Ah, my second straight week of writing a song that turned out unintentionally self-prophesying. Last week, I tempted fate by writing a song that opened with, “I tried to figure you out / But I can’t”, before arranging it and finding that, indeed, I couldn’t figure it out. This week’s song, “Kathleen“, opens with the couplet, “Leaving town / Long before you got it down”, which turned out to be exactly what happened. I left Chicago on Friday to see my family in Louisville, leaving this song pretty undercooked. But not necessarily bad.

I was attempting a Motown or Philly-soul sound here… the Delfonics filtered through Darryl Hall and Bobby Conn. The verse sections turned out pretty well, I think, as well as the vocal breakdown section (“Must’ve been something in the water…”). The chorus proved a little problematic, because I just couldn’t get it to open up like I’d intended. Would’ve been cool to get more of an epic, Elton John piano-ballad moment there. And maybe if it gets recorded with the full band, we could nail it. Also, I realize my singing’s not exactly in key, which spoils some of the smooth-soul effect. (Check out Darryl Hall’s interview on Pitchfork, by the way. He drops a blend of craftsmanship and arrogance that is quite entertaining. He is the man, of course, so he can say whatever he wants.)

Lyrically, like so many of my songs, this one is backward-looking, using the ultimate device to create instant wistfulness: the elderly! The song is about an old man looking back on a girl who may have been “the one that got away”, and then meeting her years later and deciding whether to give it another shot, even at their advanced age. I didn’t really intend this to be comic… maybe it’ll come out that way, and that’s fine too.

The chorus’s use of the name “Kathleen”, stretched out to three syllables — “Cath-o-lene” — is a nod to the Four Tops’ great “Bernadette”, in which the central name occupies the same meter. And I couldn’t resist throwing in a little current events: The second verse begins with the lyric, “Cruising you / Used to be a thing I’d do.” I’d never really pondered what it meant to “cruise” someone until the Larry Craig gay-sex scandal broke last weekend. (One man alleged that he had been “cruised” by Congressman Craig at a Home Depot or something like that for over an hour!) Anyway, gotta stay relevant, right?

I don’t consider this song a knockout, but I think it has some good moments. Happy Labor Day one and all.

17 Responses to “Kathleen”
  1. Judah says:

    Well, in my book this is a winner; I really like it. The only bittersweet thing about it for me is that it feels like a summertime track — the verse in particular — and summer has just about passed us by. But actually, that jibes well with the wistful subject matter. I can almost hear the chattering background of “What’s Going On” or Will Smith’s “Summertime.” Kind of a second or third cousin to “Cool Month of June”? (One of my earlier favorites).

    The feel of the verses is perfect; the harmony and sound remind me of “These Eyes” by the Guess Who. I think you’re right on about the chorus, both in your assessment that it could open up more, and in your sense that this just might happen with the band. It seems more like a question of playing with the rhythm or instrumentation there, maybe some minor tweaking of the harmony, rather than anything inherently problematic about the material itself.

  2. Abraham says:

    thanks judah! I’m glad you liked it…. yes, it’s definitely summer-summer-summer-time. I never considered myself much of a summer person, so it’s surprising that this blog has birthed all of these summer jamz. we shall see what fall brings.

  3. detholz says:

    If one can’t be moved by the elderly, one is likely elderly him/herself. *hack, wheeze*

    I like this one, Abraham– very simple, very catchy, not too many syllables and at no time did I have to run and get my thesaurus to get the gist!

    It has, as we say in the Baby Teeth vernacular, a “part-y” feel, and might benefit from some smoother transitions, however.

    On the first listen, I felt like your appraisal of the A and B sections were correct– the A section is very strong. After clicking it off, however, it was the chorus that stuck in my noodle…

    I think if we ramp up the energy on the chorus a bit and smooth out the transitions, you’re looking at a winner, sonny…

  4. Abraham says:

    excellent…. yes I am definitely willing to dump all kinds of “exciter elements” on that chorus to achieve the desired effect with the minimum level of subtlety….

    glad you dig it.

  5. Lara says:

    This song made me smile right away. I agree with “detholz” (JIM!) The chorus stuck in my noodle, too, which is saying a lot, because hardly anything sticks there. I imagine this live, and see a lot of booty-shakin.

  6. Abraham says:

    crowded noodles are always the best test for catchiness. I hope your imagined prophecy comes true! maybe we should consult famed astrologer linda goodman…

  7. John says:

    Good stuff! Love the chorus especially. The heck with the Delfonics–this one is pure Smokey Robinson with subtler irony. (Tears, clown, yeah, we get it!) I like that you have the narrator recalling all this in his old age. That’s a fitting device now that all the original Motown fans and disco babies are about to face colostomies and catheters.

    I’m impressed with both your writing, tunes, and discipline. If you want to cut yourself some slack one week, just dig up your 7th grade blues song, “Mean Ol’ Man Beatin’ Me Down with a Stick.” I won’t tell!

  8. will says:

    this one will definitely benefit from the “baby teeth treatment”. but, as a quick sketch(which is what a song-a-week is), it has some nice potential.
    i’m in the minority here; but, the verse sections are what get me here. i’m hearing curtis mayfield during those parts—quite nice. i’m hooked instantly. fantastic keyboard tone too. the transition into the chorus is awkward and forced. on it’s own though, the chorus is catchy; but, it feels a bit uptight. i think what’s gonna open it up is gonna be the bass line. the vocal cadence keeps everything moving here…the bass line really has room to spread out. coming out of the chorus to the verse is nice, natural…but, i’m a lil’ “jolted” going into the chorus—i wanna feel like i “faLL” into that part. lyrically, this one’s right on. i’d love to hear this again, in a live setting w/ the full band. nice start…ps, d. hall is the man & that was a badass of an interview. current joy: the new electrelane! bye!

  9. Abraham says:

    john: what a treat to hear from you! yes, that would be a great idea to post “mean ol’ man beatin’ me down with a stick.” sung to the tune of “when the levee breaks”, if I recall. thanks for the smokey comparison…. that’s praise of the highest order in my book. and yes I agree that now would be the time to corner the market on songs about “elderly issues”. come back and visit!

    will: thanks. I’m in the minority with you…. I think the verse wins. definitely need a better transition into the chorus. you’re a good man and an astute observer…. glad to have you on board. I will have to check out that electrelane.

  10. Judah says:

    I’ll join the chorus in support of the verse. Two other things: I think you’re gonna have to pony up some reggae here eventually, given the multiple Marley references. And in other news, I saw Feist play tonight, and she was predictably badass. I last brought her up in the context of great 6/8 songs (“Let it Die”) — tonight was the first time I heard her do her 6/8 version of the BeeGees Inside & Out (it’s on iTunes, on the remix album “Open Season,” but the live version she did with the band was something special).

  11. Abraham says:

    well, it would be fun to do a reggae song…. hmmm. ah, what is “authenticity” anyway? glad you got to see feist. when I saw her, she did Inside & Out, but not in 6/8…. I’d like to hear that. I really like when an album performance can inspire a remix, which in turn inspires a new live performance from the audience. we did that in the bobby conn band too…. we played a live version of a remix. makes you feel good about technology, y’know?

  12. Peter says:

    “I see you watching around…” part is superfluous I think. The original meat of the verse is strong enough to stay on until the chorus. The verse melody is a bit too Beck for me. It sounds like you’re trying to be too clever instead of being honest. You can come up with something sweeter and more heartfelt than this. That’s one thing that I think Hall and Oates totally nail. I never feel like they don’t mean what they say, even when it’s cheesy. I like the changes though.

  13. Abraham says:

    I disagree about the verse… I think having the same melody repeat four times in a row during the verse would be overkill. I can see the beck thing though. I agree with what you’re saying about hall and oates, but then again, I don’t know them personally!

  14. Peter says:

    I’ll have to listen to this one some more. I guess sometimes for me I’m listening initially from the drummer’s perspective and trying to figure out what role the percussion can play in a song. Sometimes it’s obvious what is missing, sometimes not. Often times, I get ideas from Jim’s bassline in rehearsal. We’ll have to give it a rip. So much to do…

  15. Abraham says:

    yeah, this one’s definitely worth playing around with. there is potentially a lot to do, but I’m hoping that the end result of this blog is, by the time we get around to making final selections for what goes on an album, that we’re playing only stuff that we’re really psyched about.

  16. Katie says:

    This is my go-to “commuting to work in February is hell” song. It never fails to make me smile, even when I’m on the train surrounded by unhappy people. And not just because the song has my name in it (though that’s nice, too).

  17. Abraham says:

    Katie, so great to hear from you in the old blog-i-verse. I’m really glad you like this song. I feel like it’s been a bit lost in the shuffle, but I have a soft spot for it too… it’s unassuming, on a song-blog crowded out by much more megalomanaical material.

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