Friday, April 13, 2007

"Don't Wait Up" / Dr. Feelgood

Another band I wish I'd seen back in the day -- word has it that Lee Brilleaux's live performances were riveting. His slightly husky, supple voice has plenty of shivers and growls in it; something about it reminds me of a less laidback Huey Lewis (I always had a fangirl crush on Huey Lewis). Photos I see of Dr. Feelgood in performance -- all dressed in suits, like the Blues Brothers' British cousins -- make it look like they rocked long and hard every night. If their studio recordings have this much visceral energy, I can only imagine what the adrenaline of being on stage did to them.

"Don't Wait Up" was a 1986 single that didn't do much on the UK charts (and certainly did not do any better across the ocean). I guess Dr. Feelgood fans felt disappointed because it's not like the band's usual propulsively uptempo tracks -- but I find it haunting and irresistible. The minor key, the echoey double-tracked vocals, the prowling offbeat rhythms, all build an apprehensive mood, like a coiled snake ready to strike. Basic premise: The singer's telling his wife/girlfriend not to wait up for him -- "There's someone I gotta meet," he says with casual, but deliberate, malice. "I've got the keys to the door," he informs her, "and you've got the keys to . . . the street." Now there's a punch line that really packs a punch (more like a dagger to the ribs).

"I may be gone for quite some time / But I will return," he begins -- fair enough. But then he goes on, coolly, "Where I'm going, what I'm doing / That is my concern." Excuu-uuse me. And if she needs an explanation, he's happy to supply one: "I'm just getting even / If you've been keeping score" -- and you just KNOW she has been. In the next verse, he reminds her that she put a detective on his tail to find out "who I'm seeing / IF I'm seeing anyone at all." These people have obvious trust issues, in psychobabble terms, and now he's deliberately keeping her in suspense, knowing that that's more agonizing than anything else. But before we rake this guy over the coals for tormenting her, check out the end of the verse: "I've had my share of waiting / Staring at the wall." So she's been fooling around too, and turnabout is fair play . . . isn't it?

The hypnotic repeated organ and guitar riffs give me a feeling that these people aren't just cheating on each other -- they're still tangled up in jealousy and revenge, still focused more on each other than on whatever new partners they've found. It's a dance, and an ugly one all right. Brilleaux's vocal has enough weariness and hurt and hostility to put this all across, and more.

This song was co-written by ex-Kursaal Flyer Will Birch, the producer on their first Stiff album (who also wrote the definitive book about pub rock, No Sleep Till Canvey Island, which I've finally acquired and can't wait to read). Another song Birch co-wrote for Dr. Feelgood, "Spy Vs. Spy," is also about a relationship full of suspicion and recriminations -- you've got to wonder how autobiographical this is. Some songs just have that jolt of hard-lived experience to them. I can imagine hearing this song sung, for a change of pace, late in the set in a smoky club -- and feeling suddenly, starkly, alone. And pissed-off. And ready to DO something about it.

Don't Wait Up sample.


Londinium said...

Ya gotta love the Doctor. An utterly amazing band live. I did not know about the Kursaal connection here, but *there's* another great lost treasure! Great post.

Anonymous said...

Intersting reading... thanks, Will Birch

Holly A Hughes said...

Wow, Will, thanks for posting. I finally did read your book and it's fantastic -- required reading for anybody who loves this era of music.