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Sound Doll/Bran Doll

eebee's picture

The North Carolina license plates have worked their way through the "E"s, and recently I have found myself with "Ella, elle l'a" stuck in my head after stopping at a traffic light behind an "ELA" tag. I was sad to hear of France Gall's passing today. Her song about Ella Fitzgerald was a hit when I was in France in the eighties. Gall had won the Eurovision Song Contest for France in 1965 at age 18, with "Poupee de cire, poupee de son", written by Serge Gainsbourg.  I had a hard time making sense of the title until I remembered the term 'son de blé', and that a rag doll I guess could be filled with wheat 'bran' (how very 1980s healthy of her). 'Poupee de son' might also translate to 'doll of sound'.  The most popular translation of Gainsbourg's title, however, seems to be "Wax doll, rag doll". 

As I watched the 1965 live video again I wondered how much of an influence this song and performance were for Bjoern & Benny (yes, all my roads lead back to ABBA) with "I'm a marionette". I am now tempted to think the Carol Channing wigs they had the girls wear on stage during their 1977 tour while performing "I'm a marionette" were more in line with France Gall's doll scene, especially since ABBA had also been Eurovision champs 9 years after Gall. The titles are similar but the context differs slightly, as "I'm a marionette" seems to be ABBA's complaint of life on the road. Musically, in my opinion, both songs have an energetic beat but are not particularly happy sounding. 

Maybe I'm alone in this! 

Just for fun, here's an obligatory ABBA puppet version of 'I'm a marionette'



timv's picture


I'll see your ABBA and raise you Mott the Hoople's "Marionette (Live)". I suppose it's a natural motif for musicians, even the ones who write their own songs. A long tour doing the same show every night probably starts to feel that way for everyone.

And that's a sweet tribute to France Gall. I recognized the name and had read a little bit about her, about Serge Gainsbourg writing songs filled with innuendos that she didn't understand at the time, but I hadn't heard the songs. Evidently, from the comments, she had lots of fans all around the world.

eebee's picture

Puppet on a string

They could just as easily have been influenced by that Mott song. :-D Thanks for bringing it up. The piano intro is probably not a coincidence. 

I forgot the obvious one in the same thread, the United Kingdom's winning entry to Eurovision (22 days before I was born!): Sandie Shaw's "Puppet on a string", lyrics by a Bill Martin, who (surprise) wrote the English lyrics for forlorn sixties waif Twinkle in 1965 to the 'Poupee de son' tune. I spent a grand total of one minute discovering that! Mirthful interview with him here (are they holding up 'Cue Girls Screaming' signs off camera in the Cliff Richard clip?).

timv's picture


Wasn't aware of the Sandie Shaw song. Thanks for including that. I guess I only knew her as one of the 60s pop singers Morrissey had become obsessed with as The Smiths were falling apart. That title brings to mind, "Open up the heaven in your heart and let me be the things you are to me and not some puppet on a string," sung by Andy Gibb and written by Barry Gibb, whom I can pardon for helping out his little brother but never ever for Saturday Night Fever.

There's also Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham's "I'm Your Puppet," best known as sung by James & Bobby Purify, although recorded first by Penn as it turns out and covered many times since. With all of the "baby" songs of the early/mid 60s ("Be My Baby," "Baby, Where Did Our Love Go?," "Baby Love," "Don't Worry Baby," etc.) branching out to toys and games might have been the natural next step.

Anyway I was curious about the "poupée de cire" half of the title, wondering how popular actual wax dolls might have been. Coincidentally I was zooming around the net looking for information on ice skating form and technique, and I noticed several references attempting to connect skating with Marie Antoinette. (Apparently ice skating was indeed fashionable during Louis XVI's reign in France and it wouldn't be too surprising if his Queen had an Austrian's love of winter sports. I'm skeptical of claims that figure skating was invented as an entertainment either for her or by her though.)

An essay about her, which only tangentially mentions skating but was interesting nonetheless, was, "The Queen's Closet: What Marie Antoinette really wore," which brings up poupées de mode, "elegant fashion dolls" sent as models from Paris "to foreign capitals, including the Vienna of Archduchess Marie Antoinette's childhood." She's said to have had a very large collection of them and I wondered if maybe some of them might have been made of wax. But sources say that they were either wood or ceramic,  and really wax wouldn't have traveled very well. It's also anachronistic, since wax figures were introduced by Madame Tussaud and her lesser-known anatomist uncle in Paris during the time of Louis XVI.

Like figure skating and Marie Antoinette, Tussaud's biography tends to be muddled by the back-story promoted for her later Wax Museums, but evidence seems good that she was in fact living at Versailles as an art tutor to the King's sister at the time of the Revolution, and her experiences during the Reign of Terror--narrowly escaping execution herself--are prominent in her later legend. There's a macabre sense to the museums (at a minimum, nearly all the figures portrayed there are people no longer with us) and I wonder if "poupée de cire" was at least meant to be a little bit creepy in that way.

It's also interesting to me that the French in the 1960s would still refer to phonograph records as "wax," as in English, when it had gone away with Edison cylinders when they faded out for good in the 1920s. (78s were generally a compound based on shellac, 33s all vinyl, and 45s usually polystyrene.)

But back in the early days of the Internet, the first really cool thing I found online  was a trove of electronic transcriptions of cylinder recordings, including the first million-seller in history, Enrico Caruso's "Vesti la Giubba." (Believe the hype, he really was that good.) It really was recorded on wax and, as with France Gall's song, it's another tale of a performer complaining about having to go on stage, in this case a clown who has to make the audience laugh while his heart is breaking.

roadskater's picture

You Guys Are Amazing So Thanks

After many days of not feeling like using my computers, I am finally feeling well enough to catch up on roadskater.net on my phone, no less. Yes that's harder, perhaps, but it's working surprisingly well. All I have to contribute is firings that are tenuous at best:

Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

Its a mighty long way down rock and roll.

Beatles broke out of it by stooping touring and forming a fake band, SPLHCB.

How long has this been going on? 

Tracks of my tears.

Ok that's it. No reply necessary unless there's a spark. Thanks for reminding me why y'all are fascinating friends and why the hours roadskating can feel so short.

roadskater's picture

Let Us Know When Georgia License Plates Get to ELO (Edit: NC)

We can do lots with that I bet.


More typed on my ohone: I really enjoyed Mott the Hoople and Ian Hunter. His book, Diary of a Rock'n'roll Star, was an interesting read, as I recall. I have strong memories of visiting my brother in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. He handed down much great music when he upgraded his stereos and vinyl. Among the Disco bands, ABBA have survived well in my ears, and I've enjoyed seeing their documentaries and performances. 

eebee's picture

Just Tobacco

I think the GA tags right now are in the Rs. I see a lot of RJR plates, which leads to memories of post-training-ride, sweaty spandex clad fancy dining in Reynolda Village's Village Tavern - you know, back when we were fat and old. 

It's perhaps a bit futile to mention that I prefer all of ABBA's  non-disco songs. I'm not going to change the disco connotation over here, when they were more a pop folk schlager fusion band over there.

roadskater's picture

Yeah Dancing is Not Necessarily Disco

Oh yeah, I meant North Carolina licence tags. Oops. There were some Eagles and Rolling Stones albums that were pretty disco, to my chagrin. Though some came out OK. Yes I think ABBA is popular today for their not being stuck in one groove, for attempting and succeeding at lyrics, for their quirky composition of personalities and looks, and of course because some people associate them with the good young carefree days. Dunno. They seemed to have fun and were serious about writing and performing, but not so serious that they thought they were to good to be poked fun at or to poke fun at themselves.

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