Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"I Don't Want to See You Again" / Peter and Gordon

R.I.P. Gordon Waller, 1945-2009

I'll admit, this death has hit me a lot harder than Michael Jackson's. True, it was his partner Peter Asher who was my hearthrob back in 1964 (in the brief intervals when I despaired of Paul McCartney ever falling in love with me) -- a strawberry blond mop and black-framed specs, who could resist? But even then I knew perfectly that the sweetly earnest voice carrying the tune was all Gordon.

Granted, how could they lose, when Peter's sister's boyfriend Paul was handing them tunes like this to record? This is possibly the tenderest kiss-off song in the history of pop. In fact, that title phrase -- "I don't want to see you again" -- doesn't even come from our singer; he's just ruefully quoting what his girl said to him. Talk about a deft switcheroo. And he's such a sweetheart, he's just aching . . . which makes your average teen girl with her ear pressed to her transistor radio yearn to comfort the poor guy. A second switcheroo!!

As we girls all know, guys are emotional amateurs. Right now, our protagonist is gobsmacked by the break-up. "I hear that love is planned," he begins -- he's bought the pop party line on love-ever-after -- and he's confused, poor baby. "How can I understand / When someone says to me, / 'I don't want to see you again.'" Can't you just see the winsome pout?

But the folk-tinged sincerity of P & G's voices -- well-bred schoolboys still, with perfect enunciation -- keeps it honest. Push it just a little further, and it could have sounded like self-pity, or egotistical complaint. But no, not our boy -- he's crying at night, ladies, still mournfully rehearsing her cutting words in his ears.

Only in that thrumming bridge does the slightest bit of accusation edge into their voices: "As you turned your back on me / You hid the light of day / I didn't have to play at being / Broken-hearted." (Who said he was "playing"? Lemme at her.) Listen to how they shift in and out from unison to harmonies; whenever their voices divide, I feel more complex emotions burbling up. Just a touch of strings to schmaltz it up, and that doleful-yet-perky instrumental break -- is that a mellotron? a clavinet? whatever it is, it sounds like honking sobs. The production on this number is spot-on, isn't it? I assume it was George Martin at the helm (having a Beatle in-law was tremendous luck for these kids), but knowing that Peter Asher went on to be such a gifted producer himself, I'm willing to believe they had a hand in it themselves.

By the third verse, we already can detect a hint of perspective creeping in: "I know that later on / After love's / Been and gone / I'll still hear someone say / 'I don't want to see you again.'" Ah, well the first cut is the deepest and all that. I suppose we knew this was all cliche -- maybe Peter and Gordon knew it too (I'm betting Paul was always a true believer, at least when in songwriting mode). But as a distillation of teen heartbreak, this little number is nearly faultless. It's unironic pop magic, pure and simple, and we'll never see the likes of it again.

I Don't Want to See You Again sample


Crafty said...

It's good to have you back. Mike

wwolfe said...

Lovely song, and a lovely tribute. The older I get, the more Paul's unironic, straightforward love songs mean to me. If you haven't had the pleasure - and I might have mentioned this before - I'd recommend tracking down a copy of "The Lost Songs of Lennon & McCartney," from a few years back. Among many gems, Kate Pierson of the B-52s does an exquisite version of Peter & Gordon's ( & Paul's) "Nobody I Know."

Mark said...

Great post Holly! As a big Peter and Gordon fan, I was saddened to hear of Gordon's death. I think their records are some of the very best of the British Invasion. I agree with you on the production on "I Don't Want to See You Again," it does seem very George Martin. I have no idea what instrument plays the break either, maybe an English horn? It fits perfectly, though. Ah, what a great record. RIP, Gordon.

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks, guys. It's funny that I still haven't heard much on the radio or TV about Gordon's death. They're still going on Michael Jackson, though. When will it ever end?