Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Rivalry Songs

A recurring theme in songs since the beginning of rock music seems to be romantic rivalries between two people over another. Most of the songs have been written by men about two men vying for one woman, although the women have had their fair share of rivalries as well (Leslie Gore's "It's My Party" comes to mind). I think their continued popluarity is due to the fact that most of us have been there. Indeed, I must say that I have had rivals for a woman's heart from time to time.

Of course, the best rivalry songs are more than just "I love you and he doesn't." They have a bit of originality to them. A perfect example of this is "Running Scared," written by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson and performed by the late great Roy Orbison. The song deals with the fear that accompanies the return of a loved one's ex-lover. What heightens the tension in the song is the fact that the music continues to build and build, as do Orbison's vocals. Fortunately, with the climax, there is a happy ending--she does not go back to the ex-lover.

Another great rivalry song is The Beatles' "This Boy." There are no threats to take the girl back in this song, no macho posturing. Instead, there is the simple certainty that because This Boy really loves the girl and That Boy simply wants to see her cry, This Boy will win her back. It is a tribute to the simple, pure love that exists in fairy tales and movies of Hollywood's Golden Age, and with any luck in real life as well.

The Beatles also recorded "You're Gonna Lose That Girl." In this case, a fellow has noticed that a boyfriend treats his girlfriend less than well. Because of this, he plans to take her away by treating her right. In song it seems that men cannot abide poor treatment of women.

"He Can't Love You" by The Michael Stanley Band has as its theme the simple, romantic belief that true love will win every time. This song tells a classic story of rivalry. An "ordinary guy" finds that his girl is being wooed by a guy who "knows how to mystify." Naturally, the ordinary guy warns his girl off from the rival, with the simple words "He can't love you like I love you." What is wonderful about this song is that the word love is sung differently in the "he can't love you" portion than it is in "like I love you" portion. In the "He can't love you" part the word "love" sounds insincere, perhaps reflecting the rival's feelings, while in the "like I love you" part it is strong, convincing.

While I have never cared for pop metal that much and for Autograph not all, I still have a weakness for "Send Her to Me." The song is simple and straightforward. All the song's hero asks is that after the rival has broken her heart (of which he is certain the rival will do), that he send her to him. In some ways it is a variation on the themes expressed in "This Boy"--the horror of one's beloved being with someone else who will inevitably hurt her and the desire to have her back.

A more vicious rivalry song of the Eighties was "Wild Child" by W.A.S.P. In this case, it would appear that he is in love with a woman who already belongs to someone else. Regardless, he is going to "take" her "love from him." There is no uncertainty here! Indeed, the hero of "Wild Child" describes himself in almost mystical terms, riding "the winds that bring the rain" and a "creature of love..." And as might be expected of a W.A.S.P. song, there is a bit of eroticism in the lyrics...

If the hero of "Wild Child" by W.A.S.P. is vicious in his attacks upon is rival, the hero of "When We Dance" by Sting is even more so. He is also a bit more cerebral. He makes it clear to the woman he loves that the rival does not love her, but only counts her as another possession. On the other hand, the hero's love takes on religious overtones. He is apparently willing to risk damnation to win her back! I've always thought the song owed a lot to Edgar Allen Poe...

Of course, for sheer viciousness, no rivalry song can surpass "Ex-Lover's Lover" by Voltaire. Here there is no talk of winning the girl back. There is no talk of how the rival will break her heart. No, instead the protagonist of the song simply wants to kill not only her current lover, but apparently all of her lovers. Indeed, he promises to pile them high to the sky. I would assume that most listeners are relieved to realise at the end of the song that it is a fantasy that the protagonist probably will never realise...

As I said, rivalry songs have existed since the beginning of rock music. And I would assume that as long as romantic rivalries occur between people they always will. Fortunately, it would seem that in songs, as in the movies, the best man (or woman as case may be) always wins in the end

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