Song Of The Day 9/11/2015: The Lafayettes – “Life's Too Short”

The Hidden '60s, Part 1 – Let’s just get the sighing out of the way now, why don’t we? Ahhhhhhhh. That was nice. Now just clean up with some Purel and we’ll be good to go. The Lafayettes’ “Life’s Too Short” (#87, 1962) might be the most perfectly realized song of this entire week. You could attribute its everlasting perfection to almost any of its elements, but personally I go straight for the most obvious feature of this record: Drummer Ben Proctor’s grand, highly unorthodox performance. Except for a four-bar, ten-second spell at the end of the song’s first minute, Proctor plays his entire part in rimshots. These side-of-the-drum hits are so busy, they barely leave enough room for any other instruments to leak through – so the whole song becomes a study in restraint and suppressed tension. Even lead singer Frank Bonarrigo leaves a few of his notes back in the locker room. The piano part sounds busy, but it’s not that hard to pick out, and then it goes away. And true to the essence of the song’s name, the rhythm part sounds like a riverbank of faltering stopwatches.

“Life’s Too Short” was the Lafayettes’ only single, with “Nobody But You” on the other side. I’m not sure which was the “A” and which was the “B,” but it’s “Life’s Too Short” that made the charts for as long as it did. If you’re an ’80s cinemaphile and this song sounds distantly familiar to you, that might be because it was featured in the original John Waters version of Hairspray (1988). Actors playing the Lafayettes (“Lead Lafayette,” “Lafayette #2” and “Lafayette #3”) lip-synch the song on the Corny Collins TV show. (The Lafayettes were from Baltimore, where Waters is from and where his early films are generally set.)

The song was also a surprising early inspiration for none other than Brian Eno: “'Life's Too Short'... (was) a very mysterious single that meant a lot to me. The main rhythmic element in it is just someone playing rimshots, playing on the edge of the snare drum, there’s no big drums in it. So you have this very sparse background feeling and this urgent singing over the top.” And that, my friends, is how Music For Airports came to be, and why that middle-aged couple across the street who wears natural fibers all the time looks so blissfully unaware on Neighborhood Watch Night.

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