Does FitBit Owe a Royalty to the Writers of This Song?
Something fun. Lately I've been inundated with ads for something called "FitBit" — a health toy that sits on your wrist and, apparently, talks to the Health app on your iPhone. Or something. The problem is the song. It's catchy, yes, very earwormy. But if you know your punk (or "parody punk") French popular music, it's also way too familiar.
Bear with me; this will be worth it. In 1977 Yvan Lacomblez composed the song "Ça plane pour moi" — slang that means "Everything's going great" or "It works for me." (It could be either, depending on whether Ça is used for things in general, as in Ça va, or something specific, as in Ça marche.) The song is a loose, feel-good, verbally kinetic piece of French fun that, in the hands of a classical music student and percussionist who called himself "Plastic Bertrand," became a big hit in Britain and elsewhere.
"Plastic Bertrand" went to lunch on that song the rest of his career, and he's still at it. If you say "ça plane ..." to a French adult of a certain age, they'll get the reference immediately.
"Ça plane pour moi"
Musically "Ça plane" is simple but deceptive. It has a straight 12-bar blues structure — I-I, IV-I, V-I — which you can hear immediately in the chorus. But in the verse there's a lot of "phrase syncopation." If you count the beats ("one, two, three, four") starting from the instrumental intro, and try to keep track of where the verbal phrases start and end, you'll see what I mean. The lyric of the first verse starts after the first downbeat, not on it or before it, so they're already not synced. Unlike the chorus ("Ça plane pour moi, ça plane pour moi..."), the verse is never in sync with the music, and its phrases aren't the same length. Simple but deceptive.
It's that phrase syncopation, by the way, that made the singer's percussion background valuable. He never loses the rhythm in live performances, like that at the end of this piece. (French, by the way, is a natural language for rap. Equal syllable length is built into it.)
The center of the song is a short, flying, non-verbal four-note phrase — you'll spot it as soon as you hear it. Overall the lyrics are a kind of French nonsense (click to see a version with translation). A great fun song and again, a major earworm.
Here's a live but lip-synced 1978 performance from Italian television that offers a good sense of the performer, the song, and why it was so successful. Click and listen — and if you feel like counting the beats, start from the instrumental intro:
There's a more relaxed physical performance in this 1978 lip-synced recording from British TV. The official released version, is here. But the best YouTube'd version is below — my favorite in fact. Scroll down to listen.
Me, I'm stuck; the song's been burned into my brain for the last few years.
Did FitBit Kinda-Sorta Steal this Song?
Now the FitBit jingle, the one that's everywhere this gifting season. Is this a version of "Ça plane pour moi" with subtle changes? Listen — it's not just the rhythm. The first four musical notes after the drumbeat intro are a huge tell:
The opening notes are damning, in my hearing, or at least reimbursement-inducing. Property rights freaks, does someone owe someone a payment? Seem so to me, unless FitBit has already paid up.
Once More With Dancers
Either way, both of these piece make great earworms, and you've now been infected. So, since I can't do any more damage than I've already done (you're welcome), here's a more modern version. "Bertrand" is obviously older, but he's fit, in full control of his chops, and still having fun. This is my favorite version.
From French TV:
Care to Help a Non-Corporate Bro?
FitBit corporate HQ is here:
The composer of "Ça plane pour moi" is Yvan Lacomblez, and I think he's still alive.
Anyone want to give him an early Season's gift? You can write to FitBit and suggest you're onto them (maybe they'll tell you they've already ponied up). Or write to the composer — if you get contact info, let me know — wish him a merry, then send him a link to the FitBit jingle. Or both. The Plastic Bertrand official website is here (professional contact page here).
The composer may well need the money, or not, but at least he's a person. FitBit, on the other hand ... well, you may already know what I think of corporations and their billionaire venture investors. (Read the résumés, then scroll down to "Our Investors". Look for Qualcomm.)
Wishing you a merry as well,