Sunday, 5 June 2016

My Top Ten Divorce Songs

Last week it was the arguments; this week, it's the divorce. If you have anything to say about that... well, don't talk to me, talk to my lawyer.

10. Tammy Wynette - D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

Too obvious to be Number One, so I decided to start off with it. A wonderful conceit to this song, the idea of parents spelling out words they don't want their children to hear because they'll upset them too much. Of course, Billy Connolly savaged the idea with his parody. Bastard! Tammy's original just about survives... but you must also remember that this is a woman who promised to Stand By her Man. What happened there?   

9. Roger Miller - Everything's Coming Up Roses

No wonder Roger Miller ended up as a King of the Road if his ex-wife treated him like this in divorce court.
She's accusin' me of hangin' out
With girls of ill repute
Adultery, abandonment
Even alcohol abuse

I just heard my mother shout
Your honor throw the book
And even my attorney
Just gave me a dirty look...
The first time I heard this song, I was convinced there was a happy ending twist coming, but no: from the moment his wife takes the stand in court, Roger is screwed.
Why, even Johnny Carson got a better deal than mine.
There's a nice topical reference for the kids.

See also Divorce Me C.O.D. by Merle Travis... where the shoe's on the other foot!

8. Liz Phair - Divorce Song

A long drive across the US brings out the worst in a bickering couple and when she suggests they - maybe - get separate rooms at the motel they stop at, he takes the opportunity to lay down a few home truths.The wife ends up regretting opening up this particular can of worms...
The license said
You had to stick around 
Until I was dead 
But if you’re tired of looking at my face 
I guess I already am.
7. Brad Paisley - Death of a Married Man / Harvey Bodine

Brad Paisley enlists the help of Eric Idle for the intro to this witty country song about a man who dies while paying charades only to be brought back to life five minutes later by a defib machine. At this point he decides it's time to say goodbye to his "miserable wife"...
He called his lawyer,
He called his priest,
And told them they'd restarted his heart.
How his wedding vows were
"'Til death do us part..." 
6. Kool & The Gang - Jones Vs. Jones

Before you dismiss Robert 'Kool' Bell (aka Muhammad Bayyan), consider this:

Long before their 70s / 80s heyday (in which they sold over 70 million records), the band originally got together as The Jazziacs in 1964, led by 13 year old Robert and his 12 year old brother Ronald. They lived in the same New York apartment building as their godfather... Thelonius Monk... and often hung out with Miles Davis at their local boxing gym.

Jones Vs. Jones only made #39 in the US charts in 1981, but it broke the UK Top 20, and I reckon we're about ready to treat this band with the same respect we give the Temptations and the Four Tops. Heartbreak rarely sounded so soulful...
'Cause I received a notice
They called me on the phone
To come and sign the papers
Of Jones vs. Jones
Gone are the days of me and you...
5.  Paul Simon - Hearts & Bones

Supposedly about Paul Simon's break-up with Carrie Fisher, they being the "one and one-half wandering Jews" referenced in the opening line (Princess Leia is half-Jewish) who return to their natural coasts (he's from New York, she's from LA) to "step out occasionally and speculate who had been damaged the most".

4. Elbow - Grounds For Divorce

Possibly the loudest song Elbow have ever recorded - when that fuzzy guitar kicks in, it'll shatter your windows. As always though, it's Guy Garvey's lyrics that set this apart from the majority of contemporary British guitar bands: laced with Northern wit and grimy Mancunian poetry.
I've been working on a cocktail called "Grounds For Divorce",
Polishing a compass that I hold in my sleep,
Doubt comes in on sticks, but then he kicks like a horse,
There's a Chinese cigarette case and the rest you can keep
And the rest you can keep
3. Steely Dan - Haitian Divorce

If you ever fancy getting a divorce without waiting for your other half to agree to sign the papers, then pop over to Haiti where one person can divorce another, no strings attached.

That's the genesis of this song about Babs and Clean Willie. After a particular nasty row (there's shouting and biting involved), Babs heads down to Haiti for a quickie (divorce, that is) but ends up meeting a guy in a bar and having a different kind of quickie instead. Returning home to Willie, she tries to make things work... until the baby is born, and he certainly doesn't look like her husband's kid.

Becker & Fagen (the 80s cop show that never happened) mix a little reggae in with their laid back jazz-rock on this one. Forty years old, but it stands the test of time... unlike Babs & Clean Willie's marriage.

See also Mexican Divorce by The Drifters.

2. Bruce Springsteen - Brilliant Disguise

Tunnel of Love (one of about 7 contenders for my favourite Bruce album... depending on what day of the week it is) is well acknowledged to be Bruce's divorce album, reacting to the break-up of his short-lived marriage to model Julianne Phillips. It's an album full of self-doubt, and no more so than on this, the first single...
Now look at me baby
Struggling to do everything right
And then it all falls apart
And out goes the light...
After the world-conquering bombast of Born In The USA, many people wanted a repeat of those Glory Days. Born contained darkness, but kept it hidden (so well hidden, on the title track, that it remains one of the most misunderstood songs in the history of pop), whereas Tunnel of Love worked its metaphorical title to the full: the darkness that love can lead us into. It wasn't the stadium-chomping successor we'd expected, instead it was a much more mature and confident record than we deserved: confirming Bruce as an artist with something to say, and perhaps one who wasn't entirely comfortable being the biggest rock star in the world. Tunnel sold 6 million copies, compared to the 18 million Born hauled... and I can't help but think that's exactly the way he wanted it.
We stood at the altar
The gypsy swore our future was right
But come the wee wee hours
Well maybe baby the gypsy lied
So when you look at me
You better look hard and look twice
Is that me baby
Or just a brilliant disguise?
I saw Bruce play live again on Friday night in Coventry. Probably the fourth time I've seen him now (it's getting hard to remember such trivia) but once again I was astounded by the show he put on. I've seen a lot of live music in my day (though not that much these days), a lot of big bands, big names, megastars. But I've never seen anyone put on a show like Bruce. 3 1/2 hours of solid, wall-to-wall action: the instant one song ends, it's 1-2-3-4, and here comes the next. 3 1/2 hours that were over in a flash. He came on at 6.40 and by 8.30, I was thinking, 'most bands would still be in the dressing room now, waiting for the underpaid support act to finish'. And there was still a good 90 minutes to go: longer than a lot of big names bother these days. If you're not down with Bruce, that's fine, I'm not here to persuade you otherwise. But when it comes to putting on a show, there's no one like him as far as I can tell. (I never saw Prince live, one of my great musical regrets... y'know, I thought there'd still be time... but from what I hear, he's maybe the only one who came close.) 

Anyway, Bruce didn't play anything from Tunnel Of Love on Friday night. It probably wouldn't have fit the rock 'n' roll extravangza that 'The River' tour had promised. He didn't play anything from Nebraska or Tom Joad either. I didn't miss them - not with so much else going on - but I'd have loved to have heard them anyway. 3 1/2 hours... and he barely scratched the surface of what I'd have liked to hear him play...

1. Lloyd Cole - Half of Everything

Is there a better (bitter?) divorce song written from the wife's perspective than Tammy's...? I'd have to argue for this, an epic even by Lloyd Cole's standards.

I've seen Lloyd play live more than any other artist (maybe because he tours a lot and doesn't charge much for tickets... but again, I've lost count), so I've heard him explain more than once how the title of this song is about a couple dividing up their things after nasty break-up. But the song goes much deeper than that, and the wronged woman stays strong...
Tell her that she done me, that she done me good
Tell her that she done me, like a lady should
I never ever seen her and I hope I never do
I might have to show her just what love can do...

Which one makes you wish you'd signed a better pre-nuptial agreement?


  1. You really nailed it this time! Brilliant choices!!!!

    1. Thanks. I remember that you liked Half Of Everything from when I did Opening Lines...

    2. Yes, it's on of my all time favourites, but I was really impressed with the No 2. I think after all those years only stupid people don't appreciate The Boss, pretending he's not "cool" enough for them...
      And that particular song was so underestimated just because it came right after the huge success of Born In The USA

  2. Glad to see that Billy got a mention!

    1. I tried to give a comment he would appreciate.

  3. What a terrific choice for No.1, a song I'd almost forgotten.

    Glad you enjoyed Bruce. You got 'Drive All Night', one that was on my wish list. I agree with your praise for 'Tunnel of Love', at Wembley we got 'Tougher Than the Rest' dedicated to Ali.

    1. I was very happy to get Drive All Night as I think it's one of his very best love songs.

  4. Hopped over here from todays post - From before I started following you but one of the most entertaining posts I've read despite being about a bit of a sad and negative topic. Thanks for the background on Haitian Divorce - one of my all-time favourite songs but as ever I was too hung up with the whole sound of it to try and understand the lyrics - my bad.

    1. There is an argument to be had that we shouldn't dwell too much on the meaning of lyrics. I don't agree with it, but I respect that view.


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