Old 97s – Doreen – guest blog by Nigel Blackwell

I was stunned and inspired by the way a new friend of mine was able to apply his writer’s sensibility to the dissection of song lyrics. So please welcome our guest blogger, Mr. Nigel Blackwell!

If it can ever be said that I grew up, I did it listening to the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Squeeze and everything in between. I ended up with a mixture of musical tastes. There are some that would say “taste” isn’t the first word that comes to mind looking my music collection. At least they did say that until I sent the boys round (governor).

The Old 97s were an instant hit with me. Pounding melodies, a vocal line that shouts “I don’t do melodies,” and no %$*#@! Disney channel vocal effects.

What’s that you say? Disney doesn’t use a million dollars of equipment and software on anyone they select for stardom? Yeah, right. In which case I bet you can’t wait for Mitchel Musso’s “live” tour. I’m on tenterhooks. (what’s sad is that Disney used to care about talent -ed)

I digress, back to the Old 97s., specifically Doreen, from Hitchhike to Rhome.

Don’t know it? Well, iTunes has the first minute to give you the idea (and maybe buy a copy).

http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/doreen/id6557602?i=6557584

Pounding melodies – check.

Banjo front and center – check.

And then there’s the vocal line. Hot damn (as they might say). Alt country. No whining about “ma dogs done gone left me” here. There’s a story, and like the best stories it’s shown, not told.

To start with there are the cheesy rhymes.

When I first met Doreen
She was barely seventeen.

And

Well you can roll your eyes and nod
But I swear that I saw God,

Rhett Millar’s delivery is so no-nonsense that it all just works.

And the lyrics show, not tell.

In the first four verses we’re shown how he falls in love with her. No blatant “I’m in love” lines here (even though Sir Paul’s made a fortune through that route).

When I first met Doreen
She was barely seventeen.
She was drinking whiskey sours in the bar.

The way she tossed ’em back
I would’ve had a heart attack.
But as it is I let her drive my car.

We galloped through the boroughs
Like a pair of horny thoroughbreds,
Until I said, “Stop the car, Doreen.”

Well you can roll your eyes and nod
But I swear that I saw God,
In the moonlight on a side street in the wreckage we call Queens.

Brilliant. Not only do they show us he’s in love, they keep the car theme going with “side street” and “wreckage.”

Then we hit the chorus. The awful dream. The dark threat of new lovers (esp the ones started with Whiskey sours. So I’m told, anyway).

Doreen, Doreen, Last night I had an awful dream.
You were laying in the arms of a man I’d never seen.
Come clean Doreen. Come clean Doreen.

So we’re shown he’s worried about her being faithful and (hot damn) we’re shown how he’s separated from her and has to admit his feelings to the band.

Well I’m pulling into Cleveland
In a seven-seater tour van.
There’s eight of us, so I’m sleeping on the floor.

The guy that plays the banjo
Keeps on handing me the Old Crow,
Which multiplies my sorrow, I can’t take it anymore.

Now I’m begging and I’m pleading,
“Well pull over guys, I’m bleeding.
There’s a Fina off the highway with a phone.”

Keeping the threads going, we’re still traveling and the whiskey hasn’t been forgotten. The best lines are surely, “so I’m sleeping on the floor,” “I can’t take it anymore,” and best if all, “There’s a Fina off the highway with a phone.” Everyone knows what he’s taking about, but the sound of the word “Fina” is such a great contrast between the “ing”s and “o”s of the previous verses.

Finally we’re shown that she’s dumped him. The inevitable conclusion. His dread manifest.

I’m calling you Doreen,

But it rings and rings and rings.

Where is it that you are, if you aren’t in our bed at home.

Even the last line is nothing ordinary. It’s a great reversal of the normal word order to put “home” as the last word, the final take-away. They wanted you to understand, if you hadn’t got the picture by then, the guy’s dream of home was gone.

Show, show, show. No telling. Brilliant.

Course, I can hear lots of you saying serves himself right, moral of the story – don’t pick up chicks under alcohol. But really guys, are you so pure you can throw that stone? Have a heart.

Better still, put that stone down and spill the beans. Do whiskey sours ring bells in your past? Margueritas in Austin? Or was it Poire Williams in the Swiss Alps (if you’re rich)? Don’t worry. Your secrets will be safe with us.

And we’ll be sooooo sympathetic. Really…

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