Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Irresistible: David Bowie: "Sorrow"

As 1973 draws to a close - there are only a few songs left (for this blog, in any case) to consider - the understandable and complex idea of going backwards to go forwards is coming into play.  David Bowie's understanding of this was to do an album of covers, as if to say, hmm, yeah, the 60s was my decade too, but it's the 70s now, and what is left of the 60s?  Surely the 70s are not going to be some endless rehash of the previous decade, are they?

"Sorrow" started its way towards Bowie rather modestly as the b-side of The McCoys' version of "Fever" - which brings the nigh-legendary figure of Rick Derringer into the MSBWT story, amongst other things.  It was The McCoys who did it first, and The Merseys (Tony Crane and Billy Kinsley, formerly of The Merseybeats) then covered it and had a hit with it in May 1966.  A line from the song appears in The Beatles' "It's All Too Much" ("with your long blonde hair and your eyes of blue").  The song (written by Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and future Blondie/The Go-Go's producer Richard Gottehrer) is a typical lament about a girl who is "acting funny" and who "never does" what she should (she plays "high class games" - are these the same ones that the woman in "It's All Over Now" plays, I wonder).  The song (an NME #2) is in two parts - the first, wherein he presumably leaves her because she brings nothing but, well, sorrow, and after the saxophone solo, where he is alone and missing her and her "OWNLEY" things - blond hair in particular.  He's unable to sleep, his mind wanders in the song as he tries to find her, unable to resist the pull of her, even if she's bad news for him. 

It is a low-key song, slightly nervous, as if the narrator acknowledges that the object of his desire is possibly "the devil's daughter" but that she has a pull on him that is hypnotic, languorous and will not let him be.  It's not like "Eloise" in its absolute high-pitch of romantic obsession - Bowie is trying to keep a lid on that, but it is as if, with the strings and his own delicate singing, that he is hooked on her sorrow, that he would rather be with her than with someone who was more conventional.  It could be that "Sorrow" is a song looking back at the 60s themselves - dangerous, fluctuating, self-important and utterly compelling - as something that can only be lamented, remembered and sought for, but never recovered.  Not entirely; not completely. 

The 60s are going to keep resonating as the 70s go on - in some parts of the UK the 60s only really begin to happen in the 70s; there is a time-lapse going on, a reluctance to move ahead.  But considering late '73, who wouldn't want the 60s all over again?  Bowie seems to be warning against such thinking, though, and his emotional distance here breaks down pretty quickly - he may be cold or cruel in other ones on the album, but this is a moment of reflection and loss; of wanting and ache.

Next up:  if it can't be shiny, it's dirty.        


Mark G said...

I did notice Bowie rendered the second line of the song as the past ".. I ever got from you.." where the Merseys were still "get" in the present.

I don't know what the McCoys had it, but I do have a nice 2CD set of "Immediate" b-sides (Vol1 was "Hits", Vol2 was "B-sides", Vols 3 and 4 I don't think exist)

David Belbin said...

The McCoys original, which I'd never heard before, is on Spotify, so thanks for that info. (It's nowhere near as good as The Merseys' version, mind).

David Belbin said...

Didn't know about the McCoys' version, which I just played on Spotify. Nowhere near as the Merseys, which until now I though of as the original. Oh well.

plague said...

Re: the suggestion that this track is a harbinger of "the '60s are going to keep resonating".... Absolutely! Sorrow has always sounded to me *exactly* like a track off Roxy's Flesh and Blood (1980), which was packed with (pretty great) covers. The sax here could *be* Andy Mackay, and the overall loucheness of the lyric maybe fits Ferry (or even Bret Anderson) a little better than Bowie in his Ziggy/Aladdin/Dogs pomp.

I like your splitting of the song into two parts. I guess I'd lazily heard the second half it as idle repetition but hearing it instead as the singer backsliding because he's finally bewitched/hypnotized by the fetishized hair now seems obviously correct. Thanks!