Monday, January 27, 2014


"Hey Julie" / Fountains of Wayne

Considering how many music listeners hold, or will someday hold, an office job, you'd think there would be more songs about the nine-to-five cubicle grind. (Compare this to the number of songs about the stresses of being a rock star, an experience just about none of us will ever have.) So fist-bumps to Fountains of Wayne for crafting this perky cha-cha-cha earworm around this underserved topic.

Now, I'm pretty sure that FoW, being devotees of classic British pop, know they owe a debt to the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night" and the Kinks' "You Make It All Worthwhile" for the particular angle they've chosen -- being grateful to the girl who's waiting at home at the end of the working day. But they bring their own spin to the subject.

That opening verse sets the gruesome scene: "Working all day for a mean little man / With a clip-on tie and a rub-on tan / He's got me running round the office like a dog around a track / When I get back home you're always there to rub my back." Now, I've been lucky: I always had good bosses and jobs I enjoyed. But that doesn't matter: I still know exactly how he feels. The lyrics clip along at a relentless pace, a two-chord seesaw stuck in a melodic rut.

Verse two is like a scene out of that iconic movie Office Space. "Hours on the phone making pointless calls / I got a desk full of paper that means nothing at all / Sometimes I catch myself staring into space / Counting off the hours until I can see your face." Or, as Ray Davies would tell us in his song "Nine to Five" (from Soap Opera), "He's caught in a mass of computerized trivia / Deciphering data for mechanical minds / He's lost in the paperwork and up to his eyes / He's checking a list that's been checked out before / And he's starting to lose his mind."

He really hates that boss -- in verse three we get another skewering vignette: "Working all day for a mean little guy / With a bad toupee and a soup-stained tie / He's got me running around the office like a gerbil in a wheel / He can tell me what to do but he can't tell me how to feel." So there, horrible boss!

Listening to this song on FoW's brilliant 2003 album Welcome Interstate Managers, I thought the story was clear -- Julie's the loyal girlfriend who greets him when he gets home and helps him shake off the stresses of the day. We don't actually learn much about her, though, other than her loyalty and her presence. Does she open the door with a martini ready? Dressed in inviting lingerie? Images from the Jack Jones hit from the 60s, the Bacharach/David classic "Hey Little Girl," flood my mind. ("Hey little girl, / Comb your hair, fix your make-up / Soon he will walk through the door / Don't think because / There's a ring on your finger / You needn't try anymore....")

So when I saw this video, I realized that it was entirely possible that Julie is in fact his dog. (And a very cute dog, I must say.) Man's best friend, lying on the rug (though really on the off-limits couch), waiting for him to open the door (or to open the next can of dog food). That line about her rubbing his back could originally have been written the other way around. But hey, that's love too, and I can with all honesty that my dog DOES make it all better when I get home.

I have to giggle when I listen to this song, but behind the giggle lies the pathos of an unsung life. Maybe there aren't more pop songs about photocopying and bookkeeping because most rock stars wouldn't be caught dead doing those things. All the more reason why we need Fountains of Wayne to come along and sing our songs, too.

19 DOWN, 33 TO GO


NickS said...

. . . you'd think there would be more songs about the nine-to-five cubicle grind.

I can't think of many songs that fit that description but, it occurs to me, I did hear a lovely one just a couple months ago. "Working Stiff" by Melvern Taylor, which I heard on Slaid Cleaves' covers album.

The studio version isn't online, but this is the nicest cover that I found and, really, the amateur performance highlights just how sweet the song is. He doesn't hit all of the notes, but basic wistfulness of the song comes through.

NickS said...

Also, that video really is a nice match with the mood of the song -- goofy but never sarcastic. I like the euphoric images of playing with his dog at 1:50-2:02.

Iñaki said...

If I ever have a daughter I'll consider two names and one of them is Julia. That's becase I have a theory that all songs with that name (or minor variations of it) in it are good, and there are plenty of them. I was curious to see which one you picked. The same happens with the other name but I'll let you know only when you post about it or at the end if you haven't.

By the way, here's one of the highlights of my life:

Holly A Hughes said...

Omigod, there you are with them! How cool! I know you love this band as much as I do, and that's A LOT.