This is an occasional series in which, inspired by their being played on Sounds of the Sixties, I pick apart the lyrics of a big Sixties hit record for the real meaning concealed behind the seemingly innocent lyrics.
Today’s offering is one of those where the meaning of the song is again fairly clear to us, fifty cynical years ago, but which in 1963 would have not necessarily been interpreted so bluntly, especially not when you considered the source. By which I do not mean the writers, this being yet another production from the pens of husband and wife professional songwriting team, Gerry Goffin and Carol King.
No, I am here talking about the singers, Steve and Eydie, another husband and wife team, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, who had separate singing careers under their full names, but when duetting used only their first names. Lawrence was an already successful actor and talk show host, as well as a singer, whilst Gorme has already featured in this series with ‘Yes, My Darling Daughter’. Ten years older than her husband, she’d started as a Big Band singer.
So we’re basically looking at family entertainment, bland and safe, middle of the road singers, singing very middle of the road music. A married couple, of whom, in rock’n’roll terms, there can be nothing more boring and staid, right? So let’s listen to the words.
It all begins with one of those ‘Whoa-oh-oh’ starts, voice as music, cheerful and innocent, the opening exchange is slightly startling for what we’re already assuming is a love song. I don’t want to go to the party with you, announces Gorme, to which Lawrence responds with I don’t want to go to the dance. Gorme’s even more emphatic when she tells him she doesn’t want to go anywhere with him, but the air of bafflement is rapidly dispelled wen both chorus, happily, that they just want to stay here and love you.
Aww, isn’t that nice? Another verse, a bit later on, will extend the list of things that Steve and Eydie don’t want to do to include going for a walk, and even talking to each other, no, they just want to stay here and love each other.
It’s not until we start considering the intervening verses that things start to line-up a bit less abstractedly. Now that I can be alone with you, Gorme offers, I won’t throw away the chance. There’s no place like home with you, Gorme sings, using one of the most glutinous and trite lines ever to stick in a song’s craw, and then they’re harmonising on that line about just want(ing) to stay here and love you. So they don’t want to go out anywhere, do anything, they’re taking advantage of being alone together… oh my god, the dirty sods! They’re singing about sex, aren’t they? At their age? I mean, ok, I know they’re married, so that makes it legal, but that just makes it worse.
And they’re singing this filth on the wireless in 1963, such a decent couple. It shouldn’t be allowed.
Yet on the surface, this is just one more innocent love song, one more good and decent MOR staple that gives off the impression of being sung by a pair of virgins who don’t actually know what to do next after kissing on the lips with their mouths pressed firmly shut, and maybe yes, that’s all the song’s meant to mean. Goffin and King were masters at songs that rang through with innocent, unfocused passion that as yet knew nothing more of love.
And, if challenged, they could have said this was all it was about. After all, good girls didn’t, not until they got the ring. But it isn’t about that at all, because pop has always been about that subversive moment, the song that means more than it’s words are allowed to say, that speaks in a code that parents aren’t supposed to decipher because, after all, your parents don’t do stuff like that.