Wednesday, February 27, 2008

You Never Can Tell About a Song

Time to shift gears and write about an old song that I never thought about much until the last couple of years. Chuck Berry wrote a number of fabulous story songs, absolute gems that I have always admired such as Johnny B. Goode, School Days and Sweet Little Sixteen. These are wonderfully crafted works, creating characters whom we care about.

You Never Can Tell was released in 1964 during the height of the British Invasion. I certainly remember it from those days. But being a full-fledged 13 year old Beatle and British Invasion fanatic, I paid little attention to the song at the time. As time passed, I gained a greater appreciation of Berry's songwriting in general but You Never Can Tell hid in the bulrushes from me.

I was reintroduced to You Never Can Tell during one of the coolest scenes in American movies, the dance contest in Pulp Fiction. While I didn’t take any special note of the song at the time, it stuck in my consciousness and I found myself occasionally singing the song to myself. At some point I downloaded it and began playing it often. One night I played it over and over, listening carefully to the words and the story contained therein. I came to the realization that You Never Can Tell is one of the great rock'n'roll story songs.

Enough background already, eh? Let’s look at those words.

Verse 1
It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well
Chuck, you have me at this first line. What an evocative scene setter. Those old folks wished them well, knowing full well how poorly teenage weddings work out. But being teenagers…

You could see that Pierre did truly love the mademoiselle
So they were kids in love…

And now the young monsieur and madame have rung the chapel bell
C`est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
And did the deed and maybe it will work out; let's give 'em a chance.

Verse 2

They furnished off an apartment with a two room Roebuck sale
You can picture the furniture and that tiny apartment, can’t you?

The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale
Okay, so the diet wasn’t so good but you sure can picture what that fridge looked like.

But when Pierre found work, the little money comin` worked out well
C`est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
You want those kids to have a chance and they can’t live forever on love alone.

Verse 3

They had a hi-fi phono, boy, did they let it blast
Seven hundred little records, all rock, rhythm and jazz
That’s a lot of records. Presumably 45 RPM ones. Half that apartment was filled with those records. For you young’uns out there, you can stack about 2 CDs in the space of 1 45 RPM record.

But when the sun went down the rapid tempo of the music fell
And we all know why that is. In this one little line, he tells you the story of the couple’s romantic nights -- and there were lots of those nights.

C`est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell

Verse 4

They bought a souped-up jitney,`twas a cherry red `53
They drove it down New Orleans to celebrate their anniversary
It was there that Pierre was married to the lovely mademoiselle
C`est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell

And, in a nice little wrap-up verse, he gives us hope that Pierre and the mademoiselle are going to make it after all.

There it is, four little verses that tell you a rich story about some characters whom you can't help but root for. And it sat there for 40 years before I understood its greatness.

Don't be afraid to give an old song a fresh listen. You might find out that there has been a gem sitting right under your nose, unappreciated.

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