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She Smiled Because I Did Not Understand

September 12, 2015

I’m sure there is science to explain how and why some songs manage to insert themselves so deeply into my being that I can hardly remember a time when they were not part of my life.  I imagine the explanations might reference the lasting impact of early assertions of adolescent independence and discovery in personal development, similar to how the first steps in a long journey take on greater historical importance after the destination is reached.  In cases where they are discernible in retrospect, it is natural to look back with a little awe and reverence at those tentative initial strides that set one on the path to now.  It all makes utter sense; I get it.  The happy firing of synapses in my brain whenever I hear the three songs below almost certainly reflects the deep tracks they carved into my evolving brain at a time when titillation moved my mountains.  “Sex, drugs and violence, Mr. Clark, and er, a great beat to dance to.”

Does it truly matter however why certain songs float my emotional boat, or is it enough merely that they do?  Sure, being able to cite environmental/developmental factors can provide a salve for the misguided shame I can still feel despite myself when admitting to my unabashed love for what might otherwise be considered insubstantial dreck by some.  On the other hand, maybe science should go jump in the lake.  What say instead we all simply agree that the following three songs objectively represent some of mankind’s greatest achievements and move forward from there?

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Dark Lady – Cher

Cher - Dark Lady (1974)

Right from the mournful opening violin/clarinet lines, this tune pulls me in.  Cher’s lower register voice with that dramatic vibrato really connects, especially when coupled with the unique combined bass and piano pulling the verses forward toward the strident strings that proclaim the chorus.  Add in a lyric that rates for me as one of the best short-form story songs of all time, and I view this as a true pop masterpiece.  The song’s ability to successfully carry the listener through shifting feelings of dread, menace, discovery, and cathartic vengeance all in the course of an oh-so-brief three and a half minutes is striking.

Cher released this one in my tenth year and I’m unsure where I first heard it.  It could have very well been via the performance broadcast on the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour in late 1973 that is embedded below, or it may have been on the radio in early ’74 as it made its way to the Billboard number one spot it attained in March of that year.  However I became aware of it, I was enthralled.  My parents bought me the 45 rpm single, which my 2-years-younger sister and I played incessantly on my portable record player, learning all the words and singing along blissfully to its tale of passion, infidelity, and murder.  To this day, I think Cher’s inflection on the word “dead” as she sings the line “next thing I knew they were dead on the floor” is super sexy cool.

While the Dark Lady-era allure of Cher to my 10-year-old self was pretty innocent, I unashamedly acknowledge that subsequent years saw me captivated much less virtuously.  Cher was my first celebrity infatuation, causing pubescent tremors that preceded and surpassed even the great Farah Fawcett palpitations of ’76-’77.  While I’m not sure I’d want to delve into the psychology of it too deeply, it is the case that I eventually ended up marrying my own tall, thin exotic dark lady with long flowing black hair a decade and a half later.

Dark Lady:

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The No-No Song – Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr - The No No Song (1974)

A former Beatle singing a catchy tune about booze and drugs, with appended guest shout-outs from another former Beatle; how could it not be awesome? (That is John Lennon inserting brief yelps into the second and third verses, right?) This was another 45 rpm single I convinced my folks to purchase for me in 1974, the year the song was released.  There’s nothing deep about this one.  It’s easy to sing along to and its marijuana, cocaine, and moonshine references felt excitingly naughty to a pre-teen Victim of the Fury.

The No-No Song:

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Hot Child in the City – Nick Gilder

Nick Gilder - Hot Child in the City (1978)

By the time this one came out, I was a full-on hard rocker, dues-paying member of the KISS army, and missionary crusader calling all who had ears to hear to worship at the altar of guitar heroes Ronnie Montrose and Robin Trower.  Back then I would have normally slagged off the catchy pop stylings and pretty-boy promotion of such Top 40 singles but there was something different about this one.  The mix of the bass-driven first stanza in the verse, followed by the simple-but-effective electric guitar in the second stanza sounding as if it was coming out of the most basic beginner’s practice amplifier, was unique.  Add to it the suggestive lyrics about a “loose” hottie attracting the attention of all the boys and who apparently could be invited to one’s place to “make love” and it’s not such a mystery why this song and its gritty, neon-lit atmosphere appealed to me.

I still like this song but admit to feeling a little queasy listening nowadays as Nick croons about the “so young … hot child” protagonist.  Wikipedia tells me Gilder wrote it about his experience witnessing child prostitution in Hollywood.  Says Nick in a Rolling Stone interview from the era, “I’ve seen a lot of young girls, 15 and 16, walking down Hollywood Boulevard with their pimps. Their home environment drove them to distraction so they ran away, only to be trapped by something even worse. It hurts to see that so I tried writing from the perspective of a lecher – in the guise of an innocent pop song.”  All of that was completely lost on me at age 14 however; the song simply sounded sexy, cool and provocative, and it was that more innocent reading that was ingrained in me.  I experience it still today as one of the “young boys (who) all want to take her home,” although I do harbor grown-up discomfort with the alternate, albeit unheard, evil depraved bastard perspective.

Hot Child in the City:

From → Music

11 Comments
  1. Now you’ve done it. I’ve got the memories flooding back. I remember “Hot Child in the City back in 1978 and maybe I should have included it in my rock one hit wonders post for that year. Great guitar solo in that one.

    • He’d certainly fit as a one-hit wonder for me. I vaguely remember hearing he had other successes (in Canada maybe), but it is just that one song that ever entered my world. Thanks for reading, man!

  2. I’ve always been a singles buyer, I mourn their passing – there was a certain skill in writing them.

    Having said that the Nick Gilder (which I’d never heard before this) … man, I’m not sure I have the words – it’s creepy!

    Also I’m pleased you survived the Farah Fawcett palpitations of ’76-’77 that claimed the lives of so many of our young folk.

    • I miss the days of going to the trouble of buying the small platter, taking it out of its sleeve, placing it on the turntable, and adjusting the speed just for the sake of hearing “that one song.” Made it seem like a less fleeting and more active experience. I wonder if, in general terms, the kids of today will be nostalgically attached to individual songs in the same way.

      As for Mr. Gilder, see, he was affecting the persona of a creepy perv solely in an effort to draw public attention to the broader social problem — a service to humanity as it were.

      • Sort of like the way I leered ironically at a hot young chick on the train this morning? I’m not really sure that stands as much of a defence to be honest!

        My kids would never dream of buying music, why would you? it’s all free and on demand.

    • Not all of us were lusting after Farah. Me personally, it was Lynda Carter dressed as Wonder Woman that sent my senses tingling.

  3. I’ll confess at the outset that I think this post arrived at a busy time and I let myself be swayed by the pic of Cher and passed over. My loss; wonderful post.

    As for Cher, the style/substance debate could go on endlessly I guess. I like a good story song too (or at least, for a couple of listens; even Lily Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts palls after repeated spins) but would (if pushed) confess to preferring the madam’s Gypsies Tramps and Thieves, which was a sizeable hit downunder.

    The question of palpitation-inducing sirens is one to ponder. One that immediately springs to mind is Linda Ronstadt on the cover of ‘Hasten Down the Wind’. I learned to sing that title song with all the passion and despair a virginal introvert could muster.

    Ringo? Gee, I’m struggling to find anything to say other than to suggest we start a new group blog called ‘INSUBSTANTIAL DRECK’ and all contribute. I’ll get back to you with my debut offering. Perhaps the one below (if the link works). I’d been learning classical piano for nigh on ten years when this came out but never made the old goanna sound like this…

    • “And guess what? They were boppin’ the blues” — yep, that one fits!

      I do clearly remember being smitten with Miss Ronstadt on that cover. She seemed so pure and sweet and hurt when she sang, but then that picture and those dark, piercing eyes staring at you from the “Greatest Hits” cover … made a young boy think maybe she wasn’t so delicate after all.

      As for 1970s Cher, I am unable to entertain any logical discussion. My senses all immediately revert to their pre- and early-teen states every time I experience her from that era; I am left powerless. That used to be a cause for shame: What class of horns-throwing metalhead likes Cher?? As I age however, I'm learning to embrace it as part of the personal enigma (smile).

      • Having just been delighted by a re-read of ‘Persuasion’, I recall Ms Austen’s discussion of the enduring nature of youthful attachments. She would no doubt smile at your reversion… though I wonder what she would have made of Cher…

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