I keep trying to give this blog up and be done with it already and it keeps coming back. I’m like Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” These songs are demanding. Now that they’ve got their hooks in me, they are not letting go. All this time I thought that as the writer, I was in control of this thing. I was the fisher; the ideas were the fish. I could see the fish in the muddy depths of these songs and catch them. But my metaphors were all jumbled up. I was the fish all along and these songs caught me long ago. What else can I do now but be pulled along on this line leading me to where ever it is that we are going.
“She Was My Sweetheart” may have been the first hook that got me good. It was chronologically the third sf59 song I ever heard and the second written by JM. The first sf59 I heard was their cover of Steve Taylor’s “Sin For A Season” on the I Predict A Clone tribute album. Sonically that song was as thick as clay mud. I liked the new direction with the song, but it still felt like a song I knew. I could hear the architecture of Steve Taylor’s writing underneath all the mud piled on top of it in the sf59 cover. My first sf59 album was the She’s the Queen EP. The first song, “She’s the Queen”, had all that sonic mud that I expected. The chord progression was unique and not something Steve Taylor would ever write. But still, the song was what I expected sf59 to sound like.
Then “She Was My Sweetheart” walked quietly into the room with its cymbals and bass line. Now this was something different. With the exception of being cymbal heavy, the drums were light. The bass had a groove to it. The rhythm guitar was muted and chunky, not even close to the muddy or crispy tone I was expecting. The lead guitar tone was clear and that tremolo made it feel so warm. It was sweet and pure. The vocals had that kind of wistful sadness that you have when you speak of a love so far gone.
Even the structure of the song itself was different. The verse chord progression feels bright with its major chord shuffle. F – Bb – C. Then the tension comes in with a D chord as the singer asks how (How?) the sweetheart can be gone. This D chord is lower than the verse shuffle so it is unexpected; it catches you off guard. This progression finishes off with the same chords as the verse shuffle making the tension-inducing progression in the song D – Bb – C.
Notice the genius of what happens next (Tell me how). We get a glimpse of the outro progression where the tension of the D chord gets folded into the bright verse shuffle making the outro progression F – D – Bb – C. The pain of being left alone and wondering why the relationship ended this way gets blended with the good memories of being together. In the blending, the jaggedness of the D chord gets smoothed out and things feel right again. And isn’t that just the way that it is in life? You find your resolution and peace when you accept and assimilate both what has brought you joy and what has brought you pain.
This song really wants to drive this point home so we a treated to an extended outro of this progression played while the lead guitar ruminates on the surface. We’ve seen this song template of verse – chorus – verse – chorus – long outro on other songs like “Everyone But Me” and “Cry”. It’s interesting that these songs with this structure have a similar sound (’50s pop) and a similar theme (being left alone) even though they were written and recorded decades apart.
So “She Was My Sweetheart” got its hook into me decades ago. It was the first song that taught me to expect the unexpected with sf59. And that, more than anything, is probably why I have stayed with this band and it has stayed with me. It’s a relationship that continues to pay off. This song is a prime example. It is such a simple song compared other sf59 productions, but here I am still learning new things about it a quarter of a century later. For example, did you know that the tempo speeds up in the outro? In all the hundreds of times I’ve heard this song over the years I never noticed a change in the tempo. Then I play along with my guitar one day and as soon as I get settled into the rhythm of the outro chord progression, I feel the bass pulling away from me as it speeds up. How is it that I have listened all this time but never heard that before?
Now at this point you might be expecting me to dive into the lyrics and tell the story of some love lost. I certainly have the stories. But there is enough heartache in the world right now; I don’t need to bring it here. And besides, what else could I say? She’s gone away.