France Gall obituary
France Gall was 17 years old when she won the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest with Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son, a composition by Serge Gainsbourg in which the singer lamented her plight as a helpless puppet persuaded to sing about matters of love in which she had no experience. By that time Gall, who has died aged 70, was already a star of France’s yé-yé scene, a rival to Sheila, Sylvie Vartan, Françoise Hardy and Chantal Goya, and regularly featured on the covers of such popular magazines as Mademoiselle Age Tendre and Salut les Copains.
A pretty face, neat blond hair – sometimes bobbed, sometimes long – and perfectly chosen clothes were among the ingredients that made her a model for France’s teenage girls. She could sing in her baby-doll voice about hating school (in Sacré Charlemagne, her first big hit in 1964, with a lyric by her father) or advise a boy to stop playing the field (in Gainsbourg’s Laisse Tomber les Filles, from the same year) without losing her innocent smile.
For Gainsbourg she became, in the words of a writer in Le Monde, “his first Lolita”. The Eurovision triumph in Naples – where they edged the United Kingdom’s entry, I Belong, sung by Kathy Kirby, into second place – cemented their partnership. With Attends ou Va t’en he empowered his creation to order a boyfriend to wait for her or get lost. With Les Sucettes – ostensibly about a fondness for aniseed-flavoured lollipops – he gave her a succès de scandale; she claimed to have been oblivious to the blatant double entendre, although she was aware enough to turn down a request that she should actually lick one while recording the song for a TV show.
Her star was dimmed by the arrival of the rock era and the change in attitudes symbolised by the events of May 1968. She never again matched such success, although her marriage to the songwriter Michel Berger resulted in a group of fine recordings in the 1980s.
Isabelle Gall was born in Paris, the daughter of Robert Gall, a successful lyricist, and the former Cécile Berthier. Her maternal grandfather, Paul Berthier, had founded Les Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois, a popular children’s choir. Isabelle learned the piano from the age of five and picked up the guitar at 10. When she was 15, at her father’s prompting, she auditioned for a music publisher and was quickly signed to a recording contract.
Her debut single as France Gall, Ne Sois Pas Si Bête, received its first radio play on her 16th birthday. The follow-up, Gainsbourg’s N’écoute Pas Les Idoles, reached No 1 in the French charts and remained there for three weeks. It became the title song of her first album, where her musicianship was displayed in Pense à Moi, a song in a jazzy Take Five-influenced 5/4, written by her father and Jacques Datin. With the help of Alain Goraguer, an experienced jazz pianist and bandleader, she put together a live act. Goraguer would also arrange a large proportion of her hit records, many of which were re-recorded with translated lyrics for her large foreign following, notably in Japan and Germany.
After providing her with Teenie Weenie Boppie, a bizarre song about a girl who takes LSD and dreams of the death by drowning of Mick Jagger, Gainsbourg moved on to Jane Birkin.
Gall’s boyfriends had included the singers Claude François and Julien Clerc; her break-up with the former inspired François to co-write (with Jacques Revaux) and record the mournful Comme d’Habitude, a hit in francophone countries but a much bigger one in 1969 after Paul Anka had taken the tune, added his own very different words, retitled it My Way, and given it to Frank Sinatra. It was another songwriter, the gifted Berger, whom she married in 1976, two years after she had recorded his song La Déclaration d’Amour. The later highlights of their musical collaboration included Ella elle l’a, a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, and the poignant Évidemment, which Berger wrote in 1987 as a lament for his late friend Daniel Balavoine, the singer-songwriter (“There’s a bitter taste in us / Like a taste of dust in everything”).
She continued to appear on stage from time to time but gave much of her energy to such charities as Chanteurs Sans Frontières and Action Écoles.
Berger died from a heart attack in 1992; the following year Gall was treated for breast cancer. Their daughter, Pauline, died of cystic fibrosis in 1997; their son, Raphäel, survives her.
• France Gall (Isabelle Geneviève Marie Anne Gall), singer, born 9 October 1947; died 7 January 2018