“Look at yourself. If you had a sense of humor, You would laugh to beat the band.
Look at yourself. Do you still believe the rumor That romance is simply grand?
Since you took it right on the chin, You have lost that bright toothpaste grin.
My mental state is all a jumble. I sit around and sadly mumble.
Refrain: Fools rush in, so here I am, Very glad to be unhappy.
I can’t win, but here I am, More than glad to be unhappy.
Unrequited love’s a bore, And I’ve got it pretty bad.
But for someone you adore, It’s a pleasure to be sad.
Like a straying baby lamb With no mammy and no pappy,
I’m so unhappy, but oh, so glad.”
-Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
Nowadays, there is some shame attached to ‘unrequited love’. Where it once masqueraded as a possibly noble state, i.e. Platonic love, it is today more closely associated with stalking.
Many of the love songs of the twentieth century describe stalking behavior as a normal recourse for a person ‘in love’. Now, when someone says they’d ‘climb the highest mountain and swim the widest sea’, they’re as likely as not to have the cops called on’em.
In Lou Christie’s “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” (lyrics by Tony Romeo) the singer threatens to :
“try every trick in the book
With every step that you take, everywhere that you look
Just look and you’ll find
I’ll try to get to your soul, I’ll try to get to your mind
I’m gonna make you mine
I know I’ll never give up, I’m at the end of my rope
From the morning till supper time, you’ll find
I’ll be waiting in line, I’ll be waiting in line..”
But my favorite part is when he sings:
“I’ll be a hard-lovin’, pushin’ kind of individual
Knockin’ night and day at your door
You’ll have to turn me away like an indestructible force..”
Now this song was a hit in 1969 and had no angry cards and letters coming in from either boys or girls who found it offensive—this was a normal lyric for the love songs of the time. Lou Christie, himself, was considered a creative and cultured musician, hailed by John Lennon as an original songwriter and artist.
Two of Christie’s songs are even based on Classical themes—
his “Rhapsody In The Rain” was based on Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet”:
and Lou Christie’s “Painter” borrowed another melody from classical music – this time from Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly”:
But then, Lou Christie’s first hit, his big break (written in partnership with Ms. Twyla Herbert) came up with one of the most chauvinistic lyrics ever written :
Lou Christie – “Lightnin’ Strikes”
(Song by Lou Christie and Twyla Herbert)
“Listen to me, baby, you gotta understand
You’re old enough to know the makings of a man
Listen to me, baby, it’s hard to settle down
Am I asking too much for you to stick around
Every boy wants a girl He can trust to the very end
Baby, that’s you Won’t you wait
[but ’til then
When I see lips beggin’ to be kissed
I can’t stop I can’t stop myself
Nature’s takin’ over my one-track mind]
Believe it or not, you’re in my heart all the time
All the girls are sayin’ that you’ll end up a fool
For the time being, baby, live by my rules
When I settle down I want one baby on my mind
Forgive and forget And I’ll make up for all lost time
[If she’s put together fine And she’s readin’ my mind
I can’t stop I can’t stop myself]
There’s a chapel in the pines Waiting for us around the bend
Picture in your mind Love forever,
[but ’til then
If she gives me a sign That she wants to make time
I can’t stop I can’t stop myself]
Lightning is striking again Lightning is striking again
And again and again and again Lightning is striking again
And again and again and again..”
I feel this song gives a very apt description of the cognitive dissonance suffered by teens and young adults of both sexes during the 1960s—much as it had been for centuries. This ‘good’ girls and ‘bad’ girls dichotomy offered no mathematics to explain how a young man could have as many sex partners as his young and ‘uncontrollable’ hormones drove him to, and still have a ‘pool’ of good, chaste girls standing by for a wedding at some future date.
We are left with two possibilities—all girls were ‘bad’, but discretely so, and shed that persona when some ‘spent’ boy finally proffered a diamond ring—or—all boys sowed a great deal less Wild Oats than they advertised.
Sarcasm aside, it was a clenched society that was quick to damn a woman for being indiscrete, and to forgive a man for not controlling his impulses, and to accept fairy-tale-like absurdities as the status quo. For a man to say he would ‘Lose his mind’ over his affection for a woman was considered very romantic, sort of congratulating and condemning the woman simultaneously for her ability to make a man ‘lose control’.
There are so many differences in our modern thinking, it’s hard to know where to start.
First, there’s the assumption that a man can’t be held responsible for sexual predation if he’s been overly excited by a woman. Today we call that date-rape—and I’ll tell you why. It would be pretty tough to look the other way when a man gets angry enough to blow up a building—and in modern society, if you have anger issues, you will be offered counseling—but men are still held to account for their behavior.
Second, the whole ‘get married and have kids’ thing has no place in today’s love song lyrics—Beyoncé’s “Put A Ring On It” gets close, but it’s also a sassy goof, aimed at boys with both jealousy issues and commitment issues. Once the oldie “You’re Havin’ My Baby” left the charts, the mechanics of Chapel Bells and Gold Rings and side-by-side burial plots became taboo in poetic longing and love lyrics.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, few of today’s women would consider marriage their primary goal. Few of today’s women would consider their lives ruined by losing their virginity—on the contrary, it seems the beginning of adult life for most American women, rather than the end. And in this new societal view, “My Girl” becomes overly possessive; “Only You” is too obsessive; and “Blue Moon” comes off as just needy. Still, Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With” takes the new view a little too far—fidelity of some sort is still considered the polite thing—at least in women’s minds.
The exaggerated nature of love lyrics has become overt—the old songs can still be enjoyed as the passions and urges going on in a lover’s mind, just so long as no one mistakes those hyperbolic pronouncements for healthy feelings.
Rap has similar Un-PC lyrics—but the street has become a two-way. Women have embraced their objectification, not as ‘the way of things’, but as ‘the way of men’, or rather the foolishness that goes on in a man’s mind. Further, some female vocalists have turned that meme against us, pointing out how easily men can be manipulated.
Empowerment of women has driven the young male vocalists to an excess of barbarism—not as a cage for women, but as a display of maleness. The ‘bitches and hos’ lyrics are defiant, not insulting—as seen in the fact that women have themselves embraced those terms, just as African Americans have embraced the n-word as something they share with each other.
The grit of reality abides—the above comments are observations on the art of song lyrics, not on daily life. Prejudice and exclusion persist—but the popular music of our times proclaims the end of these old biases, in times to come.