late ’60s–early ’70s, he produced/arranged/cowrote with the best of them. Vannier could do it all, but his forte was decadent strings that suggested vaguely illicit pleasures and veiled menace. My personal favorite is the venomous "Chanson de Slogan," written by Gainsbourg for Pierre Grimblat's 1969 movie Slogan; it's a baroque exploration of decadent aesthetics that epitomizes the incredibly fruitful Vannier/Gainsbourg collaboration.
MP3 Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin "Chanson de Slogan"
It made sense that Vannier would also work on the albums Gainsbourg wrote for Jane Birkin in the 1970s. The trio's collaboration was most effective on her first solo effort, 1973's Di Doo Dah, from which these two tracks are taken.
MP3 Jane Birkin "C'est la vie qui veut ça"
MP3 Jane Birkin "Leur plaisir sans moi"
Another superb Gainsbourg track, this time from the 1967 TV musical Anna; the song was recorded by both Marianne Faithfull and Anna Karina. Just check out that fantastic bass line.
MP3 Anna Karina "Hier ou Demain"
Watch Marianne sing "Hier ou Demain" in Anna
More Gainsbourg with an instrumental from his soundtrack for the 1970 Pierre Granier-Deferre thriller La Horse. Banjo and harpsichord? Sure, why not!
MP3 Serge Gainsbourg "La Horse"
Françoise Hardy, another 1960s icon, didn't work that much with Vannier, which is too bad because her breathy vocals combined well with his arrangements. The strings whirl on "L'amour en privé" reminds me of that on David McWilliams' "The Days of Pearly Spencer" (produced in 1967 by Mike Leander).
MP3 Françoise Hardy "Dame Souris Trotte" from Soleil (1970)
MP3 Françoise Hardy "L'amour en privé" from Message Personnel (1973, written by Gainsbourg for the movie Projection Privée)
Vannier cowrote and produced the first song on Brigitte Fontaine's most pop album as well.
MP3 Brigitte Fontaine "Il pleut" from Brigitte Fontaine est… (1968)
Vannier also collaborated with one of the great French singer/songwriter/pop stars—and certified eccentrics—of the 1960s and 1970s, Michel Polnareff. This song has one of the greatest chorus buildups in the history of pop music.
MP3 Michel Polnareff "Dans la maison vide" a single from—when else?—1969
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