May 6, 2008

"Wives and Lovers"

The song where male chauvinism and misogyny meet and trade notes!

"Wives and Lovers" is a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David in 1963. I like the song for its retro/kitsch appeal, yet I can't hear it and not be slightly stunned (and a little amused) at the flagrant male chauvinism sprinkled liberally throughout. Lyrically, it comes uncomfortably close to stalker territory. Because Hal David wrote the lyrics, I'll blame him for the creepy quality of the words and overall concept....or was it just the times in which it was written? Is this how most men thought of women back in the early 1960s? I'm guessing it was. Let's have a look at those lyrics (with some translation):

Hey, little girl,
Comb your hair, fix your make-up.
Soon he will open the door.
Don't think because
There's a ring on your finger,
You needn't try any more
For wives should always be lovers, too.
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you.
I'm warning you.

(I'm warning you! That's a little scary. It's surprising Hal David has the door being calmly opened and not busted down.)

Day after day,
There are girls at the office,
And men will always be men.
Don't send him off
With your hair still in curlers.
You may not see him again.

(Never, ever age or be unattractive, women, 'cause if you do, we'll quickly dump you for one of the numerous, available, pretty girls who decorate our offices like candy, without even batting an eye. Men can't help it. Because they are men. You have been warned.)

For wives should always be lovers, too.
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you.
He's almost here.

(Hurry up! He's almost here!! I can hear his footsteps on the walk!! Curlers out!!!)
The well-used back of Jack's hand.

Hey, little girl
Better wear something pretty,
something you'd wear to go to the city.
And dim all the lights,
Pour the wine, start the music.
Time to get ready for love.

(Ah yes, the wine. Perhaps the problem. Or is it the solution?)

Oh, time to get ready,
Time to get ready,
Time to get ready
For love...

Jack Jones released his version in 1963 as the title track to the Wives and Lovers album, earning the 1964 Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Male. It reached #14 on the U.S. charts as it cast a chill in the hearts of wives all across the country, each frantically removing their hair curlers and applying make-up so as to be young, girlish lovers, rather than facing the frightening consequences.

Here's the great Julie London's version. Somehow, the fact a woman is singing it makes it worse.


Blognor Regis said...

Have you seen Mad Men at all? I'd like to say it captures this very early 1960's vibe very well but not having been there I can't be sure. It's perhaps a little stylised, regardless, Wives and Lovers could almost be its theme tune.

Great work once again.

Chris said...

Thanks, blognor! You'd think I'd have loved Mad Men, but I couldn't get into it. I think it was partly how AMC played the commercial for it over and over and over again, with that Amy Whinehouse track. I resented how they (AMC) were pushing Amy Whinehouse off on me that way. I refused to join the Amy Whinehouse bandwagon back when she was being pushed upon "us" by many media entities. This ended up ruining it for me.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Wives and Lovers is the theme song for Mad Men. I couldn't get into Mad Men at first either, but I recently moved to The Netherlands, where English-language viewing options are somewhat limited. I started watching it on one of the BBC channels and have now become engrossed. In fact, that's how I came across this blog entry--I couldn't get the damn song out of my head and couldn't remember who sang it, so I googled it and here I am!

I was 11 in 1960, so I wasn't privy to all that went on among adults, but a lot of Mad Men looks very accurate to me.

Anonymous said...

I think I was wrong. Just saw a commercial for "Army Wives," which they're promoting the hell out of, and I guess that's where I've been hearing the song "Wives and Lovers." Whatever, I just wish it would stop playing in my head.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, this is too much. Having grown up during that time and having heard the Jack Jones version on the radio a gazillion times, i really loved it and the other songs of the day. When I grew up I realized how chauvinistic it was. I still like the song for it's sentimental value because it's a piece of my childhood and music is so, well so planted in the brain!

The words are really too much - a song like that would never be written today, thank god. Hey Little girl, you are just a piece of property. Too much.

Anonymous said...

You folks are missing the point. The song winks to something called hotwife. The man is the woman's husband. The man coming to pick the woman up is her lover. The hotwife lifestyle, like swinging, has been around for a long time but those lifestyles were REALLY surpressed back then. Look at the words again and you will see that the things you are freaked out about is more to do with trying to not get the song banned as smut in those "up tight" times.

Anonymous said...

Hello EB in N...

Ok I'm a kid of that era. My parents were dancers and accomplished musicians. Peter Nero, Henry Mancini...I grew up with it all.

That was a time where women went out shopping with rollers and bandanas. Affairs in the "white collar" office were hot and heavy. Stuffy and upright you say? No...have you ever seen "A Guide for the Married Man"? People were coming into their own.

"Wives and Lovers," I thought, was a wake up call to the women of the curler, housecoat, "It's ok I'm married" generation. I was a preteen, who couldn't understand, why it seemed as though many of the wives chose to look the way they did. Was it a chauvinistic song? Perhaps...but wives for a season forgot how to be sexy and beautiful. It was a very mixed up era.

The same goes for men. The song made me look at husbands and fathers. My dad always stayed in great shape and was very handsome. My mom too...beautiful, sweet...she did not let herself go.

So here I am, thinking of that song, at 7:06 am in west Texas. Is that song threatening or inciting me to fear? Nope! Gives me a "heads up" about how men think and our roll as women, wives and lovers.

I am still all three!