Song 102 – Le poinconneur des Lilas

SONG: Le Poinçonneur des Lilas

ARTIST: Serge Gainsbourg

YEAR: 1959

Listen to it here: 


“Le poinçonneur de Lilas” was written and recorded by Serge Gainsbourg in 1958 and appeared on the album Du chant à la une!  It was his first hit.  The song is from the perspective of a metro ticket puncher, bored with his job, stuck underground all day punching small holes in tickets – “des petits trous” – and that he daydreams of being carried away on a boat.  The song concludes rather darkly with him saying one day he’ll take a gun, make one final small hole and then they’ll put him in a big hole.  The song was covered several times and even parodied by Serge himself in the song Le fossoyeur de Pacy-sur-Eure.  


Lucien Ginsburg was born April 2nd, 1928 in Paris, France.  He grew up surrounded by art and music, learning the piano as a teenager.  When he started school however, the Nazis invaded Paris and he was forced to wear the yellow Star of David and eventually his whole family had to go into hiding.  After the liberation of France the family returned to Paris, where Serge once again surrounded himself with music and painting and art, but focused mostly on painting and working trades to make ends meet.  In 1952 Serge discovered a door at the back of his clothes closet which led to a concert hall, so he abandoned painting to study the jazz music he would hear from the hidden door.  He started writing songs under the pseudonym of Julien Grix and finally Serge Gainsbourg, “Serge” because it sounded Russian.  Also in 1957 he performed his first concert, terrified from stage fright and self conscious because of his looks (he always thought himself ugly), but this performance started Serge’s real career in writing and performing songs.  We’ll go into more details about Serge’s later career for his later songs (I’m sure there will be more on this list!), but Serge ended up writing and performing and having high profile romances until his death at age 62 on March 2nd, 1991.


In 2023 Paris will be opening a Serge Gainsbourg metro station on line 11, in the commune of Lilas.

Serge had a total of 5 heart attacks.  After his first when the ambulance came to pick him up, he insisted on bringing his Hermès blanket because the hospital ones were ‘too ugly’.


Another song that it will be hard for me to properly and impartially review because I am OBSESSED with Serge Gainsbourg.  I own about 10 of his records, have a beautiful coffee table book of his and Jane Birkin’s relationship, and even named my cat Bardot because of his album Initials B.B..  My sister lived in Paris for several years and got to visit her for over a week and it was one of the best weeks of my life, and this song reminds me of that week, owing to me using it as the soundtrack to a slideshow I made of the photos I took.  Anyhow, here we have baby Serge where he was singing more smoky-French-cabaret-type songs.  His voice isn’t an incredible instrument, but it’s perfect for what he does and he knows how to use it.  The lyrics are super clever, talking about how he pretty much stays underground for his job, is super bored, keeps clippings of Reader’s Digest in his pocket, interjects with telling people how to get places, all the while repeating ‘des petits trous, des petits trous, encore des petits trous’.  I like the instrumentation too, evoking the train track sounds of the Metro, the hustle and bustle of a subway station, and then close to the end when we talks about making ‘un dernier petit trou’ the piano makes a sudden striking chord, similar to a funeral bell.  I also like the darker subject matter, a nice step away from love/love gone wrong.  Just the monotony of life.  Ugh I love Serge.  The ONLY reason this doesn’t get a 10/10 is because I have to save that half point for his even BETTER stuff later on!


Ah, Serge’s voice and his vocal mannerisms just bring me right back to France! His voice is right up there with Edith Piaf’s for idiomatic French singing! This is nowhere near my top 10 favourite Serge Gainsbourg songs of all time, but it’s still a ton of fun. I would say that there are tons of other songs of his out there if you want to get a more clear idea of his actual skillfullness as a singer, as well as just having more personality.. However, this song does have a lot going for it. There’s the James Bond-esque chromatic lines in the flutes, saxophone, and oboe, the fact that the piano just tinkles in and out whenever, and some gravelly low tenor sax that just makes me think of how much that player’s case must reek of Gallois cigarettes! The drums are actually only brushes on a snare drum as far as I can tell, and I have to say it’s nice to hear a non-traditional instrumentation on a popular record! There’s also a bass walking away in the far back corner of the studio. Serge’s voice is deep, full, and very evocative. He can make the chorus go from little staccato bits, to these really connected lines in the course of one phrase, and his pronunciation makes singing in French sound easy, smooth, and relaxed. Serge Gainsbourg is definitely a legend, and if you’ve never heard his stuff, treat yourself to a Youtube rabbit hole!

Average mark out of 10:

Holly: 8.5/10

Kelly: 9.5/10

Other notable versions of this song:

A band (or duo?  Or person?) called Yépa:

French hipster nonsense:

Listen with us!

Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

Link to the Best of the Best 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

Published by Kelly

What I like: Music, travel, coffee, beer, makeup and photography! My gear: Canon EOS 60D and 18-200mm lens. Where call home: Vancouver, BC, Canada Photography Experience: Very amateurish.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: