Waxing lyrical #9
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'She handed me a heart-shaped locket that said, "To thine own self be true’"/ And I shivered as I watched a roach crawl across the toe of my high-heeled shoe / It sounded like somebody else that was talking, asking, "Mama, what do I do?"/ "Just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy, and they’ll be nice to you."'
Fancy, written and performed by Bobbie Gentry.
A young woman escaping poverty by turning to prostitution: not the most obvious subject for a funky little blue-eyed soul ditty. But Bobbie Gentry’s richly descriptive – and, at times, darkly funny – lyrics tell an intriguing and evocative story.
The plucky heroine, Fancy, reminds me of Scarlett O’Hara: she’s got sass and gumption – those quintessentially Southern qualities – and she’s a little bit shameless, too. I love how the grotesque image of the cockroach crawling across her shoe sums up the contrast between her humble origins in a ‘one-room, run-down shack on the outskirts of New Orleans’ and her rather more glamorous situation at the end of the song: having ‘charmed a king, a congressman and an occasional aristocrat’, she’s managed to bag herself ‘a Georgia mansion and an elegant New York townhouse flat’.
Thankfully, I can’t say I really identify with the subject matter. But I’ve got to hand it to Bobbie Gentry for creating a three-dimensional character and a proper, gripping storyline in the space of four and a half minutes. Most writers can only dream of that kind of economy.
By Laura C
‘C'mon let me show you just what you need honey (I got what you need) / You need a man with sensitivity (a man like me)’ Sensitivity, by Ralph Tresvant.
The first time I heard this song (and these lyrics) I was in my cousin Greg’s blue Ford Fiesta. He was driving my brother and me back from his parents’ house and playing this song at full blast. I was in the back seat next to the speakers – probably not the best place for a ten-year-old girl – and the bass was so loud I couldn’t hear the words (which was probably a good thing considering their sexy content). I remember feeling like the coolest little girl in the world as we drove down Kilburn High Road.
Years later as a teenager I listened to this song again. It was a little shocking as I knew these lyrics were similar to the things that he must’ve been saying to the ladies at the time. I never really looked at him the same way again. I guess these lyrics show that the direct approach is sometimes the best way to get what you want.
‘I have waited with a glacier’s patience / Smashed every transformer with every trailer / Til nothing was standing / 65 miles wide / Still you are nowhere / Still you are nowhere / Nowhere in sight’ This Tornado Loves You, by Neko Case.
This song is full of metaphors about love, nature and destruction (lots going on then). But there’s one line in particular that gets me:
‘I have waited with a glacier’s patience.’
It’s a brilliant image: a graciously grumpy glacier. Maybe it’s the idea of such a powerful thing being restrained by something as intangible as patience. Whatever it is, it stays with me every time I hear it.