In 1967, two icons of French popular culture went out on a date. It didn’t go well. The usually cool Serge Gainsbourg was so intimidated by Brigitte Bardot’s beauty that his notorious charm failed him. Believing he had blown his chance, Gainsbourg was surprised when Bardot telephoned and said he could make amends by writing her “the most beautiful love song you can imagine.”
Gainsbourg responded by writing two songs. One was called “Bonnie and Clyde.” It was inspired by that year’s hit film of the same name by Arthur Penn, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as the notorious 1930s outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
Gainsbourg composed the song around a French translation of a poem Parker wrote a few weeks before she and Barrow were gunned down by lawmen. (See footage from the scene of their death here.) It begins:
You’ve read the story of Jesse James
of how he lived and died.
If you’re still in need;
of something to read,
here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.
Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang
I’m sure you all have read.
how they rob and steal;
and those who squeal,
are usually found dying or dead.
There’s lots of untruths to these write-ups;
they’re not as ruthless as that.
their nature is raw;
they hate all the law,
the stool pigeons, spotters and rats.
They call them cold-blooded killers
they say they are heartless and mean.
But I say this with pride
that I once knew Clyde,
when he was honest and upright and clean.
But the law fooled around;
kept taking him down,
and locking him up in a cell.
Till he said to me;
“I’ll never be free,
so I’ll meet a few of them in hell.”
The scene above, with Gainsbourg and Bardot performing the song, was broadcast on The Brigitte Bardot Show in early 1968. The song was released later that year on two albums: Initials B.B. and Bonnie and Clyde. The romance between Gainsbourg and Bardot was short. She returned to her second husband and he met actress Jane Birkin, with whom he recorded the second song he wrote for Bardot: “Je t’aime…mois non plus,” which means “I Love You…Me Neither.”