Monday, December 14, 2009

Someone Who'll Be There: Connie Francis: "Mama"/"Robot Man"

A double 'A' side is a strange thing to a North American (or, at least this one), but it is acceptably common in the UK; it is an odd thing to think of both sides of a piece of vinyl as being the 'main' one, but if this idea is strange then it also can lead to some pretty damn awesome works of art; and I propose that this one, the first one, is a good example of that.

"Mama"/"Robot Man" are the two quite different sides to a girl (Francis, nee Franconero, was all of 21 when they were recorded) who is just starting to feel the pulls between the past and the future, all while negotiating the sometimes turbulent now. "Mama" is a string-intensive ballad from the original Italian; it begins in English and then seamlessly goes into Italian (it is from her album Connie Francis Sings Italian Favorites). It is a heart wrenching song about missing one's mother, a song any daughter who misses her mom can understand in either language; here is the main part in Italian:

"Quanto ti voglio bene
Queste parole d'amore
Che ti sospira il mio cuore
Forse non si usano piu
Ah Mamma
Ma la canzone mia piu bella sei tu
Sei tu la vita e per la vita non ti lascio mai piu..."

I am sure that this got the okay from Francis' rather overprotective father, who forbade her marrying Bobby Darin to the point of chasing him out of his own house with a gun. (Who could dislike Bobby Darin?) Whether he approved of the other song is something to ponder, as it is almost entirely the opposite song, in that she is looking for a, erase that, a robot for a partner. "Robot Man" is the unlikely but true origin for all other songs wherein a woman longs for a steady and utterly loyal companion, from "Automatic Lover" by Dee D. Jackson to "Robot Song" by Margaret Berger. (Hmm, come to think of it, maybe Connie's dad would have preferred a robot to a real guy; but let's concentrate on the song.) Here, instead of her usual 'sobbing' style (a style hers & hers alone; a style that is perhaps symbolic of the whole young woman trapped in the 50s and yearning to get to the 60s, if only because the 60s must mean something different) she sings in a rough style about how she wants a man who is so nice "He'd never dance with anyone but me/I'd just have to wind him with a robot key" because she "Don't want a real live boy, they give me grief/Always make me cry into my ha-andkerchief/So it's a robot man I'm dreamin' of/Because I can depend upon a robot love, yeah!" Even though this is a song that is in jest, it feels only half in jest; you get the idea that Connie has had enough of scoundrels & cads and really would settle for a electronic hunk of metal.

The greatness of having these two songs as, in essence, one song is that the extreme longing for the past and the longing for an improbable future are in the balance; missing her mother (who may or may not be dead; it's hard to tell) and wishing for a man who has a similar reliability sans emotions is about as full a statement on the human condition as we, dear reader, have encountered here so far. Not only that, but they foreshadow a similar double a side that will be, for many, the apex of the 60s; two songs that also deal with the past as it was and perhaps never was and never could be.

No comments: