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Unrequited love – Glad To Be Unhappy

February 6th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

What is worse: losing a love you once had, or never been loved, or not being able consummate reciprocated love, or never having been loved back? They all suck, of course, and we”ll visit all of these in this series. Here we deal with unrequited love, a subject we”ll return to again later in the series.


The Mamas and the Papas – Glad To Be Unhappy.mp3
glad-to-be-unhappyThe group”s main songwriter John Phillips was a bit of a bastard. He had Cass Elliott singing about being fat, and he had his not always scrupulously faithful wife Michelle sing about her inability to remain monogamous. On 1967″s Glad To Be Unhappy he had Denny Doherty and Cass Elliott sing about unrequited love “” knowing well that Cass was in unreciprocated love with Denny and that Denny was in love with John”s wife (need I post a Venn diagram?). There was, clearly, a lot of pain. So John has them croon the sadistic taunt “Like a straying baby lamb, with no Mama and no Papa, I”m so unhappy”! And then the mocking: “I can”t win, but here I am, more than glad to be unhappy.” The sentiment is not foreign to the experience of unrequited love, of course. “But for someone you adore, it”s a pleasure to be sad.” That ties in with the lyric of a song used in last year”s series (and which will be recycled this year): “There is pleasure to be had in this kind of pain” “” the emotional masochism is a lifeline to hope, the delusion that the true love will come eventually.


The Holmes Brothers – I Want You To Want Me.mp3
holmes-brothersThis is a slowed down, quite superb cover of the Cheap Trick hit by the blues/soul/gospel Holmes Brothers. The lyrics make more sense when sung by a goofy pop-rocker, but this version is just too lovely to be ignored. Unsurprisingly, the singer is promising sacrifices to get the girl, right down to shining “up the old brown shoes” and making himself even more presentable by wearing a new shirt (throw in the use of deodorant and shampoo, and you might clinch the deal). It is not clear, of course, whether our hero”s sartorial countenance is the problem. Indeed, he seems quite clueless if he thinks that shiny shoes will provide comfort to the girl who seems to be experiencing a case of dejection herself, as our singer observes: “Feelin” all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dyin”. Oh, didn”t I, didn”t I, didn”t I see you cryin”?” Or is he just projecting?


Damien Jurado – Simple Hello.mp3
Frienditis is the condition when the person you”re in love with just wants to be friends. It usually happens to nice guys. Women love these men, but “just not in that way” (the dreaded phrase). And if she gets a boyfriend, the former confidante might well be dispatched (and he”d be an idiot to stick around anyway, having her relationship mock him into perpetuity). This is what seems to have happened here. Damien in his 2005 song recalls that “we used to be friends” who”d talk on the phone every night. He later reveals that she has her own group of pals now, having previously established that she now completely ignores him (“Simple hello would”ve been nice. Instead you walked right by”). But this isn”t a song about just friendship; his feelings obviously ran deeper. Now she has a man: “Every time I see you with him I think: “˜Why even try?”” It”s not that Damien is bitter; he is despairing: “Think I”ve had enough, and I think I”ve lost control “¦Think I”ve lost my mind.” Sorry, mate, but you”˜re on your own here. Burn the pictures. Let her go.


Ani DiFranco – Untouchable Face (live).mp3
ani_difranco2There is an even more acute sense of hopelessness when the object of unrequited affection is in a solid, happy relationship. So it is in this superb song. “I think you two are forever, and I hate to say it, but you”re perfect together.” Which sounds pretty magnanimous. Except it isn”t, as we learn in the next verse: “So fuck you and your untouchable face, and fuck you for existing in the first place.” Quite right. This isn”t in angry outburst, though. There is some self-loathing and immense sadness in this song. Witness the final verse: “In the back room there”s a lamp that hangs over the pool table, and when the fan is on it swings gently side to side. There”s a changing constellation of balls as we are playing. I see Orion and say nothing. The only thing I can think of saying”¦is fuck you.”


Weezer – Only In Dreams.mp3
weezer-blueAfter all this profundity, we can find refuge in Weezer and in dreamland. Mr Cuomo is in love: “She”s in the air, in between molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide”, but evidently he is too shy or otherwise reluctant to approach her, except in his dreams where he has the courage to ask her to dance, and she accepts (rhyming “˜dance” with “˜chance” ““ charity impels me to interpret this as a shrewd homage to the lyrical genius of Abba). In his fantasy he is charming and considerate, literally sweeping the girl off her feet on the dancefloor: “It”s a good thing that you float in the air ““ that way there”s no way I will crush your pretty toenails into a thousand pieces.” We imagine she laughs with her head tilting back, revealing her throat (Body Language 101: it means she wants you). We don”t go to Weezer for lyrical sophistication, so we see the conclusion coming: “But when we wake, it”s all been erased.”


The Association – Cherish.mp3
This 1966 hit was recommended last year by the great whiteray of Echoes In The Wind. The opening verse is perfectly eloquent in expressing the yearning of the fool in unrequited love: “Cherish is the word I use to describe all the feeling that I have hiding here for you inside. You don’t know how many times I”ve wished that I had told you; you don”t know how many times I”ve wished that I could hold you; you don”t know how many times I”ve wished that I could mould you into someone who could cherish me as much as I cherish you.”Â  Then comes the despondent resignation: “Perish is the word that more than applies to the hope in my heart, each time I realise that I am not gonna be the one to share your dreams.” So wonderfully poetic, you”d think she”d fall for him. And yet: “I”m beginning to think that man has never found the words that could make you want me, that have the right amount of letters, just the right sound that could make you hear, make you see, that you are driving me out of my mind.” The trouble is, our bard here thinks that she”ll call bullshit on his attempts of persuasion: “Oh, I could say I need you, but then you”d realise that I want you, just like a thousand other guys who”d say they loved you with all the rest of their lies, when all they wanted was to touch your face, your hands and gaze into your eyes.” And here”s the obstacle many people in unrequited love face: they are so fearful of rejection, the end of the dream, that they will scratch for excuses not to make a move. Some other schmuck will, she will fall for it, and The Association will sing their beautiful and sad song forever.


Barenaked Ladies – Jane.mp3
The songs so far have described pretty straightforward situations of unrequited love. This one is more complex. He is what seems to have happened. Our hero met the apparently very lovely Jane (named after a Toronto street corner) in a shop where she worked. They moved in together and, at Jane”s insistence the relationship remained platonic (he”d sing and she”d dye his hair; sounds like frienditis to me). Jane is being admired by many men, but doesn”t want relationships. “Jane doesn”t think a man could ever be faithful.” Experience might have given her good reason to think that. And our hero seems to agree. “Jane isn”t giving me a chance to be shameful.” And he seems to think that the relationship wouldn”t work anyway (“I wrote a letter, she should have got it yesterday. That life could be better by being together is what I cannot explain to Jane”). The housesharing arrangement ends ““ nicely put by reference to Juliana Hatfield and Evan Dando. Jane still works at the shop, and our hero is “still dazzled by her smile while I shoplift there”.


Billy Bragg – The Saturday Boy.mp3
billy-braggThere aren”t many songs that feature the word “unrequited”. We”ve had Glad To Be Unhappy earlier, and here”s Billy Bragg using it in perhaps the best song from his 1984 debut album. It”s the poignant story of a schoolboy crush. At first she reciprocates the affection, but after a while (which in schoolboy terms is a wink of the eye) things cool off. “But I never made the first team, I just made the first team laugh. And she never came to the phone, she was always in the bath.” The boy experiences his first broken heart, poor kid. “In the end, it took me a dictionary to find out the meaning of “˜unrequited”, while she was giving herself for free at a party to which I was never invited.”

  1. February 6th, 2009 at 10:51 | #1

    (whispers: Hate to be a pedant about this, but The Saturday Boy is from Billy’s second album…)

    I suspect unrequited love/lust is the basis for more songs than anything – after all most of those ‘lost’ love songs are about somebody not loving you anymore, unrequited after the fact maybe, but unrequited more often than not.

    A good 90 percent of Motown’s output fits in that area I’d reckon.

    Unrequited love, the songwriter’s friend.

  2. February 6th, 2009 at 12:32 | #2

    Oh yes, it winds me up when people complain about the abundance of “lovey-dovey” lyrics in relation to lyrics that, to paraphrase the bard, “say something to me about my life”. Hey, good lyrics about unrequited love or other forms of love pains say everything about my life.

    Bragg-wise, it l depends on whether Life’s A Riot should be classified as an album or an EP. It’s only something like 15 minutes long. We can play pedants’ ping pong…

  3. February 6th, 2009 at 19:19 | #3

    I had totally forgotten about “Jane”… and I think it is a good pick.

    Your comments on it also reminded me that Juliana Hatfield is a mistress of the unrequited love song.

  4. jb
    February 6th, 2009 at 21:04 | #4

    “Glad to Be Unhappy” was written by Rodgers and Hart, not John Phillips.

  5. February 6th, 2009 at 21:23 | #5

    Thanks for the correction, jb. I have corrected the text accordingly.

  6. February 7th, 2009 at 01:33 | #6

    Good to see Billy Bragg get some props.

    He’s painfully neglected in the U.S.

    How about Bowie’s “Modern Love” as a different twist on your theme? I’ve always fancied that song as a missed opportunity at love kind of a song.

  7. February 8th, 2009 at 12:35 | #7

    I know it’s off at a tangent but, is the best ever ‘she doesn’t want me anymore, but I’m over it’ lyric from Billy Bragg’s ‘Walk Away Renee’?

    “And then one day it happened. She cut her hair and I stopped loving her”

  8. February 8th, 2009 at 18:26 | #8

    Very, very interesting take on Cheap Trick by The Holmes Brothers.

    As for Ms. DiFranco, I’ve never really taken to her (although you have to admire her carving out such a successful niche on her on). That said, Untouchable Face is the one song of hers that I did love the first time I heard it.

    p.s. Apologies for inflicting the Toni Childs on you, Dude :-)

  9. SlothropRedux
    February 11th, 2009 at 17:01 | #9

    Okay, you’re REALLY missing the most heartbreaking song about unrequited love – Diary by Bread. The whole song is a guy reading his girlfriend’s diary, thinking all of the loving references are about him, and it turns out they’re *gasp* about someone else. Ouch!

  10. February 13th, 2009 at 15:11 | #10

    Hey Dude. Great list. I’m intrigued to hear the Holmes Brothers. Way to include Jurado. His songs are great.

  11. March 21st, 2009 at 00:41 | #11

    If comments aren’t closed, there’s no debate about whether Life’s A Riot or Brewing Up is BB’s debut album. It’s Life’s A Riot. The album which followed Brewing Up, Talking With The Taxman About Poetry describes itself on the front cover as, “The Difficult Third Album”.


  1. January 4th, 2012 at 16:27 | #1