Desperate measures

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Friday evening I was waiting for my flight at the San Antonio airport. The PA system was playing oldies from the '60s and '70s, and on came the Supremes singing, "My World Is Empty without You." (That link is a live performance, and you can really hear Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson's harmonies.) It brought to mind a song with a similar theme: The Walker Brothers, "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore."

Together, the two songs suggest the existence of an entire subgenre of music -- the "lost all sense of proportion" song, in which the singer views the end of a relationship as an irredeemable calamity. No silver lining, no looking on the bright side, no "plenty of fish in the sea," no "tomorrow is another day" -- it's all over, and there's no reason to go on living.

Is this unique to '60s pop? You can hear desperate blues lyrics, but the material is usually treated with a certain amount of irony. In "Trouble in Mind," when Tommy Duncan sings, "Sometimes I feel like livin', sometimes I feel like dyin'," Bob Wills heckles, "No, no, no! Go ahead with the song!"

What may be the king of all such songs is "The End of the World." Here it is, as performed by the girl who made it famous, Miss Skeeter Davis:

And here's the Walker Brothers:

The comments are open -- can anyone (Charles?) think of any other songs that fall into the "lost all sense of proportion" category?

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Roy said:

Andy Williams, "Can't get used to losing you"

W. Author Profile Page said:

I'm sure the emo genre -- with its self-pitying artists -- has a slew of them, although I can't think of any now.

Country music has its share, although radio programmers are a lot more loathe nowadays to play dark material.

Still, "Whisky Lullaby," a duet by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss, was a massive hit about five years ago and truly was catastrophic. Man comes home, sees wife cheating on him, and drinks himself to death. The woman who cheated on him also turns sorrowful, drinks herself to death and joins him him side-to-side in the graveyard. The song was written by an acknowledged country master, Bill Anderson.

Others that come to mind:

"Ghost in This House," Alison Krauss
"Monday Morning Church," Alan Jackson
"Mountain Angel," Dolly Parton
"Buenas Nochas from a Lonely Room," Dwight Yoakam
"Johnson's Love," Dwight Yoakam
"Kill Myself," Tim McGraw

S. Lee Author Profile Page said:

The indomitable, inimitable (and dead) Jake Blues performing Shot Gun Blues. Oh, the humanity!

CGHill Author Profile Page said:

One of my favorites is Porter Wagoner's "The Cold Hard Facts of Life," in which a man comes back from a business trip a day early, stops off at the liquor store for some celebration in a bottle, and when he arrives home, finds the same car in his driveway that he'd seen earlier at Booze R Us. Putting two and two together with sudden ferocity, he confronts the adulterous pair. Cut to the very end: "I guess I'll go to hell / Or rot here in this cell / But who taught who the cold hard facts of life?"

Possibly related: "Mr. Turnkey" by Zager and Evans, better known for "In the Year 2525." In this one, remorse catches up to a rapist.

"The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)," incidentally, started out as a Frankie Valli solo single B-side; it took the Brits (and bandleader Ivor Raymonde's best Phil Spector imitation) to turn it into a classic wail.

I might also mention Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," after which singer/composer Ian Curtis took his own life.

"Shot Gun Blues" may be the worst of the lot, S.

Roy, the lyrics of "Can't Get Used to Losing You" are pretty bad, but Andy Williams's delivery is so smooth and relaxed, I can only picture him in a cardigan, grinning, as he sings it.

Good point, W., about the whole emo genre, which is all about no sense of proportion. Your description of "Whiskey Lullaby" sounds almost Shakespearean. has an MP3 and the album cover for "The Cold Hard Facts of Life" (photographed in Porter Wagoner's tiny apartment in Nashville) and the backstory for the album (why a big star like Porter Wagoner was living in a tiny apartment in Nashville and why he recorded an album full of "marital infidelity, mayhem, and madness").

CGHill Author Profile Page said:

I dug out the Badfinger original of "Without You," and it sounds, well, mildly peevish; Nilsson's cover (the hit), by comparison, is screaming with pain.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 16, 2008 10:02 PM.

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