Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ten Great Love Songs with Terrible Messages

I'm a big fan of music. I once got a thank you card from a former student that said, “Thank you for teaching me how to do therapy, and for teaching me about 80s rock music.” I felt pretty proud of that. 

Sometimes the lyrics in a particular song make me cringe, and it is even worse when those lyrics come in an otherwise great song. So for fun I made a list of some of my most cringe-worthy songs. But what's important about this list is that these are all really good songs that just happen to have a terrible message. They have great tunes, fun beats, neat hooks... and a dysfunctional way of looking at love.

So here they are, my Top Ten Great Love Songs with Terrible Messages, in no particular order. 

10. All You Need is Love, The Beatles.

This is a perfect example of the kind of song I mean--great tune, fun to sing, kind of sloppy in that "I can belt this out and not feel self-conscious" way. Groovy. Except that it's a lie of the highest magnitude. You also need self-knowledge, emotional regulation, positive affect, positive regard, trust, shared meaning, appreciation, gratitude... and the list goes on. Enjoy the song, but don't take it to heart.

9. Baby It's Cold Outside, by Frank Loesser
(Honorable mention to other rape-y songs, like “Blurred Lines” and “Lightnin' Striking.”)

Its got a nice melody, and it's a duet, which is always fun, but the message just can't be ignored. This song is about sexual assault. It wraps the whole thing up in a cute little package and calls it "seduction," and that's exactly what is so damaging.

8. Every Breath You Take, The Police

Seriously, call the police. This is a stalker's manifesto. Sting himself said, "I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it's quite the opposite."

7. He Stopped Loving Her Today, George Jones.

The singer describes the love this man has for his ex until he dies. While it might be a romantic notion to hold onto our past loves out of loyalty and devotion, it is a recipe for an unhappy life.

6. Jolene, Dolly Parton

Seriously, who doesn't love this song? It's so much fun, and it's been covered by practically everyone. But the lyrics... well, the song doesn't recognize that the man in question has agency and responsibility in his own choices and actions.  "Don't take him just because you can" kind of speaks for itself.

By the way... have you heard the slowed-down version of Jolene? It's amazing.

5. It all Depends on You, Henderson, DeSylva, and Brown.

This is an old classic. The lyrics go, "I can be happy/I can be sad; I can be good/or I can be bad; It all depends on you." This is a pretty good description of codependency.

4. As Long as He Needs Me, Lionel Bart.

This song comes from the musical Oliver!, and it's incredibly disturbing in its context. Nancy, the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, sings this little gem after her boyfriend Bill physically assaults her to get his way. She then reprises the song later in the musical, right before Bill beats her to death with a stick. I swear I am not making any of this up.

3. I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face, Lerner and Loewe

Another song from a musical, this time My Fair Lady. Henry Higgins sings this as he realizes that he loves Eliza Doolittle. Lovely tune, but it's possibly the least romantic thing ever said. Try it yourself--go home tonight and tell your significant other, "Sweetie, I've grown accustomed to your face." (Actually, don't try that. Bad idea.)

This is is actually one of the most common problems in relationships. As people stay together, they get used to each other. Growing accustomed to one another is actually a bad idea for your love.

2. My Man, Charles, Pollock, Willemetz, and Yvain.

This is so much fun to sing at karaoke. It is also one of the saddest victim songs on the planet. Today, this song is most frequently associated with Barbra Streisand, who sang it in the musical Funny Girl. In the past few decades, Streisand has taken to apologizing to the audience right before she sings it, referring to it as a "dependent victim song." (Also, Streisand's version takes out the reference to domestic violence that was in the original version.)

1. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, Donaggio and Pallavinci.

Originally, the lyrics were in Italian. Dusty Springfield belted the English version of this song out in 1966, and it's been a classic for singers with powerful voices ever since. The same singer who gave us the sex-positive "Son of a Preacher Man" gives us this message of "my needs don't matter, as long as you're near me."

You don't have to say you love me? Yes, yes you do.

1 comment:

  1. Surprised not to see "Ain't Nobody's Business if I Do" here: