Written by Michel Pagliaro and Jimmy James
Published by Earth Born Music inc.
Every career has its ups and downs, key creative periods and songs that stand apart. Michel Pagliaro has recorded more hit songs – whether in French or English – than most artists of his generation. “Les Bombes” came out in 1987 and is among his career-defining songs.
This heavy hitter marked Pagliaro’s return to recording after a six-year hiatus, and it became the calling card for the following year’s release of the album Sous peine d’amour. “Les Bombes” was Pag’s sparkling return to form.
It’s a glacial February morning in a Montréal café; Michel Pagliaro is going back in time to discuss the writing of his hit song, which actually occurred in two countries. It all started in France, where he lived for five years.
“I created that song in Paris. I’d say sometime in 1984 or 1985. At least the first draft of it,” says Pagliaro, whose gaze is as piercing as ever… when, rarely, he takes off his ever-present shades.
“As weird as it can seem, even though the song is almost 30 years old, it’s basically the same people in the same broth. Nothing’s really changed. It’s the same old stuff.”
“Writing is a big word in this case,” he continues. “I wrote all of it in one night. I had many, many verses. Unbelievably many… a whole cassette tape full! I still have it. I keep all my ‘sketches.’ There’s no shortage of things to say about such a topic. Even today, you could keep on writing on this topic and there would always be more to write about.”
Some songs don’t age well. Sometimes it’s the lyrics that become outdated. Sometimes it’s the production style. But not only did the lyrics of “Les Bombes” – sadly – remain relevant, but they barely need touch-ups to actually be squarely about current events.
“Once I had the lyrics, I started making demos. I had pieced together a small recording machine to make demos, I lacked certain cords, using alligator clips, for some reason. The apartment I was staying in had been… (laughs) ‘ransacked’ by a kid who played harmonica for (Jacques) Higelin. He’d punched a hole in the wall using a hammer. It was weird… I didn’t finish the song there.”
“Les Bombes” would see the light of day in Québec after Pag’s return home. Guitarist Jimmy James was among the musicians who participated in the recording sessions.
“I’d worked with Michel before his European hiatus,” James remembers. “When he came back he was looking for collaborators, and we got back in touch. Mike’s always spur of the moment. Sometimes he’ll come up with a riff and say: ‘What can we do with this?’ That’s how it happened.”
So the musicians worked from the original demo for the verses, but it was a completely different ballgame when came time to ork on the chorus and bridge.
“I felt we needed to take it somewhere else,” says James. “My contribution was mainly in the bridge and solo. We decided to move away from the basic riff, because otherwise the song would remain on the same tempo through and through. After that we re-worked the lyrics.”
“The lyrics on the final demo are not exactly the ones that I wrote in France,” continues Pagliaro. “There were some touch-ups. There were verses with country names like Madagascar, Haiti, Vietnam, the whole nine yards…”
One would be forgiven for thinking the song was about the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid 80s, but such is not the case, it seems.
“There have to be motivations, sometimes, how should I put it, let’s call them ‘cerebral motivations’ to do something,” Pagliaro explains. “Except in my case, it’s purely organic, from the gut. What I mean by that is that there is a will to create, to develop an idea that’s in your mind for a beat or something.
“Then you come up with a sentence that gives you an idea. It’s music, you know, not just thoughts. It has to become physical. Concrete. You have to play that music. You can’t just think about it. Or rather, you can think about it, but at some point, you’ll need to hear it.”
Pagliario’s reputation as a studio perfectionist precedes him. When the 7-inch single for “Les Bombes”/”Dangereux” came out, he wasn’t entirely satisfied with it.
“I did not like that record. I did not like how it sounded,” says Pag, serious as can be. “Except it had to come out at some point.”
“Les Bombes” did not remain exclusively a 7-inch for very long. Both songs – “Les Bombes” and ”Dangereux” – quickly found themselves on a compilation titled Pag Avant. And although they weren’t included on the first pressing of Sous peine d’amour, they were on its second pressing.
“We took two English songs out [“It’s Love” and “Rock Somebody”] to make room for ‘Les Bombes’ and ‘Dangereux.’ But those are record executives’ decisions,” Pag adds with a smirk.
Thus, “Les Bombes” had three distinct releases (7-inch, compilation, and original album) and fueled Pagliaro’s grand return with Sous peine d’amour. And since? Basically not much, as far as original material is concerned. Only “Tonnes de flashes,” included on the similarly titled box set, released in 2011.
Anything new on the radar, then? Everyone know it’s useless to ask Pag that question, but let’s just note that this interview was conducted in a café located beneath a recording studio where he went back to work as soon as we were done. It seems there might be hope. But it’s a ‘time race’…