A version of this post originally appeared at The Essential
We often equate break-ups with listening to lame tunes with lyrics that we suddenly relate to, and then months later those lyrics and that melody still burn us despite regaining some sense, dignity, self-respect, taste etc. Perhaps they hurt because they embarrass us now. Because we’d never have succumbed to the allure of that little ditty if we hadn’t been in a state of disarray or temporary madness. Excuses, excuses.
Break-ups are sentimental, probably more sentimental to some than the relationships that preceded them, so I’m going to get sentimental.It is with mixed emotions that I’d like to discuss “Love Hurts” as performed by Roy Orbison – yes! – uberlols! – but there is merit in its design, particularly in its love lexicon. And hey! It’s great, albeit hammy, and the kind of thing someone would probably auto-asphyxiate to in a 90s movie.
Without getting too personal, I had a bad break-up, some years ago now. Like two years. One of those situations where you have no idea it’s coming and it hits hard and you feel very stupid, very crazy, and all your doubts about the relationship that you’d been stewing in for months are suddenly forgotten and you’re convinced, only because they’re no longer interested, that you’re meant to be together, so you make yourself insane trying to convince them of that. And unfortunately I did, and we went through it all over again about 2 months later. You live, you learn.
Love hurts. It was really hurting. I didn’t want to eat. I smoked like a chimney. I stayed in my room for an entire weekend. I screamed over the phone until I lost my voice.
I don’t like to wallow in it, friends will attest to this. I’m more of a ‘these things happen’ type (outwardly) but the only times I’d get to sit and sulk and feel sorry for myself was listening to Sun Records artists, but most frequently, by the multi-octave, tender, heavy, and occasionally yodel-y voice of Roy Orbison. (I hope my use of the word ‘outwardly’ in parentheses, twice now, will not go unnoticed.) “Love Hurts” was not a huge success for him back home. It was Australia that first put it on the radio and made a hit out of it in 1960. Previously, it had appeared as a track on an Everly Brothers album, but Orbison’s version made it a single.
The music and lyrics were composed by Boudleaux Bryant, half of a song writing team with his wife, Felice Bryant. They had written over 80 songs together before they made it into the business, in Nashville Tennessee, composing country songs for scores of white musicians.
The song, now that I have the lyrics straight, is lovely and melancholic. I used to make them up. I think “love is like a flower / holds a lot of rain” was just as nice as the accurate “love is like a cloud” but anyway, when you’re heartbroken, you hear what you want to hear.
I like words, and I don’t have a vernacular for the discussion of music that extends beyond making impressions of sounds, which I can’t convey in writing in to any great effect, so let’s look, together, at the second verse, which begins with an augmented key shift and the words “I’m young, I know”
(I’d like to congratulate Lyrics Freak for almost accurately laying out the lyrics. Most sites try to print them like a sonic translation, overuse of the return key. Idiots)
“I’m young, I know, but even so
I know a thing or two, and I learned from you
I really learned a lot, really learned a lot
Love is like a stove, it burns you when it’s hot”
I AM young, I know, but here the magic is not in this coincidence, but in the coupling of “love” and “stove”. It’s poetry. No, they are not pronounced in the same way by Orbison, “luv is like a stove”, they retain their usual oral separateness according to most English speakers after the 1930s, but I’d like to think that Yeats may have read it a rhyme, back when ‘love’ was so assonantly close to ‘loathe’.
I’m also completely beguiled by this, which I’m going to call ‘the refrain’, being not at all confident that it is one of those:
“Some fools think of happiness
Some fools fool themselves I guess
They’re not foolin’ me”
The repetition of “ess” overlapped by variations on the “fool” verb is exquisite. And “fools fool themselves I guess” is almost too much, but you’re carried off by Orbison’s crying, “me”.
The song’s physicality, its “scars”, “mars”, “burns” are all injury of an intimate, subtle, and yet, permanent nature. The most obvious antonym would, I suppose, be Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” which, I have no doubt, is working for a lot of girls going through explosive, demolishing break-ups at the moment – maybe they’ll be embarrassed later, and maybe they should be now, and maybe they shouldn’t be? I can’t weigh-in on that.
I like “Love Hurts”, but I think I’m a total cornball, and love is cornball anyhow. And it doesn’t hurt me to say that, despite whatever remedy works for you, wallowing in a mid-tempo country song, helped me stabilise somewhat. Until the next thing, anyway.