Way back in the early seventies, when I began my life as a teenager, I used to hear a song on the radio that mystified me.
It was a hit record for a well-known R&B singer. In it, a woman is telling her lover how deeply she feels about him. Some of what she says to him:
First you take my heart in the palm of your hands
And you squeeze it tight
Then you take my mind and you play with it all night
You take my pride
And you throw it up against the wall…
You take my name
And you scandalize it in the streets
Anything you wanna do or say
Is alright with me
The chorus of this ode to joy is a declaration that what this man is doing to her hurts so good.
I seriously wondered as a kid, “How does something hurt so good?” To me, “hurt” and “good” didn’t belong in the same sentence.
Several years earlier another tale of female devotion had hit the airwaves. Some of what the woman of this song laments:
You’re out on the streets looking good
And baby, deep down in your heart you know that ain’t right
And you never hear me when I cry at night
I tell myself that I can’t stand the pain
But then you hold me in your arms and I say it again
So come on and take another little piece of my heart now, baby
Break another little bit of my heart now, honey
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby
You know you got it, if it makes you feel good
Both of these records make a good matching set with another popular “love song.” The singer tells her man:
You’re a no-good heartbreaker
You’re a liar, and you’re a cheat
And I don’t know why
I let you do these things to me
My friends keep telling me
That you ain’t no good
But oh, they don’t know
That I’d leave you if I could…
The way you treat me is a shame
How could you hurt me so bad?
Baby, you know that I’m the best thing you ever had
And the chorus? The singer informs us in her marvelous, breathy way:
I ain’t never loved a man
The way that I love you.
Each of these songs is a work of art. And works of art don’t have to be politically correct or provide comfort to those listening, viewing, or reading. Each of the women singing these songs did so with great artistry and conviction of her own.
I used to wonder what songs like these say about the female psyche. I mean, the female protagonists of these songs sound like masochistic losers. “Oh, it hurts so good. Keep doing it, if it makes you feel good. Don’t ever say we’re through.”
But none of these songs was written by women. All three came from the imaginations of men.
Did these guys have some kind of inside information on the way women think and feel? Were the songs just fantasies of the ideal woman – you know, a submissive?
I can’t tell whether these songs say more about the male mind or the female mind. But each one of them resonated with the music-loving public, and are still loved.
Can you imagine a hit song in which a man is saying this kind of stuff to a woman?
Nope. Wouldn’t sell.
- Franklin, A. 1967. I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. On I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You [Record]. New York: Atlantic Records.
Franklin, E. 1967. Piece Of My Heart. On Piece of My Heart [Record]. New York: Sony Records.
Jackson, M. 1973. Hurts So Good. On It Hurts So Good [Record]. UK: Spring/Southbound Records.