The French love song "Je T'aime… Moi Non Plus" ("I Love You… Me Neither") features Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg passionately narrating their lovemaking session, which climaxes with Birkin's moans of ecstasy. It caused such a scandal, it was banned by the BBC - which of course only piqued the public's curiosity, and it soared to #1 in the UK. Incidentally, it took more than a decade for another BBC-banned song to hit #1 in the UK: "Relax
" (1984) by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
Gainsbourg, a French poet/actor/musician, originally recorded the risqué number in 1967 with Parisian actress Brigitte Bardot, who was both his musical partner and lover. When Bardot asked him to write her a love song, he came up with "Je T'aime… Moi Non Plus." At the time, Bardot was married to German industrialist Gunter Sachs, and news of the star cozying up in the recording booth with the provocative poet was a tabloid reporter's dream. The papers titillated readers with descriptions of the erotic tune. When the press contacted Sachs for a comment on the hot-and-heavy session, he demanded Bardot pull the plug on the project – which she did, along with her relationship with Gainsbourg.
Gainsbourg was frustrated by the furor surrounding the song. "The music is very pure. For the first time in my life I write a love song and it's taken badly," he lamented. Then he met Jane Birkin in 1968 on the set of the French film Slogan. The pair quickly fell for each other and Gainsbourg asked Birkin to re-record his scandalous song with him. At first, she said no. "The Bardot version was too impressive, and I was jealous," she admitted.
The Gainsbourg/Birkin rendition befell the same rumors as the original, with claims that the pair actually made love during the recording session. Not so, says the actress. She told Mojo in 2001: "We made it very boringly in Marble Arch [in London], both of us in sort of telephone cabins. When you recorded in the old days you only had two takes, and he was very afraid I was going to go on with the heavy breathing two seconds longer and miss the very high note - an octave higher than the Bardot recording - so he was waving at me like a madman from his cabin."
Birkin gave her all to the performance… and then some. "I got a bit carried away with the heavy breathing," she told The Daily Telegraph in 2009. "So much so, in fact, that I was told to calm down, which meant that at one point I stopped breathing altogether. If you listen to the record now, you can still hear that little gap."
After the recording was complete, Gainsbourg tested his tune on unsuspecting restaurant patrons, where the unobtrusive dinner music was replaced by the unmistakable sounds of passion. "Everybody's knives and forks were in the air, suspended. Nobody went on eating," Birkin recalled to Mojo. "Serge said, 'I think we've got a hit.'" The boss at the record label agreed, turning one single into a full album. "He said, 'Serge, I'm willing to go to prison but I'd rather go for a long-playing record, so go back to London and do another 10 songs."
According to The New York Times, the title was inspired by the Salvador Dali quote, "Picasso is Spanish, me too. Picasso is a genius, me too. Picasso is a Communist, me neither."
The London-born Birkin is better known as an actress and the namesake of the popular Hermes Birkin bag. Her marriage to composer John Barry, who scored many of the James Bond films, ended in 1968, the same year she met Gainsbourg. Her romance with Gainsbourg lasted 13 years and produced a daughter, actress/singer Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Birkin on Gainsbourg's penchant for actresses: "He liked working with women, especially actresses, because he could tell them what to do - make them sing like he sang, very close to the microphone and whisper sensually. He found it far more interesting to make beautiful actresses sing than girls with beautiful voices."
Before finding Birkin, Gainsbourg approached Marianne Faithfull to re-record this with him. Although she thought Bardot was a fool for stepping down, she still refused. "I don't know why I turned him down," she told Mojo in 2001. "I'd say, to my shame, that I was wrapped up in the beginning of my affair with Mick Jagger and he wouldn't have liked it. Maybe I was too young, too embarrassed - I'm sexual, but in a very different way. I'd accept now, but at the time, being the angel... actually, that would have made it even funnier. I wish I'd done it."
In Italy, this was immediately denounced by the Vatican, and supposedly the record executive who introduced it to the country was excommunicated. According to Birkin, Gainsbourg called the Pope "our greatest PR man."
So what did Bardot think of her replacement? Birkin got the chance to find out when they appeared in a movie together in 1973. "Well once, very sweetly, when we were lying naked in bed together filming Roger Vadim's Don Juan (Or If Don Juan Were A Woman), I suggested we sing to pass the time. 'Why don't we sing 'Je T'aime… Moi Non Plus,' she winked."
Donna Summer caused a similar stir in the US with her sultry song "Love To Love You Baby
" in 1975. Like Birkin, Summer had to field accusations over her orgasmic cooing, which sounded too realistic to be fake. Summer and her producer Giorgio Moroder also recorded a 15-minute disco rendition of the Birkin/Gainsbourg duet for the 1978 musical Thank God It's Friday
Gainsbourg directed a 1976 film adaptation starring Birkin as a boyish waitress who becomes involved with a gay trucker.
The Pet Shop Boys recorded this in 1998 with filmmaker Sam Taylor-Wood as the B-side to the single "I Don't Know What You Want but I Can't Give It Any More." It's also been covered by Malcolm McLaren, Nick Cave & Anita Lane, Cibo Matto & Sean Lennon, and Cat Power & Karen Elson, among others. In 1975, English ska musician Judge Dread hit #9 in the UK with his comic version, which details his encounter with a cross-dresser.
This was used in these movies:
Road North (2012)
The Good Thief (2002)
The Full Monty (1997)
Addicted To Love (1997)
And in these TV series:
Gossip Girl ("Double Identity" - 2010)
90210 ("Girl Fight!" - 2010)
Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares ("Piccolo Teatro" - 2007)
In the UK, this was re-issued in 1974, going to #31. In 1975, reggae-tinged cover by Judge Dread went to #9.