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Monday, August 26, 2019

Comparing the Lyrics of 2 Songs: You Took Advantage Of Me And How Insensitive

(By Ann Alex)

Another in my occasional writings about song lyrics, a special interest of mine. At Blue Jazz Voices last term we were presented with both these songs, and on seeing the titles I thought 'Yes' these will both be dramatic songs about lost love. However only How Insensitive is actually such a song, in which the singer expresses anguish that she/he didn't realise how hurtful their reactions to the lover were and has regrets. 

How insensitive I must have seemed when he told me that he loved me
How unmoved and cold I must have seemed when he told me so sincerely
Why he must have asked did I just turn and stare in empty silence?
What was I to say, what can you say, when a love affair is over?

Now he's gone away and I'm alone with the memory of his last look
Vague and drawn and sad, I see it still, all his heartbreak in that last look
How he must have asked, could I just turn and stare in icy silence?
What was I to do, what can you do, when a love affair is over?

The music is of course by Jobim and the English lyric is by Norman Gimbel. The original Portuguese lyric is by Vinicius de Moraes and I have no way of knowing whether the translation is good or not.

 As it stands the song depicts clearly a true to life situation experienced by many people. The repetitions in the words help to get the meaning across. The tune gradually descends down the scale towards the end of the verses, increasing the sense of anguish. Not much more you can say really. The best and most sensitive version of the song I've ever heard was from the well-known folk singer June Tabor, during a performance at Sage Gateshead a few years back.

You Took Advantage Of Me is quite a different kettle of fish. Such fun! Making fun of the situation of being in love, from the pen of Lorenz Hart who, together with Cole Porter, must surely be among the cleverest lyricists who ever lived. Consider this:

I'm a sentimental sap that's all, what’s the use of trying not to fall?
I have no will, you've made your kill, 'cause you took advantage of me.
I'm just like an apple on a bough, and you're gonna shake me down somehow
So what's the use, you've cooked my goose, 'cause you took advantage of me.

I'm so hot and bothered that I don't know my elbow from my ear
I suffer something awful each time you go, and much worse when you're near

Here am I with all my bridges burned, just a babe in arms where you're concerned
So lock the doors, and call me yours, 'cause you took advantage of me.

(Some readers of BSH will notice that I've left out the verse which begins this song as it's not so good, mainly because it is very much of its time and not politically correct by today's standards)

This has amusing images and internal rhymes galore, plus a jaunty tune by Richard Rodgers. The funniest skit of lovers is in the sixth line, where the lover suffers more when they are together than when they are apart! 'I don't know my elbow from my ear' has hints of a much cruder comparison, 'my elbow from my a-'.  I consider the funniest and snappiest line to be 'so lock the doors and call me yours'. It conjures up a ridiculous mental image.

One of the most enjoyable versions of this song that I've heard was sung on the Blue Jazz Voices course by Magda, who has a bluesy type of voice and does the song in an almost throwaway fashion, moving around, microphone in hand, adding to the amusement.

There is a serious postscript to the apparent fun of this song. I researched Lorenz Hart on Google and discovered that he died as a result of alcoholism when he was only 48. He had lived with his widowed mother, through whom he was related to the famous German poet Heinrich Heine. (Is there a poetry gene which he'd inherited?). He was gay in less enlightened times, so he would need to lock the doors when he was with a lover. Just a thought. Song lyrics can really make you think. 
Ann Alex

2 comments :

Lance said...

How Insensitive is indeed a doomy song - from the opening line you realise there will be no happy ending. In fact the mood is almost suicidal. You Took Advantage of me - from the 1928 musical Present Arms is, as you point out, a fun song.

In the show, I gather, the couple 'on the verge' were once married to each other but since divorced and now, maybe, rekindling their passion. The title, I suggest, refers to when they had their first premarital encounter, the rest of the song to the nervousness she feels remembering the highs and lows.

I'm sure many of us can recall the awkwardness, the feeling of being tongue tied when meeting up with an old flame whom you never quite got over. Like you're glad when they are gone but can't wait to see them again! Does this make sense?

As regards 'my elbow from my ear' if Hart had substituted ear, with arse or ass, as he would have used, it would have thrown the lyric off course and may, in those unenlightened times, to quote your phrase Ann, have had the theatre shut down - this was long before Godspell!

Re his homosexuality, at the recent Ann Hampton Callaway show at Pizza Express the singer described how 'My Funny Valentine' was actually written by Lorenz Hart looking into a mirror and, in fact, describing himself as he reflected upon his loveless existence.

Check out versions by Lee Wiley and Ella.

Ann said...

Lance, Thank you for these brilliant, useful observations. You're right about the rhyme with
'ass' of course. And the fact about 'My Funny Valentine' gives a whole new dimension to the song. If I ever sing it I'll tell that tale and sing it very sadly. That song says he's not very smart, but he certainly was! Ann

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