News and Tribune

February 6, 2014

MAY: Silly love songs

Local columnist

— His best friend John constantly made fun of the songs he wrote.

Lightweight. Tacky. Mundane. Silly. The words have no meaning, his friend chided. These songs could only appeal to the uneducated, the moronic, the unsophisticated. They express nothing more than fluff.

All of his songs were pelted by the criticism, but one song absorbed the banter exponentially. Appropriately released as a single on April Fool’s Day in 1976, the song shocked the disbelieving friend by spending five nonconsecutive weeks as the No. 1 pop song on Billboard’s list. It ended the year as the number one song in 1976.

Appropriate for its day, the song carried a distinct disco flavor with driving beats and repeated phrases. The song was a favorite of actor Will Smith and was used in the pilot episode of his television show, “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” when brother Carlton could be heard singing the first verse of the song in the shower. In 2008, the song was listed at No. 31 on Billboard’s Greatest Songs of All Time.

The criticism and ribbing may have all been in jest. Guinness World Records described him as “the most successful composer and recording artist of all time.” He has 60 gold records and more than 100 million album sales and that much again in singles. He has written or co-written 32 songs that reached the top of the Billboard charts of top 100 songs.

Knighted for his services to music, Sir Paul McCartney seems to invite the listener to have a laugh at his expense in the popular, “Silly Love Songs,” and to laugh at ourselves at the difficulties we have in expressing love.

“What’s wrong with that?” he asks, tongue in cheek.

Love songs and February seem to walk the path hand in hand. Valentines Day reminds us of those three words — I love you — that we need to say. But it also reminds us of how little we actually say them. An unknown sage professed that I love you “takes three seconds to say, three hours to explain, and a lifetime to prove.”

Sometimes the words seem to get trapped in our throat like an ill-timed swallow involving a kernel of popcorn. My daughter, who is aptly gifted at turning a phrase, can weave words into an incredible melody.

In her own composition, “Something to Say About It,” she captures the feeling — and the words — of not having the courage to speak.

“Every time I see your face, all of my thoughts go out of place. I’ve got something to say about it, but I can’t say nothing.”

The possibility of exchanging the words “I love you” certainly mark an important spot in a relationship. Both men and women can be fearful of saying it because they aren’t sure how the person will respond.

Men may have an even more difficult time because they speak fewer and less concrete words. Someone speculated that it’s difficult to say because once said, it can’t be taken back. More often than not, we avoid saying it because it seems lightweight, tacky or even silly.

Young American singer-songwriter Jim Croce’s life and career were cut far too short when the single engine plane he was traveling in crashed in fall 1973. His wife Ingrid, in an anecdotal biography of her husband, describes a Friday that Jim arrived home after months of concerts on the road. She was thrilled to spend the weekend alone with him, but Jim had failed to tell her that early the next morning a crew of about 20 people would be there to film some “at-home” footage of the popular singer.

After preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for the crew, she heatedly cornered Jim after everyone had left to ask why he hadn’t told her. To avoid the confrontation, he stormed out of the room and spent the night in the kitchen with his guitar.

The next morning, Ingrid was awakened to Croce’s intricate picking on the six-string and the whispers, “Every time I tried to tell you, the words just came out wrong. So I’ll have to say ‘I love you’ in a song.”

Silly? I don’t think so.

  — Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at s Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.