Bizarre Recording Career
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Bardot's records are a strange bunch, and none stranger than "Harley-Davidson" - the notoriously kitsch 1968 single for which she remains best known as a recording artist. Exotic to a fault, her output mightn't be in the Grammy nomination class, but it's as much of the B.B. myth as any of her most provocative film roles. In France, there's a huge collector's market for Bardot's records, which has sent prices soaring in recent years; and in Britain, interest in these intriguing items is increasing all the time.
Bardot was appearing on record covers long before she first sang a note. She shot to stardom in 1956 with 'And God Created Woman', but made her cinematic debut in 1952, with 'Girl In A Bikini'. The sleeve of the film's soundtrack LP - only the second most popular music album issued in France - made her appeal to the male audience very clear. This record is now the rarest Bardot item of them all, valued at more than £1,000.
Since then, Brigitte has been featured on hundreds of covers - from soundtracks to films she's appeared in, unofficial tribute records and a promo EP for Winston cigarettes, through to her own musical efforts and classical LPs like Bizet's "Carmen".
Virtually everything Bardot-related is collectable, with her French EPs being a particularly popular area. Collectors rarely distinguish between albums merely depicting her likeness and ones on which she sings. For the purposes of this feature, however, it's her career as a vocalist whuxh we're concerned with.
Musically, Bardot's career began in earnest in 1962. The previous year, however, in the film 'Vie Privee', she had hummed a tune called "Sidonie", accompanying herself on guitar. This track was included alongside three instrumentals on a French EP issued by Barclay Records - EPs, of course, being the prime vehicles for new pop releases in France until the late 60s, when singles finally began to be issued commercially rather than just for jukebox use. An early version of "Sidonie" also appeared in the autumn of 1961 as part of issue 23 of 'Sonorama', the innovtive 7"-sized playable magazine which incorporated several flexidiscs to accompany the features.
In 1962, Bardot signed to the Phillips label as a singer. Titled simply "Brigitte Bardot", her debut album followed in 1963 - preceded by no fewer than four singles, all intended solely as promos and for jukeboxes. The LP itself was made available in two versions - a deluxe edition with a gatefold sleeve and a poster, and a standard single-sleeve album. The same design was used when the album was released in Britain; the U.S. edition sported a new sleeve and was retitled "Brigitte Bardot Sings".
And the music? Well, that was varied enough, with Bardot tackling one song in English ("Everybody Loves My Baby") and another in Spanish ("Wl Cuchipe"). The slow, nostalgic "La Madrague" - the name of her villa in Saint-Tropez- proved popular with critics. More important for the future, though, was the inclusion of a twist tune called "L'Appareil A Sous". It was written by Serge Gainsbourg, singer and indefatigible self-publicist, who was still concentrating on writing for other artists at this stage of his career. He specialised in songs for attractive women, with lyrics that were often ambiguous or sexually provocative; and his name was to reappear in Bardot's career many times.
Besides the four jukebox singles,
"Brigitte Bardot" spawned two fine EPs, and a rare 10" album "Brigitte" -
the latter reissued on CD in its original format last year, by the Dial
1964 brought another album, named "B.B." after her popular nickname. With Bardot on the cover, it was almost impossible for any artwork to look unattractive, but the close-up of her blonde hair on this LP was especially beguiling. The music wasn't quite so thrilling, but "Moi Je Joue" was pleasant enough. and Bardot also tackledthe Brazilian song "Maria Ninguem" (as recorded by Cliff Richard). It also included the instrumental "St. Tropez", recently used for the Channel 4 show, 'Euro Trash'. Three delightful and highly collectable EPs were pulled from the album, as well as another trio of jukebox singles.
In the summer of 1965, four new songs were included on another EP, which took its name from a seductive Serge Gainsbourg song called "Bubble Gum". Around the same time, Bardot was being persuaded to sing on the soundtrack of her latest film, Louis Malle's 'Viva Maria!'. She eventually cut three duets with another singing actress, Jeanne Moreau. The resulting soundtrack LP was issued all round the world, supported by another rare French EP.
Bardot quit Phillips for Disc AZ the following year - a brave move, as her new label was a small independent subsidiary of radio station Europe No. 1. Her first EP for the company appeared that summer, featuring "Le Soleil" and "Gang Gang". It was arranged by the British musical director Charles Blackwell, perhaps best-known for his work with Joe Meek in the early 60s, who also made many records with another French star, Francoise Sagan. "Gang Gang" and "Le Soleil" duly appeared in English versions (the latter retitled "Mister Sun") on a U.K. Vogue 45, which has never been reissued. British dealers might rate the picture sleeve release at a little over a tenner, but copies regularly sell in France for over £150!
On New Year's Eve 1967, French TV broadcast a special colour programme devoted to B.B. - 'Le Bardot Show'. Years before its time, it effectively consisted of a collection of video-clips, which made an incredible impression on the French public - who have the chance to revive their memories, as the show is now available on video. Of the dozen songs she sang, nearly half were specially commissioned. They were released first of all on the soundtrack LP, "Brigitte Bardot Show", which was where disc-buyers first heard that quintessential Bardot vehicle: Serge Gainsbourg's "Harley-Davidson". This celebration of an unusual variation on the eternal triangle - woman, love and the motorcycle - had been delivered on TV as Bardot perched, legs astride, on a Harley, conjuring up all sorts of mental apparitions for impressionable male viewers. Adding to the sexual appeal, Bardot was pictured on the sleeve of the LP (and the spin-off EP) virtually naked, but carefully masked by a layer of wrapping-paper. Fans declared the design a masterpiece.
Gainsbourg himself recorded "Harley-Davidson" in later years, while a more unusual cover of the song came in 1987 from the boldly-named post-punk outfit, the Bollock Brothers. But that wasn't the only outstanding number in the TV show. The steamy Gainsbourg/Bardot duet "Bonnie & Clyde" also won much applause, and was released as the title track of a Fontana LP and EP, both reprising numbers from the two artists' back catalogues.
Another duet should have been included on that Fontana LP: "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus". At the end of 1967, Gainsbourg (who was enjoying a brief affair with Bardot) penned the ultimate statement of eroticism for the couple, which they duly recorded that December. But after the two lovers split up, Brigitte and her German millionaire husband, Gunther Sachs, insisted that the track should remain in the vaults. Gainsbourg had no choice but to agree. It wasn't for another year that he revived the song, this time recording it with the English actress Jane Birkin in London - and scoring a worldwide hit (and scandal) in 1969. Brigitte must have realised that the novel taste of international success that brought Birkin as a singer could have been hers.
In 1986, Bardot eventually gave her permission for the original recording to be released. Slightly remixed, it was issued as a 7" and 12" single - and was virtually ignored by the public, who were perfectly happy with the existing Jane Birkin version. With its original mix, the Bardot/Gainsbourg duet finally appeared on the complete CD set of Gainsbourg's recordings in 1989.
In December 1968, Bardot's TV show was broadcast in the States. The programme's U.S. sponsor, Burlington, prepared a promo album for the occasion, titled "Special Bardot". It's been a highly sought-after record ever since, as it includes a Bardot/Sacha Distel duet, "La Bise Aux Hippies", which has never been reissued. In addition, thre were two English-language recordings with Serge Gainsbourg (also pressed on a French export single): "Bonnie & Clyde" and "Comic Strip", on which Bardot handled a response vocal that had been sung by an English session singer on the original French version.
While Jane Birkin became an international star, Bardot's recording career went into decline - as she gradually withdrew from the movie industry. She rejoined Phillips Records in 1969 for a one-off single, "La Fille De Paille", backed by "Je Voudrais Perdre La Memoire", which caught some of the mood of the Rolling Stones' "Lady Jane".
In 1970, she revised a Brazilian hit as the title track of her "Tu Veux Ou Tu Veux Pas" EP. She also sang in her film 'Les Novices' that year (spawning a soundtrack EP), and followed through with the theme song for the movie 'Boulevard Du Rhum' on 1971. Two duets in 1973 brought her mild success - with Laurent Vergez she reworked Peter Skellern's "You're A Lady" as "Vous Ma Lady", while her old flame Sacha Distel joined her to cut "Le Soleil De Ma Vie", a translation of Stevie Wonder's "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life". Thereafter, Brigitte gradually turned her back on the movies, music and mankind in general. It was no coincidence that her most recent recording, the rather lacklustre "Toutes Les Betes Sont A Aimer" in 1982, was a fund-raiser for the French Society for the Protection of Animals and for Greenpeace.
Her musical career may have been light on genuine hits, but it was still far from forgotten. There were retrospective LPs in 1977 and 1978, and another (also available on CD) in 1988, which featured a cover still from 'And God Created Woman'. Then in 1993, there appeared in France a luxurious three-CD box set featuring around 60 songs, assembled from several different labels under the title "Initiales B.B.". Around a dozen recordings were omitted, on purely artistic grounds, while the set did include three unissued tracks from the early 60s, and a previously unknown Italian-language recording from 1973. The first two discs from the set, "Initiales B.B." and "Bubble Gum", were also issued seperately.
To promote the box, Phillips prepared a 16-track promo CD - only for Bardot to object to the original sleeve design, which was duly replaced (and became an overnight rarity).
In Britain, meanwhile, no Bardot records have been released since 1968, when "Harley-Davidson" appeared on Pye International. On strictly musical terms, the "Initiales B.B." box set is probaly too weighty for the U.K. market, but there's definately room for a single-CD compilation of Bardot's best - and most exotic - recordings. She'll still be remembered as an actress and an icon, and also as a campaigner for animals; but her episodic recording career was definately much more than a cash-in on her celebrity status.
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