Friday, November 10th, 2017

I Want You Back by the Jackson Five is one of my favorite Motown songs ever. I really don’t want to ruin it, but I don’t know how to explain what’s going on in with this guy and his ex without making him sound like a jerk, and that, in fact, kind of ruins the song.

His jerkiness starts with the first two lines of the song:

When I had you to myself, I didn’t want you around
Those pretty faces always made you stand out in a crowd

This has to be the most roundabout way of calling a girl ugly that I have ever heard in a pop song. He is calling her ugly, right? I can’t think of another way to interpret that.

Then he goes straight into regret, but it seems to be more the kind of regret that she’s with someone that’s not him, instead of regret that he was a jerk to her:

But someone picked you from the bunch, one glance was all it took
Now it’s much too late for me to take a second look

Oh, baby, give me one more chance (to show you that I love you)
Won’t you please let me back in your heart?
Oh, baby, I was blind to let you go
But now that I see you in his arms (I want you back!)

See, I’m not sure if he really expects her to take him back, or if he’s just crying in his coffee. He called her ugly, admitted to himself that she’s with someone now who thinks she’s beautiful, and he’s all wahh-wahh, gimme a chance. Dude, too late. You had your chance, and it sounds to me like you blew it.

Trying to live without your love is one long, sleepless night
Let me show you, girl, that I know wrong from right
Every street you walk on, I leave tear stains on the ground
Following the girl I didn’t even want around

So … he’s stalking her now? Is that supposed to be romantic? I mean, the first line of that verse sounds like the kind of poetic language guys use when they’re being romantic, but the second line sounds like an empty promise. He already showed her he didn’t know wrong from right; he ditched her because he thought she was ugly. Then some other guy thought she was worth seeing and suddenly he’s all, Hey, I want you back. Makes me think he doesn’t know wrong from anything.

And then those last two lines — the tear stains thing is all poetic again, but he’s following her everywhere. That’s not normal. That’s weird. Dude. Just stop.

another song bites the dust | 6:30 am CST
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Thursday, October 26th, 2017

I’m here to ruin another song for you! Or maybe not. The song I’ve been thinking about today is Undercover Angel by Alan O’Day. Ever heard of it? It was on the radio constantly in 1977 but I haven’t heard it since I graduated from high school. So maybe you haven’t heard it, in which case I won’t be ruining it for you.

Likewise, I won’t be ruining it for you if you’ve heard it but, like me, you’ve always thought it was more than a little weird that a pop song about a guy’s wet dream made it all the way to number one in the charts. That’s really what the song was about. The songwriter himself, Alan O’Day, described the song as a “nocturnal novelette,” which I guess he thought was a kind of sly way to say it but I thought was about as sly as sneaking into a woman’s locker room by crashing through the wall with a truck.

Here’s the first thirty seconds of the song; what does this sound like to you:

Crying on my pillow, lonely in my bed
Then I heard a voice beside me, and she softly said
Thunder is your night light, magic is your dream
And as I held her, she said, See what I mean?

I said, What?
She said, Ooo-wooo wooo-weee!
I said, All right!
She said, Love me, love me, love me!

Undercover angel, midnight fantasy
I’ve never had a dream that made sweet love to me
Undercover angel, answer to my prayer
You let me know that there’s a love for me out there

So either a total stranger snuck into his bedroom while he was crying and boned him, which doesn’t seem likely given the actual words of the song; or a literal angel appeared and likewise there was boning, which doesn’t strike me as likely, either, given what I was taught in Sunday school about angels; or he dreamed the whole episode, which seems most likely to me because he was in bed, at night, crying about how he was soooo lonely.

Full disclosure: I was the kind of angsty teenage guy who was so bunched up about girls that I mostly lived my so-called social life in my own fantasies. The idea of getting it on with the literal girl of my dreams held an admittedly adolescent appeal for me. I didn’t think it was necessarily weird to write about it; god knows I did some of that myself, but I thought it was unquestionably weird that the repressive culture I grew up in would elevate a song about boning a dream girl (or an angel; which would be weirder?) to the highest tiers of musical fame.

Further disclosure: I like this song. Still. I liked it then, because of the aforesaid social fantasy life I lived, and I still like it now, mostly because it tells me that, no matter how awkward adolescence was for me, it was just as awkward, maybe more so, for other people. Say, other people who are song writers, for instance.

another song bites the dust | 5:00 am CST
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Saturday, October 21st, 2017

I’m going to ruin another pop song, buckle up!

The song is Aimie by Pure Prairie League, and before I get started I want to say that I’ve always loved this song, and I mean always, from the very first time I can remember hearing it. I sang along every time it came on the radio, I eagerly awaited the next time I would hear it on the radio, I turned up the volume on the radio every time I heard it, and I’m pretty sure I’ve bought copies in every format since vinyl records.

And I’m probably going to ruin it for you now. I don’t want to ruin it. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself, but I can’t help but think about the meaning behind the words every time I sing it, and I get more uncomfortable with the meaning every time I sing along. My discomfort starts with the very first two lines:

I can see why you think you belong to me
I never tried to make you think or let you see one thing for yourself

The only thing I can make of this is that he (I’m assuming it’s a he because I’m assuming Aimie is a she; I could be wrong, but let’s go with that for now) is a controlling asshole. I mean, there’s not a whole lot to go on here, but there sort of is. He never let her see a single thing for herself? That’s cretinous behavior.

The idea of women as possessions has always made me uncomfortable, too. I mean, I get it that “you belong to me” is sort of like saying “we belong together,” but it’s not, it’s absolutely not at all the same. “We belong together” is a sweet sentiment; “you belong to me” turns a sweet sentiment into a statement that sounds like I hold title to your body and soul. It’s kind of creepy. And I think that’s the meaning of the first line of the song. Why else would Aimie leave him? Oops, spoilers.

But now you’re off with someone else and I’m alone
You see, I thought that I might keep you for my own

The classic “BUT” of pop songs — she was in his life, he didn’t treat her right, she’s seeing someone else and now he’s feeling regret. Is it regret that he treated her wrong, or regret that she’s not with him any longer?

And there’s that creepy idea again of making her into one of his possessions. Not something like, “we could be so good together,” but “I might keep you for my own.” Squick.

Aimie, what you wanna do?
I think I could stay with you
For a while, maybe longer

I love singing along with the chorus of this song, but it’s not exactly the most rock-solid of commitments, is it? “I could stay with you — could happen, maybe, or maybe not. For a while, anyway. Maybe longer than a while. But I’m a guy, and we don’t like to hang around. That’s just how guys are.” I’m digging a lot more out of those lines than maybe the songwriter intended, but it was a common theme in pop songs of the 70s that guys don’t stick around much, so I don’t think I’m reaching here.

Don’t you think the time is right for us to find
All the things we thought weren’t proper could be right in time
And can you see which way we should turn, together or alone
I can never see what’s right and what is wrong

I’m not entirely sure what he’s trying to say here. I’m not even sure he knows what he’s trying to say. He wants to get back together with Aimie; that’s in there for sure. I’m a little bummed that he’s using the “I can never see what’s right and what is wrong” excuse to dodge responsibility for treating her badly. I’m alarmed he’s proposing that she might come to think the way he treated her before they broke up will be “proper,” given a little time. If it was wrong then, why wouldn’t it be wrong a year from now? There’s at least one good reason Aimee broke up with him, is what I’m saying. Probably more than one.

Also, just to be way too nitpicky (and I might as well, since I’m ruining the song already), none of those lines end in words that rhyme.

Now it’s come to what you want, you’ve had your way
And all the things you thought before just faded into gray
And can you see that I don’t know if it’s you or of it’s me
If it’s one of us, I’m sure we both will see

“So you’ve had your little fling; doesn’t that make everything that passed between us all right now?” Um. No? I love this song, but I hate this verse. Maybe it was just a fling, but I feel it’s really quite presumptuous of him to assume that’s all it was. Maybe she’s off with someone else better than him, and she knows it.

I keep fallin’ in and out of love with you,
Fallin’ in and out of love with you
Don’t know what I’m gonna do …

Again, the level of commitment here would not inspire a whole lot of confidence in me, if I were to put myself in Aimie’s shoes.

I haven’t enjoyed ruining this song. I still love singing it — I was singing it in the shower just this morning, but I’m never going to be able to stop thinking the guy in the song was a jerk to Aimie and that she’d be a fool to get together with him again. Stay true to yourself, Aimie!

another song bites the dust | 11:21 am CST
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