Joyeux 14 Juillet, and happy Bastille Day! In honor of France’s fête nationale, let’s take a closer look at teen queen France Gall’s LAISSE TOMBER LES FILLES video from 1964.
While Richard Lester and the Beatles are often credited with inventing the modern music video in their 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night, the French had been making pop promo clips since 1960. They were called Scopitones and they were all the rage for a while.
The Scopitone was a big clunky console with a 26-inch screen and a selection of 16mm color film clips accompanied by songs – a primitive music video jukebox. Though the technology never quite caught on in the States, the machines were fixtures in French nightclubs until the late 1960s and hundreds of pre-MTV clips were filmed and played for the drop of a coin. Most Scopitone videos featured scantily clad women doing the twist, scantily clad men doing the hully-gully, or some campy/sexy combination of these two.
What allows the LAISSE TOMBER LES FILLES Scopitone clip to stand the test of time is its innocence and simplicity. No gyrating in a bikini or seducing the camera for 16-year-old Gall; she actually looks like a typical clean-cut teen. Though as the ‘60s wore on she would gradually lighten her hair to platinum and wear heavier make-up, in LAISSE she was still freshly scrubbed, auburn-haired and sporting an outfit she might have worn to school that day.
In fact, the clip is appropriately set in a classroom and features the pop singer writing some of the song’s lyrics on a chalkboard and lecturing the boy who broke her heart. “Drop the girls,” She tells the young philanderer, “or one day, they’ll drop you… one day, it’s you who will cry.”
Written for Gall by the notoriously naughty songsmith Serge Gainsbourg, “Laisse Tomber les Filles” is a surprisingly sweet, perceptive and empowering take on a young girl’s moral triumph over her two-timing guy. “Yes, I cried,” she admits, “but I will not cry anymore.” Meanwhile, in the video her blonde beau smooches and canoodles with every girl in sight, oblivious to her warnings and melodic admonishments. Quel cad!
We Americans are probably most familiar with April March’s French cover version and the clever English loose translation she recorded in 1995, but neither could match the charm of Gall’s original. March has a sweet voice, but France Gall had an authentic adolescent squeak to her vocalizing that was uniquely hers. Her spunky, vibrato-free intonations almost break as they stretch to reach certain notes, but somehow always manage to hang in there.
Vive la France! And vive la France Gall!