Some Old-Fashioned French Scandale for Bastille Day

The French love a political scandal, and back in 1979, no one caused more outrage from his peers (and thus, undying love from the kids) than Serge Gainsbourg by releasing a reggae version of his country’s national anthem, Rouget de Lisle’s La Marseillaise. With Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Sly Dunbar on drums and Rita Marley on backing vocals, Gainsbourg nonchalantly growls a call to arms that had politicos calling for his deportation. According to Sylvie Simmons’ very funny biography, Jane Birkin remembers that one in particular labeled him a "walking pollution": “He said, how could someone -- and let’s not neglect the fact that the name Ginsburg [the original spelling] is hardly French -- could dare to do the National Anthem with a lot of rastas was poison for him. Serge, I remember, was so shocked. He was nearly crying. But then he found it was great fun that he was no longer on the entertainment page, but on the news page.”

Death threats were made, and on the following tour, security had to be maximized; two years later, Gainsbourg bought the original manuscript on which the lyrics were written in a highly publicized art auction, claiming it a question of honor. He became a national hero, and landed the cover of Hara-Kiri magazine (their Voice equivalent) in a staged photo of Serge being bayoneted with French soldiers, with the caption La Marseillaise Vengée (the Marseillaise gets its revenge). Said Birkin of the time: “He had stood up against all these racists and right-wingers – he who had never made a political statement in his life!” The album, Aux Armes, et Cetera, went triple platinum.

Long live France, and it’s spiritual king, Serge Gainsbourg. Watch the video above. Happy Bastille Day!

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