Serge Gainsbourg: the entire stereo collection on vinyl

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Mis à jour le 17 January 2022.

One year after the release of the Serge Gainsbourg mono vinyl anthology spanning from 1958-1970, Intégrale des enregistrements studio, volume 2 : 1971-1987 completes the discography of l’homme à la tête de chou with the stereo LPs recorded between the iconic Histoire de Melody Nelson and his last album, You’re Under Arrest. Like its predecessor, this luxurious vinyl box set was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road studios using a half-speed mastering process. A deep-dive into Gainsbourg’s entire stereo discography.

Intégrale Volume 2 : 1971-1987
The very simple cover of the Intégrale des enregistrements studio, volume 2 : 1971-1987 box set is only decorated with the artist’s signature.

After the mono vinyl collection’s immaculate white cover last year, the designers of this second stereo volume have chosen to enclose the nine LPs of this selection in a black cover simply decorated with Gainsbourg’s signature. A subtle reference to the mono and stereo box sets released by the Beatles in 2009, also produced at Abbey Road studios. This Franco-British venture also marks the return to the UK of the master tapes of several albums recorded by Serge Gainsbourg in London during the 1970s: Histoire de Melody Nelson (1971), Vu de l’extérieur (1973), Rock Around the Bunker (1975) and L’homme à la Tête de chou (1976).

Miles Showell used the latest digitizations of Serge Gainsbourg’s catalog, made with the original masters.

As was already the case for the mono recordings, the vinyl remastering and half-speed engraving process was entrusted to Miles Showell. “The half-speed mastering process is used to produce a high-quality vinyl master,” explains the sound engineer. “When engraving, the shape and size of the groove is directly related to the sound quality of the vinyl. Sometimes a problem can arise when a song contains a lot of information, such as high frequencies that may come from a tambourine or cymbals. By halving the engraving speed during half-speed mastering, the song becomes less complex and the information can be handled better. In the end, you gain more space and more frequencies, without taking the risk of pushing the engraving system to the limit.”

Available at Son-Vidéo.com, the Intégrale des enregistrements studio, volume 2 : 1971-1987 box set contains nine vinyl records (original mixes).

Ah, Melody!

In order to create these vinyl recordings, Miles Showell used the latest digitizations of Serge Gainsbourg’s catalog, made with the original masters. In the early 1970s, stereo had been the established audio standard for the previous decade. While N°2 (1959) and Percussions (1964) were released simultaneously in mono and stereo, Histoire de Melody Nelson is the first Gainsbourg album entirely designed for stereo listening. Recorded in both London (Philips Studios) and Paris (Studio des Dames) between April 1970 and February 1971, the joint masterpiece of Serge Gainsbourg and arranger Jean-Claude Vannier became one of France’s most legendary albums, before joining the record collections of music lovers from around the world. 

A stunning synthesis of rock and orchestral music, Histoire de Melody Nelson is a dreamlike tale about a narrator and his muse, Melody Nelson, an 15-year old English girl portrayed by Jane Birkin. Barely 28 minutes long, this 8-track concept album also attracted a lot of rumors concerning the musicians involved in its creation. 

Lengthy inquiries led to the identification of a trio of London session musicians consisting of Alan Parker (guitar), Dave Richmond (bass) and drummer Barry Morgan. Under the direction of Jean-Claude Vannier, their performance was complemented by a large orchestra of 52 people and 70 singers from the Jeunesses Musicales de France. A momentous collaboration that resulted in lukewarm sales: when it was released in March 1971, Histoire de Melody Nelson flopped in the charts. Only ten thousand copies were sold, and it was not until the success of Aux armes et caetera that the album became a reference.

The Intégrale Volume 2 box set allows you to rediscover Serge Gainsbourg’s masterpieces recorded from 1971 to 1987.

Two years later, Gainsbourg returned to London and switched to 16 tracks to create the framework of Vu de l’extérieur. The laidback, nonchalant instrumentation on this intimate LP was the work of the late Alan Hawkshaw, keyboardist-arranger and stand-in for Jean-Claude Vannier, who quit on the eve of the sessions. Despite the presence of “Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais”, Vu de l’extérieur struggled to appeal to the general public, before the artist crossed the Channel once again to create the controversial Rock Around the Bunker, released in January 1975. With Alan Hawkshaw, Gainsbourg organized an intensive two-day session during which ten tracks were recorded in the style of 1950s rock. 

Associated with parodic lyrics ridiculing Adolph Hitler and his regime, “Nazi Rock” exorcises the atrocities of the Second World War and the personal wounds of a child obliged to wear the yellow star. Once again, Rock Around the Bunker – available here for the first time on remastered vinyl – failed to find an audience. L’homme à la tête de chou, Serge Gainsbourg’s following album released in November 1976, met the same fate.

This landmark album also marked the end of the collaboration between Gainsbourg and Alan Hawkshaw, whose prog-rock orchestrations reach their zenith here, as evidenced by the album’s striking title track and the monumental “Variations sur Marilou”. Note that L’homme à la tête de chou, like Rock Around the Bunker, benefits from a brand-new, impressive vinyl mastering, despite the original mix that, like many chanson française mixes, favors the vocals at the expense of the instrumentation.

Reggae and American dreaming

Bored with British studios and on the verge of being fired by his record company because of his repeated commercial failures, Gainsbourg flew to Jamaica in the late 1970s. His last chance at a hit album, Aux armes et caetera, recorded in Kingston with the help of the famous Sly Dunbar/Robbie Shakespeare rhythm section, was a success. Against all odds, “Aux armes et caetera”, the Jamaican-style cover of La Marseillaise, triumphed in the charts and gave Serge Gainsbourg his first real hit at the age of 50. Released in March 1979, the album sold over 200,000 copies in two months. 

Gainsbourg’s day of fame had (finally) arrived, and he tried to double his money two years later by joining Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and the band from Aux armes et caetera in the Compass Point studios in the Bahamas to record Mauvaises nouvelles des étoiles. Very professional (in the meantime, Sly and Robbie had become expert session musicians), these sessions produced an excellent album, which nevertheless seemed somewhat rehashed. Mauvaises nouvelles des étoiles concluded Serge Gainsbourg’s reggae adventure, represented in this stereo set by two new masters with extensive dynamics and generous low frequencies.

Gainsbourg finally gained more mainstream popularity at the age of 50 with the cover of La Marseillaise “Aux armes et caetera”.

Now a prominent musical and media figure, Gainsbourg-Gainsbarre then took on a new challenge by fulfilling his American dream: created with guitarist-producer Billy Rush, the electro-funk Love On The Beat (1984) and You’re Under Arrest (1987, and available for the first time on vinyl as part of this boxed set) conclude Serge Gainsbourg’s discography. As was the case with the mono version, Intégrale des enregistrements studio, volume 2 : 1971-1987 is also accompanied by a bonus LP: Chansons de films et singles 1972-1980 features, among other tracks, “La décadanse”, excerpts from the soundtrack of Je vous aime, and a rare demo of “Comme un boomerang”.

This luxurious limited edition (and numbered for the first 150 copies) box set concludes the 30th anniversary of Serge Gainsbourg’s death, while waiting for more discographic surprises planned for 2022.


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