SONG: Le Gorille
ARTIST: Georges Brassens
Listen to it here:
Le gorille was written by iconoclast Georges Brassens in 1952. He started writing it while in a German work camp during the War but by the time the war ended the only part Brassens kept was “beware the gorilla!” (a shot at the work camp guards).
Le gorille as we know tells of a very well endowed gorilla confined to a cage, and all the ladies ooh and aah over his natural gift. The gorilla ends up breaking out of the cage and the ladies scatter, leaving an unsuspecting judge in his robes, having just sentenced a man to death by guillotine. The gorilla mistakes the robed judge for a lady gorilla and sodomizes him. This was Brassens attack on authority as well as the death penalty. Obviously the song was quite controversial and considered obscene, being banned on French and Luxembourg radio until 1955. Ever the Frenchman and totally unfazed, Brassens enjoyed the infamy and even stated that he left out the most controversial verse.
Georges Charles Brassens was born October 22nd 1921 in Sète, France to a musical household where everyone was singing all the time. Although he performed poorly in school, by adolescence he showed promise with poetry and writing. By the time WWII rolled around, Georges was living in Paris and working in a Renault car factory, but when the German army marched into Paris, he quit working (his work would only serve the enemy) and spent a great deal of time studying the legends of French writing. He was eventually forced to work in a German labour camp and made a few friends there, but was granted a 10 day furlough and hid in Paris.
After the war and a failed attempt at an anarchist newsletter, Georges’ friends encouraged him to perform his songs and poems in public, which he balked at – he was a shy performer. However, he met more and more singers and performers and eventually felt more comfortable on stage. He gained popularity in France for his lyrics criticizing the establishment, the self righteous and the hypocritical, pairing fun jaunty melodies with dark lyrics. Despite his popularity, he rarely performed outside of France. After a long career, Brassens passed away from cancer in 1981.
There are more than 50 doctoral dissertations written about Brassens and his work from all around the world.
Brassens wrote about 250 songs.
I was really excited to listen to this song because, as we have already established, I love French chanson, and we’re getting closer and closer to Serge Gainsbourg. Then I read that Georges Brassens was a poet, so I was extra looking forward to some moody rainy April left bank of the Seine type of song. Then I read what the song was about. And then I listened to the song. Wow. I guess this would be considered a French protest song. I don’t know if it’s because I’m used to listening to Serge and his buttery Parisian accent, but you can tell Brassens is from a different part of France, specifically the south of France with his Italian-esque rolled ‘r’s. I think it’s the jaunty Singing Nun type of guitar that puts me off to begin with. If you were unaware of the subject matter, you might mistake it for a children’s song. Brassens is a good singer and good for him for having the balls to take on the establishment, but this is not a chanson that will darken my record shelf.
From the very beginning of this song it just screams French novelty music. It’s not a particularly musically inventive or outstanding song, though I do enjoy Georges Brassens’ voice. This is another one of those songs that is more famous for its lyrical/historical importance than for the music itself. It’s interesting that this seems to be a thread so far through the almost 50 songs we’ve reviewed. I’m interested to see if that keeps up as we go through the decades. This is an anti-establishment song, which is I guess what Georges Brassens is most known for. I love that the French will prop up people like this who have contributed to the culture of a place, even if they don’t agree with the message. There’s even a metro stop named Georges Brassens in Paris! Since this is about reviewing songs though, and not necessarily historical import, I’m going to have to say that this song was just ok.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
French acting legend Gérard Depardieu’s daughter Julie and her version:
Listen with us!
Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: