Histoire de Melody Nelson: The French troubadour/horndog’s lush, sleazy 1971 concept album is arguably his artistic zenith, but it also tells the following story: a middle-aged rogue hits a teen girl with his Rolls. He seduces her, they have sex in a hotel, then she perishes in a plane crash, her luggage washing ashore on a remote island and creating a “cargo culte.” There was also a TV special.
Rock Around the Bunker: The most inexplicable product of the ’50s revival wrought by American Grafitti finds Gainsbourg writing rockabilly songs inspired by his youth as a Jew in occupied France. Try not to bounce along to “Nazi Rock”—and try not to get creeped out by the appearance of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”
Je T’aime ... Moi Non Plus, the movie: Like many visionary musicians, Gainsbourg dabbled in filmmaking. None were crazier than his debut, which took the name, if not exactly the plot, of his most notorious hit. Joe Dallesandro plays a gay man who falls for a boyish woman (Jane Birkin). Of course, he derives no pleasure from vaginal sex, so has to do her from behind. But she finds anal too painful, and her screaming gets them booted from hotels. This film happened.
“Evguénie Sokolov”: Gainsbourg had a bizarre penchant for toilet humor; most of the lyrics on the sonically chill album Vu de l’extérieur are on subjects like flatulence and pretty girls going to the bathroom. His acme, or nadir, in that respect is on his second reggae album, which features Sly & Robbie doing their business under the sounds of farts.
“Lemon Incest”: The 1984 hit recorded by Gainsbourg and his daughter Charlotte, then 12. The cover of the single features Charlotte lounging on her father’s bare chest.
The Whitney Houston Incident: By 1986, Gainsbourg was mostly gone to drinks and drugs, and not above making appearances while intoxicated. When the newly megasuccessful Houston made an appearance on French TV, a visibly tanked Gainsbourg was on hand to coo at her in French. When the host tried to downplay Gainsbourg’s advances, Gainsbourg corrected him, proclaiming, in English, “I said I want to fuck her.” Hilarity ensued.