Michael Polnareff — “Qui A Tué Grand’ Maman”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — February 4, 2023


722) Michael Polnareff — “Qui A Tué Grand’ Maman”

A stunning and achingly beautiful song that Michel (see #120, 157) wrote in reaction to the suicide of his mentor and friend.

Lauren Fay Levy writes:

Nudge your Serge Gainsbourg record over a smidge to make room for another fabulous, eccentric Frenchman in your collection: Michel Polnareff. . . . the many sounds of the wonderful world of Polnareff: baroque/pop/jazz/funk/psychedelic, executed with impeccable orchestration, arrangement, and production. Whether it’s schizophrenic cycling of contrasting personalities within the same song, or silly lyrics about ice cream, Polnareff has a gift for bringing humor to his music without making it over-the-top kitschy or ridiculous. Polnareff’s catches the man himself at an interesting point in his life, at once riding the high of major commercial success in France and yet recovering from a deep, isolated depression following the recent suicide of his dear friend and music mentor, Lucien Morisse, a prominent radio director responsible for signing Polnareff, and the subject of the album’s beautiful number “Qui a tué grand’maman?”. . . . Polnareff was daring and inventive, both in terms of music and his public image. He was boldly androgynous and glamorous, sporting wild platinum Bolan-esque hair and permanently donning futuristic white sunglasses, which, despite being the purposes of a degenerative eye condition, were still completely fashion-forward. And he teased the boundaries of sex in the mainstream, writing what were then considered pornographic lyrics, and flaunting his bare butt cheeks on a promotional poster at the cost of lawsuits. Put on your feather boa, and dance around the house to this one – it is pure joy the whole way through.


Thom Jurek adds:

Michel Polnareff’s self-titled psychedelic pop masterpiece from 1971 is composed and recorded as all of a piece. The lushly layered textures bring in everyone from Serge Gainsbourg and Burt Bacharach to funky discotheque . . . . Polnareff would err on packing his tracks with everything he could fit into his grandly baroque, kitschy schema, rather than have left anything to chance. It’s overblown and excessive to be sure . . . but it is also so bloody well-executed and produced, it cannot be anything but brilliant. This is pretentious French psychedelic soul at its most garish and essential.


John Lichfield gives us some history:

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Polnareff, the son of a Russian songwriter, was one of the most successful musicians in France. He became a Gallic version of the Bee Gees or Simon and Garfunkel, singing poetic lyrics in an angelic voice. In the early 1970s, he posed with his bottom bare and refused to comment on rumours that he was homosexual. He was attacked on stage by a homophobe . . . . After being swindled by his financial advisers, he discovered in 1973 that he owed a fortune in unpaid taxes and left France for California. . . . In an interview with the newspaper Le Parisien, Polnareff said that he “hated” France when he left the country 34 years ago. “I was swindled and then I was accused of non-payment of taxes. I had to prove that I was innocent when it was me that had been cheated. It took 18 years for the tax authorities to decide that I was not to blame.” Asked what he thought of France after such a long exile, Polnareff said . . . . “I now realise how magnificent France is. The French don’t realise it because they live here all the time.”


Live in Tokyo ’72:

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