Monday, May 12, 2008

"Kind of a Drag" / The Buckinghams

I hadn't thought about this song in ages. When it was at the top of the charts, in the winter of 1967, I was smack in the middle of junior-high love angst, pining for a tall skinny basketball player who barely knew I existed. Yet with exquisite adolescent logic, I thought the lyrics to this electric pop confection fit my situation exactly.

That title phrase was groovy 1966 teen-speak -- "Kind of a drag / When your baby don't love you, / Kind of a drag / When you know she's been untrue." That air of cool understatement was all a fraud, of course; the singer is frantic about her cheating on him. Or is he? Despite those mournful lyrics, it's too uptempo to be a downer. The arrangement simply sparkles, a slick amalgam of pop traditions -- soul horns, doo-wop harmonies, shimmery surf rock drumming, a muddy Tejano organ solo in the interval, and the mumbly R&B drawl of lead singer Dennis Tufano. It hit all the bases.

Nevertheless, it vibrates with pubescent sexual tension. Listen to those jazzy chords mounting and modulating in the bridge, as Tufano's voice rises in inarticulate urgency: "Oh, listen / To what I've gotta say," while the back-up vocalists fill in a staccato chatter underneath ("Listen to me when I'm speaking / 'Cause you know the words I'm thinking"). It all builds to the crooning climax: "Girl, I still love you, /I'll always love you /Anywaa-ay, / Anywa-aay, / Anywa-aay." Yee-OW!

What makes this such a great teen song is that it resolves nothing. He can sing this song all he wants, but he's still stuck in the same inchoate misery. Like most adolescent misery, it's totally self-induced. Sure, the girl's cheated on him, but this song is really about how HE feels -- what a drag this situation is, how he's feeling blue, how he wants to cry, and above all, that dramatic protest of undying love. He's getting off on his own image. If it were a grown-up love song, three verses and a bridge would lead him to realize that she doesn't deserve his love. But no, that's a different universe.

I didn't want to be talked out of my mooney crush on that basketball player, either. (I mooned over him for the next four years, whenever I was between real boyfriends. He was my default love interest.) Who else could I have sighed over when a song like this came on the radio?

Kind of A Drag sample

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