WHAT is often referred to as ‘Ireland’s Greatest Song’ C’est La Vie, sung by girl group B*Witched is fondly remembered by almost all of the country, but very little is known about the troubled writing and recording of the quintessential pop song of our times, that is, until now.
WWN has researched the events surrounding the song’s inception and can reveal the complete fascinating tale for the very first time here:
C’est La Vie was released as a single on the 25th of May in 1998 but seeds were sown 12 months earlier as the girl group made up of Sinead, Keavy, Edele and Lindsay were paired with a songwriting team by their label.
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, writers of Elvis hit Jailhouse rock among countless others, were paid $12 million to craft a song that could define an era and if there was any change left over after that, change the face of music forever.
Decamping to Nashville for 2 months of intensive writing the girl group shared their vision for a song that summed up their artistic ennui, and their view that life, an enchanting and fleeting dance, contained infinitesimal nuances that we could rarely grasp.
Leiber and Stoller worked 20 hour days trying to put words to the vision, while the girls spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Nashville’s finest male escorts to take the edge off the huge expectations the record label had placed on them. A claim all four members still deny today.
The song writing legends finally cracked the complex patchwork of the existential cul de sac to reveal the iconic chorus which still enthralls academics to this day:
“Say you will, say you won’t, say you’ll do what I don’t, say you’re true, say to me, c’est la vie”. Both Leiber and Stoller claimed the lyrics to be their Mona Lisa, even surpassing their iconic Stand By Me but they fought intensely with the band during initial recordings when the band ad-libbed “I fight like me da as well”.
Management had to break up a particularly violent fight, which saw Stoller lose a leg and an eye after he protested that the line went against the overtly pacifist ideals of the song.
To relieve further tension the band were whisked away to four separate recording studios in Japan, South Africa, Argentina and Russia. The final days of the music industry’s irresponsible overspending and largesse saw the band record one line of vocal for each verse, then flying in a private jet to the different recording studios, rotating until the recording was finished.
The chorus was then recorded in Vietnam, but the band became distracted by the local drug trade and became embroiled in a turf war with the leading supplier of heroin in the area.
“We had tried to distract the girls with more prostitutes, but they had grown tired of the music industry when they realised how much money they could make from selling heroin,” Richie Stern, the band’s manager at the time revealed.
Their record label reached a compromise with the band: if the record label could help the girls import 40 kilos of heroin into Amsterdam, paving the way for dominance of the European heroin trade, they would finish their vocals in a studio there.
Weeks later, while high on LSD the group completed the vocals, with the particularly potent trip providing the inspiration for the song’s much celebrated video.
C’est La Vie went on to sell 47 million copies in Ireland alone on its first day of release and the song went on to win a Grammy for Best Use Of An Irish Dancing Breakdown Section In A Video.