Track 1 – Harley Davidson Track 2 – Contact
Brigitte Anne-Marie Bardot was born in Paris on 28 September 1934. Daughter to a very strict homemaker mother, Anne-Marie “Toty” Bardot and a wealthy industrialist Louis Bardot, she grew up in a middle-class Roman Catholic observant home, with her younger sister, Marie-Jeanne.
It was particularly tough for the young girls growing up with incredibly harsh, stringent parents. At one point in her young life, after an innocent playful incident, which lead to an accidental breakage of an expensive Chinese lamp, Brigitte was told by her parents, they would from that day on, disown her as a daughter, as she was to address them only in a formal way, as a stranger would. This alienated her for the rest of her life. Inwardly, Brigitte dreamed of escaping her rigid monitored world….and she would hunger for that missing love.
Her socially ambitious mother pushed her daughters to do well not only at school, but also at ballet. Brigitte had an adoration towards for dance, and progressed particularly well, however her younger sister, Marie-Jeanne didn’t share that passion, and eventually gave up the lessons and did not tell her mother. Brigitte worked hard with determined concentration, and in 1947, was accepted to the Conservatoire de Paris.
Gifted with ridiculous amounts of beauty, the young starlet was noticed during her ballet studies at 14, and was approached with offers of modelling, a direction her mother encouraged her daughter to follow. Soon she would have her first modelling experience in a fashion show in 1949. In the same year, she modeled for a fashion magazine Jardin des Modes and soon the stunning 15 year old appeared on the cover of the french edition of Elle magazine in March 1950.
Director and screenwriter Marc Allégret was captivated by this image of beauty, and ordered his assistant, who was a young upcoming rebel film director named Roger Vadim, to go out and find her. He tracked her down and Allégret quickly offered Bardot the opportunity to audition for Les lauriers sont coupés. There’s conflicting stories whether Bardot landed the role or not, but the film was cancelled, and it is certain that this opportunity made her consider becoming an actress. Vadim became immediately smitten by her pouty sensuality…Brigitte fell madly in love with this bad boy…she had never meet anyone like him before, and in 1952 the 22 year old became her husband. Her parents were infuriated, but funnily enough, the two newly weds had to spend their honeymoon night at her parents home, as they had no where else to stay. They were forced to sleep in separate rooms, and Bardot was not even permitted to kiss her new husband goodnight. But Bardot wasn’t too bothered…”we had our wedding night a long time ago”.
A new path had been laid out for Bardot, leading away from her early ballet desires…now it was a different stage and spotlight calling her name. 1952 saw the start of her acting career, and she would appear in obscure films, generally lightweight romantic dramas, some historical, in which she was cast typically as “Ingenue” or “Siren”, often appearing nude. But in ’57 she really became world-famous with the release of the Vadim’s controversial film Et Dieu créa la femme (And God Created Woman).
Vadim’s now infamous film was certainly the vehicle that launched Bardot into the public spotlight, immediately creating her “sex kitten” persona, making her an overnight sensation. When the film was released in the US, it pushed the boundaries of the representation of sexuality in American cinema, and most available prints of the film were heavily edited to conform with the prevailing censorial standards of 1957. The film was also condemned by the Catholic League of Decency. Bosley Crowther, the film critic for The New York Times, wrote, “Bardot moves herself in a fashion that fully accentuates her charms. She is undeniably a creation of superlative craftsmanship”.
A proper English TV journalist asked the vivacious but innocent Bardot about these sexy roles she was becoming famous for, “Do you really like doing these kind of films, or would you want to be a serious actor?”. B.B. replies “On no, I prefer this kind of films…I will be a serious actor when I get older”.
Vadim and Bardot separated in ’56 amidst rumors that Bardot was having an affair with her And God Created Woman co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant, but remained friends for the rest of Vadim’s life. He would later direct her in The Night Heaven Fell, and Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman.
Bardot would continue to follow her acting demands playing some very famous roles in new wave cinema. She later starred in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 masterpiece Le Mépris (Contempt) and Masculin Féminin in 66. Bardot was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her part in Louis Malle’s 1965 film Viva Maria! Although she was in high demand in Hollywood, she continued to declined offers of filming in the US…she detested the way Marilyn Monroe was treated, a woman who she so much adored, and she didn’t have an enjoyable experience previously there. Eventually, Hollywood would accept her terms and they would have to come to France to film her, where she had a cameo in Hello Brigitte (which also starred Billy Mumy from Lost In Space fame, who apparently scored the first American on-screen kiss from the french beauty).
Bardot was appearing on record covers long before she first sang a note, and it’s pretty obvious the marketing strategy was aimed to appeal to the male audiences. She was plastered on covers for soundtracks to films she’s appeared in, unofficial tributes and promo records and of course, to her own musical efforts. Virtually everything Bardot-related is sort after, with collectors rarely distinguishing between albums merely depicting her likeness and ones on which she sings. But while there’s definitely a desirable kitsch and kookie wonderment about her recordings, I find that there’s a further unique beauty there, behind her stunning looks, that drew me in a long time ago, and which I have always obsessed over, for some time.
Bardot’s first 7″ vocal release was on the lullaby Sidonie, (delicate guitar work by Bardot) which was the first track on the Vie privée (A very private affair) EP in ’62, a film directed by Louis Malle which she herself starred in, alongside Marcello Mastroianni. This track was included alongside three instrumentals on a French EP issued by Barclay as well as a US single on MGM. An early version of “Sidonie” also appeared in the autumn of 1961 as part of issue 23 of ‘Sonorama’, the innovtive 7″-sized playable magazine which incorporated several flexidiscs to accompany the features. It’s such an adorable track…innocent, so gentle and so sweet!I love this side of Bardot!
Bardot had now signed to Philips, and the next year she would have two more Ep releases, Invitango and the great L’Appareil À Sous. The title track, penned by Gainsbourg (who was still concentrating on writing for other artists at this stage of his career), is a favourite upbeat dance floor spinner for me…1.24 mins. of french hip twisting mayhem! Her self titled debut album followed which was made available in two versions – a superb deluxe edition with a gatefold sleeve and a poster, and a standard single-sleeve album. The album contained a mix of styles and tempos, and included the beautifully strummed El Cuchipe sung in Spanish, and Everybody Loves My Baby sung in English.
The following couple of years she would continue to release fun pop french hits including Moi Je Joue (taken form her 64′ lp B.B) Bubble Gum in ’65, and the ever so dreamy Le Soleil in ’66, which had the fab off beat Gang Gang on the EP flip (these tracks were arranged by the British musical director Charles Blackwell, perhaps best-known for his work with Joe Meek in the early 60s).
In 1967, Gainsbourg was having some kind of an affair with Bardot, who was going through a difficult time with current husband, German businessman Gunter Sachs. One night in particular, Gainsbourg, who often was nervous around Bardot, drunk with his infatuation…and probably something more, made an ass of himself. And he was sure that this time, there was no hope in hell that Bardot would ever fall back into his arms. But Bardot’s request, as an apology, was that Gainsbourg write her the most beautiful love song he could imagine. That night he wrote two songs, Bonnie and Clyde, and also Je t’aime…moi non plus. They soon recorded an arrangement at a Paris studio in a two-hour session in a small glass booth, however, news of the recording reached the press and an angry Mr. Sachs! Bardot pleaded with Gainsbourg not to release it. He protested that “The music is very pure. For the first time in my life, I write a love song and it’s taken badly”.
But in 1969, Gainsbourg recorded a version with his new lover, Jane Birkin. The single had a plain cover, with the words “Interdit aux moins de 21 ans” (forbidden to those under 21), and would end up being banned in several countries owing to its sexual content. In the UK, it was released on Fontana Records, but, after reaching number 2, it was withdrawn for sale. Gainsbourg arranged a deal with Major Minor Records and on re-release it reached number one, the first banned number one single in the UK and the first single in a foreign language to top the charts. It stayed on the UK chart for 31 weeks. Bardot may have regretted not releasing her version, but she did give permission for a release of her Gainsbourg recording in 1986. With a slight re-edit, it was virtually ignored by the public, who were perfectly happy with the existing Jane Birkin version.
On New Year’s Eve 1967, French TV broadcast a special colour programme devoted to B.B. called Le Bardot Show. Filmed over several months between November and December, the 60 minute show was years before its time, and it effectively consisted of a collection of video-clips, which made an incredible impression on the French public. And this when audiences would first hear…and SEE, Bardot’s Harley Davidson. Phew! I can only imagine the thoughts that were going through both male and females minds when they first shared this moment. Yeah, she had the look, the big wild blonde waves, the tiny leather shorts and high boots, and her signature dark eyeliner, but the way she sang this, is just so defiant and…well…so Bardot (can’t think of any other way to describe it). I don’t need anyone…on a Harley Davidson…I no longer recognize anyone….on a Harley Davidson…I press the starter…and here is where I leave the earth…maybe I’ll go to heaven…but at top speed on a train from hell!
These songs were released on the soundtrack LP, Brigitte Bardot Show in ’68. Adding to the sexual appeal, Bardot was pictured on the sleeve of the LP (and the spin-off EP) virtually naked, but carefully masked by a layer of wrapping-paper. Fans declared the design a masterpiece. The flip to this iconic track is Contact, and I have to say that this track I find even more desirable, but I’m a sucker for 60’s psychedelic spaced out minimalist sitar flavored dance floor grooves! And I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on the film clip of Contact, with Bardot draped in Paco Rabanne!
Bardot retired in 1973, aged just 39, withdrew to her beloved Madrague, her retreat in St Tropez where she could dedicate herself to animals and a barefoot Mediterranean life. She would only leave her home to protest about animal rights (and make some ill-advised comments about immigration). Bardot’s passion for animals could be traced back to her childhood, a time when she transferred affection she missed from home, to whatever 4 legged creatures she could find. In 1986, she established the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals, and would constantly meet with the French President and other world leaders to protest any case of cruelty towards animals. Bardot has never resorted to any cosmetic surgery, (as so many of her contemporaries have) and has retained her authenticity.
I know many of us were bitten by the BB phenomenon many years ago, but it’s always great to get these records out again and play them out, especially to the “hip kids”, that for some reason are new to her. Her songs always bring back fond memories of great times, and they can still get the punters dancing…and smiling! I think she was an amazing woman with a whole lot more going on than meets the eye! And still is quite beautiful.
Recommended reading and references…