#31songs: 5: Sang the wrong lyrics

A song I sang the wrong lyrics to for ages: Girlfriend

This sounds brings together much that’s excellent about the early Jazz Butcher records, both in music and lyrics.  My confusion about the misheard lyrics has redoubled in writing this piece, because I’ve now seen a transcription that suggests I was right all along, but I want to write about it anyway.

The sound has much in common with ‘Southern Mark Smith’: an acoustic guitar (presumably Pat) and another, highly chorused one (Max’s) adding melodic details; backing vocals gentle and high-pitched. It’s a soft sound — there’s little distortion on the guitars, the backing vocals don’t do the hard, mechanical Velvet Underground thing  — but it delivers surprising power. The acoustic guitar strums in the basic chords twice round before the whole band comes, and Max delivers his main guitar solo before the lyrics begin.  It’s a bitter-sweet story of drunken inappropriate relationships: the happy-sad, bitter-sweet tone was widely prevalent in indie music at the time; and someone also wrote that having a song called ‘Girlfriend’ was a prerequisite for any indie pop band; but in neither aspect does Pat’s take seem derivative.  What blew me away when I first heard this — it was another on the compilation that Chris did for me — was combination in the music of melodic details and unmelodic raw details (the rapidly strummed descending part near the close), and in the lyrics the ironic and nuanced take on romantic relationships: ‘It’s a measure of a feeling that I can’t identify that I can let you go’. Who had ever written anything as complex as that before?  Well, probably plenty of songwriters, but it was still a revelation to me.

The ambiguous bit of the lyrics comes in the first verse.  Here’s what I thought I heard:

Here I am, I’m just lying on the floor with you
We had to get drunk, it was the only thing we could do
Well, it’s funny ‘coz I thought that it could have turned out quite romantic
But it isn’t like that, which is fine, ‘coz it means I can stand it.

I liked the idea that the ‘romantic’ relationship was the one that would have been unbearable. But having sung this for some years, I saw — or thought I saw — a transcription that had the crucial word as ‘traumatic’. Once you’ve seen it written that way, it sounds that way; it would still be a great song, but it would be a marginally less interesting lyric.  Now, turning to David Whittemore’s excellent Jazz Butcher website (source of the above lyrics), I’m led to believe I heard it first the right time.



1 thought on “#31songs: 5: Sang the wrong lyrics

  1. Pingback: Thirty-one songs: Pat Fish (The Jazz Butcher) | Michael Whitworth

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