Friday, July 15, 2011

Raggedy Ann: The Four Seasons: "Rag Doll"

And now we hit the streets of Newark, New Jersey: a place I passed by while on a train once, to see a sign proclaiming "Newark Makes - The World Takes." By far the biggest band out of Newark in the 60s was The Four Seasons (indeed they were the Popstrological leaders of 1962) and I sometimes wish people paid more attention to their work in full*, as opposed to the fine-but-stagey Jersey Boys version, but their combination of compassion and toughness that came from the streets (this song was inspired by a street girl who cleaned Bob Gaudio's windshield and was tipped generously by him, to her astonishment) and thus was real in a way that even the fabled Brill Building songwriters sometimes couldn't muster. Gaudio and Crewe wrote this song immediately, and of course it went to #1 in the US.

That his family is the only thing from stopping him from getting involved with her points to the generational divide that would tear up the nation (in truth, it already was), though the love-thwarted-by-families situation is as old as the proverbial hills itself. She is pretty, she is poor, but she is not objectified; somehow in the "AAAAAAAAAHHHHs" and "OOOOOHHHs" of Valli & Co. there is a tenderness that shows empathy rather than any kind of condescension. The song, if you will, is a loving gaze towards the girl as opposed to a mere glance, and in a way it is as much a protest song as "Have I The Right?" (lest we forget we are still in the Age of Meek), only the divide alluded to there is unspoken (because it was illegal). So much love in the air, so much frustration, so much need: in essence, the 50s as a concept is dying, and so many butterflies are wriggling desperately trying to be free. The next song takes us back to the NMEchart for a long-overdue trip to Detroit, where the British Invasion is being repelled successfully, just as it was in Newark.

*The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette (1968) album, for instance, which took inspiration from local papers in post-riot Newark; as intense and rewarding an experience as you'd expect.

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