​Series Inside a Tube: Martine St-Clair wiped the towel on “Wash wash”

What would the summer holidays be without summer hits, those songs that loop on the radio, that we sing at the top of our lungs and that make us dance until the end of the night? Over the next few weeks, The duty drags you on a musical journey and time to (re)discover these “hits” that have marked our holidays.

“Wash, wash! Do you know how to soap? Martine St-Clair took the words of her famous song literally and ended up giving up on this hit from the summer of 1990, which earned her a lot of ridicule at the time. More than 30 years after the release of this unforgettable earworm, the singer insists on doing no more wash wash performing, much to the chagrin of his audience. But she does not deny her success and fully assumes having sung against all odds.

To understand wash washyou have to go back to the 1980s. With hits like Dance with Me or Love is in the air, Martine St-Clair was then one of the most popular artists in Quebec. At the start of her career, she was even presented in the media as Celine Dion’s rival. At the end of the decade, Luc Plamondon offered him to take over the role of Crystal in the rock opera Starmania in Paris, where she will frequent the ne plus ultra of French pop, from Johnny Hallyday to Francis Cabrel, via Laurent Voulzy.

It was also during this period that Martine St-Clair crossed paths with Fabrice Aboulker, the man behind the tubes Revolver eyes et parking lot of angels by Marc Lavoine, one of the singers of the hour across the Atlantic. The singer-songwriter was charmed by the vocal power of the young Quebecer, a thousand leagues from the frail voices of France Gall and Mylène Farmer who were then vying for the first places on the charts in France.

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“He invites me to lunch at Saint-Germain-des-Prés and he tells me that he already has ideas. He sees a more electro album, not ballads, a bit like Étienne Daho. Me, at the time, in Quebec, I was a ballad singer, but I know that there is a more artistic album waiting for me. I’m thrilled with what I’m being offered,” recalls Martine St-Clair, her eyes shining as she talks about this part of her career.

Fabrice Aboulker will convince his sidekick Marc Lavoine to join the project. The RCA record company will also invest great resources in the production of this disc, recorded partly in California with keyboardist Brad Buxer, who has worked with none other than Michael Jackson.

At the beginning of the creative process, while they are both in the car, Fabrice Aboulker will play Martine St-Clair some demos recorded for Marc Lavoine’s next opus, on which he is working in parallel. “He puts on the tape. It’s Marc who sings and I think it sounds very good. They come back from Jamaica and there is a lot of reggae. Then comes Wash wash. I can’t believe what I hear. I ask Fabricede to put it back. It sounds like Boy George, which I love. I see myself singing it right away, ”says Martine St-Clair, who will eventually convince Marc Lavoine to leave the song to her.

“Looking back, I think he’s glad he didn’t sing it. He owes me one,” jokes Martine St-Clair who, now 60, has made peace with the murderous reviews that followed the release of this song.

Mixed reception

wash wash will be the first single from the album Caribou. In the polished clip that accompanies the song, Martine St-Clair appears more sensual than ever, the blouse unbuttoned, the short curly hair à la Marilyn Monroe. A radical change of image compared to the discreet young woman who sang five years earlier Tonight love is in your eyes.

And what about the words of wash wash. “It’s true that everything is going pretty well / Apart from the stupid faces of the neighbors / It’s true that everything is going pretty well / Don’t change tomorrow. “Too frank, some would say; others will ridicule the simplicity of the text. As if to make sense of the song, it will then be said to contain an environmentalist message when read in the second degree. But it would be surprising if Marc Lavoine and Fabrice Aboulker had grasped the magnitude of climate change at the turn of the 1990s, recognizes Martine St-Clair.

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The singer is careful, however, to specify that wash wash is not a humorous song, but rather a “comic strip”, insofar as she puts herself in the skin of a character when she interprets these slightly offbeat lyrics. An artistic approach that is reminiscent of Rita Mitsouko and other French artists in vogue at the time, but which raised eyebrows in Quebec.

“I didn’t know I was going to shoot myself in the foot like that. For me, it was clear that it was a comic that people were going to understand. I loved this song so much. […] It was only when I sang it for the first time in Quebec on television that I had my first doubts. It happened that Robert Charlebois, who is the voice that has always inspired me, was also invited. When he heard wash wash, he asked me if it was a song for a soap commercial. I went back to my dressing room a little taken aback because I didn’t understand what he meant, ”says Martine St-Clair, who then went through a bad patch between the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 1990s. 2000. It was during this period that she fell back on abstract painting, her other great passion along with music.

Do it again differently

Despite industry and media taunts, wash wash was nevertheless dubbed by part of the public, who needed lightness during the holidays. The title thus ended up imposing itself on commercial radio in Quebec during the first part of the summer of 1990, until the outbreak of the Gulf War in August, which would then monopolize part of the time of antenna.

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Martine St-Clair does not regret having recorded wash wash, but she concedes in retrospect that it was probably not the ideal first extract to promote the album Caribou. And for good reason, the rest of the disc is much less cartoonswith titles like I don’t know what my name is anymore or Desire = dangerone of the first French-language songs to deal with the AIDS epidemic.

So as not to overshadow the rest of his discography, the artist has therefore distanced himself from wash wash and stopped singing it live, even though she never stopped loving it. She made an exception by performing it recently on stage for the recording of her first album recorded in front of an audience, to be released next fall.

She also proposed a new version of wash wash during the pandemic for an organization that she sponsors – a wink that was, for her, a great way to come full circle.

In addition to releasing a new album this fall, Martine St-Clair will be performing across Quebec next year. Alongside Marie Carmen, Johanne Blouin, the Creole Company and several others, she will be touring from August JS Tendernessmoderated by Jean-Sébastien Girard.

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