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This is Splitsville

February 16th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Much as there are songs about the sweetness of being in love, as we saw last week, the shards of a broken relationship glisten on the corridors of popular music. This lot of ten songs has a fair share of numbers dealing with break-ups and divorce; happily not an action I am contemplating.

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P.P. Arnold – Letter To Bill (1968).mp3
Poor Bill. This morning he left his happy home for the office in good spirits, but when he returns he will not embraced by a loving P.P. She is gone, having left him an enigmatic letter announcing her departure that morning. It will be of scant comfort to poor Bill to learn that “it”s not that I don”t love you” and that “I”m not leaving you for anything you”ve done” (ah, the old “it”s not you. Nooooo! It”s me” chestnut). Bill probably will not feel comforted by her reassurance that she still remembers “the good times”, certainly not if he hadn’t realised there actually had been bad times. Thoughtfully she left housekeeping instruction (“tell the milkman to drop down on the order”), and observe her counsel concerning neighbourhood gossip. But most of all, Bill will be dismayed by her admission of having written the letter hurriedly under pressure of the train timetable. She couldn”t even bother to write a proper letter? Ouch.

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Kool & the Gang – Too Hot (1979).mp3
Kids, don”t get married too young. Mr and Mrs Kool were 17 when they fell in love, “high school sweethearts, love was so brandnew”. So they got married and things were fine. Until they drifted out of love. Now, with all the anger and recrimination, the climate is one of excessive heat, as the song title alerts us. Kool (yeah, I know, it”s really J.T. singing) doesn”t quite understand how or why everything changed. Apparently, they failed “to stop and feel the [unspecified] need”. Oh, but it hurts. “So long ago, you were my love. Feeling the pain!” The excellent guitar solo won”t palliate the distress. Kool continues to assure us that it is indeed very hot before letting us in on the twist: recalling that once they took their vows, he insists: “We”re man and wife forever!” And then the final plea: “Baby, please won”t you listen?” Ah, it looks like only Mrs Kool wants out.

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Tompall Glaser – If I”d Only Come And Gone (1975).mp3
You”ll remember Tompall Glaser as the co-writer of Streets Of Baltimore (featured in The Originals Vol. 32), which could feature in this post. Here, Tompall got himself tied down after what seems to have been a one-night stand. She had no idea that he was a bit of a cad “” “If you”d only stopped to read cold hard words I caved on the other bedroom walls” “” and now she”s stuck with a man who wants out. He regrets that he”ll hurt her. If only he had come and gone, Tompall notes by way of double entendre, “you”d be safely tucked away among the pleasures I”d remember “stead of laying here beside me fearin” restless thoughts inside me that might awaken with the breaking of each new day.” Yes, if he had “only come and gone the way I”ve always done with summer girls before, shared one night with you and never reached for more, then we wouldn”t face this long and painful righting of the wrong”.

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Boz Scaggs – It”s Over (1976).mp3
Boz is having what seems to be an inner confrontation with two contrary voices conversing in this deceptively upbeat song, with former Ikette Maxine Green doing backing vocals duty. First there”s the lovelorn man who can”t face up to the end of a relationship. “Best of friends never part; best of fools has loved forever from the bottom of his heart.” The second voice, in the chorus, gives it to him straight, in a brutish and artless fashion: “Why can”t you just get it through your head? It”s over, it”s over now. Yes, you heard me clearly now, I said it”s over, it”s over now.” But Voice One isn”t ready to hear that, protesting wretchedly: “You might say that. I can”t take it, I can”t take it. Lord, I swear I just can”t take it no more.” Voice Two urges him to cut his loses: “Go away”¦it”s too late to turn back now, and it don”t matter anyhow.” And then comes Voice One”s admission of guilt: “I”m to blame; can”t go on the same old way.” And still he protests that he”s not over her.

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Tift Merritt – Keep You Happy (2008).mp3
The relationship isn”t over, but it will be soon. There will be no drama; it will just slip away. Tift doesn”t want it to end but is resigned to it. He is dutifully holding her, but “a feeling has me and tells me it will never stay. Your heart beats miles now, I feel them as they fly away. Close gets so far away.” He is drifting away and she yearns for a place where she could keep him happy. But there is no such place. She sadly reflects: “Why do we pretend there is something to hold onto? See how my world fell in? I was trying to hold you; I was just trying to hold you.” And the sound of a slowly crumbling heart is is set to the prettiest of melodies. What kind of man could ever tire of the lovely Tift Merritt?

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Hem – Too Late To Turn Back Now (2006).mp3
Same story here: the breakdown is inevitable and irrevocable. Here, the pair have clearly done pretty horrible things: “You know we both been feeling reckless since we crashed into the come down.” Bridges have been burnt. “What will keep you next to me, my love, since it”s too late to turn back now.” And yet there is always a flicker of hope. “I caught your face in the reflection, I thought I recognised a corner of your smile. A tired light from your direction; that will keep me in the meanwhile.” And still she knows, they will keep moving forward into separate futures.
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R.B. Greaves – Take A Letter Maria (1969).mp3
Our man R.B. is a pragmatic sort of guy. Coming home one evening, he finds his wife with another man. More emotional types, usually found in country music, might take a gun and shoot the wife and/or her lover; and, if they have no intentions of writing a song about it, perhaps bring the sorry scene to a climax by means of suicide. Not so Ronald Bertam Aloysius Greaves III (apparently a nephew of Sam Cooke). Clearly a man of professional success, he calls in his secretary, the titular Maria, to dictate a terse letter addressed to his wife: “Say I won’t be coming home, gonna start a new life.” And don’t forget to send a copy to his lawyer. Divorce business out of the way, we get an idea as to why Mrs Greaves had John Terry paying nocturnal visit. “Was I wrong to work nights to try to build a good life? All work and no play has just cost me a wife.” Ah, but it seems that R.B. hopes that all work and no play might have brought him closer to a liaison with Maria, who apparently has been a good secretary to him. He comes on strong: “I never really noticed how sweet you are to me. It just so happens I’m free tonight. Would you like to have dinner with me?” Our friend is indeed a pragmatists; dictating the letter to Maria was just a ruse to let the her know that he no longer is attached. Word of warning: office romances are terrible ideas.

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Barbra Streisand – One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home (1971).mp3
The Burt Bacharach/Hal David song was a hit for the 5th Dimension (featured on the Burt Bacharach mix), but let”s have Barbra”s perspective from 1971. There is a bright side to a split. Babs enumerates them: one less bell to answer, of course; one less egg to fry, less tidying up. Great! Except, and your hunch was quite correct, she is not happy. Not at all happy. All she does, as Johnny Cash once did, is to “cry, cry, cry”. When the doorbell goes, it reminds her of him. More tears (which, as Barbra would later note in another song, are not enough). “I end each day the way I start out: crying my heart out.” Even simple grammar falls victim to desperation: “one less man to pick up after” (just how many men are you living with, Babs?). But we forgive her grammatical lapses “” for which, in any case, we ought to blame Hald David “” as we feel her pain: “Somebody tell me, please: where did he go, why did he go, how could he leave me?” My guess is that he couldn”t live on just one fried egg any longer. Babs expands on the post-split vibe in the second part of the medley, noting a house is not a home when it’s empty of love.

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Tammy Wynette – D.I.V.O.R.C.E. (1968).mp3
Standing submissively by her man didn”t work out too well for Tammy, and today is the day the divorce is coming through. She is hurting at the end of her marriage, of course, because she still loves the man by whom she had stood. But mostly she feels the pain for four-year-old Joe, who is cheerfully oblivious to the imminent trauma. Mom and Dad evidently have done little to prepare the kid for the rupture, having thrashed out matters by spelling them out, literally, Sesame Street style. “We spell out the words we don”t want him to understand” like one might spell out “T.O.Y. or maybe S.U.R.P.R.I.S.E.”. Those are fun words; D.I.V.O.R.C.E. and C.U.S.T.O.D.Y. obviously less so. Tammy, who has custody of Joe, suffers pain from two sides: the prospects of losing her husband and of seeing the little boy suffer. “I love you both and it will be pure H.E. double L for me. Oh, I wish that we could stop this D.I.V.O.R.C.E.”. Alas, we get a sense that this is not going to happen.

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Rilo Kiley – Breaking Up (2007).mp3
Breaking up need not be all emotional trauma. Rilo Kiley”s Jenny Lewis evidently thinks that worse things could happen. “It”s not as if New York City burnt down to the ground once you drove away.” That”s not to make light of a break-up, however. It hurts. “Are we breakin” up? Is there trouble between you and I? Did my heart break enough? Did it break enough this time?” The emotions are conflicting, though tinged by resigned cynicism. “Here”s to all the pretty words we will never speak. Here”s to all the pretty girls you”re gonna meet.” Hey, maybe he feels bad too. Or maybe not. He let Jenny down, and she kicks back: “Betrayal is a thorny crown; you wear it well, just like a king.” And in the chorus, the ultimate fuck-you to the ex, repeated three times: “Oooh eh [sounds like a taunting “˜nyah nyah nyah”], it feels good to be free.”

Songs by the Dumped
More Songs About Love (happy, unhappy, ending etc)

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  1. Latanya
    February 16th, 2010 at 07:19 | #1

    Just what I needed – a break from the mushiness, despite being married, lol.

  2. February 16th, 2010 at 18:45 | #2

    Love the R.B. Greaves tune, as it’s one from my first year or so of radio listening. These days, though, the tale would be the prelude to several lawsuits, not the stuff of a pop hit. The Scaggs tune is a favorite, too. I’m not familiar with some of the others; new things to listen to and learn from! Thanks!

  3. B Smith
    February 18th, 2010 at 09:17 | #3

    Frankly that RB Greaves always struck me as a cad – not 24 hours since splitting with his wife, and he’s already trying to crack onto his secretary!

    Still a great song though.

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