Monday, April 21, 2008

"Don't Think About Her" / Nick Lowe

"Don't Think About Her When You're Trying To Drive" / Little Village

Little Village was such a great idea -- a supergroup comprised of Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner, who'd worked before on Hiatt's brilliant 1987 album Bring the Family. Unfortunately, something inexplicably weird happened as they were recording their one and only album and the group never went any further. And at the time, I was living in some alternate universe and had no idea all this was going on.

This is the sort of thing I can spend hours thinking about. Who pissed off whom, and who was to blame? Though I'm tempted to side with Nick and John and assume it was all Ry Cooder's fault, I suspect there's no real answer.

"Don't Think About Her When You're Trying To Drive" is my favorite track from this album, with Hiatt ripping into some of his most soulful vocals ever. Yeah, I know, the song sounds like a goof, but the guy who's singing it isn't laughing -- he's barreling down a highway half-blinded with tears. There's something crazy and all-out romantic about it, and with Hiatt's full throated rendition on that chorus -- "Don't think about her / Move on, you're lucky just to be alive / You'll live without her / Just don't you think about her / When you're trying to drive" -- you really get the sense of a guy just barely holding it together.

So imagine my delight and surprise to find an early version of this song in the Nick Lowe box set The Doings (it's on disc four, the rarities disc). It's an 1989 demo, just Nick on an acoustic guitar, and except for that refrain it's a whole different song. The tempo's faster, and the tune's got a retro feel that wouldn't be out of place in a 1950s movie theme song. "It's just a heartache that soon will pass / Given time there will be a light at last / It's a beating you'll survive / But till that day arrives / Don't think about her when you drive." He's trying to make light of it, but he's just as heart-broken and obsessed as Hiatt's singer -- he's just deeper in denial. Only in the bridge do you really begin to realize how fixated he's become: "Think about her while you're leaving here / Think about her while you're selecting gear / Think about her before you cross the tracks / But don't think about her when you're driving back."

Okay, I know Nick's song is a throwaway. Once Little Village got hold of it, all the images were reworked and tightened up to make it a driving song from start to finish. "She don't know who you're missing / Driving down that lonesome road tonight / Looking for one starlight glowing / Or her face, shining in the dashlight." Hiatt sings of Natchez and Memphis; his tires squeal, the clutch misses; he stops to phone her and then hangs up. It's a classic country-tinged song, and it deserved to be a big hit -- if only anybody could've figured out in 1991 what genre to file this under.

But you know what? I'm totally besotted with Nick's version. Now that it's been rewritten, it'll never get trotted out again; those few, erm, awkward turns of phrase won't ever get fixed. Nick's so self-critical, he can throw things like this away and never look back. (Completely the opposite of his buddy Robyn Hitchcock, who'd happily release an album of his lawn clippings.)

Well, I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall watching the drama of this song being rewritten. I could write a whole novel about that.

Don't Think About Her sample

Don't Think About Her When You're Trying to Drive sample


Hal Johnson said...

Gosh, I'd forgotten all about Little Village. I remember feeling fascinated with that assembly of musicians, but somehow I never got around to buying the album.

Sigh. I really have to hold myself back when I read your blog, as well as Uncle E's. I'm trying to avoid taking out a second mortgage, after all.

Thanks for unearthing a lost memory.

Anonymous said...

I'm totally besotted with Nicks demo version as well. It's beautiful, and his singing is sublime!

TheHinduNeedleTrick said...

Absolutely LOVE the demo-version. So much that I figured out the chords and lyrics (nowhere to be found on the whole flippin' internet), so now I can play it myself from time to time.

Great blog, by the way!

Roel (Belgium)