Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Going Too Far in 24 bars: The Records' "Teenarama"

A song tells a story in many ways. Consider the Record's great "Teenarama," written by Will Birch and John Wicks, a 1979 single that also appeared on the band's debut album Shades In Bed. A well-known song, it cuts me anew every time I hear it and I'd like to know why. Maybe it's the brilliant 24-bar passage halfway through the song that blends an impressionistic string of images with blissful music to produce an ill-fated mini epic. The tune's about an older guy who wants to be "with a juvenile for a week," and succeeds with a willing girl. I'm not here to defend the relationship: it's a blast for a while—just listen to those harmonies—but the predictable messiness ensues. Teenarama rhymes with melodrama; she gives him injection in the knees, but also loses his apartment keys. And then there's the bridge. From the lyric sheet:

Eight phrases, sixteen words, a novel's worth of drama. (The band sings the exclamation points, too.) The emotional terrain that those four lines travel: excitement, impatience, embarrassment, lust, public posing, private desperation, wrongdoing. Sound familiar?

But there are some feelings only music can translate, and what makes this part especially great is the hook-laden, 12-bar instrumental passage that follows these lines, nothing short of a pop score of the couple's troubles: excited, driving, treacherous, and blissful power pop, Huw Gower's aching guitar-leads soaring through the man's gusto and good intentions while disguising his remorse and better judgement. The final two bars of utterly gorgeous ahhh's lead into the chorus ("C-C-C-Cola is all you ever drink / the way you smile, the way you wink"), those ahhh's perfectly and humorously capturing how something so fucked up can feel—can be—so joyous, and yet inevitably must collapse. That old dilemma. Listen to the descending guitar leads crashing into reality. These 24 bars transcend the cliche "how can it be wrong when it feels so right" and you want to dance to and wince along with it at the same time. One of the great pop singles of the era, "Teenarama" is four minutes of hooks, harmonies, drama, and evocation. Play loud.

single, 1979
Shades In Bed, 1979

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