Waxing lyrical #6
Here are some lyrics that get us dancing, thinking and make the melancholy bearable.
‘You can’t always get what you want / You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find / You get what you need’
You Can’t Always Get What You Want, by The Rolling Stones.
Written in 1964 by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, most people interpret this song as a slightly jaded look at the end of the swinging 60s – how the big peace and love movement maybe wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Whereas I find it quite reassuring and comforting. The melody’s brilliant and every time I hear the words I think – yes Jagger, so true. It’s a good reminder that sometimes the things we really want aren’t the best for us. But in the end we get what we need and everything works out fine.
‘So I broke into the palace / With a sponge and rusty spanner
She said “Eh I know you, and you cannot sing” / I said “That’s nothing you should hear me play piano”’
The Queen is Dead, by The Smiths. Written by Morrissey and Johnny Marr.
There’s comfort in melancholy, said Joni Mitchell (on Hejira). She’s right. Songs about life’s trips, stumbles and disappointments are much richer than the rictus-grin, chest-beating ones. Sure, I’ve fallen into the trap of getting up to dance to Dancing Queen (with its sneakily undanceable tempo). And if you get me tipsy, I’ll admit liking That’s the Way I Like It and Jump. But, to get all Tina Turner for a moment, Private Dancer beats Simply the Best all day long.
Melancholy isn’t about slitting your wrists. It’s any sort of regret, loss or longing. Coming second, being wistful, not belonging. Things we all experience. To namecheck a few of my faves, it’s there in the outsiders, fantasists and has-beens loafing through Steely Dan’s often jaunty jazz-blues-rock catalogue. It’s all over Joni’s stuff, from Case of You and Edith and the Kingpin to People’s Parties and Chinese Cafe. Nick Drake did it exquisitely. I think Bon Iver does too, but can’t make out the words. You can’t feel sad listening to music like that.
The Smiths, though. Depressing, say the naysayers. But look at those words up top – funny aren’t they? Actually, nearly all Morrissey is funny, albeit a bit mordant. Even the sublimely, dangerously grave That Joke isn’t Funny Anymore is kind-of amusing. (It dug me out of a hangover when I first heard it anyway.) So there’s the comfort in melancholy. You can have it with fun.
‘When I had you to myself, I didn’t want you around / Those pretty faces always make you stand out in a crowd
But someone picked you from the bunch, one glance is all it took / Now it’s much too late for me to take a second look’
I Want You Back, by The Jackson Five.
A party classic. A floor-filler. Surely every wedding DJ has it on their playlist. I’ve loved this song since the first time I heard it as a child. I couldn’t listen to the joyful intro without breaking into a cheesy grin. (Followed closely by an embarrassing dance.)
As I got older I started to understand what the pre-teen MJ and his brothers were singing about. Everybody’s inner child can relate to this, right? We want what we can’t have. The grass is always greener on the other side. As a child (and an only child for the first eight years of my life) I threw the odd tantrum over something I wasn’t allowed to have. I didn’t care, or understand, if I was being unreasonable. As far as I was concerned, someone else had stopped me from having what I wanted. It wasn’t my fault. End of story.
These days, I’m more likely to reflect on a missed opportunity in my life. Something I once had, but didn’t appreciate.
Woah. What happened there? Suddenly my mood’s changed. I think I read way too much into those lyrics.
At the end of the day it’s a catchy pop song. I preferred the way it sounded when I was a child. And that’s the way I’ll keep listening to it.