Thursday, January 16, 2014


"Joey" / Jill Sobule

Now let's hear from the ladies.

I remember watching Joey Heatherton on variety shows when I was a kid. In black tights, an oversized sweater, and that short tousled blonde hair -- well, even at age 9 I knew there wasn't a chance in hell I'd ever be able to pull off that particular sex kittenish look, but man, was it appealing. Put her right up there with Ann-Margret and Connie Stevens (a.k.a. Cricket on 77 Sunset Strip) and they defined the 1960s idea of a Sexpot. An impossible standard for us little girls to live up to.

Yet for all her tomboyish charm, you knew that Joey was fragile, and more than a bit needy. Ann-Margret seemed like a tiger compared to Joey, Connie Stevens like a scrappy toy poodle. But Joey? I worried about Joey.

Turns out I wasn't the only one . . . .

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Jill Sobule is one my favorite singer-songwriters. On Jill's delicious 2004 album Underdog Victorious there are a lot of personal songs about the various zigs and zags of her own coming of age, but this one character study fits right in.  Written with co-writer Bill Demain, the sensibility is seamlessly in line with the rest of the album. I can just picture little Jill or little Bill watching Joey go-going away on The Dean Martin Show or The Hollywood Palace and developing a kidlet crush on her.

The plush tones of that opening "Joey," sung with a Joey-like breathiness -- it lays down a cushion of retro 1960s movie music sound.  But then the song breaks into a perky bossa nova -- the other side of the 60s sound -- as Jill fills in the bio. The first part of the story is all glamour and success: "Joey was the It Girl at just fifteen," "Joey got a start in the night club scene / Even though she studied ballet under Balanchine." (That next line, "She could take a swan dive if you know what I mean" is a cool little in joke, since Bill Demain is one half of the wonderful duo Swan Dive.) She's on the Rat-Pack cool Dean Martin show, she's wowing the troops in Vietnam with Bob Hope and the USO, she's marrying Dallas Cowboys star receiver Lance Rentzel. She's the golden girl, to be worshipped from afar.

It's in the bridge where Jill starts to make it personal. The melody goes higher and more legato, as she wistfully reflects, "All she ever wanted was your love and respect / Isn't that the same thing that we all want, Joey, Joey?" Yes, and that human need -- that hunger to be loved -- can sometimes lead us into dark alleys.

And the second chapter of this American life is not so golden. "I remember Joey in a mattress ad/ I guess around this time was when things got bad / When her husband got arrested she looked so sad." Those Serta commercials played up Joey's sexpot image, as she seduced you into her bed -- nod, nod, wink, wink -- with an unbearable cheesiness. And then her all-star husband turned out to be a mess, arrested in 1970 for exposing himself to a 10-year-old girl. Stuck in her 60s go-go girl image, Joey saw the acting roles dry up, the variety shows disappear, the records stalling on the charts. Is it any wonder that she began to slide into substance abuse?

I love how every verse ends with a pair of dance steps, thrusting off-beat rhythms inviting us to dance like Joey, doing the frug, the monkey, the jerk, the Watusi, the pony. I regret to say that I know how to do every single one of those dances and can demonstrate them upon request.

Now Jill/Bill enters the picture. "Yesterday in line at the A&P / I saw Joey on the back of Star magazine / They said she's using again and she still won't de[tox]." That verse hits me with such poignancy. And the capping line: "She's got the jerk, she's got the monkey." I picture a jerking addict in the throes of withdrawal, I remember the slang term for addiction "got a monkey on his back." And my heart breaks for the It Girl at the end of the line.

 "You can stay at my place if you want to, Joey," Jill/Bill shyly offers in the final chorus. Because those childhood crushes? We never get over them, one way or another.

7 DOWN, 45 TO GO 


NickS said...

Nice, I haven't listened to Underdog Victorious, and based on that I should pick up a copy.

Compared to the Jill Sobule song I had suggested ("Karen By Night"), it's more complex and, I think, both a better song and more interesting as part of this series.

(That next line, "She could take a swan dive if you know what I mean" is a cool little in joke, since Bill Demain is one half of the wonderful duo Swan Dive.)

Between that and the story about the steel drum on "Carrie Anne" I'm impressed.

7 DOWN, 45 TO GO

You're making it look easy.

Seriously, it seemed like an ambitious project when you announced it, and so far it's been quite entertaining.

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks! I always like to bring some value-added to the table.

I wish it were as easy as you say it looks!

NickS said...

This is unrelated to anything to do with "Joey" (other than variety shows) but I highly, highly recommend watching this duet version of "Mack The Knife" with Dinah Shore and Pearl Baily. It's so well done and so funny. There are a couple of moments when Dinah Shore looks like she's just hoping that she can make to the end of the song without completely cracking up.

It took me a long time to warm to the idea of listening to music on youtube, but running across something like that makes me really appreciate. It's not something I ever would have gone looking for, but stumbling across it has absolutely made my evening.

Dan said...

Jill Sobule is the best lyricist of her/my generation. When she switches "She does the Jerk, she does the Monkey" in the first verse to "She's got the Jerk, she's got the monkey" in the last verse, it hits like a ton of bricks. So clever...and so sad.

And she does this in so many songs, switching moods drastically within a song, always with amazing humanity and sympathy.

Swan Dive is brilliant too. Almost everything they do, should be tossed out as cheese, but it's SO well done (Demain's songs, Molly Felder's perfect, tasteful singing, and Brad Jones' perfect production) that you pretty much have to like their albums.