“Wham! Bam! My cat ‘Splash’ rests on my bed. She’s swallowed her tongue while drinking all my whiskey.” That’s the nonsensical opening line to the 1977 radio hit “Ça plane pour moi” by Plastic Bertrand translated from French to English, however, the lyrics don’t seem to make any sense in either language. Widely considered a caricature of the punk era, the three-chord rocker “Ça plane pour moi” (which loosely translates as “This Life’s for Me”) became an anthem for a generation and remains a cult favorite to this day. However, over 30 years after its deranged pop insanity sold millions of copies around the world Bertrand finally admitted that he did not sing the vocals himself, nor indeed any of the vocals from the four acclaimed albums he released as Plastic Bertrand before vanishing from sight in 1982. So how’d this Belgian prankster pull a Milli Vanilli on the world and get away with it for so long?
In summer of ‘77, Belgian producer Lou Deprijck recorded “Ça plane pour moi” at the famous Morgan Studios in northwest London very quickly over the course of a single night. “Two hours in the studio followed by three hours in the pub next door,” Deprijck recounted. He sang the vocal track himself as a pastiche to the punk movement and an appeal to the pogo-pogo dancing punks he’d seen at nightclubs. Guitarist & engineer Mike Butcher remembers that to speed up the tempo, he did a little bit of tampering in the studio to recreate Johnny Rotten’s vocal style. “The song was recorded at a slow tempo and then accelerated afterward, that’s what gave it that particular sound.” John Valcke from the legendary Belgian pop rock group The Wallace Collection played bass and a local from the Belgian jazz and blues scene named Bob Dartsch played the drums. They were all pleased with the final product when it was complete, however, Lou Deprijck feared the song didn’t suit his particular style or persona.
A longtime friend of Lou’s, Eric Rie, knew a punk band Hubble Bubble whose 23-year-old drummer Roger Jouret fit the profile perfectly. Roger was fashionable and wore extravagant outfits that were tacky but picture perfect, to them it was as if he fell from the sky at the exact perfect moment in time. He sang terribly, however, most artists at the time were using playback during TV shows. Determined to get his song its due recognition, Lou Deprijck brainstormed a daring plan to form a partnership with Roger. Roger Jouret was presented as the singer of the “Ça plane pour moi”, and thus Plastic Bertrand was born. “I went to London to buy him a jacket with zippers pierced with safety pins in Malcolm McLaren’s shop, the manager of the Sex Pistols” Deprijck recalls. “When I returned from vacation, three weeks after the album’s release, he was number one everywhere. Honestly, I never thought the song would trigger such a tidal wave. Looking back, I sometimes regret it.”
Plastic Bertrand made his first TV appearance on the show Rendezvous Sunday on November 6th, 1977 while Lou Deprijck was miles away basking under coconut trees on a tropical island. He never imagined the hysteria that unfolded the very next day when record stores were stormed by hysteric teenagers looking for the single and riots nearly broke out all over Europe. Within months several million copies would be sold around the world and the song reached number one in Belgium, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, and Australia. The punky, tongue-in-cheek novelty song even charted well in the United States, which was unheard of for a French singing artist at that time with the rare exception of Gainsbourg-Birkin’s steamy 1969 duet “Je t’aime moi non plus.” “Plasticmania” was up and running in September 1977 and over the next four years, Bertrand became a veritable household name, making weekly appearances on television playing up every musical trend that was offered. Spacey electronics, bubblegum pop, disco, reggae, and even pseudo-rapping, were always presented with the same fun and vexatious energy. While Plastic was on the road, Lou Deprijck was in the studio recording Bertrand’s vocals for future hit songs such as “Stop ou encore” and “Sentimentale-moi.”
Roger “Plastic Bertrand” Jouret was so beloved that at no point did anyone suspect him of being a fraud, not his fans nor his musical contemporaries. “Plastic Bertrand sings and jumps around with an expression of happiness on his face. He is fresh, pink and happy as if the world was wonderful. This friendly clown completely defused the punk movement. His song (’Ça plane pour moi’) remains superb. Especially the ‘Ooh ooh ooh Ouha,’ My daughter loves it!” confided The Who guitarist Pete Townshend in an interview with rock magazine Best. After 30 years of Plastic Bertrand praise, Lou Deprijck finally attempted to publicly take credit for his classic song and approached a Belgian court, who ruled that Bertrand would remain the “legal performer.” The judges ruling was not based on the phonetic analysis conducted but on administrative documents which included the publishing contracts at the time, as well as Roger’s visual presence on all the album and single covers.
Finally, at the age of 56, it was time for Plastic Bertrand to stop pretending. In July 2010 he confessed publicly about his complete lack of participation in any of his recordings. “I don’t mind saying it was not my voice,” he told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir. “I’m the victim. I wanted to sing, but he would not let me access the studio,” Bertrand recounted about the real singer behind all his hits, producer Lou Deprijck. “He asked me to keep my mouth shut in exchange for 0.5 percent of the rights, and promised he would make a new version with my voice, which of course he never did,” Bertrand explained. “Plastic Bertrand was hired to promote the song on television, bringing his energy and looks.” Lou Deprijck added to the story as it publicly unfolded, “Plastic had enormous qualities. He danced remarkably. He spoke perfect for television. He had an incredible charisma. He was the perfect carrier for the song. Overall, we sold eight million singles but how many would be sold without his participation?”
“Ça plane pour moi” remains a dance floor foot-stomper and karaoke “go to” today. It has been covered hundreds of times by artists such as Sonic Youth, The Presidents of the United States of America, Thee Headcoatees, Telex, and Kim Wilde. The same exact backing track (with a different mix) was used for new wave performer/band Elton Motello’s single “Jet Boy, Jet Girl” which features bluntly sexual lyrics about a 15-year-old boy’s sexual relationship with a transsexual. While “Jet Boy, Jet Girl” (often mistaken as a cover of “Ça plane pour moi” in English) has also achieved cult status and dozens of cover versions, it has not come close to reaching Plastic Bertrand’s level of success. Strangely, now that the full scope of the story has been unraveled people’s opinion of the “Ça plane pour moi” haven’t seemed to change a bit. Plastic Bertrand’s fun-loving stupidity and naggingly entertaining persona were perhaps a perfect fit for the prank that was pulled, and he has somehow overcome the controversy with his reputation and legendary status intact.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Is Plastic Bertrand another Milli Vanilli?