Pop: God is in the Details No 1: `Let's get married'

POP AND marriage go together like a horse and carriage on the M4 at twilight. Which is to say, you can try it but don't expect great results. Marriage is too seemly to make a good pop subject, and not sportive enough. People would surely not have enjoyed Elvis so much in 1956 if "Heartbreak Hotel" had been a song about choosing a venue for a wedding reception. Marriage is just not a pop thing - not unless for you pop is a Doris Day thing.

That said, there have been one or two celebrated attempts to shoehorn pop and marriage into the same crystal slipper. Most of them took place between 1959 and '63, and they were all rubbish.

Later on, Bruce Springsteen had a typically vainglorious dash at tackling the subject on The River. Figuring, quite rightly, that pop is not good for much apart from dancing and the explication of brief moments of charged emotion over the length of three or four minutes, he wrote "I Wanna Marry You". It's neither a proposal as such, nor a rhetorical examination of a social institution on the wobble. It's a song about having a big, fat, pumped-up feeling about somebody, and then having the notional oomph to do something about it.

However, the details in the song give Bruce away. "I Wanna Marry You" is also an account of the trajectory of a man's gaze as it homes in on an impoverished, lonesome waif "pushing that baby-carriage" stoically through the badlands of an unfulfilling life. What Bruce really wants to do, bless his heart, is rescue the girl from single-parenthood and, with heart-stopping condescension, "maybe help her dreams along". Nice try, big guy, but self-effacing heroism is not what we look for in a pop marriage. Or in any marriage for that matter. And besides, the chick won't be impressed with a dowry entirely composed of high moral intentions rendered in the form of car metaphors. This may be rock'n'roll, but it's also narcissism.

No, there's only ever been one decent pop song about marriage, and it's one that concedes that proposals of marriage are fundamentally traumatic; that in the moment of commission, they are composed neither of fine sentiments nor of deep self-possession, but of the sound of dogs barking.

Soul great Al Green's your man. His "Let's Get Married" begins with a typical ripple of Memphis rhythm before settling down to one of the all- time great opening lines: "Sitting here, wasting my time for you".

Furthermore, Al is "not too crazy about the idea of having nothing to do". Nothing else for it, then. "Let's get married," he suggests. Well, it beats picking your nose.

You'd expect that this would be the point at which moon will suddenly rhyme with June and doves will make their customary appearance in the eaves of nice cottages. Not a bit of it. Al intensifies his proposal with a qualification - "let's get married... today" - and then dries up altogether... "Might as well," he gasps, as the rhythm section clicks into the bridge. And at a stroke, marriage and pop find union, not in fine feeling or high passion but in that place we all retreat to in moments of profound crisis: inertia.

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