I was listening to “Paper Doll” by The Mills Brothers the other day when I thought, “Hmmm, it’s been a while since I ruined a song.”
“Paper Doll,” when sung by The Mills Brothers, is one of my favorite songs ever. It might even be one of my favorite songs when sung by other groups, but I wouldn’t know because The Mills Brothers sing it so well that I haven’t gone looking for recordings by other groups. The harmonies, the pace, the phrasings are all just flawless. It’s a lot like Nat King Cole’s recording of “Stardust” – why would I go looking for recordings by other artists when I’ve heard the one, true performance?
“Paper Doll” is the classic heartbreak story: Guy feels so bad about his recent breakup that he swears he’s through with women forever, so what he’s going to do – and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is just poetic license – is get a paper doll to replace the girl who left him, because a paper doll wouldn’t leave him. Of course it wouldn’t – it’s paper. Paper dolls are also usually no more than eight inches tall and literally two-dimensional, so other than the total fidelity it’s not going to be a very satisfying relationship.
I’m going to buy a paper doll that I can call my own
A doll that other fellows cannot steal
Then all the flirty-flirty guys with those flirty-flirty eyes
Will have to flirt with dollies that are real
When I come home at night, she will be waiting
She’ll be the truest doll in all this world
I’d rather have a paper doll to call my own
Than have a fickle-minded real live girl
Okay. Seems a little sulky, but who hasn’t been there? I’m sympathetic.
I guess I’ve had a million dolls or more
I guess I’ve played the doll game over and over
Hold up a minute – you’ve had it with women because the ones you know get stolen by flirty guys, but here you are telling us you’ve had a million dolls or more? I’m suddenly a lot less sympathetic.
I just quarreled with Sue
That’s why I’m blue
She’s gone away and left me, just like all dolls do
Listen to this guy – he’s had a million dolls, all of which have left him, and he thinks they’re the problem. I have to wonder.
I tell you, boys, it’s tough to be alone
And it’s tough to love a doll who’s not your own
I’m not sure what’s going on there. It’s tough to be alone and to love somebody else’s doll at the same time?
I’m through with all of them
I’ll never fall again
Hey boy! What you going to do?
At this point I’m thinking: If he’s had a million dolls or more, he’ll definitely fall again. Statistically, it’s got to happen.