Ça plane pour moi by French singer Plastic Bertrand was never supposed to be anything more than a colorful, novelty tune. While punk rock had its many supporters in places like Britain, it was viewed as a fad throughout most of the world. Here’s the story of how this cartoon-punk-rocker became an unlikely cult hero, inspiring covers, remixes, and being featured in adverts and soundtracks until the present day.
Who’s Plastic Bertrand?
It’s been a long and strange journey for Plastic Bertrand’s only worldwide hit single. Today it’s viewed as a veritable cult-classic and proven dance floor filler.
However, back in 1977, the year the song was released, most regarded this as a caricature of punk rock. The fact that the punk aesthetic and sound were largely unfamiliar to French and Benelux audiences contributed to this.
Plastic Bertrand presented himself as a very colorful and exuberant punk rock character. The single incorporated most of the genre’s more famous components.
It was a short tune, built on choppy power-chords, and French lyrics spat out at Johnny Rotten levels of velocity, with words that seemed to make little sense in any language. And, as the artwork suggested, audiences were encouraged to try a new style of dancing … pogo pogo.
Three chords and nonsense lyrics. Writing Ca plane pour moi
Lou Deprijck is the Belgium producer responsible for Plastic Bertrand. Ca plane pour moi was produced over in London at the famous Mogan Studios.
The entire recording took merely a couple of hours. Deprijck admits that indeed he was looking to incorporate many of the more famous elements of punk rock. He intended to have a hit this way. He did attempt to bandwagon on the pogo dancing style and turn into a new craze, he also says.
The Pour moi song uses the exact same backing track Jet Boy, Jet Girl, a song by The Damned associates Elton Motello. The band’s singer Alan Ward was approached by Lou Deprijck, while both working in Brussels, with the idea of doing a French sung version.
The song’s were released nearly at the same time. One became a hit, the other a sidenote. Why was the Ca plane song a hit and not Jet Boy. Arguably because of Deprijck’s comedic vocal delivery, and the slush of French words. Elton Motello’s version, on the other hand, features lyrics that describe a sordid underage sex liaison. But, Ward would not be the only person left feeling short changed by the success of Pour moi.
Deprijk opted to sing in a similar style to John Lydon, with the tape later sped up by the producer. Not even having a tune with non-English lyrics could affect its success. And, not least of all, Deprijck encouraged the musicians on the record to play a simple and aggressive arrangement over the A, D, E chords. Those are repeated throughout the song. An effective punk-rock formula.
Creating the character of Plastic Bertrand
Allegations against Plastic Bertrand’s authenticity .. are entirely correct, it seems! Once Deprijck heard the finished results, he loved the song and was convinced it could indeed be turned into a hit. The only missing element was the visual presentation.
Television stations were hungry to show the brand new punk subculture. They zoomed in on the musicians’ and fans’ image. Like other producers, before and after him, Deprijck decided to create a character to act as ambassador to his two minute ditty.
Roger Jouret was an acquaintance of the producer. A former drummer in several rock outfits, Jouret was known for his flamboyant sense of style. Once co-opted, Deprijck took the soon to be rechristened Plastic Bertrand to Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren‘s famous London clothes shop Sex. Decked out in fashionable punkware the pretend singer was ready to seek stardom.
Punk rockers’ reaction to Plastic Bertrand
And, stardom came surprisingly easy for Plastic Bertrand. By the tail-end of 1977, Roger Jouret’s frenzied performances earned him an almost constant slot on European television.
The single quickly reached number one in countries like Belgium, France, or Japan. Plastic Bertrand – Ca plane pour moi also charted in the U.S. and future indie darlings like Sonic Youth or Presidents of the USA liked the tune so much that they produced their own cover version of the tune. Recently, even Metallica jammed the track in front of a bewildered Belgium audience.
Still, few knew how to pronounce the lyrics and fewer still knew that Plastic Bertrand aka Jouret wasn’t actually singing the original.
Those that actually identified with the punk movement in Europe, had little affection for the pink-clad singer. The success of the single contributed to punk looking less threatening, a bubblegum variety. Do the French laugh the tune off the radio whenever it’s played? No. It remains a popular French dance song. The Ca plane pour moi song has had the legs of a long distance runner.
However, it should be noted that the Clash’s Joe Strummer praised the song. The singer pointed to the tune’s production and catchiness. Few punk bands managed to do this as well, he claimed.
Plastic Bertrand’s later career
Ca plane pour moi remains famous throughout the world. Following the worldwide success of the single in 1977, Plastic Bertrand continued to play up to his part, especially on European television.
The punk-rock style was generally dropped in favor of the latest trends. Unbeknownst to the public, while Jouret was out promoting the music, Lou Deprijck was in the studio creating it.
Finally, in 2010, following a series of disputes between the two men, Jouret admitted to pulling a Milli Vanilli for years. Yet, oddly, while he revealed himself not to be the singer behind Plastic Bertrand’s music, the public backlash never really arrived.
Dutch television channel, Top 2000 a gogo, recently caught up with Lou Deprijck at his adopted new home in the Philippines. The producer describes the process of producing similar sounding hits, for others, prior to Ça plane pour moi. He also talks about how he originally intended for Jouret to sing the song, but was put off by his high vocal-tone. Finally, Lou Deprijck says that the fact that he was voicing Plastic Bertrand was hardly a secret for anyone in the music industry. Instead, all parties involved were happy to look the other way.
Did Lou Deprijck end up having the music career he dreamed of? It’s fair to assume that the success of Ça Plane Pour Moi exceeded his expectations. Previously, Lou Deprijck had worked with Latin-pop and reggae artists. Scoring a punk hit that allowed him to retire early to Thailand was likely not on the cards.
Ca plane pour moi’s legacy (adverts, remixes, soundtracks)
Ca plane pour moi has been a mainstay across popular culture. To some it’s an artifact of the late 1970s, to others an energized, highly recognizable song.
There are those who’ll want to learn French just to understand the lyrics. Don’t bother! Ca plane pour moi. Ca blanc pour moi. It doesn’t matter! Don’t bother with an English translation! The lyrics are non-sensical for the most part. This doesn’t stop it from being arguably the most recognizable French punk song.
Because of this it has appeared on the soundtrack of numerous movies such as The Wolf of Wall Street, 127 Hours, Three Kings, Ruby Sparks, Jackass and many others.
It has been covered, straight or as a parody, by numerous artists. It was a hit for Swedish pop singer Leila K. in 1993. Sonic Youth, President of the USA, Nouvella Vague, and many others tried their hands at song.
Wherever you live, throughout the past decades you are likely to have heard Ca plane pour moi. It lingers in the public consciousness as a cheerful, silly party anthem. Its connection to punk rock posturing or the accusations of fraud have long been severed.
Ca plane pour moi is an alternative rock milestone, not because of its identity, but because it has stuck around like a three-chord undying earworm.