Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Only Pretty, What a Pity: Redux

Okay, I posted about this song -- the Lovin' Spoonful's late pop/psych masterpiece -- last week, and I must confess to being sort of obsessed with it recently.

I've always liked it, of course, for lots of reasons, beginning with the fact that thematically it's an astoundingly dark and worldly wise song for a band pigeonholed as a purveyor of good time music. For another thing, it's structurally really quite clever; verse, chorus, verse, chorus, a bridge in a different tempo that seems to come out of nowhere, and then a final chorus, the kicker being that all the choruses have different lyrics and the Author's Message title phrase doesn't appear until the very end of the song. Plus it's gloriously melodic and gorgeously sung, and if you listen carefully to the very end of the fade-out, there are some really phenomenal sort of modal guitar licks being dispensed.

Check it out (the mp3 below is from the remastered CD reissue, whereas the YouTube I posted last week was taken from scratchy vinyl.)

Eyes to look at, not to see through
She never could see truth for lies
With a smile she'd win us over
Face a trick to take a prize

Tickled pink
The mid-aged dandy
Sold his horse to buy her all the
Icing for her face like candy
Hung up the mirrors wall to wall

Married life was short but funny
With long lost cousins dropping by
Later on her alimony
Paid for young men's gentle lies

By the window hangs a mirror
Where she hides her sagging chin
Now sadly as she crouches nearer
Never seeing past her skin

"Mommy said, when you were younger
'The face you made would stay that way'
That's all true and if you doubt it
Reflect upon yourself today"

Everyone except the baby
Answers for the face they wear
As a mask of pure contentment
Or a mask of pure despair

Only pretty, what a pity...

As I said, I've always liked it, and the second verse is absolutely brilliant -- in four concise poetic lines, writers Joe Butler and Jerry Yester manage to tell you everything you need to know about the arc of the sad, spoiled life of a vain and shallow woman; you can practically see her, her foolish monied husband (the earlier chorus bit about selling his horse is especially nice), and the house they lived in (on Fifth Avenue, if I'm any judge) before she dumped him and turned into a not so gay divorcee. I must confess, however, that I hadn't understood one crucial part of it until I read the lyrics on-line last week. That aforementioned bridge, where the vocal goes all robotic, is very hard to make out, but as you can see above it's the voice of Only Pretty's mirror giving her the naked truth; that sound of glass breaking at the end is her smashing it rather than face herself.

I should add that if I were a betting man I would put good money down that the song is based on somebody (or somebodies) real that Butler or Yester knew; fortunately, a certain blogger pal of mine is friends with Joe and his wife, and with any luck I will be getting the lowdown sometimes in the very near future.

Have I mentioned I've become sort of obsessed with the song?