According to Wikipedia, ‘Never My Love’ by The Association was the second most played song on American radio in the Twentieth Century. I don’t have access to the list, but I doubt I’d be far out if I assumed the top placed song was The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’. For a band almost completely ignored over here, that’s high company. Anyway, listening to ‘Never my Love’ never fails to make me question what the Great British Record Buying Public are using in place of their ears.
Not long ago, I discoursed on Spanky and Our Gang’s ‘Sunday Will Never Be The Same‘, and on how its apparent simplicity was merely a window into something deeper. The two songs are completely different in subject. ‘Sunday’ is a classic piece of Heartbreak/break-up pop, but ‘Never My Love’ is about the love that is, and always will be.
But not necessarily for both.
The singer sets his stall out in the first line. You ask me, he says, gently and without petulance, if there’ll come a time when I grow tired of you. She’s hesitant, fearful, not sure if she should respond to him. Has he given her any reason to doubt him? Not if you listen to him, to the whole song. But what of her? Has she been hurt before, been let down by false promises, been heartbroken? Does she think he’s only staying it to get her into bed?
We don’t know, nor will we know. What we do know, and the band comes in as a whole, breathy, harmonious, quiet and firm, is his answer: never, my love. Never, my love.
She asks again, will his heart ever lose it’s desire for her? Again, quietly, undemonstratively, with complete sincerity, never, my love. Then it’s his turn to ask her a question: how can she think love will end when he’s asked her to spend her whole life with him (and this being 1968, he’s talking marriage)? Why does she doubt him?
Unable to say more with words, the band turn to a weave of ba-das, as much an instrumental break as any guitar or organ solo.
As a band, The Association, pioneers in soft rock, were known for their superb harmonies, six members, all of whom sang, several of whom took lead, and sometimes they would produce vocal arrangements almost as complex as those Brian Wilson devised for the Beach Boys. They dressed in three piece suits, with quiet, perfect ties, and neatly combed hair. They didn’t look like rock stars of any kind.
But still she doubts. You say you fear I’ll change my mind, that I won’t require you: never my love, and each time he says it twice, as if the repetition ends all uncertainty. He’s sincere, he is only sincere. For him this is it, for the rest of all time. If she would only reach out to him.
And still he tries to make it plain. The song, a gentle ballad built upon low-key group instrumentation, decorated by those superb harmonies, offers commitment, lifelong commitment. If only she will accept it.
In the end, we don’t know whether she does, and we never will know. Does she accept him, accept his love? In a ballad as beautiful as this, with harmonies like soft kisses, and a gentle, easy melody, some of us at least are seduced into hoping she believes him. He is without doubt: she is the one for him, the only one, if only she will have the confidence to accept him. Why does she resist? What makes her cautious, over-cautious as he sees it. Has she been hurt too deeply to ever easily extend her trust again, or saddest outcome of all, does she not really love him enough?
Until such time as an answer is forthcoming, he and the Association can only use the best words they know, perhaps the words they were unable to summon two years earlier in that other awesome ballad, ‘Cherish’. But there aren’t many more beautiful hymns to commitment, to love and a lifetime of it, than the second most played song on American radio in the Twentieth Century, that a cloth-eared British Recording Buying Public turned down flat.
You fools. You poor, benighted fools.