Great rock and roll songs have great metaphors. Even if there is just one metaphor in a song, that metaphor helps convey message, tone and story. It helps the listener connect to a song, and stay connected. Our imaginations are opened. We are breathless.
“…cause I’m as free as a bird now.”
-Freebird, by Lynyrd Skynyrd
“a chug-a chug-a motion like a railroad train.”
-The Locomotion, by Little Eva
“Her lips are like a volcano that’s hot.”
–All Shook Up, by Elvis Presley
Often, an entire song is built around the message of that one metaphor, but rarely is a one song nothing but metaphor, one metaphor after the other. Metaphors that inform, metaphors that entertain, metaphors that color. Never have metaphors been used so effectively, frequently or brilliantly as in the wonderful “The Way You do The Things You Do” by the Temptations.
Written by Smokey Robinson and Robert Rogers for The Temptations in 1963, this masterpiece of production and performance is all metaphor. Nothing but metaphor. 100% metaphor. The music is light and jaunty, and the first words sung match the music perfectly.
“You’ve got a smile so bright, you know you could have been a candle.
I’m holding you so tight, you know you could have been a handle.”
Nothing could be more satisfying than hearing Temptations lead singer Eddie Kendricks sing this perfect rhyme, illustrating these perfect metaphors.
“The way you swept me off my feet, you know you could’ve been a broom.
The way you smell so sweet, you know you could’ve been some perfume.”
You’re smiling as you read these lyrics, aren’t you? I know you are. It’s ok, I am smiling as I type. This is a simple love song, as simple as simple can be. There is no name, no story, no personalization at all. Whoever the person is singing about, that person is great. He loves her. He loves her so much, he can barely find the words. How much does he love her? Well..
“Well, you could have been anything that you wanted to
And I can tell, the way you do the things you do.”
The metaphors come fast and furious. One after the other. Think about the repetitive nose jokes Steve Martin’s Charlie character tells in the movie “Roxanne.” Think Sonny Corleone getting relentlessly shot at the toll booth in “The Godfather.” Boom, boom, boom. Rat a tat tat tat. Sometimes, we need messages to be repeated. Reaffirmed. Reprocessed.
“As pretty as you are, you know you could have been a flower.
If good looks was a minute, you know that you could be an hour.
The way you stole my heart, you know you could have been a cool crook
And baby you’re so smart, you know you could have been a schoolbook”
“The Way You Do The Things You Do” was released in January of 1964, six weeks after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and right as The Beatles were making their way to the United States to revolutionize rock and roll. It has always been The Beatles who have been credited with saving rock and roll. At a time that America was suffering through the deepest depths of its sadness with the loss of President Kennedy, after the deaths of Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, after Elvis Presley was inducted into the Army, it has been said that our country needed the joy and escape that only The Beatles could have provided. Maybe the people who wrote that just weren’t listening to The Temptations.
“You make my life so rich, you know you could’ve been some money.
And baby you’re so sweet, you know you could have been some honey.”
At 1PerfectSong, we talk about music that is important. Weighty. We talk about songs that have impacted our national political discourse, or have provided comfort and solace to people during painful times of their lives. But in “The Way You Do the Things You Do” we have a song that just makes you feel good. It is fun. It is funny. It is entertaining. It is a perfectly crafted song in every way. It is as good as…well, you get the point.
“The Way You Do The Things You Do”
Written by Smokey Robinson and Robert Rogers
Performed by The Temptations
Released January 23, 1964