When Brigitte Bardot asked Serge Gainsbourg to write a song for her in 1967, the result was the scandalously erotic “Je t’aime…moi non plus” (“I love you…neither do I”) recorded as a duet while they were making out in the recording booth. However, Bardot was married at the time, and her husband was, to say the least, not pleased when he heard about it. So Bardot asked Gainsbourg not to release the song, and he complied. Two years later, he recorded the song again with his new girlfriend, English actress Jane Birkin. This version was a major international hit, despite (because of?) being censored and banned all over the place. Afterward, Gainsbourg himself was shameless about offering to re-record the song with just about any pretty singer he came across, from Marianne Faithfull to Valerie Lagrange. The original Bardot version was finally released in 1986.
Serge Gainsbourg was one of the most famous songwriters in France in the second half of the 20th century. As a songwriter, he had a rich and varied output in almost every imaginable genre. In addition, he was a singer, actor, and director of note.
“I Love Mickey” by Teresa Brewer
The popular and versatile 50s singer Teresa Brewer had a hit in 1956 about the New York Yankees baseball superstar Mickey Mantle. The song was “I Love Mickey.” Mantle even showed up at the studio and recorded a short spoken word part for the song, which led to some rumors about a possible romance between them. The song was born of a visit by Brewer to Yankee Stadium to watch the team play. Watching the Yankees’ top player in action, she thought he was amazing and that someone ought to write a song about him. Her friend hummed a little tune, Brewer started writing lyrics, and before you knew it, the song was ready to present to Mantle for his approval.
Though her career lasted over four decades, the 50s really belonged to Teresa Brewer. Unbelievably, she recorded something like 600 songs in almost every conceivable style, from jazz and R&B to country and show tunes. Such was her fame that when Elvis Presley was in high school, one of his very first performances was a Teresa Brewer song.
“Jersey Girl” by Tom Waits
Softer and more tender than your typical gritty Tom Waits song, “Jersey Girl,” is a remarkably straightforward expression of love and passion for the love of his life, his future wife, Kathleen Brennan. They met while she was living in New Jersey, which is what gave the song its name. He was working on a movie soundtrack at the time and would go see her whenever he could.
The pair have been married for decades and live in California with their three children, often collaborating on projects. “Jersey Girl” has been covered by Bruce Springsteen, to the point that it is often associated with him more than its author. Tom Waits’ tough boozy musician persona makes his long, fruitful marriage to Kathleen Brennan somewhat counterintuitive. He has always been an intensely private individual and has built an impenetrable wall of separation between his professional and personal life.
“Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder
In 1976, Stevie Wonder released an ambitious double album called Songs in the Key of Life which included a sweet song dedicated to the recent birth of his daughter Aisha Morris. The song opens with the sound of Aisha’s first cry as she was born, and closes with the sound of Wonder bathing her when she was a little older. The album version of the song was over six minutes long, far too long to be released as a single at the time.
Songs in the Key of Life was Stevie Wonder’s most successful album and, in the view of many observers, marks the end of his early “classic” period. As he entered the 1980s, he developed a more polished commercial pop sound to massive success, which continues to this day.
“I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton
When country star Porter Wagoner discovered a relatively unknown 21-year-old Dolly Parton, it was a match made in music business heaven. Over the next seven years, she became a staple on his TV show and they recorded numerous duets together. It was a very lucrative partnership for both of them. But seven years later, Parton was starting to feel artistically stifled and wanted to branch out on her own as a solo performer. It was neither an easy decision nor an uncomplicated business transaction, given that their careers were tied together. But she did it and, to soften the blow, she composed this lovely farewell song for him, expressing her undying gratitude for all he had done for her.
“I Will Always Love You” was a number 1 country hit for Parton in 1974 and then again in 1982, a truly rare feat. And then, in 1992, Whitney Houston released a cover of the song for the soundtrack to the movie "The Bodyguard," and it became one of the best-selling songs in the history of recorded music.