Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"There She Goes"

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.


Beth Greene Thompson said...

I thought La's version was more familiar than Sixpence's; we always mute the sound during commercials! And I think La's version is frequently included on oldies stations playing at the gym. No matter, I'm glad you focused on this one because it was burrowing into my brain and the words hardly make sense, which usually makes me crazy.

Judith Fabian said...

I heard this many times and yes it did become an earworm ..did you coin this phrase?

speaking of VU one of the most amazing pieces I read in the Rolling Stone issue dedicated to Lou Rawls was Laurie Anderson's memory of their live .. how they met, their connection through their relationship and during his death experience. I cried.

Brady said...

I'm most familiar with The Boo Radley's version. I love the horn intro. Yes, not the best song, but certainly one that I find myself humming from time to time.
Generally, I'm listening to music before lyrics. I like the way you dissect songs for me. I think my hyperactivity as a person makes it hard to focus on lyrics- this drives me crazy because I love music so much.
Great post!

Neon Sign said...

I wonder if Lou Reed knew Laurie ws cheating on him with Lou Rawls.

Uncle E said...

As a huge Boo Radleys fan I am ashamed to say I have never heard their version. I am only familiar with the original, from the LA's one and only self-titled album. The deluxe version contains three different versions by three different producers, the John Leckie version being the definitive version, IMO. The whole of the LA's album is pretty great, as well.

Anonymous said...

Bob Andrews of The Rumour was the producer of the first 1988 version. Steve Lillywhite's remix appeared on the 1990 album.