Love Songs That Veer Off-Script

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Forever love songs. Unrequited love songs. Spurned lover songs. Common themes all for our favorite music. Love (as well as the flip side of the coin) is one of the great relatable themes throughout rock and roll history.

Sometimes, though, we get a curve ball thrown into our musical experience. It’s the love song that’s immediately identifiable but goes a little wonky. Here’s a small sampling of love songs that catch us by surprise.

“Bargain” by The Who (1971)

Arguably one of the finest tracks on one of rock’s finest albums, “Bargain” (the second entry on The Who’s Who’s Next) is a love story of bottomless devotion from its opening lines: “I’d gladly lose me to find you/I’d gladly give up all I had/To find you/I’d suffer anything and be glad.” Roger Daltrey (singing Pete Townshend’s words) offers to put himself on the cross (“To win you, I’d stand naked, stoned and stabbed”), drown an unsung man and suffer any earthly price. He goes on to say that these sacrifices would be “a bargain – the best I ever had.” The twist is that Townshend is talking to his spiritual guru, Meher Baba. In losing himself, he is seeking God and grateful for the opportunity. It’s a stunning piece of rock gospel, couched as a love song.

“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon (1972)

This bittersweet treasure opens with Simon’s sexy exhalation: “Son of a gun!” She then outlines the history of a doomed relationship with a man she cherished, only to find him a dishonest poseur. Scorned women songs? A dime a dozen. But what other track goes into such detail about her partner’s airs and cheatin’ ways? Most of all, she resents his relentless vanity. “You’re so vain/You probably think this song is about you” is one of the most quietly eviscerating takedowns in love song history. The man was long believed to be Warren Beatty; Simon kept the secret under wraps for decades before acknowledging in her memoir that only the second verse applied to him.

“I’m Not in Love” by 10CC (1975)

 The backstory to 10CC’s idiosyncratic hit tracks down to singer Eric Stewart’s wife bemoaning the fact that he didn’t express his love enough. In response, Stewart wrote about a man protesting that he is not in love. But it becomes clear that, despite his disavowals, he absolutely is. He deems his feelings a “silly phase” and claims his frequent phone calls mean nothing. (He also keeps her photo on his wall just to cover a pesky stain.) The dreamy musical backdrop utilizes the brilliantly layered voices of the rest of the band as their studio-induced “ahhhh”s provide an aural wall of sound. “I’m Not in Love” hit the big time expressing love through petulant denials of same.

“You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette (1995)

Canadian singer Alanis Morisette jetted to international fame (and from bubblegum pop star to edgy alterna-goddess) on the basis of this lead single from 1995’s Jagged Little Pill. Her raw vocals, palpable fury and ribald lyrics are showstoppers, but not a departure from the “love-gone-wrong” paradigm. What throws “You Oughta Know” off the usual love song format is that the narrator is the wild young lady who will go the extra mile sexually. She’s abandoned for someone older, more staid, and ready for motherhood. Now there’s a flip of the script! The culprit is believed to be actor/comedian Dave Coulier, goofball “Uncle Joey” from the sitcom Full House. Even Coulier thinks so, though for three decades, Morissette has neither confirmed nor denied.

“Business Time” by Flight of the Conchords (2007)

 New Zealand’s Flight of the Conchords is a musical duo (Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie) who mix bone-dry comedy with alterna-acoustic guitar and offbeat lyrics. Here, Jemaine addresses his strict love-making regimen with his wife every Wednesday. (Tuesdays are for in-law visits, there’s nothing good on TV and the recycling – “not part of the foreplay process but still very important” – is sorted.). Yup – it’s “Business Time”! Jemaine hilariously describes his wife’s curry-stained PJs and his own black socks, which he wears until the end of his awkward seduction striptease (“You know when I’m down to my socks it’s time for business/that’s why they call them…business socks.”). “Business Time” naughtily owns the monotony of marital business, both mocking and celebrating it simultaneously. An unorthodox but undeniable love song.


-Ellen Fagan

Photo: 10 cc (Getty Images)

10 comments on “Love Songs That Veer Off-Script

  1. Steve Schlansky

    ANOTHER GREAT Ellen Fagen Piece!!!

  2. Stephanie B.

    Love this! Such a fun read and so true.

    • Ellen Fagan

      Thank you so much! I am continuing to wreck my brain for more quirky love tracks…

  3. Bread’s Diary is a twist on the love song as well. Unrequited love for the singer/narrator while the object of his love is, seemingly, unaware of his feelings. I know many people my age, who remember the song when it was first released, who didn’t notice the twist in the final lines.

    • Ellen Fagan

      Will give it a listen – sounds like a great addition to this list!

  4. I’m Not In Love is my favourite recording from the 1970s. It’s a triumph on almost every level.

    • Ellen Fagan

      Agreed, Eoghan! Very impactful for me as well, from the first time I heard it in frequent rotation on the radio.

  5. Great article. I hadn’t fully understood Bargain before. I’m not in Love was obvious, but, to me, it was so cheesey.
    I made a play list for a buddy who wa going through a very bad breakup. There a lot of fun songs that put an odd twist on the whole love thing. Check out Goldmine by the Beat Farmers.

    • Ellen Fagan

      What a vibe-y playlist that must have been! Will check out Goldmine for sure. Thank you!

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