Song Of The Day 11/19/2015: Bill Medley – “Brown Eyed Woman”

The Hidden '60s, Part 3 – When one is plowing through a large number of songs -- like, oh, I don't know, let's say, one thousand nine hundred and sixteen -- for a datum-based music feature, one's edges can get a little sanded down and one's capacity for awe and wonder can get a little shriveled. 'Cause there's this imperative that you trawl through all these numbers, many of which sound eerily alike, a few of which contain just enough of a spark to prick your interest until the halfway mark and make you go "Eh... okay, yeah, let's throw that one in." Now I know what being an A&R man must have felt like. I laugh at... I mean, feel your pain. But even amongst all this psychic pile there's apt to be one song that you don't see coming, gnaws you up from beat one and makes you use phrases that some might mistake for a revival of your belief in God. For The Hidden '60s, that song is Bill Medley's "Brown Eyed Woman" (#43, 1968).

Songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, whose list of hits is too ridiculously long to cull from and reprint here, took on what was back then the very nervous topic of an interracial relationship. Hard cold facts about the song are difficult to nail down. Reportedly the Blossoms, who included Darlene Love, did background vocals. Love and Medley had been dating. I don't know if Mann and Weil used their affair for inspiration. I come across occasional references to "Brown Eyed Woman" as a "controversial" song that got banned at certain landlocked cities' radio stations -- which may be why it peaked at #43, because Medley himself claims the song hit #1 in New York and Los Angeles.

I don't know where to start, really. It's a breathtaking song and performance. For those, including me once, who wondered exactly what the big deal was about Bill Medley and his duo the Righteous Brothers, his vocal on this song tops just about anything else he ever did. It's deep, deep pain, channeled with fury and societal animus. When Medley sings "All I am is what I symbolize," he uncorks a well of social self-endangerment you don't normally hear in a '60s love song. At the same time he doesn't lapse into self-pity or guilt -- he just can't understand why it has to be the way it is, and I don't either. But it is. It's a tough song. It doesn't have any solutions, which many pop tunesmiths were expected to come up with for some reason. It just states the problem, beautifully, so you won't forget the question.

So we fixed all this, right? That's what Roger Ailes is telling me. Hashtag 'Murica.

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