Monday, May 24, 2010

"I'd Be Far Better Off Without You" / Sandie Shaw

Bit of a palate cleanser, this. You can't follow up Graham Parker with just anybody -- jumping to a completely different era is the only strategy that works for me.

Despite my devotion to Dusty Springfield, and my sneaking affection for Lulu, my third favorite British girl singer of the 1960s wasn't demure Cilla Black, or bright-eyed Petula Clark, or the inscrutably hip Marianne Faithful. No, it was the elegant Sandie Shaw, languid and barefoot and model-beautiful. She was much more popular in Europe than in the States -- I only remember hearing her on the radio for a brief blip in 1964, beginning with "There's Always Something There to Remind Me" (she beat out Dionne and even Dusty for her way with a Bacharach-David song) and ending with the stunning "Girl Don't Come." But to me, Sandie Shaw WAS Swinging London, as iconic of the era as Charlotte Rampling or Julie Christie or the Shrimpton girls.

Well, here's the flip side to "Girl Don't Come" -- in fact, this was originally the A-side, until DJs decided they preferred "Girl Don't Come." To me it's a toss-up; both are fabulous moody songs, with just a whisper of cool jazz sultriness, tailor-made for Sandie's smoke-edged voice. And as it happens, both were written by Chris Andrews, a Pye in-house songwriter who wrote most of Shaw's singles throughout the 60s. Take a listen.

To be honest, I haven't much to say about this song. It's definitely more pop than rock -- those crisp L.A.-style horns, that sashaying samba beat -- and I should cringe at its message of a woman helplessly mired in a love affair with a man who doesn't appreciate her. Then again, this is nothing compared to some of Dusty's most clinging, co-dependent songs ("I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten," "You Don't to Say You Love Me"), and you know how much I love those tracks.

And ultimately Sandie lashes back, shifting into "You Don't Own Me" mode in the bridge -- hear her kittenish voice turn into a tigress's snarl as she declares "'For without you I'd be free / Free to go where I want to, / See what I want to, / Do what I want to." That Sixties ideal of the free-spirited bird, leaping into some impossibly tiny sportscar with her mini-skirt and patent-leather boots, carelessly flipping her long windswept hair -- it's hardly "I am woman, hear me roar," but it wins for glamour, hands down.

We'd have to wait for the 70s to get true rock chicks, empowered babes like Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde and (I suppose) Stevie Nicks. They had big voices and tough attitudes; they had brains and guts and could totally take care of themselves. But did I ever want to be them? No, I'm sorry to say, I did not. For better or worse, I wanted to be Sandie Shaw. Which really explains a lot. . .


Dave said...


I just can't believe I've never heard this song before. Along with the flip side, this has to be one of the great two-sided singles in pop history.

wwolfe said...

What a cool platter. I know what I'll be downloading from iTunes tonight. I think my favorite part is the very, very quick delivery of syllables in the opening line, repeated (just to remind us of how enjoyable it was) near the end.

Holly A Hughes said...

A "cool platter" indeed :) -- a gin-and-tonic of a song if there ever was one.