Beautiful lady, so dear to my heart

“You must forgive me, my unworthiness.” – Bob Dylan, Sara

I love songs with girl’s names in the title. I don’t know if that counts as a genre but it very well should, there’s a common element among songs that are boldly dedicated to a girl. I can’t play a single chord, but I can imagine that writing a song to girl knowing that she’s going to listen to it has to be a bit a challenge. There’s an element of exposure that I’m sure has to be similar no matter what type of music you play. So I’ll go ahead and keep writing, because I don’t know chords, but I do know about being exposed.

“You came up behind me, I saw you go by. You were always so close and still within reach.”

I’m trying to think of songs by female artists that have a man’s name in the title and I’m mostly drawing blanks. There’s Carly Simon’s Jesse… not really my cup of tea, Blondie’s Denis… which is a pretty shitty song that for some reason I like, Patti Smith’s Frederick… which I think is great, and the last I can come up with is Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby McGee… which is an incredible song, but she didn’t write it. She even changed Kris Kristofferson’s lyrics so that it would be about a man, so that loses some points. Are there any good ones I’m missing? I’m sure there are.

“Sweet virgin angel, sweet love of my life”

I will always defend, at the risk of being criticized, that men are better musicians than women… but that’s only thanks to women. I’ll argue till the end of time (but hopefully it won’t come to that) that women stimulate men’s artistic creativity much more than the other way around. Musically speaking, women are a much better influence. I’ve never seen a woman use music to try to pick up a guy, never, but I’ve seen the opposite happen way too many times. My impression is that both male and female musicians share many types of motivation when they’re writing songs (it’s a form of expression, a way to have fun, a way to feel unique, etc.), but men have an extra source of creative motivation. They see music as a means for flirting, seducing, having sex, becoming more attractive… Did I say sex already? I think this shouldn’t be underestimated. How influential was the possibility of getting girls on the songs of Cohen, Dylan, Waits, Springsteen, Cash, Nelson and the others? I’d say a lot. I don’t think getting guys was part of the creative process for Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Aretha Franklin or Tracy Chapman. Not in the least.

“Loving you is the one thing I’ll never regret.”

So going back to my idea at the beginning of the post… I think is there’s a common element, exposure, in Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, CCR’s Susie Q (not written by them), Van Morrison’s Gloria, Tom Wait’s Alice, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, The Rolling Stone’s Angie, Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, etc. These songs had the challenge of appealing to a larger audience while at the same time serving another purpose; they needed to appeal to a specific girl. That’s tough to do, I’m sure many of them were able to accomplish the first but not the second. Who knows if Suzanne or Angela were the least bit impressed. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them thought “what the fuck is this corny shit?

“How did I meet you ? I don’t know. A messenger sent me in a tropical storm”

I picked the song Sara by Bob Dylan for two reasons: Sara was the name of my first post-puberty crush (a lovely girl based on the 5 minutes of accumulated conversation we had) and because it’s my favorite song within the ‘girl’s name in the title’ genre. I’ve listened to this song a hundred times, I love the lyrics as well as the way it fixates on the name: “Saraaaa, Saraaa…”. I really like that it reminds me of that girl back in high school. Since I hardly knew that girl, since I haven’t seen her since I was 16 and, especially, since I have absolutely no idea what she looks like, who she is or what she’s doing with her life, she can play the role of an “unidentified girl I’m attracted to” in my life. This concept, which I admit to improvising its name, is a very important one. I think we should all have the ability to imagine an unidentified person we’re attracted to, somebody we can’t quite picture but that we conceive as relatively tangible despite not being real. Somebody you can fish out if you’re listening to Sara or Suzanne and want to relate to the lyrics without linking them to somebody in real life. Some things remind you exactly of somebody you know, which is great, but other times this ambiguous figure can play the part. Ambiguous, but not completely. It’s a figure you’ve loosely based on this or that feeling, or experience, so it’s closer than something you’ve just made up. For me it varies, but many times it’s taken the shape of a grown-up version of Sara, whatever her last name might have been. That girl I one had a crush on and whom I thought all these great things of despite hardly ever talking to her. Mix that with a bunch of other traits I’ve thrown her way over time and there she is this unidentified girl I’m attracted to. It’s a good thing to have.

“Staying up for days, in the Chelsea Hotel. Writing Sad-Eyed Lady, of the Lowlands for you.”

If I had to pick a name for a song title I’m not sure which one I would choose (given that Dylan already took care of Sara, the good one, not the one I once met). There’s a name that would cover half of my grandmother’s name, an ex-girlfriend, a close friend, a fling and my current girlfriend’s nickname. I guess that would be a good candidate, although I think these songs should only be about one person, that’s were their value really is. I could pick my girlfriend’s real name, but would run the risk of hearing “what the fuck is this corny shit?” My mother’s name already has a few fitting songs so that wouldn’t be very original. No sisters, daughters or nieces. No lovers, no prostitutes, no ex-wives nor drugs I can subtly refer to by a girl’s name (I lead a very boring life…). I’ll need to keep thinking and fortunately my inability to strike a chord (a musical one, that is) has won me plenty of time. Meanwhile here’s one I relate to unidentified girl I’m attracted to.

“Saraaa, Saraaa. So easy to look at, so hard to define.”


19 thoughts on “Beautiful lady, so dear to my heart

  1. I worked with a guy who was in a local band, never really hit it big, but they did a great cover of Suzanne by Cohen. Sped it up a bit but it really worked. So Long, Marianne, also by Cohen is, I think, a better song.
    As for women singing about men, perhaps Joey by Concrete Blonde (female singer and songwriter) might count. And while it never mentions a boy’s name, Dusty Springfield sure did own Son of a Preacher Man. You felt she was moved by that kid.

    • I’m a sucker for Suzanne but So Long Marianne is great too. Son of a Preacher Man is terrific, had it included a name in the title it might have made me rethink my whole post! Thanks for commenting again, cheers!

  2. Hmmm…I wonder if Robin Thicke’s new album Paula will become an all-time classic? I agre though, there’s something about a song with a girl’s name that just resonates more than a nameless ode to a beautiful woman.

  3. This was a great treatise. Similarly, I seem to have quite an affinity for songs with women’s names in the titles: particular favorites of mine that are well-known would include (certainly not limited to!) “Rosanna” by Toto, “Sara” by Starship, and “Cecilia” by Simon & Garfunkel.

    It’s not so much about the crooning to a woman as it is that the melody of these songs is often pleasing to me, OR they appear in innocuous flashbulb memories of mine.

  4. Wow! Never really thought about music that way. You just opened a door to a whole room in my perceptions. Thanks! (and for the like that prompted my curious visit.)

    • Agreed, plus it opens a whole new category which would be female artists writing songs with a woman’s name in the title: Jolene by Dolly Parten, Amelia by Joni Mitchel…

  5. Love that song so much. Desire is my husband’s favorite Dylan album (I’m the bigger fan). And Bob Dylan is a perfect example of a seductive musician- he’s still got it, even as an old man. I’m not sure that I agree that it makes men better musicians, but there’s no question that women love musicians, and are willing to lower their standards to be with them.
    Now that I think about it, most of my favorite artists are male. I didn’t marry one though- my husband plays guitar for fun but it’s not a serious hobby or a career. I think most of them probably make very bad husbands.

    • I would imagine that most of the famous ones make bad husbands, fathers, sons… the works. Although I guess it can be generalized. I recently read an open letter from Lou Reed’s wife soon after his death and the tone of the letter was very sincere in terms of how happy they were. All the best!

  6. Great idea for a blog. Been following it for a while. Congratulations. Keep it up.

    My personal favorite by Dylan, however, is “Visions of Johanna”. Great melody, cryptic lyrics involving two girls’ names. Who is Louise? Who is Johanna? What is really going on there???

    Another song named after a girl: “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her”, by Simon and Garfunkel. It also evokes dreamy, wistful feelings. Great 1960’s atmosphere.

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