Try A Little Tenderness!

Friends; agony aunts; chat shows hosts such as Springer and Trisha - those ready to offer relationship advice are legion, but what pearls of wisdom does pop music impart about amour? This topic consumed me recently as I readied a themed compilation for a friend. Listening to Otis Redding sing "Try A Little Tenderness", I was moved. Here, surely, was the kind of unshakeable wisdom that my keen adolescent study of various Whitesnake albums was never going to unearth.

It was the Greek philosopher Euripides who asserted that "He is not a lover who does not love forever", but it was Cher who noted that, sooner or later, we all sleep alone. It would be foolish, of course, to let pop music alone be one's love oracle, but here are ten songs whose insights, ruminations and pet theories may be worth noting.

1. "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" - Cyndi Lauper

Written by Philadelphia's Robert Hazard then tweaked by Lauper, this 1983 smash/celebration of frivolity is a reminder that blokes can try too hard to impress. Smarter than you she may be, but the object of your affections doesn't necessarily want to discuss Tolstoy when there's dancing to be done. "I want to be the one to walk in the sun", Cyndi goes on, and woe betide the man who tries to hide her away. As "She Bop's" allusions to, er, solo female fun threaten, there are alternatives...

2. "Ain't Nothin' Going On But The Rent" - Gwen Guthrie

"No romance without finance," sang sometime Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder collaborator Guthrie on her 1986 dance anthem. Coming at a time when the UK was just starting to recover from recession, it dented the romantic ambitions of those of us who were less than flush. The song's blatantly materialistic outlook and rejection of unemployed males might seem harsh, but perhaps Guthrie was simply acknowledging a wider truth. Money can't buy you love, but even Cupid has to pay his bills.

3. "If I Were A Boy" - Beyoncé

The distaff flipside of Prince's subjunctive-snubbing "If I Was Your Girlfriend", Knowles' 2008, Toby Gad and BC Jean-penned hit derives insight from a gender exchange. For Prince, it's about sharing the moments she saves for her hen pals ("would U let me wash your hair?"), and - of course, for this is randy old Prince - breaking down traditional rumpo-roles ("4 U naked I would dance a ballet"). Meanwhile Beyoncé's sex change brings a bitter female perspective on errant male behaviour ("I'd put myself first / And make the rules as I go"). The learning: Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. And Prince is from somewhere in-between.

4. "When A Man Loves A Woman" - Percy Sledge

Surely popular music offers no better summary of all-consuming love than this? Blinkered perspectives, the denial of self, the spurning of friends if necessary - all of these are perfectly expressed by Sledge's aching vocal. The song was partly inspired by Sledge's then-girlfriend leaving him after he was laid-off from his construction job. Which brings us back to selection 2. Percy's ardour may ultimately have been unrequited, but it remains a useful yardstick. If you don't want to "change the world" for that "good thing [you've] found", is it really love?

5. "Together Alone" - Melanie

This ace opener from Melanie Safka's 1972 album Stoneground Words offers several possible interpretations. Is she flagging the importance of lovers giving one another space? Mooting a quiet night in? I'd say neither. Block out the world, Mel seems to say; it only brings pain to sensitive souls like her and her soulmate. Hey, sometimes girls don't just wanna have fun.

6. "When You're In Love With A Beautiful Woman" - Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show

Paranoia-inducing disco-calypso for those with trophy wives (or by extension husbands), this Even Stevens-penned hit advises those so coupled they better "watch their friends." Folks here in the UK seemed to understand, and the song spent three weeks at Number 1 in November 1979. Perhaps we are a morally bereft nation of blatant opportunists.

7. "The First Cut Is The Deepest" - Cat Stevens

It deals with the loss of first love, but the eloquent Cat Stevens song later covered by the likes of Rod Stewart and P.P. Arnold probably has more to say to those of us who are further down the line. When the heart's done time, a little caution at the outset of a new relationship is inevitable.

8. "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good" - Peggy Lee

Married and divorced four times, the woman born Norma Deloris Egstrom here interprets Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster's cautionary tale of unrequited ardour. "Lord above me / make him love me / the way that he should." Them's not the kind of prayers that get answered, Peggy. Best wash that man right out of your hair.

9. "A Good Heart These Days Is Hard To Find" - Maria McKee

A UK Number 1 for Feargal Sharkey in 1985, this was penned by Maria McKee of Lone Justice about her relationship with Benmont Tench of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. Tench quickly fired back "You Little Thief", complaining that "you left me broken, shattered and bleeding." When Tench sent his song to Sharkey, the former Undertones singer cut that too, presumably in the interests of balance. The lesson? Things can get messy if you air your dirty linen in public. Still, if each of you fashions a hit song from the mess, it won't have been love in vain.

10. "Try A Little Tenderness" - Otis Redding

Sure, it's the obvious solution, but it's so powerfully and potently expressed. The simple picture of the girl wearied by wearing "that same old shaggy dress"; the simpatico arrangement by Isaac Hayes; the warm, tangible glow of compassion  - when alpha male Otis showed his sensitive side, women melted. Which is not to say that "try a little tenderness" can't sometimes be read as "try buying her some very expensive shoes."


Go to, where the love between man and vinyl is sanctified.

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