Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Brighter Side of Darkness' "Love Jones"

Is there anything more beautiful -- or tragic -- than a teenager in love? With their monumental 1972 hit "Love Jones," the short-lived group of Chicago-area teenagers*, Brighter Side of Darkness, answer this question: No, there is not. In fact, love might lead to the destruction of all humanity**, if what Brighter Side of Darkness has to say about it is true. Somehow, though, "Love Jones" ends up resembling the 1964 Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove in that it makes the end of the world seem totally fun, entertaining, and bearable!

Let us briefly explore these two concepts: love and jones. "Love" is an idea whose history extends all the way back to 1942, when Warner Bros. released the classic motion picture Casablanca. Sources tell me that when two people are in love, they share the most intimate moments and details of their lives, complementing and supplementing each other's daily needs and deepest desires. Apparently, though, when seven people are in love, things get a bit more messy. "Jones," on the other hand, refers to heroin, or an addiction to heroin. Why on Earth would these healthy, sensible fellows compare the blight of a desparate opiate addict with age-old puppy love?

Because it's awesome. That's why! For a group of wet-behind-the-ears young men still walking around in their short pants, they sure seem to be doing quite well in the School of Hard Knocks, but not so well in High School. "Love Jones" sets the scene perfectly, as these sensitive, vulnerable, lusty young men croon silky, heaven-spun harmonies atop a string and horn arrangement that was surely written out by Cupid with rose-scented ink. The lead singer then proceeds to deliver a smooth rap that correctly compares his insatiable love for a particularly striking young lady in one of his classes with a junkie's need for heroin. He sings, "I need you / and the need is so strong / it's like that of a junkie / In other words, baby, I've got to have you." Though familiar with the junkie's plight, which is quite a serious one at that, he isn't really keeping up with his studies. He relates that because of his "love jones" he can't "get [him]self together." He cites the following example: "Like last Friday in class / When Mr. Russell was giving us the test / I was sitting up, staring at you, and daydreaming / I know I failed / A test paper with nothing but my name on it." As we can see, what seems like a story of true love has become tragic. But it is the sweetest of tragedies. The admixture of youthful innocence with the pin-pupilled experience of the heroin addict makes "Love Jones" one of the greatest songs of all time, ever.

*One of their singers was Daryl Lamont, who was all of twelve years old when this record was cut. Apparently the success of The Jackson 5 led to the exploitative creation of this group.

**Here, "the destruction of all humanity" can be taken to mean "failing a test."

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