Settling scores: Songwriters who take revenge
Lily Allen's single, released as a CD tomorrow, takes aim at an ex-partner, mocking his love-making skills. Katy Guest reports
Sunday 10 May 2009
Disappointing as this news may be to the nation's male music fans, now does not seem to be a good time to date a foxy young woman pop star. At least, not unless you want your personal life and your intimate shortcomings broadcast on radios and in gay bars alongside a compelling electropop beat. And there possibly are some men who do.
Only recently, Lady GaGa revealed to the world and a slavering Jonathan Ross that her song "Poker Face" is about how she would fantasise about women while having sex with her "rock'n'roll boyfriends". While Ross struggled to come to terms with the spectacular rudeness of the line "bluffin' with my muffin" without visibly palpitating, every man who had ever dated Lady G silently reassured himself that she must have meant someone else.
Maintaining self-esteem in the face of such a public slandering will be harder for the former boyfriend of Lily Allen whose inadequacies are the subject of her latest song, "Not Fair". The song, she has revealed, focuses on a relationship with a man who is all well and good in the solicitous texting department, but falls far short when she gets him into bed. Even thinking about girls, it seems, would not stretch this gentleman's contribution into a fulfilling evening in. But, unlike Jonathan Ross, it seems that Lily's anonymous ex is not imagining himself into her lyrics.
"The person in question," Allen has said, "is far too arrogant to even consider that it might be about him. It would not even cross his mind for a second. He's heard it. I've played it to him. And he had no idea. Didn't even ask." Allen's well-known recent dalliances have been with the art Svengali Jay Jopling, comic actor James Corden and Chemical Brother Ed Simons, none of whom comes across as the arrogant sort who would fail to recognise his own prematurity if it were detailed in a song. This narrows down the list of boys who must be worried.
Allen seems to have the opposite problem to Carly Simon, whose lovers were so vain that they would probably think her song was about them. Perhaps Allen should go out with Mick Jagger. He would fit in with her escalating age profile. He appreciates a woman with a sense of humour. And he would surely recognise himself in a song lyric – not that she would feel compelled to write one about him.
Lily Allen Not Fair
Oh he treats me with respect
He says he loves me all the time
He calls me 15 times a day
He likes to make sure that I'm fine
You know I've never met a man who's made me feel quite so secure
He's not like all them other boys
They're all so dumb and immature
There's just one thing that's getting in the way
When we go up to bed you're just no good
It's such a shame
I look into your eyes I want to get to know you
And then you make this noise and it's apparent it's all over
It's not fair
And I think you're really mean
I think you're really mean
I think you're really mean
Oh you're supposed to care
But you never make me scream
You never make me scream
Oh it's not fair
And it's really not OK
It's really not OK
It's really not OK
Oh you're supposed to care
But all you do is take
Yeah all you do is take
Oh I lie here in the wet patch
In the middle of the bed
I'm feeling pretty damn hard done by
I spent ages giving head
Then I remember all the nice things that you ever said to me
Maybe I'm just overreacting maybe you're the one for me
Carly Simon 'You're So Vain' (1972)
Target: Warren Beatty or Mick Jagger
The definitive song of the score-settling genre introduces a Catch-22 into the revenge ditty: any man self-effacing enough to admit that he might have "one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte" must at the same time reveal that he is vain. "You had me several years ago, when I was still quite naive," she sings. The chorus – "You're so vain/ You probably think this song is about you" – is thought to refer to Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger, Kris Kristofferson, James Taylor or a number of others. In 2007 Beatty said, "Let's be honest: that song was about me." How vain.
Lindsay Lohan 'Confessions of a Broken Heart' (2005)
Target: Michael Lohan, her dad
The troubled relationship between Lohan's parents seems to have influenced their daughter. As one comes out of jail, another goes into rehab. And then there are the songs. Lohan's opener dreams of "another you / The one who would never never leave me alone to pick up the pieces / A daddy to hold me, that's what I needed / So why'd you have to go?" His rejoinder, written in prison, says: "Woke up this morning, heard the words to your song / Never meant to hurt you, but know where I went wrong."
'Positively 4th Street' (1965)
Target: Joan Baez
When two major lyricists end a creatively fruitful love affair, things can turn rancid. Dylan's post-break-up songs are a little on the bitter side: "You see me on the street / You always act surprised / You say, 'How are you?' 'Good luck' / But you don't mean it / When you know as well as me / You'd rather see me paralysed..." Ten years later, Baez was presumably feeling more philosophical when she wrote "Diamonds and Rust": "Well you burst on the scene / Already a legend / The unwashed phenomenon / the original vagabond."
Michael Jackson 'DS' (1995)
Target: Thomas Sneddon
District attorney Thomas Sneddon thought that he was angry when he failed to convict Michael Jackson of child sex offences in 2005. But he wasn't nearly as angry as Jacko. On his HIStory album, the song "DS" invents an imaginary character who will "stop at nothing just to get his political say... You think he brother with the KKK?" The chorus "Dom Sheldon is a cold man" gave Sneddon reason to think the song was about him. "I have not, shall we say, done him the honour of listening to it," he said, "but I've been told that it ends with the sound of a gunshot."
Dory Previn 'Lemon-Haired Ladies' (1971)
Target: André Previn and, possibly, Mia Farrow
While 1970's "Beware of Young Girls" was a thinly veiled character assassination of Mia Farrow, the "wistful and pale" girl who stole André Previn from Dory's "unmade bed", this song seems directed at the errant male. "Why must you treat me / With so little care... Why am I constant / To someone like you?... Time is on their side / That's all I lack / I wish you would just / Go away." In her autobiography, Farrow apologised to Previn for stealing her husband. She got her comeuppance by marrying Woody Allen.
Elvis Costello 'Tramp the Dirt Down' (1989)
Target: Margaret Thatcher
Sometimes one doesn't have to have been to bed with a person in order to end up hating them, as Elvis Costello showed on his 1989 album Spike. "Tramp the Dirt Down" echoed the thoughts of many of his generation. "Well I hope I don't die too soon / I pray the Lord my soul to save / Oh I'll be a good boy, I'm trying so hard to behave / Because there's one thing I know, I'd like to live / long enough to savour / That's when they finally put you in the ground / I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down." Lady T is yet to pen her chart-topping response.
Paul McCartney 'Too Many People' (1971)
Target: John Lennon
Their creative partnership was one of the most productive in the history of music, but the Beatles' break-up tracks are not among their best work. Paul, apparently, started it, on his 1971 album Ram. Lennon hit back with the better known (surely to McCartney's fury) "How Do You Sleep?". "The only thing you done was yesterday / And since you're gone you're just another day... A pretty face may last a year or two / But pretty soon they'll see what you can do / The sound you make is Muzak to my ears / You must have learned something in all those years / Ah, how do you sleep at night?"
Eminem 'Kim' (2000)
Target: ex-wife Kimberley Scott
Marshall Mathers and Kimberley Scott liked each other so much they married twice. They also hated each other so much that they divorced twice, and as this song shows, he apparently fantasised about killing her. His lyrics are not in the subtle Carly Simon tradition, but perhaps more heartfelt: "I hate you! I hate you! / I swear to God I hate you! / You were supposed to love me / *sounds of Kim choking* / Now bleed! Bitch bleed! / Bleed! Bitch bleed! Bleed!" Kim sued for defamation, then married him again. Then divorced him.
Pete Doherty 'There She Goes' (2007)
Target: Kate Moss
The face that launched a thousand ships is also the dubious inspiration for songs by her legendary ex, Pete Doherty. Not so much romantic as tragic, this one perhaps comes closest to encapsulating their doomed affair: "I was to implore that you forget all you saw / When you came through my door and from your bag / You pulled out more skag than I'd ever seen / No! how could I let go?... There she goes a little heartache / There she goes a little pain / Make no mistake she sheds her skin like a snake / On the dirty road to fame, dirty road to fame my lord now."
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