Everything I Do, pt 8: The Love Songs That Lied To Us [August 25, 1991]
Plus: Prince, Jason Donovan, Utah Saints, and Mudhoney
It’s August 25th of 1991. Here’s your look at this week’s UK Top 40.
This week’s Number 1 :
‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ — Bryan Adams
Miguel de Cervantes published the first part of his Don Quixote in 1605. Considered the first modern novel, Quixote is the story of an old man driven mad by Romantic tales of chivalry and adventure. Our hero hears the call to adventure one day, so he sticks a bucket on his head, jumps on top of his weary horse, and sets off on an epic journey into a world of self-delusion.
But before Quixote sets off, he realises that his quest must be for someone. For a woman.
And so, Quixote builds part of his fantasy around an indifferent local girl whom he imagines as his fair damsel, Dulcinea. The girl herself is oblivious to what’s going on and she plays no role in the story, but that doesn’t matter. She is the object of his courtly affection now. Every trial will be worth it, because it is a step closer to winning his true love’s heart.
He will do anything to win her love. He’ll fight for her. He’ll lie for her. He’ll walk the wire for her. Yeah, he’ll die for her.
You know it’s true. Everything he does, he does it for Dulcinea.
The emotion expressed in ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You) is an old one, so old that it predates recorded music. It even predates the printed word. Cervantes, in 1605, was making fun of tropes that had been part of the culture for centuries.
Chivalric Romance stories date all the way back to the early days of the last Millenium. There were many different subgenres and local variations within the Chivalric genre, including the Robin Hood stories which were first written down around 100 years before Don Quixote.
One universal concept in Chivarlic Romance was the idea of courtly love. The hero was driven by his passion for a lady, and this passion was bound by some pretty strict rules:
True love consists of a lover and a beloved, a subject and an object
True love is always faithful, even when tested
True love is chaste — so chaste that the lovers barely know each other
The subject demonstrates his faithfulness by going into the world to face trials and challenges
Now, perhaps Bryan Adams is secretly a scholar of medieval literature, and that’s why he was able to write a classic Romantic ballad in 45 minutes.
But I think that’s unlikely. And I think there’s an easier explanation
These concepts have become so deeply absorbed in our culture that they feel instinctive. We all innately understand the sweetness of someone saying I would die for you, my love.
Is it actually that sweet though? Who wants to be in love with a dead person? Also, they haven’t addressed the important details of a serious relationship, like who’s going to do the washing up tonight.
This Romantic ideal of subject/object love was thriving in the 1990s. We see it in one of the most popular cultural phenomena of the decade, the obsession with Ross and Rachel’s relationship in Friends.
There are a billion articles that deconstruct Ross’s toxicity from the safe vantage point of the 21st century, and I don’t want to add to the pile. But what’s interesting is how normal it seemed at the time, how we all accepted them as #couplesgoals.
The Ross and Rachel relationship fits the basic template of courtly love. Ross is the subject, Rachel is the object, a prize that he must win. He doesn’t get her by getting to know her and building a deep relationship, but through years of yearning and the occasional big gesture.
It seemed really romantic in the 90s.
Versions of the same story are played out in the lyrics of so many 90s songs. Meatloaf will do anything for love (with one exception). All-4-One swear by the moon and the stars in the sky. Take That wrote a million love songs asking their lover to come back for good. Extreme couldn’t even put their emotions into words. Seal… it’s hard to be sure what Seal was trying to say but it sounded very romantic.
These days, there’s a lot more discourse on equality, respect, toxic behaviour, and self-actualization. Plus, we’re all trying to be a lot less heteronormative, which was always a core part of the concept of Finding The One.
I really like some of the relationships shown in post-The Office sitcoms. Jake and Amy in Brooklyn 99 and Lesley and Ben in Parks and Recreation are both legitmate #couplesgoals: people who’ve built a drama-free relationship that are built on a genuine mutual respect.
They know each other. Their love is specific. Whereas a song like ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ could be about pretty much anyone or anything. It’s a song about being in love with the feeling of being in love.
Ultimately, that’s an illusion. If you let yourself get carried away by these love songs, you’ll eventually end up with a bucket on your head, charging at windmills.
Elsewhere in the charts
Number 5 (New Entry): ‘Gett Off’ — Prince
Prince is in the Top 40 twice this week. First as co-writer on Martika’s ‘Love…Thy Will Be Done’, and also here at the dawning of the Diamonds and Pearls era.
Diamond and Pearl had been part of the Prince entourage since Grafitti Bridge, but now they are the heart of the show. This outrageously sensual video shows the two women alternately seducing and being seduced by Prince. While it’s all very sexy and funky, there is something of a Benny Hill energy to it all.
Pearl is Robia LaMorte, who went on to play Jenny Calendar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She’s now a devout Christian who has since denounced Buffy as demonic propaganda, which is why she didn’t return as one of the faces of The First Evil in Buffy’s final season.
Robia has not denounced Prince. In fact speaks fondly of his respectful nature and overall professionalism. It’s bizarrely funny, in a way, to think that Prince might have been a genuinely good guy all along, while Joss Wheedon was the creepy predator.
Number 8 (↑ from 14): ‘Sunshine on a Rainy Day’ — Zoe
Overexposure can spoil a good song. ‘Sunshine on a Rainy Day’ was used in a long-running shampoo ad, which means that I heard a snippet of the chorus at least once a week throughout the entire 90s, and possibly beyond.
It’s often worth going back and listening to these old songs and trying to remember what they sounded like before becoming associated with shampoo or car insurance or whatever. ‘Sunshine on a Rainy Day’ is actually a bit of a gem, a shimmering, joyful track with a huge vocal hook. Worth rediscovering.
Number 9 (↑ from 32): ‘I’ll Be Back ’ — Arnee and the Terminators
Definitive ranking of the most enjoyable sci-fi-themed novelty songs:
End of list.
Number 10 (↑ from 12 ): ‘Happy Together’ — Jason Donovan
Jason’s final Top 10 hit. We’ve pretty much reached the Götterdämmerung of the Stock, Aiken and Waterman era, with the final Hit Factory record due to land before Christmas
This song is fine. It’s an okay cover of a great 1967 pop song by The Turtles. A decent swansong in a middling career.
Number 18 (↑ from 26): ‘What Can You Do For Me’ — Utah Saints
I feel like we never really appreciated Utah Saints as much as we should have. They specialised in a kind of sugar-rush techno with cute sample choices, like the Annie Lennox vocal here on their debut chart hit.
Acts like Underworld and Chemical Brothers became the standard-bearers of this kind of crossover dance music that could fit comfortably on an indie compilation, but Utah Saints really helped to define the genre. ‘What Can You Do For Me’ is probably the most purely enjoyable track in this week’s Top 40.
Album of the Week
Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge — Mudhoney
For their second album, Mudhoney briefly considered toying with some bourgeois mainstream sell-out innovations like “producers” and “microphones”. These experiments ended in failure and they ended up recording Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge in an eight-track basement study. The result is a rough, invigorating lo-fi classic that mixes punk with a bit of psychadelia.
Mudhoney ended up going somewhat mainstream against their will. Their label, Sub Pop, were about to enjoy a pretty succesful 1991. Sub Pop became synonymous with grunge thanks to their association with Nirvana and Soundgarden, plus the fact that Sub Pop has spent most of 89 and 90 trying to market the Seattle scene as a singular, coherent cultural movement.
Which meant that Mudhoney ended up being considered a grunge band. That’s kind of like how Radiohead were briefly considered Britpop, which is to say that it’s obviously wrong. Listening to Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge again now, they mostly sound like The Bad Seeds if Nick Cave had gotten into shrooms instead of heroin.
We have crested Mount Adams. It is all downhill from here.