Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"You Don't Own Me" / Dusty Springfield

How did I never know this song was originally recorded by Lesley Gore?

Wait -- it was 1963. It hit #2 on the charts. Where was I? (Okay, yes, deep in a Beatlemania haze, but STILL...)

Then it swung by me again in 1964, on Dusty Springfield's debut album (in the US) Stay Awhile/I Only Want to Be With You.  Was it released as a single in the States?  I have no idea.

Nevertheless, I remain firmly convinced that I never heard Lesley Gore's version at the time and that Dusty's is hardwired deep in my girl-group DNA. And, yeah, you know I am a Lesley Gore fan, but hey, Dusty is on my shortlist of Golden Girls. This song means the world to me because of how Dusty sang it.

One thing Lesley and Dusty had in common -- a very, VERY complicated sense of wanting autonomy and yet craving love. Dusty tended more towards the victim end of the spectrum, which to me made it all the more affirming to hear her declare: "You don't own me / I'm not just one of your many toys." (Ah, that well-placed word "many," and what a special shiver of disgust Dusty gave it.)

The demands pile up from there on, escalated with key changes: "Don't say I can't go with other boys," "Don't tell me what to do/ Don't tell me what to say,"  "Don't put me on display," "Don't try to change me," "Don't tie me down" -- yikes!! But the weary doggedness with which Dusty sings it tells me that she's make these requests before and they've fallen on deaf ears.

In both Lesley's and Dusty's versions, the requisite pop strings and horns undergird her (putative)declaration of freedom:  She doesn't tell him how to live his life, so surely he should understand that she is "free / And I love to be free / To live my life the way I want / To say and do whatever I please." So why do I sense that this cry of independence is not being heard by the man in question?

Wow. This is 1963/64, long before Helen Reddy's 1975 "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar." Feminism was still just a glimmer of an idea; if anything, it was nothing but Helen Gurley Brown and Sex and the Single Girl (a 1962 book quickly subverted by the 1964 Natalie Wood movie.)

Sure, both Lesley and Dusty would eventually be identified as bisexuals/lesbians. Did that give this proto-feminist anthem a special oomph? Maybe so from their perspective; but for me, that is totally irrelevant.

Because, yes, do I still snarl this under my breath when a domineering man tries to push me around?

You betcha.

1 comment:

NickS said...

Listening to both version, I have to say I love how much joy and pleasure Leslie Gore takes in the declaration, "And I love to be free / To live my life the way I want / To say and do whatever I please."

The video of Gore singing it on the TAMI show is also great. The song builds to such a crescendo, it's impressive to see her do it live. To my ears Gore sings it as more confrontational than the Dusty Springfield does, but I may just be underestimating Dusty.

It was also interesting to see (thanks to the youtube sidebar) that Joan Jett covered the song on her solo debut.

This is 1963/64, long before Helen Reddy's 1975 "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar." Feminism was still just a glimmer of an idea . . .

I had to look it up, but I see that The Feminine Mystique came out in 1963, and was a best-seller.

It is interesting to think about, "You Don't Own Me" in the context of what Slate calls, "a skim-milk protest song." It's understandable that a song is much more likely to become a hit if it's target is sufficiently non-controversial that only the most churlish can object. I don't know if "You Don't Own Me." fits that description or not. It feels pointed (though probably not barbed). I would agree that it's a genuinely feminist song.