My last post, I Will No Longer Do The Devil’s Dishes, used Sweet Spirit‘s collaboration with Britt Daniel (Spoon) to go down a late ’70s/mid-’90s wormhole. My original intention was to end that post with this video, but it didn’t fit tonally. To be fair, there’s a very specific tone into which director John Valley’s campy, hilarious video will fit, so maybe it’s best running solo. Part Silence Of The Lambs, part Pulp Fiction, part Sparks performance piece, the “Baby Doll” video — starring Valley, by the way — is a classic boy sees girl, boy is too shy to talk to girl, boy cross-dresses and keeps other women hostage as compensation for his fear of women/mommy issues unrequited love story.
Sabrina Ellis – lead & backing vocals
Andrew Cashen – lead guitar, backing vocals
Josh Merry – guitar
Jake Knight – keyboards
Jon Fichter – bass
Danny Blanchard – drums
Leslie Matthews – sax
Sam Rives – trumpet
Cara Tillman – backing vocals
True story: My daughters LOVE the song “Baby Doll” and they’re young enough that me playing them the video wasn’t a concern … at least initially. I mean, Edie is 4 and Lu is 2. In their world, all videos are basically animated Disney or live action Disney, even if we’re watching Alabama football. All is Disney. So, imagine my surprise when Edie watched the “Baby Doll” video a couple months ago and immediately informed Sarah and I that she was going to be “Melissa” for Halloween. I mean, she was ADAMANT. For some reason, she thought Melissa had the best part. Kids! Thank God Inside Out came along because then she was just as adamant she wanted to be Joy. And now she’s 150% sure she wants to be Rarity from My Little Pony. Meanwhile, “Baby Doll” has quietly been moved to low rotation. For awhile there, though, I thought we were gonna have the most over the top Halloween costume social services had ever seen.
Incidentally, Sweet Spirit’s new album, Cokomo, is coming out October 16, and the first track, “Baby When I Close My Eyes” is now streaming at Consequence Of Sound. If the sound of “Close My Eyes” is representative of Cokomo, then the band seems to have doubled down on the Blondie influence already existing in their soul-pop framework. This makes me happy, given that I wrote about 1978-era Blondie back on July 4th (check out Blondie in the Flesh: Germany 1978). Clearly I could sense high tides and Sunday girls afoot.
While I’m stoked to hear Cokomo — not to mention their highly obscure live album recorded last year* — Sweet Spirit’s self-titled debut EP is worth a listen in its own right. Released in the spring, its 4 songs are mostly built around sex, love and, catchy melodies, which is generally a pretty good formula. The songs range from Cure-esque garage rock (“Let Me Be On Top”), to Blondie by way of ’50s music (“I’ve Made Up My Mind”), to a soulful pop ballad (“Outlaw”), and finally to “Baby Doll,” which is quasi-reggae in the verses (think “Ob La Di, Ob La Da”) and Electric_Warrior T. Rex in the chorus.
* Live At The Blackheart was not only issued on vinyl, there was a release party for it in Austin. However, it’s not (yet) commercially available.
Lyrically, lead singer/songwriter, Sabrina Ellis, took a simple love gone wrong formula and twisted it (on a couple levels) by finding inspiration from an unlikely source.
Baby Doll” is a song about unrequited love, or lust, with a stubborn hook that insists:
I’ll see you later
No one knows that we’re together
Late at night, I like to dream you’re mine
I just wanted to write a song about not feeling as pretty or as adequate as the other girls, but deserving love anyway. My favorite song growing up was the calypso-infused ‘If You Wanna Be Happy,’ by Jimmy Soul. I remember my toothless grandmother in Mississippi singing it to me as a little girl, stomping her feet and clapping her hands. ‘Baby Doll’ could be considered my fan-fic sequel to ‘If You Wanna Be Happy.’
—Ellis to MySpace, July 21, 2015
Jimmy Soul – If You Wanna Be Happy
1963 #1 single
“If You Wanna Be Happy” is a sequel in its own right. In both lyrics and music, it’s largely based on Roaring Lion‘s 1934 calypso classic, “Ugly Woman.” That song’s opening couplet declares, “If you want to be happy and live a king’s life/Never make a pretty woman your wife.” There’s actually two versions, one fast, and one slow. I much prefer the fast version what with its insistent groove shaking. And therein lies the double-edged sword of “If You Wanna Be Happy.” On one hand it feels cruel and totally anachronistic in a post-feminist society supposedly above such chauvinism. On the other hand, it makes you wanna stomp your feet and clap your hands! It’s just a fact. Oh, complicated social paradigms awkwardly co-existing …
Then there’s this, for which I have few words.
I’m sorry, but is that Bob Mitchum adopting a faux-Caribbean accent for a kitschy take on “Ugly Woman,” a full 7 years prior to “If You Wanna Be Happy?” Why yes, yes it is.