Monday, February 4, 2019

Happy/Unhappy Couples: Happy Loving Couples

Joe Jackson: Happy Loving Couples

Valentine’s Day comes during the end of this theme, so it seemed like a good time to look at happy and unhappy couples. I’ve written before about Joe Jackson’s career, so I won’t repeat myself, but one thing is clear about Jackson is that he writes very sharp, often cynical lyrics, but they often demonstrate ambivalence, and his song, “Happy Loving Couples” is a fine example. My parents did pay for an expensive education, so let me bring in Tolstoy for a second—Anna Karenina somewhat famously begins, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” On the surface, that’s sort of what Jackson seems to be saying here--

Happy loving couples make it look so easy 
Happy loving couples always talk so kind 

And the narrator seems pissed at that—

Until the time that I can do my dancing with a partner
Those happy couples ain't no friends of mine

And he aspires to that sort of easy couplehood, wearing matching clothing and reading Ideal Homes magazine. But the ambivalence in the lyric is really, I think,  that his anger is not simply that he’s uncoupled, but that he realizes that a relationship takes work, and really isn’t all that easy.

The song, like many on Jackson’s debut, is rooted in classic pop/early rock, but sped up and with an edge that put it into the New Wave genre (and to be fair, there’s more than a whiff of Elvis Costello’s Less Than Zero in the chorus), and it would be criminal not to mention Graham Maby’s great bass playing on this song, and most other great Jackson songs.

I didn’t date all that often in my high school and college days (shocking, right?), and sadly more than once found that Valentine’s Day was the end of a relationship, and not the beginning. Or even the middle. But I’ve now been married for more than 30 years to the love of my life, and I know (because people have told me) that they think that our relationship seems easy, and for the most part, it is. But trust me, it isn’t always, and what seems effortless to the outside world does take work, every day. And we don’t wear matching clothes or read home magazines (at least I don’t), but we do occasionally watch Fixer Upper together, because aren’t Chip and Joanna a great, happy (looking, at least) couple?