07 June 2006

Outside, I'm masquerading, Inside, my hopes are fading

Speaking of lyrics, I was catching up on Series 2 of Scrubs on DVD when that joyous Cat Stevens song Here Comes My Baby popped up. The Tremeloes had the hit version, in 1967 (#4 UK, #13 USA), but Cat himself had released it on Matthew And Son (1967), and I believe that was the version heard on Scrubs.

Joyous indeed, and I break into a big chuckly smile every time I hear it: The Tremeloes record runs with that feeling, adding a party atmosphere with whoops and yelps of encouragement from the lads, and an interlude of merry whistling.

If you listen to the lyrics, though, you first hear this: In the midnight moonlight I'll be walking a long and lonely mile. What's this about a long and lonely mile? Doesn't sound too joyous, does it? In fact here comes the guy's baby, and she's with another guy:

Here comes my baby, here she comes now,
And it comes as no surprise to me, with another guy.
Here comes my baby, here she comes now,
Walking with a love, with a love that's all so fine,
Never could be mine, no matter how I try.

So this is a song about unrequited love, or a break-up. Whatever the back story, the words seem to be at odds with the feel of the song.

Of course, it depends on how you look at it. The guy might be like Smokey Robinson's life of the party in The Tracks Of My Tears (recorded by Smokey's group The Miracles):

Although I may be laughing, loud and hearty,
Deep inside I'm blue.

Smokey tells it from the inside, behind the masquerade, so his song does sound sad, but maybe in Here Comes My Baby we're hearing it from the outside, as he laughs through his tears at The Tremeloes' record hop.

The same story, watching your baby with another guy, is told in a fine, overlooked song from the 60s, See The Way by The Black Diamonds.

The singer in See The Way isn't masquerading, he's not cracking hardy, he's good and mad. You can picture him with his mates, indignantly pointing out his ex with her new guy, so incredulous he can hardly get the words out: See the way, see the way, see the way she's walking with him...

With each new outrage he cries out at the start of the chorus, NOW LOOK! as if he can't believe his eyes, and by the last chorus he can hardly contain himself: YES!!! NOW LOOK!!! All of this anguish is propelled by dramatic guitar and drum lines: the whole thing is like a scene from a teenage opera.

See The Way is miles away from Cat's scorned but peppy lover, musically and geographically. The Black Diamonds were a 60s garage band from Lithgow, a coal mining town in New South Wales. Later (I'm reading from Ian McFarlane's Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop) , they moved to Sydney and changed their name to Tymepiece, but along the way they recorded a local hit version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight under the name of Love Machine.


J. said...

Another one like that that you've pointed out to me previously was "Sweet Talking Guy" by the Chiffons. I think a fair few of the old Motown songs do it too: "Same Old Song" by the Four Tops comes to mind. I think it'd make a good compilation: Happy tunes with sad lyrics.

I can only think of one song with the opposite: "Ten Feet Tall" by XTC (off 'Drums and Wires'). The music is melancholy, but the lyrics:

Happy, I'm floating around on my feet now,
You make me go dizzy, I'm weak at the knees,
Yes, I feel like I'm walking round ten feet tall.

Well you say I'm faking, and I say don't worry,
The way that I bubble there's something in the make,
I feel like I'm walking round ten feet tall.

Right, the chemistry is right, this boy has reached his height,
The feeling just goes on and on and on and on
From strength to strength I'm ten feet long!

Lyn Nuttall said...

I'd forgotten about "Sweet Talkin' Guy", spot on, and hadn't considered "Ten Feet Tall". Were XTC writing in minor keys (that's a subject I don't understand but fascinates me. It's supposed to convey melancholy, so I guess if the lyrics weren't melancholy you'd get a contradiction.)

Ha! "I think it'd make a good compilation: Happy tunes with sad lyrics."

I actually started out to write about songs where the lyrics contradict the music, for whatever reason, but got sidetracked onto the unrequited love theme.

Simon & Garfunkel - 'The Boxer'. I always thought the "lie-la-lies" were way too soft and lyrical for a song about a battered boxer, and in my own mind I hear them being spat out, aggressively, British punk style.

Small Faces - "Lazy Sunday Afternoon". Apart from the interludes where he "drifts away", this doesn't sound lazy at all: more like he's off to the pub for a lively drink or two and a game of darts with the lads.