"Maybe I Know" / Lesley Gore
Watching the T.A.M.I. show DVD last night, I was mesmerized by many things -- Gerry Marsden's earnest delivery of "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying"; the anxious expression on Brian Wilson's face as he sang "Surfer Girl"; how handsome Marvin Gaye was in 1964, like a tall black Ken doll; the sheer unstoppable energy of that perpetual motion machine, Mr. James Brown; and after James Brown's act, how spastic Mick Jagger's dancing looked in comparison. (Not that the screaming teenagers in that 1964 Santa Monica audience seemed to mind one bit.)
Probably my least favorite part of the whole show was the segment with 17-year-old Lesley Gore, her red hair lacquered into a stiff Barbie-doll flip, wearing a pale knit suit and high heels that wouldn't have been out of place at a Junior League meeting. By this time Lesley Gore had already had one #1 record, a genuine sensation called "It's My Party"; she was only 16 when she sang that 1963 song, in which she stamps her foot and pouts at her own party because her boyfriend Johnny is over in the corner making out with a girl named Judy. (She followed it up immediately with "Judy's Turn to Cry" -- Lesley Gore's handlers never missed an opportunity.) Growing up in the Midwest, I wanted to feel as if Lesley Gore was speaking for me, but there was this scrim of New York suburban spoiled JAPpiness that I couldn't quite penetrate. (I had the same problem years later with Joyce Maynard, writing as "the voice of her generation," when it was clear to me that she was only the voice of a kid whose parents had publishing connections I lacked.) Maybe that's what put me off about Lesley Gore. I wasn't just jealous of her precocious success -- after all, I adored Alex Chilton, Lulu, Laura Nyro, and Peter Noone, all equally young when they burst onto the scene. It's just that . . . she never really felt like an authentic teenager to me.
And yet here I am today, hooked on another song Lesley Gore sang that night.
"Maybe I Know" was probably her brand-new single at the time of the T.A.M.I. show, coming from her fourth album Girls Talk. Eventually it would climb to #14, a respectable showing (though not so high as her earlier single from 1964, "You Don't Own Me" -- which Dusty Springfield soon would claim her own). I have to admit, this song is perfect early 60s Girl Pop, with a bouncy ponytail-swinging beat that makes me wish I still had my old white go-go boots.
It's no surprise that this hit was written by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, the Brill Building's A-team, songwriters with an infallible ear for a pop hook. The verses are almost negligible compared to that irresistible boppy refrain: "Maybe I know that he's been a-cheatin' / Maybe I know that he's been untrue ooh-ooh / But what can I do." Listen to how those uneasy minor chords gradually, stubbornly, work their way into major-key resolution. It perfectly mirrors this girl's determination to stick with her cheating boyfriend and love him anyway. Produced by Phil Spector with his vintage wall of sound arrangement -- doubled vocals, handclaps and all -- it's a seamless pop product, guaranteed to pour effortlessly out of your transistor radio.
It was a shrewd choice for her to record, because it has one hallmark of a classic Lesley Gore song -- that acute sense of the swirl of teen gossip. Listen to the verses: "I hear them whispering when I walk by" -- "I know it's me they're talking about / I bet they all think I'll never find out" -- "My friends are telling me that he's no good" -- et cetera. Remember what it was like in junior high and high school, how all romantic affairs were conducted in the fishbowl of public opinion? Notes passed in class, whispered conferences by the locker, evenings spent gabbing on your Princess phone instead of doing homework -- it's a wonder any of us got into college.
I'm glad to see I'm not alone in admiring this song -- here's a YouTube video of They Might Be Giants' cover, which they love to pull out for their encore set. This totally cracked me up when we went to see TMBG a year or so ago. The Johns have a great ear for Forgotten Pop Gems -- at various times they've also resurrected "Yeh Yeh," "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," and the old traffic safety ditty "In the Middle, In the Middle, In the Middle." ("Don't cross the street in the middle in the middle in the middle in the middle of the block..."). Hey, what's the point in having a brain stuffed full of this trash if you can't amuse your friends and family with it from time to time?