Still, he made his recording debut in 1958 with the album Du Chant a la Une; while strong efforts like 1961's L'Etonnant Serge Gainsbourg and 1964's Gainsbourg Confidentiel followed, his jazz-inflected solo work performed poorly on the charts, although compositions for vocalists ranging from Petula Clark
to Juliette Greco
to Dionne Warwick
proved much more successful. In the late '60s, he befriended the actress Brigitte Bardot
, and later became her lover; with Bardot
as his muse, Gainsbourg's lushly arranged music suddenly became erotic and delirious, and together, they performed a series of duets -- including "Bonnie and Clyde," "Harley Davidson," and "Comic Strip" -- celebrating pop culture icons.
Gainsbourg's affair with Bardot
was brief, but its effects were irrevocable: after he became involved with constant companion Jane Birkin
, they recorded the 1969 duet "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus," a song he originally penned for Bardot
complete with steamy lyrics and explicit heavy breathing. Although banned in many corners of the globe, it reached the top of the charts throughout Europe, and grew in stature to become an underground classic later covered by performers ranging from Donna Summer
to Ray Conniff
Gainsbourg returned in 1971 with Histoire de Melody Nelson, a dark, complex song cycle which signalled his increasing alienation from modern culture: drugs, disease, suicide and misanthropy became thematic fixtures of his work, which grew more esoteric, inflammatory, and outrageous with each passing release. Although Gainsbourg never again reached the commercial success of his late-'60s peak, he remained an imposing and controversial figure throughout Europe, where he was both vilified and celebrated for his shocking behavior, which included burning 500 francs on a live television broadcast and recording a reggae version of the sacred "La Marseillaise."
Gainsbourg also created a furor with the single "Lemon Incest," a duet with his daughter, the actress Charlotte Gainsbourg
. In addition, he posed in drag for the cover of 1984's Love on the Beat, a collection of songs about male hustlers, and made sexual advances towards Whitney Houston
on a live TV broadcast. Along with his pop music oeuvre, Gainsbourg scored a number of films, and also directed and appeared in a handful of features, most notably 1976's Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus, which starred Birkin
and Andy Warhol mainstay Joe Dallesandro. He died on March 2, 1991. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi