Although famous in France for many years, Serge Gainsbourg did not achieve his first No. 1 album until 1979, when he released Aux Armes et caetera more than twenty years after his music career had begun. But since the 1980s, his legacy has been firmly established.
He was born Lucien Ginzburg in Paris, France, the son of Jewish Russian parents who fled to France after the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. His childhood was profoundly affected by the occupation of France by Nazi Germany, during which he and his family, as Jews, were forced to wear the yellow star and eventually flee from Paris. He had a daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg, with English singer and actress Jane Birkin; and a son, Lulu, with his last partner, Bambou (Caroline Von Paulus, who is related to Friedrich Paulus). Before he was 30 years old, Lucien Ginsburg was a disillusioned painter but earned his living as a piano player in bars. Daughter Charlotte would later become an actress and singer.
His early songs were influenced by Boris Vian and were largely in the vein of 'old-fashioned' chanson. Very early, however, Gainsbourg began to move beyond this and experiment with a succession of different musical styles: jazz early on, English pop in the 60's, reggae in the 70's, even hip-hop in the 80's.