Songs I Love: ‘Rag Doll’/’Anne with an E’

the-pains-of-being-pure-at-heart-belong

If pressed on what it is about the rock n’ roll/pop boom that makes me so obsessive, it might just be the timeless nature of it all. Consider todays dual track post, two songs separated by almost 50 years, but being perfectly joined in space by song construction, melody, and mood. You could say this is a quaint way of saying one ripped off another, but they also couldn’t be more different from one another. One an exhilarating rush to the head, the other a laconic dream. And if you like both, as I do, you don’t say which is which within these descriptions, because the beauty here is that both are all of these things at once. We needn’t be worried which one came first (and the technology advances in guitar amplification/feedback make it pretty obvious as to which one came later) in questions of thievery, because both these works create echoes to the past and the future*.

The Four Seasons ‘Rag Doll’ was almost instantaneously seen as one of pop’s towering singles upon its release. It’s joyous and memorable, and, it could be argued, rather arty for its medium. It comes in almost through the back door, in hushed tones the Four Seasons hum and coo the lilting melody, before a slight elevation of the drum track (more on this in a bit) takes the song to its altogether different plane. It quickly becomes a loving ode to a girl who apparently is a bit of a mess (a wonderful thought of acceptance before Dylan would tarnish the type forever in his classic, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’), but who could nevertheless bring Franki Valli to such transcendent highs. It sounds a bit like what the Beach Boys would sound like in the coming years (a remarkable feat considering the speed with which Brian Wilson innovated), but the beach melodies are from an altogether different coast.

Comparably, ’Anne with an E’ (from Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s wonderful 2011 release Belong) sustains that hushed opening for almost the entirety of the songs more than 4 minute run time. It effects the overall rush little, as our melancholy mood is what matters for both the selections here (after all, Franki Valli included the ultra sad, “such a pretty face/should be dressed in lace” right smack in the middle [lyrics from Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio]), as the sentiments echo each other, “Anne with an E you’re everything to me” mirrors the aching “I love you just the way you are” from the earlier track. While the Four Seasons keep the song awash in harmonies, Pains of Being Pure at Heart evoke the same stylistic device with their wall of sweet guitar feedback. Both songs are left drenched in sadness, but amidst that they’re also bittersweet love letters; not only do both songs song like each other, they feel like each other too. 

(*)The opening drum cadence evokes the boom, thump, thump, boom, thump, thump, boom of the Ronettes ’Be My Baby’ (‘Rag Doll’ was a June 1964 release, while ‘Be My Baby’ was August 1963), a phrase that has been echoed in loving homage similarly to todays comparison by records as far reaching as the thrilling buzz of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Just Like Honey’. That’s almost a one-to-one comparison; today it’s a glowing piece of r&b doo-wop smashed next to a hazy piece of dream pop, while there it’s not an altogether different thing from doo-wop: in this case Spector girl group and the porto-dream pop/shoegaze of the Jesus and the Mary Chain. They’re a bit more noisy and abrasive than Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but it’s all still there; the turntable acting as the only working time machine man has yet created. Rather than hitting 88 mph in a rocket fueled DeLorean, all we need is a well timed needle drop on two appropriately picked records. Listen to the seasons, and years, just melt away in pure, elliptical radiance. The Four Seasons never named their rag doll, but maybe it was about Raggedy Ann(e) all along.

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