This is one of those sidetrack songs, the kind you hear without really hearing it -- in the background of a movie, in a commercial, on the muzak in a store. You hum along to it, because you do know it, at least kinda. The words aren't hard -- in this case, it's the same phrase over and over again, which means you also know the title.
But who sang that song? And when was it released, and what's it really about?
Well, it finally itched my brain enough for me to do some song sleuthing. And here's what I came up with.
First: There are three versions of this song, by three different artists. Listen to them and tell me which one you hear most often in your head.
First came The La's, an English band from Liverpool, in 1988:
Then this cover by the Boo Radleys, another English band, also from the Liverpool area, recorded for the 1993 film comedy So I Married an Axe Murderer:
Last but not least, this 1999 cover by the American Christian-pop band Sixpence the Richer:
Well, I'll say straight off that the version I hear in my head is Sixpence the Richer's take -- probably because it's been used in commercials -- with female lead singer Leigh Nash winsomely going on and on about this girl . . . which suddenly struck me as, WHA? Why did I never notice before that that's a little weird?
(Maybe because this song isn't really worth me thinking too hard about it...)
Lesbian anthem? Somehow I don't think so; that was never Sixpence the Richer's message, and anyway, it just doesn't feel that sexy, even when the male vocalists in The La's and the Boo Radleys sing it. Sure, she's "racing through my brain" and "pulsing through my veins," but that sounds more like a mental obsession than a physical attraction. And it very quickly devolves into dumb rhymes like "she calls my name / Pulls my train / No one else could heal my pain." By the last verse, when she's "Chasing down my lane," it's clear we've used up all the "ain" rhymes and we don't really care.
On the Interweb, folks keep bringing up an earlier Velvet Underground song called "There She Goes Again" which is pretty clearly about heroin. (Typical VU subject matter.) But even if the song's author, La's frontman Lee Mavers, was a VU fan (which I see no evidence of), I just don't buy this as a drug song. It's too upbeat, too crisp and light.
So it's time for me to take off my Lyric Girl hat and try just listening to the effervescent pop hook that makes this song such an earworm.
It's a simple triad of related chords -- G D C -- but hear how those notes leapfrog upward, one word per note, in oddball intervals (a fourth, a chromatic, topping the octave). The first phrase sticks to a simple beat, but after that it skips off the grid with syncopation, as if bubbling over with joy that can no longer be contained. The transitions burrow around with downscale notes and darker chords and chromatics, but before long the main melodic phrase bursts out again, refusing to be tied down. There she goes, indeed.
Not the draggy sound of heroin or the anguish of unrequited love; this is just A FUN POP HOOK. And it makes me imagine a crush, a delirious crush on the girl in question, even when Leigh Nash is singing it. (Come on, ladies, who hasn't had a girl crush like that? I know I have, at various times, on Julie Christie or Diane Keaton or Zooey Deschanel -- just sayin'...)
Three bands who weren't really famous, all singing the same song -- and it became the best-known track of each of them. What are the odds? There's got to be something in a song that can make that kind of lightning strike thrice.