Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Your Thing Is A Drag / Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings


But why wait until Break-Up Day?   Modern-day soul queen Sharon Jones isn't letting any grass grow under her strappy stilettoes.  Her man has the nerve to whine about how she's "stepping out of line" -- and she's more than ready to put him in his place:

Hard to believe this record was released in 2005 -- the way it channels classic funk-soul, you'd think it was a vintage track from 1972. And that's no accident. Sharon Jones grew up in  the height of the Motown era, and has been slowly working her way towards stardom ever since.  You've gotta admire her persistence; she's the poster child for late-career break-throughs.  It wasn't until 1996, when she was 40 years old, that she finally got a recording contract with the indie funk label Desco Records. (Some of those early Desco singles, I've heard, were bought up by collectors convinced that they were underdiscovered gems from the 60s/70s -- that's how authentic her sound is.)  Until her big break, Jones held such illustrious jobs as Rikers Island prison matron and Wells Fargo armored car guard, both of which seem oddly appropriate. Listen to those fiery, rambunctious vocals -- this is not a woman you'd want to mess with.

The scenario couldn't be simpler:  One half of the relationship likes to sit home and be cozy, while the other half likes to go out and raise hell.  The only twist is, this time it's the woman who's got the itch to party. There's no question this is a party girl's song, with a relentless speedy groove and whiplash instrumental hooks.  "Ain't no need to ask me, baby, / About what time I'm coming home," she declares. I can just see the raised eyebrows, the sideways disdainful glare, hand coolly primping her hairdo. She insists she's not betraying him - "You know I'll never do you wrong, baby," -- but she has got to be who she is.  And that's clearly something magnificent -- why should he put a damper on that?

Honey, if you're going to get judgmental, well then, the lady can do that too.  "I know you think you got your own thing," she launches into the chorus. "I know you think you got your own bag." (Calling James Brown!) "But believe me, baby, when I tell you: [beat] / Your thing is a drag."  I love how that song zips up tight at the moment, horns and scampering bassline and scritchy guitar riffs all stopping as she spits out that scornful punchline a capella. 

Of course both partners should have their own independent selves; that's the 21st-century element to this song. (I can't think of any 60s soul song where the social roles are supposed to be equal like this. Can you?)  She's fully prepared to live and let live. But now he's riding her case, and turnabout is only fair play.  He started this conversation, but now she's going to end it -- and on her terms.

Examples?  You want examples?  She'll tick them off on her manicured fingers. In verse two they're at a party, and he pouts to go home early; she's singing at a club and he doesn't even come to watch her.   In verse three, they're at a club, and "When the rest of us are drinkin' and smokin' / You're sittin' at the bar and you're ordering juice." She can barely veil her contempt, and by this time we share it too.  Why on earth would a spitfire like this ever be with such a wet blanket?

And here's the kicker: "When I try to make it good to you, babe, / It seems the time that your head start achin'."  He's so hung up in his resentment, he can't even enjoy the moments they do have together. He deserves to lose her.


wwolfe said...

Her version of "This Land Is Your Land" was the defining song of the 2008, the Year of the Crash. I also love "Mama Don't Like My Man," which sounds so much like a great lost Shirelles track, it's hard to believe it's from the age of the Autotune.

Holly A Hughes said...

Autotune was invented for people who don't have a voice like Sharon Jones! She continues to amaze me.