This song has been running through my head a lot lately.
In fact, I like the entire record.
And this is a fun live version!
This song has been running through my head a lot lately.
In fact, I like the entire record.
And this is a fun live version!
Pop ephemera? Yes. But I would guess you’ve heard this song at least within the last year, probably the last 6 months, or if you ever go within spitting distance of the depressingly recent-seeming ‘classic’ radio stations spraying 70’s, 80’s and 90’s hits 24/7 – probably within the last week.
Why? What has kept this seemingly innocuous song about a break-up in the pop culture heavens? I re-heard this song recently on my iPod and it became more clear – to me anyway.
First is the beat. It is metronomic, icily detached, and perfect. The bass drum lands with a decisive thud each, and, every, time. Twittery blips of a synth march in syncopated lockstep with artificial 16th notes played on a phantom hi-hat cymbal. It’s clear there is no living, breathing drummer behind this beat and that matters. More on that soon.
Then come the bass-y, waver-y, futuristic synths. Anything synthesized is (of course) synthetic, and therefore ‘not real’, and therefore distanced from feeling or, in this case, caring. I would argue that a structure is being put in place by the mechanized beat and technologically potent synths that foretell the doomed future of this relationship. This is all business. Manufactured soul. Groovy but calculating. Like her.
This song’s lyrics basically consist of a he said/she said, back-and-forth dispute over ‘what happened’ between two former lovers in what seems like letters, or maybe voicemails, which at the time would have been cutting edge.
He begins: ‘You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar / when I found you’. Ah. You found her did you? Well, we’ll see what she has to say about that. He continues to describe how her success was surely a result of his own Machiavellian maneuvers behind the scenes in the cutthroat music industry. It appears however that these efforts have been lavished upon an ungrateful heart, as the first verse concludes with a chilling final sentence, if not outright threat:
I picked you out, I shook you up
And turned you around
Turned you into someone new
Now five years later on you’ve got the world at your feet
Success has been so easy for you
But don’t forget it’s me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too.
Here’s where it gets interesting. We haven’t even heard her response yet, and already we are sensing his desperation. The first line of the next verse is ‘Don’t.’
This means both ‘please don’t do this’, and it is a stutter from someone who is petrified, meaning it can also be heard as ‘Don’t..don’t you want me?’ as though his disbelief is such that he can barely allow the words, the question, to exit his mouth for fear of hearing the answer. It is reminiscent of a devastated Roy Lichtenstein blonde reclining on a sofa, exaggerated tears coming from her eyes, barely able to speak so choked with emotion is she, her halting words captured in a cartoon voice bubble over her head.
And if he was desperate before, he’s terrified now. The song reveals this by amping up its volume and pitch to a cry: ‘Don’t you want me baby?’ followed by ‘Don’t you want me? Ooooh!’ It’s too much for words. This is a howl of despair. And millions upon millions of happy party and club goers over the last 30 years have rejoiced in the sound of an agonized man falling apart, joining him in the anthemic cry of this glorious chorus.
It is also a struggle to escape from the synthesized prison that is this song. His voice is the only human or natural substance in this environment, and he is drowning. The beat however, is uncaring. Just listen to it. There are no flourishes or pauses. It steamrolls forward in service of good times. There are people to entertain, dancers to inspire, good times to be fueled, so if you are suffering from a broken heart, that’s fine, but get the f*ck out of the way. Don’t think for one moment this dance machine is gonna stop before running you over.
It is, after all, the music business they’re singing about, not one another. That’s the revelation. These two lovers are not the subject of the song; it is the machine they found themselves caught within that torn them asunder. He doesn’t even realize it.
My candidate for one of the great lines in pop music is her response: ‘I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar – that much is true’. Ouch. In other words, nothing you said after that was true. She will not brook the argument that he had anything to do with where she is now: ‘But even then I knew I’d find a much better place / Either with or without you’. Her singing is flat, deadpan and dismissive, and that’s because she’s part of the machine now, and sounds like one. She isn’t really singing; it’s more like a robot dictating a goodbye letter; her tone reflects it.
She concedes ‘the five years we have had have been such good times’ but even in the ‘I still love you’ she can’t rouse any true feeling. It’s semi-sung in a ‘Well, ya, I guess so’ tone. She’s throwing him his last bone before she says goodbye forever, in which she concludes: ‘But now I think it’s time I live my life on my own. I guess it’s just what I must do’.
And again, from our protagonist (Can we call him that? Who are we cheering for here? That’s one of the great questions in this song): ‘Don’t’. And of course, ‘Don’t you want me?’
We never hear from her again. I said up top and believed my whole life this was a back-and-forth song, but it isn’t. She has exactly one verse and then she is gone. He, however, spirals down in an endless loop of disbelief and pleas, repeating over and over again ‘Don’t you want me…Ooooooh!’
I usually don’t refer to videos when contemplating songs because it can ruin your own personal interpretation. This video however is pretty good. The performances by the artists are frozen, detached and best described as mannequinesque. It’s a marvelous vision realized by the Director, whoever that was.
The best and most appropriate shot is the final one, where the camera retreats from the set of a video shoot and swings over to get one last shot of the girl in front of the makeup mirror. Except, of course, she is gone. So for a moment we get the camera looking at itself, gazing into a mirror at it’s own reflection, trapped in a self-referential and existential loop, just like our poor hero, doomed to cry in eternal sorrow for his hastily departed betrothed, unable to escape, even 30 years on.
I hope that everyone had a good holiday weekend! The Finn and I were out of the city, at his dad’s cottage in Haliburton. It’s a beautiful spot. On Sunday night we sat around listening to old 45s and drinking shots of Grand Marnier, which is actually really good, you guys. I totally thought it’d be super strong and difficult to drink, but it turns out that it’s quite delightful. Or maybe I’m just an alcoholic! No matter. Anyway, as you may recall, a few weeks ago The Finn’s dad called me out for not including any Patsy Cline songs on my list of top breakup tunes. So this weekend I guess he decided it was high time that we ignorant youth received some schooling in some of the classics of his generation.
A little background information about the Finn’s dad — we’ll call him Finn Sr. If you are at all familiar with the Finnish as a people, you will know that even though they often have hilarious, subversive senses of humor, they generally appear fairly stone-faced. If you are not aware of this, hanging out with them can be a little intimidating. Before I met Finn Sr. for the first time, the Finn and his friends tried to prepare me. “It may seem like he doesn’t like you,” they said, “but don’t worry. He just doesn’t smile that often”. I definitely spent the first few years of my relationship with the Finn worried that Finn Sr. thought I was a complete fool, since he’s pretty no-nonsense, and anyone who has met me knows that my genetic makeup is about 80% nonsense. Anyway, over the years I have gradually gotten to know Finn Sr. better and have come to appreciate the depth of his humor and character. He is a very cool dude. This past weekend he was telling me about the Finnish word sisu. There’s no real English equivalent, but basically it means “strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity”. It’s a quality that Finns are very proud of. If you want to know more, you can read about it here. (The one example of the Finnish heavy metal singer injuring himself without noticing makes me laugh because it reminds me of the time that the Finn and his brother went out on a winter walk with Finn Sr. When they returned home after an hour and a half of tramping through the woods, Finn Sr. removed his boots and one of his feet was bleeding profusely. He had stepped on a large nail that had embedded itself in his boot and the sole of his foot. “Oh my god, Dad!” the Finn and his brother exclaimed. “Why didn’t you make us stop so you could get the nail out of your foot??” Finn Sr.’s reply: “I didn’t want to cut short our walk”. That’s stoicism, people).
Anyway, as I was saying, we listened to a lot of music on Sunday night (including some rather spirited Russian folk music) but the two records I enjoyed the most were Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison. I’ve always liked Orbison — Finn Sr. and I agree that he has the best voice of all time — but I’ve had only a casual acquaintance with Patsy Cline’s music. Well, let me tell you, Finn Sr. is right — no one does ‘hurtin’ music’ better than Patsy. Seriously, the emotion in her voice is incredible, and I love it how pretty much every song is about a man who’s done her wrong but she still loves him anyway. Even the song below, ‘Walkin’ After Midnight,” though relatively upbeat (for Patsy), is still about a woman out in the middle of the night searching for her (presumably misbehaving) husband/lover.
So please enjoy ‘Walkin’ After Midnight,” along with Roy Orbison’s cover of ‘Love Hurts’ (so, so good. GAH! That voice!!)
You know, life can be tough, kids. But with a little Patsy for the pain, a little Roy for the soul — and lot of sisu — we just might make it through.
Well, well, well. Here we are in mid-August already. How did that happen? The Finn and I spent a blissful two weeks on vacation, but have sadly now returned to the daily grind. Y’know, I always laugh when I hear people say that they would keep working if they won the lottery because they like to keep busy, need to feel productive, blah blah blah. Like, are you for real? There are about a MILLION things I can think of that I would do if I hit the jackpot. Actually, my current life dream is to be able to sit around all day watching & blogging about ‘80s teen movies. There are SO MANY good ones!! Teen Wolf, for one (which I seem to be obsessed with lately). The Lost Boys, License to Drive, and Dream a Little Dream (all starring the two Coreys). Better off Dead (John Cusack) and Real Genius (Val Kilmer), only two of the best movies of all time. A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (River! *sob*) And I haven’t even gotten to any of the John Hughes (“a genius of our time”) classics.
Sigh. If there’s anyone out there reading this who wants to pay me to write about masterpieces of ‘80s cinema* such as these, please do let me know. I LOVE THE ‘80s SO MUCH.
*Yes, I do realize that some of these are regarded as fairly terrible movies, but that is only because the general public obviously has no taste.
Anyway, what better way to celebrate the return to reality with a dose of morose songs celebrating the death of love? Yes, that’s right — I am finishing off my list of favourite breakup songs. Here are the next five:
Lest you think that we here at Let Them Eat Vinyl are only about music, let us reassure you that we are also very well versed in the matters of the heart. In fact, we are currently lounging at LTEV headquarters drinking red wine, listening to Serge Gainsbourg records, and making out with each other.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we got to thinking about famous/infamous partnerships in music. Here, a roundup of celebrated musical couplings:
Even though their passion burned brightly, in the end these couples just couldn’t go the distance:
Rock & roll’s most dysfunctional relationships:
Co-dependent much? Famous junkie relationships in rock & roll:
Groups famous for their inter-band relationships:
Because it’s not all dysfunction & hearbreak:
Let Them Eat Vinyl’s Celebrity Crushes:
For me it always has been & always will be Paul Simonon of The Clash. He had incredible style and attitude. And oh yeah, he was SUPER hot…
Seventies-era Stevie Nicks. I couldn’t stop looking at the front cover of Rumors and the picture of her in the inside sleeve. She sorta had a Farah Fawcett thing going on for me, but with that haunting voice.
And you, sweet reader? Who’s your valentine? Can be anyone past or present, dead or alive (hey, if Mozart rocks your socks, who are we to judge). Tell us all about it in the comments! We absolutely will not think any less of you (unless you are over the age of 12 and pick Justin Bieber).