A very strange thing happened to me today. I was introduced to two songs that I'd never heard before and both prompted wildly severe yet diametrically opposed reactions! Both are love songs. I loved one. I hated the other. One, in my view, defines everything that is perfect about music, the other sums up everything that can go wrong...
The first song was written in the 1890s but recorded in the early eighties by The Fureys, an Irish folk group. It's called When You Were Sweet Sixteen. Not the most promising title, but I assure you, it's one of the most hauntingly beautiful melodies you'll ever hear. Utterly timeless. Utterly still with the most perfectly placed minor chord in the chorus. My mother introduced it to me today when I went to see the parents in Thaxted. She'd remembered it from when it was released and was trying to recall the song's title so that she could find it and listen again. A quick bit of googling tracked the song down and the three of us sat and listened to it on YouTube almost holding our collective breath. Tears were running down my face. It's one of those songs which I'm sure takes on more significance the older you become and I heartily recommend it.
On my way home from Thaxted, as I drove through the darkened country lanes, with brilliant bright stars, and the eerie lights of aeroplanes landing at Stansted floating all around me, I played the song again. And then again, eventually deciding that I'd become obsessed with it and that a blast of radio was necessary to break the song's spell.
It was at this point that I fell off the magic cliff and landed in a pile of excrement. The song which offended me so totally was by Mary J Blige and called Everything. Blige is one of those singers that some people rate highly. To me she's just a bird with nodules who likes the sound of her own vocals a little too much, which could possibly explain the vocal damage. I wouldn't let her near one of my own songs because she wouldn't respect the melody enough!
Anyway, aside from the ghastly bland, entirely forgettable tune, and the song's grotesque "New Jack Swing" vibe, the lyrics have to rank amongst the worst I've ever heard. If there was an award for a song most likely to have been written on the back of a Cornflakes packet, this one would win hands down.
"It's because of you I'm never sad and blue. You've brightened up my days in your own special way. Whenever you're around I'm never feeling down. You are my trusted friend, on you I can depend."
I mean, I wrote songs as an eleven year old like that, which my family had the decency to laugh at, but this song got to number six on the UK charts! I could have cut up pieces of newspaper and randomly generated a better lyric than that!
...And there she is trying to make it sound all soulful and cool with vocal licks and finger-wagging. Well, as they say, you can put a turd in a Harrods bag, but it's still a bag of shit. And this shit is smellier than most.
I immediately felt tainted, and had to play The Winner Takes it All, which is what I do whenever I need to remind myself that I have yet to reach perfection as a songwriter. It often calms me down, and reminds me of the beauty in the world. And then I played When You Were Sweet Sixteen again, and shed a few more tears, imagining how proud I would feel to have written something so profound and so devastatingly beautiful.