Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What It Takes to Make a Pro Blush

Lyrics from Kim Carnes’ 1981 song “Bette Davis Eyes,” arranged into appropriate categories:

Things that are meant to sound like a compliment and actually do:
  • “Her hair is Harlowe gold”
  • “Her lips a sweet surprise”
  • “Her hands are never cold”
  • “She’s got Bette Davis eyes”
Things that seem to be an insult:
  • “She’s pure as New York snow”
  • “And she’ll tease you, she’ll unease you”
  • “She’ll expose you / When she snows you / Off your feet with the crumbs she throws you”
Things that initially sound like a compliment but then, after thinking about it, you realize that it might not necessarily be a nice thing to say:
  • “She’s got Bette Davis eyes”
  • “All the better just to please you”
  • “She’ll let you take her home / It whets her appetite”
  • “She’ll lay you on the throne” (Meaning “treat you royally” or “do you on the toilet”?)
  • “She’ll take a tumble on you” (Meaning “fall for you”? “Take a dive for you”? Or “will literally fall on you because she also has Bette Davis’s hips”?)
  • “She’s ferocious”
Things that seem neither here nor there:
  • “She’ll turn the music on you”
  • “You won’t have to think twice”
  • “She’s precocious”
  • “Roll you like you were dice / Until you come up blue”
  • “All the boys think she’s a spy”
Things written because they rhymed and not because they sound like anything a native English-speaker would say out of the context of a pop song:
  • “She’ll turn the music on you”
  • “And she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush”
  • “She’ll expose you / When she snows you / Off your feet with the crumbs she throws you”
Things that 80s youth might not have understood and which the passage of time has only made more obscure:
  • “Her hair is Harlow gold” (Many of the 10,000 hits you get by Googling “Bette Davis eyes lyrics” incorrectly state this line as “hollow gold,” which puts an interesting spin on things.)
  • “She’s got Bette Davis eyes” (Like the old crinkle lady from Watcher in the Woods?)
  • “She got Greta Garbo’s stand-off sighs” (Sometimes confused with “thighs”)
Incidentally, Carnes’s recording wasn’t the first version of the song. Jackie DeShannon, probably best known for singing “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” wrote “Bette Davis Eyes” and recorded it herself in 1974. Now, I can’t say that I like the Kim Carnes version all that much, but it is indisputably an iconic early 80s song. Consequently, DeShannon’s original take feels bizarre and wrong, despite coming first.

I imagine I’d have a similar reaction if I found out that, for example, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was actually a remake of some obscure Norwegian arthouse movie and tried to sit through that.

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