Thursday, November 06, 2008

"You Didn't Have to Be So Nice" /
The Lovin' Spoonful

Once I get into that Sixties groove, it's only a matter of time before the Spoonful pops up. I guess if I'd been older in 1966 -- more serious, more sophisticated -- I might have preferred the Byrds. But I'm sorry, no one in the Byrds was as adorable as John Sebastian in a striped boatneck shirt, peering out through those wire-rim glasses, cradling that autoharp on Hullabaloo (or was it Shindig?). It was no contest.

Autoharp? Come on, who else played an autoharp? There was no macho swagger to the Lovin' Spoonful, just loads of impish charm. Still, you always knew they were red-blooded males, not wimpy flower-child troubadors. They sang songs about ditching a girl for her sister ("Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?"), coolly breaking a girl's heart ("Didn't Want to Have To Do It"), and going on the urban prowl ("Summer in the City"). In "Darling Be Home Soon," he wants his woman home so urgently, I never believed it was only about "the great relief of having you to talk to." And how sexy they made it sound to get caught in a downpour in "Rain on the Roof" (I love that meaningful pause after "Maybe we'll be caught for hours / Waiting out the sun . . . "). Yep, you knew these guys would never miss a chance to get a little action.

So even as a dopey adolescent, I sensed that "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice" was saturated with lust. Oh, sure, it's bouncy and light-hearted, like their previous hits "Do You Believe in Magic?" and "Daydream," and Sebastian's breathy singing is all cuddly teddybear. But John B. admits right up front that pursuing this woman has nothing to do with her "nice" personality. ("Nice" as in "not bitchy" -- I never even considered it could mean "not slutty.") He's clearly on the make -- "they said the time was right for me to follow you / I knew I'd find you in a day or two"; why, he's practically stalking her. And he seems helpless to resist this animal attraction: "I knew that it would be that way / The minute that I saw your face." The backing singers echo everything he says, just egging him on.

Maybe it's just me, but somehow I get the idea that her niceness is a problem for him. Like all he wanted was a little making out -- "if you had kissed me once or twice /Then gone upon your quiet way" -- and instead he finds himself getting entangled with someone he knows deserves to be treated well. There's a stubborn reluctance here; he's not entirely sure that he wants to put his caddish ways aside. When you think about it, this song could easily be Part One to the story that ends with "Didn't Want to Have to Do It."

But even so, I loved this song back in 1966. I was way too young to be in love with anybody real, so in my mind this was the song that Paul McCartney (or was it Peter Noone?) would sing someday when he finally met me. Or maybe it was John B himself, glasses and autoharp and paisley shirt and all. I was young; the possibilities were endless. But thanks to this song, at least I knew it was safe to be nice.

You Didn't Have To Be So Nice sample


IƱaki said...

For a lot of time this was my favourite Lovin' Spoonful song. Not only that, I often felt identified with the singer, but I had never seen it "that" way. I guess I'll have to reconsider it! :D

44 said...

"Daydream" came after "...So Nice", hollyh.

Anonymous said...

"Magic" was early Fall of 1965
"... So Nice" was late Fall
"Daydream" was Spring of 1966

The Lovin' Spoonful were a TOP DRAWER band and were on the verge of becoming a Major band when they broke up, due to the repercussions of a marijuana bust. One of them, rumored to have been Zal, turned stoolie and that destroyed the trust within the band, which led to their demise - or so I've read. Grain of salt.

Nice post! Interesting angle! Glad to know that you had your ears open to good stuff as well as Herman-stuff. And Boobie Sherman stuff. And Donny Osmond stuff.

None of whom had the right stuff.

44 said...

That wasn't anonymous, that was me.

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks for the research, 44 -- I guess I assumed that because this song was on an album called Daydream, that Daydream had already been released. I was lucky enough that my older brother was of album-buying age, otherwise I'd have been stuck saving up my babysitting money for the singles.

And just for the record, I never liked Donnie Osmond, and my sister was the Bobby Sherman fan (I was left with his TV brother David Soul . . .).

44 said...

"Daydream" was their 2nd LP - and an excellent one! Not a bad song on it - in fact, I go as far as saying that every track was excellent.

It's a shame what happened to them. They were far more than the sum of their parts; Sebastian didn't quite cut it, solo.

I'm relieved to know about Donnie, hollyh. There are just some places that a tweener should never be allowed to go.

Carabella said...

I'm a few years older than you(56) and my little bros are 53 and 52. When I was just 15 I received 2 Lovin' Spoonful albums for Christmas (I'd asked!) and my little bros got right into it. The Spoonful always conjure up young romance, with a bit of worldliness thrown in. My bro's are both great guitar players/drummers/singers and still play in bands. We all live, including my baby sis on the left and east coast none too close so we have hilarious hootenannys when we get together. The 52 year old bro and I always sing "Didn't Want to Have to do it" and "Coconut Grove" as we got that sib harmony thing going. Great tunes. Thanks for reminding me! Carol in California

Alison said...

This is hilarious, because I Googled the song title and stalker and I found this. It was my first impression-- "Why is he following her around like that? Creepy." Then I wondered if anyone else had ever thought of the song that way and it seems you did. I like your interpretation.