"Mr. Dyingly Sad" / The Critters
Talk about pure pop gems. When this song came out in the summer of 1966, all I knew was that it had that swoony sound I'd loved in Chad & Jeremy's "Willow Weep For Me." Hey, I was a drippy adolescent girl; this was just the sort of song I wanted to play on long summer nights, mooning over some boy who didn't know I existed.
And then the song disappeared . . . and the band disappeared . . . and the Summer of Love hit and I forgot all about "Mr. Dyingly Sad." (Apparently spelled "Dieingly," or so the internet tells me, though that would be wrong -- if I could only find my old single I'd prove it!) When I heard it again about a year ago, it hit my ears like a whiff of Oh De London! cologne -- by which I mean, the pure distilled essence of the mid-60s. Now I learn what happened: that half of this band -- a bunch of high school friends from New Jersey, several of whom went to Villanova together -- got shipped out to Vietnam before their first album was even released. There's a classic case of bad timing for you.
The song was written by lead singer Don Ciccone (who years later did a tour of duty as bassist with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons -- once a Jersey boy, always a Jersey boy). God, his tenor voice was perfect for this song, mellifluous and earnest and just slightly breathy. It's like one of those Clairol commercials with sunshot women in white dresses running slow-mo through a meadow, their blond tresses bouncing (as opposed to the Tampax ads where they caper in white slacks down a beach). "Just a breeze will muss your hair," he begins adoringly, over a gentle samba beat with a touch of Latin percussion. "But you smile away each little care / And if the rain should make you blue / You say tomorrow is anew." It seems all so perfect. SO WHY IS HE SAD?
Yes, she's the perfect girl, as he describes in affected poetical word order ("Blue be your eyes, blonde your hair"). But underneath this portrait of WASPy perfection, the diminished and seventh chords, the achingly sweet backup harmonies, hint at something fragile and evanescent. Sure, she may be "mystifyingly glad", but there he is, her rhyming opposite: "I'm Mr. Dieingly Sad." And that dichotomy gives this song all the tension it needs, like a grain of sand grinding away inside the oyster shell.
It's the change of seasons, you see -- part of that time-honored pop tradition of the end-of-summer song ("See You In September," Chad & Jeremy's "Summer Song," "A Summer Place," "All Summer Long" by the Beach Boys). He already knows it's coming, and he can't get his mind off it -- because the end of summer inevitably means being separated from her. (That's the beauty of summer romances -- they always end too soon, before life cruds them up.) "And when the leaves begin to fall / Answering old winter's call / I feel my tears, they fall like rain / Weeping forth the sad refrain." Okay, so it's self-consciously poetic -- but that slots right into the adolescent mindset. "Blue, dark, and dim it may seem," he moans, depressive-in-training that he is; "You mark a grin, a moonbeam / Brightens your smile." Forget the stilted grammar; the images are hazy, soft-focus beautiful, underscoring the cruel irony: The happier she gets, the sadder he gets. He just can't stand it that she's not miserable about the impending end of summer. The impending end of their time together.
The bridge slides into even more minor chords, as he mournfully resists her attempts to cheer him up: "You say, 'Take my hand and walk with me / Wake this land and stop the sea / Show me love, unlock / All doors / I'm yours." She's doing everything she can, offering her body to him -- and all he can do is mope. What a sensitive guy!
"Then the tide rolls up to shore," he sets the scene for his final verse; "I whisper low, 'I love you more / More than even you could know'." He's finally ready to take her up on her offer -- solemnly, of course, because he's a nice guy, not some cad who'll take advantage of her. (Thirteen-year-old girls cannot resist this line.) "Adore me, do, so I could show / I'm so mystifyingly glad / Not Mr. Dieingly Sad." Yes! What a neat resolution! It's within her power to transform him! What girl doesn't love that idea?
I know, I know, I can't help making fun of it -- all the pop cliches, falling neatly into line. But you know what? The song still works. For all its lush dopiness, that yearning vocal and those falsetto harmonies weave their end-of-summer spell all over again. Let's suspend our cynical selves for just a minute and admit it: Running along a beach hand-in-hand with someone you love is still a bittersweet thrill. I love a tough-minded relationship analysis as much as the next person, but the soaring melody here, paired with those rueful close-clustered chord changes, works its emotional magic. Don Ciccone may not be a genius, but he struck gold with this little number.
Mr. Dyingly Sad video