Saturday, July 28, 2007

My New Favorite Record

I first heard this song about four months ago, and since then, it's sometimes seemed like it's the only thing I've been listening to ever since. It's called "What's She Got (That I Ain't Got?) and it's by Betty Jayne.

This is a song-poem record, as far as I can tell, but it's unlike just about any I've ever heard. The amount of arrangement and planning that must have gone into this record amazes me, as do a lot of other features of the recording.

Where to begin? The insane amount of echo? The sparse instrumentation, featuring a guitarist who clearly has spend hours on end listening to "Love is Strange"? The key change in the middle? The complex (for a song-poem) backing vocals, sometimes singing oohs and aahs, in three part harmony in spots, sometimes singing the lyrics to the song in harmony with the lead? The violin (!!) that pops out of nowhere to lead into the first bridge?

Those are all great. In fact, there's not a moment of this record that I don't adore, even after dozens of listens. But a few things stand out. First are the lyrics. I expected a song with this title to be a whine, or at least something of a pouty compaint. But instead, they contain an indignant challange, not just about the singer's qualities in comparison with the current girl, but also the good points of countless other girls over the current girl:

"Her hair is blonde, with natural curls, but so is mine, and a lot of other girls'"

In other words, 'this girl you're with, she's okay and all, but there are PLENTY of other girls you'd like better, not just me'.

(I know it's not a good thing that all of the comparisons made are with regard to looks and kissing ability, but such was the era...)

The writer was Edith Hopkins, who went on to establish her own song-poem label, using many of the best known (today) names in the field, and I have yet to hear one of her songs that hasn't been far above average for this genre. In fact, my guess is she wrote the words and music to her songs, and used the song-poem teams as hired help for her demos.

In this case, she got a perfect singer for the job, and that's perhaps the biggest reason I can't do without this record. Betty Jayne, whoever she was, sells this song like every word of it rings true to her. She's got me sold! If I was around, back then, and she was singing this to me, I'd probably think twice about her challange, and then another six or eight times. Her inflection for the line "Sugar Sweet and Pepper Hot" is unbelievably sexy.

Saving the best for last, there is a moment in this song that transcends just about everything else, where all of the above adds up to 15 seconds of music I never want to be without again. It's the first bridge, starting at about the 33 second point, with that violin mentioned above. The backing vocals kick in, just short of sounding out of control, Betty ups the challange with an irrisistable vocal, and the guitarist goes to town. I find this segment of music as intoxicating as anything I've ever heard.

Hope you enjoy it at least half as much as I do, and perhaps quite a bit more!


Stuart Shea said...

This is really a good record...there's a lot going on, but you can distinguish everything which is always a terrific sign. Plus, it's fun, has a lyrical edge, and sounds like it was played by humans.

Anonymous said...

This was an interesting story of a simple song with alot of heart in the lyrics.