Histoire de Melody Nelson  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Histoire de Melody Nelson is a 1971 concept album by French songwriter Serge Gainsbourg. The Lolita-esque pseudo-autobiographical plot involves the middle-aged Gainsbourg unintentionally colliding his 26-horsepower 1910 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost into teenage nymphet Melody Nelson's bicycle, and the subsequent seduction and romance that ensues. Histoire de Melody Nelson is considered by many critics and fans to be Gainsbourg's most influential and accomplished album.

At just under twenty-eight minutes, the short running time and the stylistic consistency and similarity throughout the album gives it qualities more in line with an EP or an extended musical piece with a number of movements. Histoire de Melody Nelson‘s mix of freewheeling guitar, funk style bass guitar, near spoken word vocal delivery, and lush, deep orchestrated string and choral arrangements by Jean-Claude Vannier have proven to be highly influential amongst later francophone and anglophone musical performers including the French band Air, David Holmes, Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, Portishead, and Beck, whose 2002 track "Paper Tiger" from Sea Change is extremely close to the distinctive Histoire de Melody Nelson sound.

After the release of the album, a music video was made for each song, and released all together as "Melody" a short musical.

Jean-Claude Vannier performed the album live at London's Barbican on October 21st 2006 with guest vocalists Jarvis Cocker, Badly Drawn Boy, The Bad Seeds’ Mick Harvey and lead singer from Super Furry Animals, Gruff Rhys. Vannier performed the album in its entirety alongside Vannier's solo album L'Enfant Assassin Des Mouches.

Publicity for the Barbican concert revealed that the musicians used for the album were Dougie Wright, Big Jim Sullivan, Herbie Flowers and Vic Flick who all joined Vannier for the concert.

Track listing

  1. "Melody" – 7:32
  2. "Ballade de Melody Nelson" – 2:00
  3. "Valse de Melody" – 1:31
  4. "Ah! Melody" – 1:47
  5. "L'Hôtel Particulier" – 4:05
  6. "En Melody" – 3:25
  7. "Cargo Culte" – 7:37


#21 - Pitchforkmedia: Top 100 Albums of the 1970s

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