“I’m in Love With a Girl” /
Lurid red hearts in store windows, guilt-inducing jewelry ads in newspapers, the overwhelming scent of cheap chocolate in the air—yes, Valentine’s Season is upon us, with all its baggage of disappointment and regret. So here’s my project for the month of February: 28 days, 28 songs that talk about love.
Let’s start off with some Happy in Love songs (believe me, I’ll run out of them soon). For pure unreflective pop, you can’t miss with Big Star, the early 70s Memphis-based band led by Chris Bell and Alex Chilton. In the space of just three albums they laid down a mess of uncluttered, charged-up guitar-pop tracks that influenced everyone from Teenage Fanclub and the Replacements to R.E.M. and Wilco. This one’s from their 1973 LP Radio City, a neglected-at-the-time gem that is now acknowledged (by Rolling Stone, among other authorities) as one of the great rock albums of all time.
It doesn’t get much simpler and more straightforward than this. “I’m in Love With A Girl” lasts a whopping one minute and 48 seconds, and there’s not a drop of emotional complication in it. “I’m in love / with a girl” he starts out, all cheery and chipper, his high voice lilting over a strummed acoustic guitar. The way Alex Chilton sings it, I picture a kid skipping down the street, with only one thing on his mind. Uncritical doesn’t even begin to describe it: “Finest girl in the world,” he declares, fervently – and he believes it. “I didn’t know I could feel this way,” he muses, in curious wonder.
“Think about her all the time,” he adds in verse two, “Always on my mind.” We’re not talking sexual torment here, though – we’re not in “All Day and All of the Night” territory. As we know from Alex Chilton’s early hit with the Box Tops, “The Letter,” he can do sexual torment, but that’s not where he is now. “I didn’t know about love,” he finishes the verse; it's as simple as that. Three lines to a verse, a few vague half-rhymes – this isn’t slick songwriting. It sounds raw and amateur and unaffected, and therefore totally convincing. It’s the epitome of less-is-more songwriting; it takes a master to work without a net like this.
Verse three is . . . well, it’s verse one all over again. The only difference is that the last line, “I didn’t know I could feel this way,” has been changed to “I didn’t know this could happen to me.” Yeah, it’s all about him – but adolescent love is always self-involved, isn’t it? It’s amazing, how Alex Chilton could tap so effortlessly into the teen mindset. But then, isn’t that what pop is all about?