Porn, drugs, rock and roll: Les Rita Mitsouko

“When I was a lad…” well, it used to be at least moderately difficult to acquire music. Some stuff was really hard to find, even if you lived in New York or London and indeed this often meant paying beaucoup bucks for things back then. I’m frankly ashamed at some of the money I’ve spent on LPs and CDs over the years. I cringed with embarrassment when reminded that I’ve spent $100 on a soundtrack LP or a rare 12” dance mix. $80 for a 45 rpm single. It made sense at the time…

I mention this wistful old man shit by way of bringing up the most I ever spend on a single CD (times three): At some point in the late 80s, I paid $43 apiece for three Les Rita Mitsouko CDs that I special ordered at Record Runner on Bleecker Street. I was a huge fan of the band (Indeed I saw them play twice in New York and I think they probably only played three times, ever, in the US) but it was next to impossible to buy their CDs. So I special ordered them from France and spent $129 plus tax on three discs.  It took about 3 weeks for them to arrive. Ridiculous I know, but it had to have them. The truth is that I think I’ve gotten my money’s worth over the years.

Most Americans and Brits have probably never heard of France’s greatest ever pop band (Air are great, sure they aren’t as good as Les Rita Mitsouko and they know it themselves). Even Francophiles who love them some Serge Gainsbourg don’t know much about Les Rita Mitsouko and this is a damned shame.

The group was comprised of lead vocalist Catherine Ringer and multi-instrumentalist Fred Chichin, who died suddenly in 2007 of cancer. There’s not a lot about written about them on the Internet, although there are tons of videos on YouTube of various French TV performances (including appearances with Sparks and Iggy Pop) and their incredible music videos, which more than lived up to their music. Their records were hard enough to find, but somehow I also managed a near complete collection of their music videos on 3/4” U-matic videotapes. Oh the youthful insanity, but truly they are a group worthy of fanatical fandom, as ye shall see…

Les Rita Mitsouko, although they predate both bands by a few years, are in the same general category (to my mind at least) as Dee-lite or Japan’s Pizzicato Five. Aside from the music, the visual component of the group, like with these other two bands, was fashion forward and extremely well art-directed. Contributors to their videos included famed director Jean-Baptiste Mondino, and superstar fashion designers like Thierry Mugler, Agnes B. and Jean-Paul Gaultier.

Their first album, produced by Conny Plank (Kraftwerk, Neu!, Brian Eno, Ultravox) at his studio in Germany. Rita Mitsouko was named the 20th greatest French rock album in the French edition of Rolling Stone magazine. (The “Les” was added afterwards to warn off people from the idea that the name was Catherine’s). The follow-up, Les Rita Mitsouko Presentent The No Comprendo, AKA The No Comprendo, was produced by the legendary Tony Visconti and was #7 on that same Rolling Stone list.

Visconti remarked about the group “I never thought I would hear a French rock band rival an English or American one.” If you don’t believe me, the guy who produced Electric Warrior and several of David Bowie’s best albums, ought to know, right?

The song that you might know if you’ve heard any song by Les Rita Mitsouko, is “Marcia Balia,” a paean to a choreographer/dancer friend of Ringer’s who died young. This was a huge dancefloor hit in New York nightclubs in the mid-80s. I saw them do an absolutely dazzling live show at The Saint, a cavernous gay club known for its great sound system and laser show (formerly it was the Fillmore East)  when this song was breaking in NYC.


Okay, so did you clock just how incredibly sexy Catherine Ringer is? How insanely hot hot hot she was/is? Of course you did. It’s rather difficult not to notice, isn’t it? She’s a rare beauty, a hyper-intelligent, gifted woman, one half of arguably the greatest French band, ever and…

Well, years later I found out from a French friend that Ringer, who was apparently a junkie in her youth (and perhaps beyond, when I met her in ‘86 or ‘87 she seemed somewhat disheveled and that’s putting it kindly), had made a number of specialist porn films in the late 1970s, early 80s. The types of films for a certain subset of porn connoisseur, if you know what I mean, and chances are, that unless you’re thinking of something really dirty, you don’t…

Apparently during the time of the band’s initial burst of mid-80s notoriety, theme dinner parties were held to all over haute Paris to watch some of Ringer’s filthiest XXX antics—some filmed when she was just 17—filmed under the nom de porn names of “Betty Davis,” “Cat’ Gerin,” “Claudia Mutti,” and “Lolita da Nova.”

I doubt that they served any chocolate pudding at such soirees, let’s just say. No lemonade, either, kay?

Let’s move right along, now, shall we?

Below, the Jean-Baptiste Mondino directed video for The No Comprendo’s “C’est Comme Ça.” If you don’t fall immediately in love with this band after watching this video, I don’t know what to say to you…

“Qu’est-ce que t’es belle,” a gorgeous duet between Catherine Ringer and Marc Lavoine from 1987. Mondino directing again.

“Andy” from The No Comprendo:

“Les Histoires d’A”  from The No Comprendo:

A Bollywood-style production number for “Le Petit Train” off their third album, Marc et Robert:

Live with Sparks on French TV for “Singing in the Shower” in 1994:

Below, “Cool Frénésiet”

Bonus clip: Serge Gainsbourg calling Catherine Ringer a “whore” (and worse) to her face on French television in 1986:

Posted by Richard Metzger



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