"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