Songs that tell stories appeal to me, both as a reader and writer of romance fiction. Tropes that populate the romance genre can also be found lurking within the lyrics of popular story songs. Here are a few depicting our favorite heroes:
1. The Reformed Rake
I’ve got a couple of favorite musical depictions of the reformed rake. But the one I come back to again and again is classic ’80s southern rock band 38 Special’s “Caught Up in You.”
Our hero, the speaker in the song, begins his song by expressing his disbelief that he is the one begging his woman not to let their love “slip away.” After all, he’s a rake. We know this because he tells us so—“Don’t you know the kind of man I am?”
So, just like our romance hero rakes, this guy who “played around” finds himself in love. Plus, he even says later that she’s “got me down on my knees,” just like many romance hero rakes are brought to their knees before the happy ending can be achieved. And is there anything better than a good grovel?
2. Friends to Lovers
There’s nothing quite like the sweetness of seeing best friends figure out that they’re ready to make the leap from friends to lovers. My choice for this one is sweet, too. It’s not particularly romantic, but ever the optimist, I hear something more lurking between the lines of Old 97’s “Buick City Complex.”
The song’s protagonist claims not to “want to settle down,” or “to make no plans,” but the fact that he “wants to get it right this time” says to me that this is more than just an off-handed proposition. So do his questions “Do you wanna be my girl?” and “Do you wanna be my friend?” Put the two together and you’ve got “girlfriend.” And voila! Friends to lovers.
3. Love in Disguise
Whether it’s a Regency miss disguising herself as a boy, or a modern-day version such as Johnny Christiano in Roxanne St. Claire’s Take Me Tonight, who pretends to be a gigolo for a case, romance is full to brimming with characters pretending to be other than they are. My choice for this trope turned song is “The Outdoor Type” by the Lemonheads. This is a confessional song.
The hero says: “I’ve never set foot inside a tent/I couldn’t build a fire to save my life/I lied about being the outdoor type”
What follows is a recital of the various ways in which the hero speaker is NOT the outdoor type. As with many story songs, this ending is not a happy one. Apparently the object of his desire is going away on a rock-climbing weekend and didn’t invite the hero speaker along. Which, if this were a romance, would lead us to the black moment...
4. The Black Moment
It’s pretty hard to resist a Scotsman with the kind of soulful voice that Del Amitri’s Justin Currie brings to the table. And as a songwriter, Currie uses the kind of evocative storytelling that immediately puts you in a certain place in a certain time. I couldn’t have come up with a better illustration of the Black Moment as song than “Driving with the Brakes On” if I had written it myself.
Driving through the long night
Trying to figure who’s right and who’s wrong
The speaker and his lover (wife? girlfriend? babymama?) are clearly at an impasse. Over what, the speaker never says. But whatever it is, it’s enough to bring forth the images of “driving with the brakes on” and “swimming with your boots on.” In other words, it’s a dark, heavy place. And it’s up to the heroine to give the signal as to whether they’ll be able to move past this dark moment where “it’s hard to say you love someone and it’s hard to say you don’t.”
5. Happy Ever After (aka the HEA)
Few things are more satisfying than following a couple through all the trials and tribulations that befall them over the course of a novel than seeing them safe in the warm embrace of their HEA. One of my absolute favorite songs that illustrates the concept of HEA comes from Neil Young.
In “Harvest Moon,” the speaker tells his heroine:
Let’s go out and feel the night/ Because I’m still in love with you/ I want to see you dance again
This song is a great example of a wonderful, feel-good epilogue, where we see the hero and heroine together after years together, but still obviously in love. Still dancing together beneath the light of the harvest moon. Makes me smile every time.
So, what examples of songs illustrating popular romance tropes can you come up with?
Woman listening to music image courtesy of LaertesCTB via Flickr
1. “Caught Up in You,” by 38 Special, Special Forces, 1982, full lyrics available at http://www.38special.com/lyrics/caughtup.htm
2. “Buick City Complex,” by Old 97’s, Satellite Rides, 2001, full lyrics available at http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/o/old_97s/buick_city_complex.htmlv
3. “The Outdoor Type,” by The Lemonheads, Car Button Cloth, 1996, full lyrics available at http://www.lyricsfreak.com/l/lemonheads/the+outdoor+type_20082293.html
4. “Driving with the Brakes On,” by Del Amitri, Twisted, 1995, full lyrics available at http://www.delamitri.com/music/index.html
5. “Harvest Moon,” by Neil Young, Harvest Moon, 1992, full lyrics available at http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/neilyoung/harvestmoon.html
In the third grade Manda read both Little Women and Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero. Is it any wonder she grew up to write historical romance laced with mystery? Her regency historical romance, How to Dance with a Duke, will be published in February 2012 by St. Martin’s Press. For more information and an excerpt, check out her website at mandacollins.com. She can be found most days on Twitter @MandaCollins