The heavy-breathing vocalist on one of the most infamous chart-toppers in British history, Jane Birkin enjoyed a long film and recording career. Born in London in 1946, she followed in her mother's footsteps and began acting at the Kensington Academy in London. While still a teenager, she made her stage debut in Graham Greene's 1964 production Carving a Statue. One year later, she was offered a part in Passion Flower Hotel, a musical produced by James Bond series composer John Barry, and she married him soon after. Birkin's first film, The Knack...And How to Get It, followed in 1965, while a brief nude role in 1966's controversial Blow-Up made her semi-famous.
Her marriage with Barry soon broke up, however, and a trip to France introduced her to Gallic pop star Serge Gainsbourg. The two eventually married, and Birkin lent her talents to Gainsbourg's 1969 recording of the erotic pop song "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus." Originally released by Fontana Records in Britain, the single was soon dropped by the label; reissued on the Major Minor imprint, it hit number one in England late that year despite a radio ban. The collaborative LP Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus soon followed, though Birkin spent much of the early '70s working in films. She appeared in much exploitation fare, including Sex Power, Romance of a Horse Thief, and Don Juan 73, the latter featuring her as the same-sex lover of Brigitte Bardot. With help from Gainsbourg, she recorded 1975's Lolita Go Home and 1978's Ex Fan des Sixties, gaining hits in France, if not in England.
Her marriage to Gainsbourg dissolved in 1980 (their daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg, became a singer herself, and made a bit of controversy recording the single "Lemon Incest" with her father), and Birkin later married French director Jacques Doillon. She continued performing, acting, and making music, mostly directed to a French audience, until 2006 when she released Fictions. The album included both a Tom Waits and a Neil Young cover along with new material from songwriters Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy, the Magic Numbers, Beth Gibbons, and Rufus Wainwright. The self-penned Enfants d'Hiver arrived in 2008.
Serge Gainsbourg was the dirty old man of popular music; a French singer/songwriter and provocateur notorious for his voracious appetite for alcohol, cigarettes, and women, his scandalous, taboo-shattering output made him a legend in Europe but only a cult figure in America, where his lone hit "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus" stalled on the pop charts -- fittingly enough -- at number 69.
Born Lucien Ginzberg in Paris on April 2, 1928, his parents were Russian Jews who fled to France following the events of the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. After studying art and teaching, he turned to painting before working as a bar pianist on the local cabaret circuit. Soon he was tapped to join the cast of the musical Milord L'Arsoille, where he reluctantly assumed a singing role; self-conscious about his rather homely appearance, Gainsbourg initially wanted only to carve out a niche as a composer and producer, not as a performer.
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.