Here’s a theory: most men sing about..........er, women.
Theory refined: most 20th century popular male vocalists, songwriters (Pop, Country, R&B, Rock) sang or wrote songs about women.
These men may have been alcoholic loners, drug-addicts, wife-beaters. They may have been irredeemably promiscuous liars who wouldn’t know a good thing if it fell on them. They may have been none of these. But when expressing their deepest feelings in song, she – literally and figuratively - is (pretty much) all they thought about. They may have feared women, used them, abused them or have been infatuated with them. But they simply could not go on, singing at least, without them.
Remember Ray Charles? I Got A Woman, I Can’t Stop Loving You, What’d I Say, I Love You I Love You, She’s On The Ball, Baby Won’t You Please Come Home.
Neil Diamond? Juliet, Smokey Lady, Cracklin’ Rosie, Suzanne, Kentucky Woman, Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon, Play Me, Stones.
Bob Dylan: Baby Let Me Follow You Down, Girl Of The North Country, Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance, To Ramona, She Belongs To Me, Just Like A Woman, Absolutely Sweet Marie.
If you haven’t heard Willie Nelson’s classic Always On My Mind, go right ahead:
“If I made you feel second best,
girl, I’m sorry I was blind
You were always on my mind,
you were always on my mind.”
Yes, once in a while comes a Leonard Cohen or a Bob Marley or a Neil Young who, it seems, had a lot more than women on their mind.
Yes, there are lyrical or thematic distractions – booze, bikes, cocaine, cars, freedom, equality, the open road, sport and sundry hobbies.
But before long she always returns.
Not because they want her back.
She never really left.
Minor thematic, stylistic variations aside, most of these songs refer to the woman they’re seeking, the woman they’re fleeing, the woman they’ve found, the woman they’ve lost or the woman they’re wooing all over again.
For the politically correct, this isn’t about whether women so overwhelming a repertoire, is right or wrong per se. It’s about whether it’s true. For the most part, it just is!
Go left, go right, go back, go forward. Heck go above or below.
She is all over the place.
Skim through the compilations of the most memorable male singers: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Al Martino, Nat King Cole, Pat Boone, Perry Como, Buck Owens, Don Williams, Randy Travis, Richard Marx, Engelbert Humperdinck, Gordon Lightfoot.
Barring a few diversions, one chord strikes – same one that hit Michael Bolton when he shrieked How Am I Supposed To Live Without You.
Jim Croce: Operator, Photographs And Memories, Dreaming Again.
Glen Campbell: Gentle on my Mind, Honey Come Back, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Witchita Lineman, One Last Time.
Merle Haggard: Carolyn, Today I Started Loving You Again, What Have You Got Planned Tonight Diana, Old Man From The Mountain.
John Denver: Follow Me, For Baby (For Bobbie), Leaving On A Jet Plane, Goodbye Again, My Sweet Lady, Annie’s Song, You’re So Beautiful.
But here’s the thing.
When they’re among men, men who haven’t been brought up well (enough) or who are otherwise insecure anyway, do belittle women. When among women, they do try to teach them a lesson, put them in place, show who’s boss and so on.
When they’re alone? With their guitar, keyboard or blank sheet of paper? She is all they think about! Even if they joke that she’s occasionally more like Bobby Bare’s Marie Laveau than Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. And whether they like it or not - and before they know it - she is all over this verse, that chorus, this page, that sheet and the next and the next.
If you’ve not yet seen or heard Kenny Rogers sing Lionel Richie’s hit Lady, try it.
When men write or sing songs, they’re usually closer to the truth. And not just about themselves. Somehow music grants them a sense of abandon that they otherwise deny themselves.
Bee Gees: To Love Somebody, I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You, Closer Than Close, Islands In The Stream, Our Love (Don’t Throw It All Away), More Than A Woman, Lonely Days.
Beatles: She Loves You, Love Me Do, Hey Jude, I Feel Fine, Eight Days A Week, A Hard Day’s Night, I Want To Hold Your Hand.
Guns N’ Roses: November Rain, You Could Be Mine, My Michelle, Don’t Cry, Rocket Queen, One In A Million.
Babyface: I’ll Make Love To You, Fire, I Love You Babe, My Kinda Girl, There She Goes, Water Runs Dry.
Other male bands? Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, Rolling Stones, Take That, Boyzone, All-4-One. Their underlying theme? No different from Michael Jackson’s as he sang hit after hit: The Way You Make Me Feel, I Just Can’t Stop Loving You, The Girl Is Mine.
Singer-songwriter Jim Croce once wrote and sang:
“Every time I tried to tell you, the words just came out wrong So, I'll have to say I love you in a song.”
Croce summed up the genius (and idiocy?) of many men when relating to the women they love or dream about. They know what they should be doing, what they should be saying. And it’s usually summed up nicely enough - in song. In many songs, if not in most!
In life? As many women know only too well, many men end up doing and saying very different things, even without the ‘benefit’ of alcohol or drugs.
Like the little boy, aghast that the sparrow he loved so dearly is crushed. He forgets that the fingers that clutched it too tight, are his.
Listen again to Michael David Rosenberg (Passenger) - one from the 21st century:
“Everything you touch surely dies......
‘Cause you loved her too much
and you dive too deep....
Only know you love her when you let her go......
and you let her go.”
Listen too to John Stewart’s July You’re A Woman, Wheatfield Lady, Lost Her In The Sun.
Is it too much to expect a man to respect a woman without feeling he’s losing some? To expect a man to celebrate a woman’s place in the sun without fearing that he’s slipping into the shade? Is it too much to expect a man to be grateful that a woman is merely different, not inferior or superior? Is it too much to expect a man to desire a woman without trying to control her and hers? Is it too much to expect a man to treat a woman as another human being - not merely an object or source of his own satisfaction!
Perhaps it is. But at least the singers and songwriters aren’t sitting around waiting for better times – they’re embracing women, in song, as they should be. Fully, even if imperfectly. Even if, often, a bit too tightly!
T Graham Brown’s rendition of I Wish That I Could Hurt That Way Again rings true with every man who hasn’t a clue how to undo what he’s done, what he’s said:
“At times you would desert me,
the emptiness would hurt me
But your coming back,
was always worth the pain
……I’d love to watch you leaving,
like a hundred times before
At least my eyes
could see you walk away.”
Thank God for the singers, the songwriters, these memorable tunes, those haunting lyrics. These words, those phrases like a perfume in mid-air that doesn’t let on – has she just walked in or is she just walking out?
Bryan Adams: Take Me Back, Back To You, Everything I Do I Do It For You. And it’s Adams who wails in Please Forgive Me
“Don’t deny me
this pain I’m going through
Please forgive me
if I need you like I do.”
Well, as I was saying…
Rudolph Lambert Fernandez is an independent writer writing on pop culture.