GILLIAN HILLS-ZOU BISOU BISOU: TOUT EN FRANCAIS THE YE-YE YEARS 1960-1965.
Gillian Hills-Zou Bisou Bisou: Tout En Français-The Yé-Yé Years 1960-1965.
Gillian Hills was born in Cairo, Egypt, on the ‘5th’ of June 1944 and was the daughter of teacher, traveller, author and adventurer Denis Hills and Dunia Leśmianowna, daughter of Polish poet Bolesław Leśmian. Much of Gillian Hills’ early life was spent in France which was where the fourteen year old came to the attention of film director Roger Vadim.
From the moment Roger Vadim met Gillian Hills, he thought that he discovered the British equivalent of Brigitte Bardot. Within a year, Roger Vadim cast Gillian Hills in the lead role of Les Liaisons dangereuse in 1959. So controversial was the film, that Gillian Hills had no option but to leave school.
The following year, 1960, Gillian Hills starred alongside Adam Faith in Beat Girl, which featured John Barry’s first ever film score. Two of the films’ stars, Adam Faith and Shirley Ann Field featured on the soundtrack and when Gillian Hills heard it, this was a eureka moment. She realised there and then that she wanted to become a singer.
Not long after that, Gillian Hills signed a deal with agent Jacques Alain, who brokered a deal with record producer Eddie Barclay who had founded and owned the Paris-based Barclay label.Their latest signing was actress turned singer Gillian Hills, who would spend the next five years signed the Barclay label. That period is celebrated on a new compilation Zou Bisou Bisou: Tout En Français-The Yé-Yé Years 1960-1965 which was recently released by Ace International.
Zou Bisou Bisou: Tout En Français-The Yé-Yé Years 1960-1965 features twenty-two tracks from the fifteen EPs that Gillian Hill released for the Barclay label. During the period the compilation covers, French music was changing and moving away from the chanson traditional that had previously provided the soundtrack to life. Between 1960 and 1965, many singers in France embraced the new pop and rock which had grown in popularity. This included Gillian Hills was in the right place at the right time, and was a beneficiary of the change in musical tastes in France.
Having signed to Barclay, Gillian Hills’ recording career began later in 1960. For her Barclay debut, Eddie Barclay decided to pair Gillian Hills with French comedian and singer Henri Salvador on the EP Allo Brigitte? Ne Coupez Pas! It was released in August 1960, and featured Cha Cha Stop which was regarded as the highlight of an EP, that resulted in Gillian Hills being compared with Brigitte Bardot This was a comparison that Gillian Hills was unable to shake off.
Later in 1960, Près De La Cascade was released as a single, with Cha Cha Stop relegated to the B-Side. However, the next time Gillian Hills released a single, she would take star billing.
Three months later, and Gillian Hills returned with a new EP Si tu veux que je te dise. It was joined by the catchy cover of Jo Ann Campbell’s Le Paradis Pour Toi (A Kookie Little Paradise) and Ma Première Cigarette (Smokin’ My First Cigarette) which became a favourite of Gillian Hills. However, the young singer had no say in which songs that she was recorded. Instead, she had to rely on others to choose the right songs for her.
In February 1961, Gillian Hills returned released the Jean Lou EP. Ballads were the older of the day on Gillian Hills’ latest EP. Eddie Barclay had employed Charles Aznavour to write two songs for Gillian Hills. Both Jean Lou and Ne Crois Surtout Pas were jazz pop ballads and suited Gillian Hills, who was already proving a versatile vocalist. Proof of that was Un Petit Baiser (The Kiss) a string drenched ballad where Gillian Hills delivers a heartfelt vocal. It plays its part of what was the strongest EP of Gillian Hills’ short career.
Just a few months later, Gillian Hills returned with the Zou Bisou Bisou EP. The highlight of the EP was Zou Bisou Bisou where Gillian Hills delivers a playful, kittenish cover of a song originality covered by another actress, Sophia Loren for the soundtrack to The Millionaires. Fifty-one years later, and it was Zou Bisou Bisou that sparked a resurgence of interest in Gillian Hills’ music when the song featured in an episode of Mad Men in 2012. That was all in the future.
After the release of the Zou Bisou Bisou EP, the Barclay label was struggling to work out how to market Gillian Hills. Up until then, her music hadn’t been aimed at the teenage market, which seemed her natural audience. As a result, Gillian Hills’ releases hadn’t enjoyed the commercial success that everyone had hoped. It was time for Eddie Barclay to rethink how he was going to market seventeen year old Gillian Hills in the future.
In the autumn of 1961, Gillian Hills joined Johnny Hallyday when he made his debut at the Olympia Theatre in Paris. It was one of the most prestigious venues in the French capital, and was where Johnny Hallyday showcased his new rockier sound. This was a sound that many other artists would embrace in the future, including Gillian Hills.
As the new year dawned, Gillian Hills Accompagnée Par Jean Bouchéty Et Son Orchestre released the En Dansant Le Twist EP in January 1962. It was aimed squarely at the teenage market, who could relate to Gillian Hills and the songs on the EP. Especially the ballad Mon Coeur Est Prêt (Don’t Treat Me Like A Child), where Gillian Hills spoke for generation of teenagers. Another of the highlights of the EP was the uptempo, filmic sounding Les Jolis Coeurs (Kiss’N’ Run). These two tracks showcased two different sides of Gillian Hill as she began a new chapter in her career.
Gillian Hills next EP featured four songs from her latest movie, Les Parisiennes which also starred Johnny Hallyday and Catherine Deneuve. Les Chaussettes Noires Avec Gillian Hills released the Musique Du Film Les Parisiennes in February 1962 and featured the uptempo song C’est Bien Mieux Comme Ça. When it was released as a single in America, it gave Gillian Hills the second hit of her career as she continued to reinvent her sound.
By the time Gillian Hills released her Avec Toi EP in November 1963, she was writing her own songs. Four of her new songs featured on her Avec Toi EP. This included the irresistible uptempo, horn driven Tu Mens, Avec Toi, Ne T’en Fais Pas and Maintenant Il Téléphone an organ driven song that is one of Gillian Hills’ most memorable compositions. These four new songs showcased a burgeoning songwriter who looked as if she had great future ahead of her. After all, Gillian Hills was able to write distinctive and catchy songs that should’ve struck a chord with record buyers. Sadly, the Avec Toi EP failed to find the audience it deserved. For Gillian Hills this was a disappointing start to her songwriting career.
Barclay must have thought that the Avec Toi EP would’ve been a commercial success as Gillian Hills returned to the studio in November 1963. The Qui a Su EP was released in January 1964, and also featured Oublie, C’est Le Garçon and Je Partirai. Just live the Avec Toi EP, Gillian Hills had written the four songs on the Qui a Su EP. She was already maturing as a songwriter, and had come a long way in a short time. Proof of that were Oublie and C’est Le Garçon which featured a much tougher, contemporary sound that should’ve found favour with record buyers. So should the ballad Je Partirai, where horns and harmonies accompany Gillian Hills. Sadly, once again, commercial success eluded Gillian Hills, and at the end of 1964, she was dropped by Barclay.
For Gillian Hills this was a huge blow. She had spent the last four years trying to forge a career as a singer. However, she had only enjoyed two hit singles. Considering she had released fourteen EPs and a couple of singles, this wasn’t good enough for Eddie Barclay. However, Gillian Hills was determined to have one last roll of the dice.
For her next EP, Gillian Hills signed to the Disc’Az label which was owned by the radio station Europe 1. Gillian Hills entered the studio and recorded four songs including her latest composition Rien N’est Changé. It joined cover versions of
The Zombies’ Leave Me Be which became Rentre Sans Moi, while The Lollipops’ Busy Signal became Tut, Tut, Tut, Tut. These songs became the Rien N’est Changé EP, which released in 1965. For Gillian Hills it was a case of now or never.
By the time the Rien N’est Changé EP was released, Gillian Hills’ profile had never been higher. She was a film star and a familiar face in magazines where she modelled the latest fashions and endorsed or advertised various products. With her profile so high, and a carefully orchestrated marketing campaign, the Disc’Az label had high hopes for the Rien N’est Changé EP. Sadly the EP which featured carefully chosen cover versions and Gillian Hills’ latest composition failed commercially. It was the end of Gillian Hills’ recording career in France.
By the end of 1965, Gillian Hills’ recording career was over, and she returned to acting full-time. She had managed to successfully juggle her acting and musical careers between 1960 and 1965. However, during that five-year period, Gillian Hills had only enjoyed two hit singles. Gillian Hills had failed to replicate the success of the other high-profile Yé-Yé singers. However, many of Gillian Hills’ other EPs didn’t enjoy the success that they deserved.
Many times, Gillian Hills’ EPs slipped under the radar, and it was a case of what might have been for this versatile and talented singer and later, songwriter? Maybe Barclay was the wrong label for Gillian Hills, and she would’ve enjoyed more success if she had signed to a major label? Possibly things would’ve been very different for Gillian Hills, and she would’ve gone on to enjoy a long and successful career? Sadly, that wasn’t to be commercial success eluded Gillian Hills for the majority of her career.
That is a great shame, as Gillian Hills’ music certainly deserved to be heard by a wider audience. Now fifty-two years after Gillian Hills retired from music, Ace International, an imprint of Ace Records have released Zou Bisou Bisou: Tout En Français-The Yé-Yé Years 1960-1965, which is the perfect primer to Gillian Hills the actor turned singer-songwriter whose career lasted just five years and was over by the time she was twenty-one.
Gillian Hills-Zou Bisou Bisou: Tout En Français-The Yé-Yé Years 1960-1965.