What’s the definition of a great love song? Is it one that has “love” in the title so it saves you having to work anything out? Is it one you wished you had written yourself and presented as a gift to someone – thus saving the price of a bunch of roses? Or one someone else had written and presented to you – just when you thought a bottle of wine would have done nicely? Or perhaps it’s one with such an emotive saxophone break half way through that it still gives you goose bumps every time you hear it all these years since it was first released?
Making its chart debut in October 1976 Joan Armatrading’s Love and Affection is another of those “shush, shush, stop talking and turn the volume up because I really want to hear all of this” kind of songs which, unlike everyone who is still moved by it, refuses to age. Who could resist a love song which opens with the declaration: “I am not in love but I’m open to persuasion, East or West, where’s the best for romancing? With a friend I can smile but with a lover I could hold my head back, I could really laugh. Really laugh.” 10CC had a similar suggestion a year earlier with I’m Not In Love but with a lot more irony. A lot less affection
Whilst they were more in the business of consciously searching out hit songs Joan Armatrading was more of an accidental – and frequently reluctant – chart star. Indeed her songs have been described in The Scotsman as “some of the most deeply personal and emotionally naked … of our times.”
MY SONGS AREN’T ABOUT ME
But just when we sympathised with her feelings she admitted in a 2003 interview: “My songs aren’t about me at all. They’re always about love, the pain and anguish of it. But the way I’ve always written is from observation. They’re about what I see other people going through. If the songs were about me I’d be so embarrassed I don’t think I’d be able to walk out the front door.” She went on to say: “the optimistic songs reveal a bit more of me because that’s how I feel. I’m definitely a ‘glass is half full’ kind of a person.”
Maybe that’s why so many of her lyrics don’t specify the gender of their subjects and she frequently uses the word “you” rather than a gender pronoun. So Love and Affection is suitably androgynous. She even admitted in a 2011 interview that it was “really a song about love and friendship and about not being fickle. There’s a line in there that says, ‘I’ve got all the friends that I want, I may need more, but I’ll stick to the ones I’ve got’.
“Sometimes people get caught up thinking that having lots of friends means they’ve got lots of acquaintances, instead of just a handful of people that they are close to. It’s pretty important and special to have close friends, because you know if anything happens, or you are really down on your luck, there are people there to help you. That’s really what the song is about.”
Surely it’s about more than that though? Just when you thought it was all about you, pity the poor acquaintance about who, she says: “Thank you. You took me dancing, ‘cross the floor, cheek to cheek” when she really wants so much more as in – “with a lover, I could really move, really move, I could really dance, really dance, really dance, really dance. I could really move, really move, really move, really move.”
Maybe she feels the song is a bit of a millstone? After all in a recording career spanning more than 46 years, Love and Affection is still the one we best remember from her extensive repertoire – even though it was her fourth single, actually peaked at just number 10 and is just one song from some 19 albums.
By the way, the haunting alto sax was courtesy of Gallagher and Lyle (amongst others) session player Jimmy Jewell (no, not Ben Warriss’ comedy sidekick).
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