Download of the Week: Serge Gainsbourg

Histoire de Melody Nelson is, for all intents and purposes, a dirty record. There's no doubt that some people would love to stick a big warning sticker over the entirety of its delightfully mischievous cover. But why Histoire de Melody Nelson now? Originally released in 1971, its as fresh as ever and I've been digging it for some time on vinyl and now, thanks to Qobuz Hi-Fi, I've been streaming the crap out of the CD-quality version.

Histoire de Melody Nelson is also one of a few orchestrated 'rock' records that really works for me. The orchestra is woven into its textures and tropes by a skilled weaver, arranger Jean-Claude Vannier. But its really that funk-filled bass from Dave Richmond that tells the real tale behind Serge's lyrics.

The story is the dirty part although if you don't speak French, I don't, you'll have to get that intent from the sound. I do. Older man crushes out over younger girl. There you have it more or less. There's also some nice guitar work courtesy of Alan Parker and Big Jim Sullivan, as well as some fiery electric violin from none other than Jean-Luc Ponty. Jane Birkin voices the female parts. If Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin are new names to you, a Google search is your friend. Parental Advisory in effect for that too.

Histoire de Melody Nelson is certainly also a stone hot classic and artists like Beck, Michael Stipe, Barry Adamson, Cibo Matto and many others have sung its praises. Unfortunately, I can only find the 24/96 version on Qobuz which means you cannot buy it if your IP address says you live in the USA. You can sample it here and buy the CD and rip away. Or pick up the LP. You'll be happy you did.

"There's an ambition, a conceptual depth to Melody Nelson that's incredibly hard to pull off but which Gainsbourg does completely. It's very cool and its dynamic is genius…It's one of the greatest marriages of rock band and orchestra that I've ever heard." – Beck

You can also watch a groovy surrealist inspired film (including dancing inside a Dali) version here.

Drtrey3's picture

I must recommend Collin Blunstone's One Year. I learned about this 1970 record a few months ago while watching a concert video of The Zombies. Collin was their lead singer, and the record is really wonderful. Give it a listen!


Michael Lavorgna's picture
I'll check it out. Of course there's also Hot Buttered Soul from '69.
bobflood's picture

with your AURLiC Aries? If so, how well does that work?


Michael Lavorgna's picture

Yes, I am streaming Qobuz Hi-Fi with the Aries and its working just fine.

bobflood's picture

That's good to hear. I have high hopes and expectations for that device.

jim tavegia's picture


Michael Lavorgna's picture
And the Qobuz Hi-Fi lossless streaming service will not be available in the US until late this year or early 2015.
christopher3393's picture

Thanks, Michael. This is the first suggestion I've heard that the Qobuz launch might slide into 2015. Not a big surprise. Second, a confessions. As someone who was very active on the music scene of 1971, Seige Gainsbourg was considered completely lame. How these things get picked up down the line is sometimes very surprising.

I would like to recommend two albums by H. P. Lovecraft from the late 60's. In '71, very few active musicians would have done any thing but laugh at Serge, if he even merited that much attention. Just a mild reality check.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Things change. Thanks for the Lovecraft recommendations.
DH's picture

If you start an account on the site and email them from that email address you can request that they open your account for downloads. They did it for me - I don't live in France, EU, or the US. I have been told some US residents have gotten download privileges this way.

I have no idea how they work or the legality, but you can give it a try at

PalJoey's picture

One memory I have of him is what he said to Whitney Houston, which you can find on YouTube.

Also, there's a rather wonderful animation of the graffiti on the front of his former home, set to music from 'Melody Nelson' -

jimx1169's picture

Just curious, Michael, if you've encountered any stuttering issues with Qobuz. I've been listening on their desktop app and about 80% of the songs I've streamed has had a 1-2 second stutter somewhere in the song. On a Mac Mini with solid DSL connection.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I had to adjust the buffer size (under Settings) for my wi-fi connected iMac. For hardwired connections I have not had any stuttering issues.