by Vince Ynzunza
for Alexandra Sullivan
Je t'aime... moi non plus (French for “I love you… me neither”) remains one of the most controversial songs ever recorded. Written by Serge Gainsbourg as a duet for his then-girlfriend, Brigitte Bardot, in 1967, Je t’aime is a love song containing a dialogue between two lovers in the midst of sex. While originally recorded with Bardot, the single was never released due to the objections of Bardot’s then-husband.
However, a year later, after meeting and falling in love with English actress, Jane Birkin, Gainsbourg was finally able to re-record and release his song. The recording’s highly-sexualized content and its culmination in a simulated orgasm from Birkin caused the song to be banned in Spain, Sweden, Brazil, the UK, Italy, Poland, and Portugal. Even the Pope got in on the action, ex-communicating the record executive who released the single in Italy!
This appalling reaction, of course, did wonders for the tune and propelled Gainsbourg to international fame, while cementing Je t’aime as one of the most subversive and notorious songs in pop music history.
And now for your listening and viewing pleasure, here are 5 unique and eclectic covers of Je t'aime... moi non plus
This peculiar, mostly instrumental version, recorded under the title “Jet’M” (a pun on the English language’s penchant for butchering the French dialect), appeared on the 1981 debut album Kollaps, by industrial/noise pioneers, Einstürzende Neubauten. The name of the band itself, loosely translated into English, means “collapsing new buildings” – which becomes an apt description for the eclectic sound that the group would refine for the rest of their career.
Les Femmes Erotiques
I found this version on a massive Italo Disco compilation. For those of you not in the know, “Italo Disco” is a catch-all term used to categorize most of the European dance music output from the late 70s through the 80s. Marked by distinct and early uses of electronic beats, synthesizers and vocoders, Italo Disco makes American disco clap-trap purveyors like K.C. and the Sunshine Band sound like retarded child molesters choking on kazoos. This particular group, Les Femmes Erotiques, like most masters of Italo Disco, are largely unknown outside of the obscure box set or compilation. A cursory Google search revealed a 1993 porno movie of the same name by director Andrew Blake.
The Pet Shop Boys
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are The Pet Shop Boys, one of Britain’s most respected and successful electronic outfits from the 80s. After their initial hit with "West End Girls", the duo went on to sell over 100 million records and were recognized by The Guinness Book of Records as being the most successful UK musical duo ever. Outside of their amazingly catchy and sophisticated original compositions, the Pet Shop Boys also have a keen sense when it comes to cover songs. Running the gambit of everything from "Always On My Mind" to U2’s "Where The Streets Have No Name" (a medley with Franki Valli’s "Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You") Tennant and Lowe always pay respect to the original while inserting their own indelible flavor and mark into the tune. This version of Je t'aime, recorded with visual artist Sam-Taylor Wood, is a direct English-translation of the original French lyrics, accentuated with a creepy male vocal effect reminiscent of Kraftwerk.
Brian Molko and Asia Argento
Lead singer of Placebo, Brian Molko, teams up with Asia Argento, the daughter of Italian “Suspiria” director, Dario Argento, for this live version. Asia’s status as a cult-sex symbol combines well with Molko’s androgynous bi-sexual stage presence to create a vastly reinterpreted version of the classic that still manages to pay the original a proper homage. In this version, Asia’s performance is heard via a pre-recorded video which is being played above the stage as Brian harmonizes with her coital expressions – as if he’s making love to a memory, as opposed to a present participant. Like metaphoric masturbation before a crowd of intoxicated ticket holders – beautiful stuff here. Interestingly enough, Molko has also done a duet with Jane Birkin, the female voice on the original release of Je t'aime, called "Smile", which can be heard here.
Raised from the ashes of seminal experimental/industrial outfit, Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV was led by social provocateur and artist, Genesis P-Orridge. A sly, sarcastic, and hyper-sexualized individual, P-Orridge was a brilliant scourge on the sensibilities of mid-80s Europe; garnering a strong following through his music and sister project/philosophical cult, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth or T.O.P.Y., Genesis has developed an iconoclastic identity that still reverberates today. This song, perhaps the strangest and most hypnotic version of Je t'aime that I have heard, can be found on the Hex Sex: Singles Part 1 compilation.