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The Strange Case Of "Things"

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Sad Things

Written and sung by Bobby Darin and produced by Ahmet Ertegun, “Things” is the worst arranged song of all time. The song is a masterpiece of romantic disasterism, it is like the Towering Inferno of love songs setting fire to every single hope, dream, love, poof up in smoke it goes.

It should be a romantic dirge, a slow sad build up to loss.

Recorded in 1962, Darin and Ertegun used three back up singers to underline every other line, higher and higher where it should be lower and lower. The song is pop, great pop, but emotionally the two parts don’t fit together.

It opens on Darin in a bar, looking out and remembering:

“Ev’ry night I sit here by my window
Starin’ at the lonely avenue
Watching lovers holdin’ hands ‘n’ laughin’
And thinkin’ ’bout the things we used to do”

The scene is set for devastation and here it come in the chorus. He’s remembering, a walk in the park, a kiss in the dark, a sail boat ride… all well and good but the back up singers keep going higher and higher and the kiss off ain’t so sweet: what about the night we cried?

That’s pretty sad but the payoff of THE CHORUS, is sadder, “things like a lover’s vow, things that we don’t do now.”

In the second verse there is a real expression of where his woe is coming from:

“Memories are all I have to cling to
And heartaches are the friends I’m talkin’ to
When I’m not thinkin’ of-a just how much I love you
Well, I’m-a thinkin’ ’bout the things we used to do”

The third line here, “how much I love you” should ache with feeling, it is as miserable as humanly possible. A wallow in love and loss and sorrow. Every damn version of the song seems to believe it is a happy line, to be sung in an upper register. It should sink you down, it should hit you right in the gut.

“I still can hear the jukebox softly playin’
And the face I see each day belongs to you
Though there’s not a single sound and there’s nobody else around
Well, it’s-a just me thinkin’ of the things we used to do.”

Completely alone, totally heart broken, Darin is left where he was found, lost in heartbreak, lost in love, lost in a hopelessness with no exit. When Nancy Sinata sings to Dean “But I love you” she gets it almost precisely wrong. This should be sung as high drama, it is a tragedy of sorts and it has the dynamics (counter intuitive true -it should be going down not up. Why is it so damn joyful?) of Shakespearian horror show. Can there be anything much worse than  the complete absence. Of the nobody else around of loneliness.

I would imagine Darin wrote it as a country ballad (it twangs on the last verse) and Ahmet rearranged it for the pop charts and it was a huge hit so the trick worked but the song itself was harmed. It is the melody and not the hook that makes the song a classic and the melody is always dispersed and it is always performed like an adjunct to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, like a duet singalong.

You’d think by now somebody, anybody, would have got the message and Jerry Lee Lewis did… to a degree. He got rid of the chick singers and replaced them with himself (“when Jerry Lee ain’t thinkin’ bout just how much he loves ya…”) . What’s needed is Vince Gill to tear his heart into pieces for us.

Till then…

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