Josie Reconsidered: Notes on The Outfield’s “Your Love”
I’m going to try and write in a serious way about a mindless pop-rock song, about how the dark clouds of good taste sometimes part and let the stupid sun shine in. I’m going to use the sentence “Josie’s on a vacation far away” as well as “I don’t wanna lose your love tonight” and keep a straight face while I am writing them.
I’m going to tell you a few things about “Your Love” by The Outfield.
Released by English trio The Outfield in 1985 from their album Play Deep, the song reached #6 on the United States Billboard singles chart, and placed #62 on the top songs of 1986 list. The song and band have been described as “power pop,” “pop rock,” “a slightly harder-rocking Men at Work” (Rolling Stone), and “impossibly cheesy.” In spite of universal critical panning, or perhaps because of it, I’ve loved the song for more than 25 years. I love the whole Play Deep album, in fact, and I’ve played it at least once a year for a quarter-century.
There are currently more than 1,000 cover versions of “Your Love” online. In the past couple years, “Your Love” has taken on a life of its own, turning up on movie soundtracks, remixes of all types of dance subgenres; it’s sampled on hip-hop singles; DJs keep it at the ready for at weddings; jukeboxes in all kinds of bars include it as a selection.
“The ’00s have seen a resurgence in popularity of the Outfield’s “Your Love” in clubland that is somewhat baffling to those who endured the hit’s ubiquity when it was released in 1985,” writes Dave Segal on The Stranger’s Line Out Blog, who talks about the “overblown emotional tenor of the song’s chorus.”
“The BPM [beats per minute] is around 126,” comments one on the Stranger blog post, “landing it at a good peak time tempo for dance jocks.” (The BPM is 129.98 according to djbpmstudio.com, but who’s counting?) “The opening couple bars are both nearly a capella and stay in tempo well, making it an easy target for mixing and for remixes.”
Part of the reason that compels people to cover the song, on guitar at least, has to be because of its simple chord progression — a high E power chord, which requires only two fingers, followed by a C-sharp minor, resolving on a B on the same two strings. This cycle then pirouettes when a low A-chords which replaces the high E. There’s a G in the bridge, sure; still, it’s almost robotic how the chord progression works, as if from a textbook entry on How to Write Your First Song. The fact you only need two fingers and two strings doesn’t hurt, either.
In his study “‘Simply Irresistible’: Recurring Accent Patterns as Hooks in Mainstream 1980s Music,” music scholar Don Traut examines how hit pop/rock songs of the 80s employ syncopated accented patterns, repeated in distinct patterns. He goes on to suggest that this repetition in and of itself constitutes the “hook” in so many songs of that era. As opposed to hits of the 60s and 70s, which employed hooks and a “vital drive” to hold listeners’ attention, songs of the 80s might use a “significant gesture” before the chorus (the pause and drum beat in Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible”), a “title hook” (Hall and Oates’ “Did It In a Minute”) often coupled with a “repeated accent pattern often with a recurring pitch pattern.” In the case of The Outfield’s “Your Love,” a pattern of <33322> repeated over and over again, along with its repeated vocal melody as a “title hook,” makes the song doubly hook-laden.
Fig. 2 Don Traut’s graphic representation of the <33322> accent pattern.
Traut places “Your Love” in the same pattern designation as Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon,” Modern English’s “Melt with You,” and Madonna’s “Crazy For You,” among others.
I can see how the sheer repetition of the pitch pattern and title hook add to the song’s catchiness, but my particular love for “Your Love” centers around how the guitar sounds, how intentional and out of place it is. The role of distorted, tinny power chords found in the mid-80s were reserved for appearances in songs that lean toward heavy metal, with lyrics covering matters apocalyptic and/or pornographic. Songwriter/guitarist John Spinks’ “Your Love” guitar tone wouldn’t be out of place in a Dokken song like “In My Dreams,” makeup-less Kiss singles like “Lick It Up” or “Heaven’s on Fire,” or White Lion’s “Wait.”
Most covers of “Your Love” by professional and unsigned artists avoid the metallic power chords, with the exception of current star Katy Perry — noteworthy at least to this writer, since it’s only Perry who changes the lyrics and renames the song (“Use Your Love”). Queercore trio The Butchies and Indie folkie Bon Iver turn “Your Love” into a jangly ballad, gutting the riff’s choppiness to great effect. Many solo acoustic versions turn the power chords into the cowboy six-string variety, often using capos (that clamp thing on necks of guitars) to change the key. There are skads of hardcore punk and ska versions, a country rave-up or two, ukulele trios, doo-wop quartets, and solo a capella takes.
Accompanied by the high-pitched singing of Tony Lewis and Alan Jackman’s 4/4 power drumming, the overall sound is as if The Knack found a helium dispenser, distortion pedals and ditched their drummer for Tony Thompson of Chic/Power Station fame. I mention The Knack not because I am a big fan of the “My Sharona” (which Traut classified as a <33322> song, but because of my friend Eric. Eric and I indulged in our love for The Outfield while driving around South Jersey in his leased BMW and playing my cassette of Play Deep at top volume.
“I would say they ploughed the same field as Rick Springfield,” Eric emailed me recently. “Guys could like them w/o feeling completely gay.” Eric has always been my pop music conscience, so it was good to hear him offer a rationale regarding why I might still like “Your Love.”
“The appeal of Outfield is the appeal of the Raspberrys, of Springfield, of The Babys, the Knack: pure power pop, which forms a sort of safe bridge between longhaired 70s rock a la Zeppelin and mainstream AM pop a la any number of parent-endorsed acts.”
As far as the continuing appeal of the entire Play Deep album, Eric and I part ways. Eric, who holds that Get the Knack is a “legitimately great record,” hasn’t listened to the entire album in probably 25 years, except for mp3s of “Your Love,” Outfield’s follow-up single “All The Love” and album cut “61 Seconds.” I’d be curious to see what Traut and Eric would make of “Since You’ve Been Gone,” a single on their 1987 Bangin’ album, in which the guitar pattern links up to the apotheosis of 80s over-drumming, in which no unit of measure passes without a hi-hat struck.
“I love melodic music,” John Spinks says in 1986 interview with the Los Angeles Times’ Dennis Hunt. “That’s the music that gives me a rush. I grew up on the Beatles. I like Journey and Foreigner. It might not be a popular thing to admit, but I do like them.” Spinks, who died in 2014, later cites Mister Mister’s “Broken Wings” as “the best song out in a while.”
Fig. 2 Wordle.com concordance graphic representation of The Outfield’s “Your Love.”
In “Your Love,” Spinks’ Zen koan-like lyrics evoke a minimalism that would make early Beatles or any-era Ramones read like Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow with the verisimilitude of Theodore Dreiser. Instances of words like “love,” “tonight,” “wanna,” “lose” and “don’t” far outweigh any other words (see Fig. 2). Perhaps for that reason, “Your Love” stands out from any other song on Play Deep for a single mention of a specific name: Josie. Here’s “Your Love”’s first verse:
Josie’s on a vacation far away
Come around and talk it over
So many things that I wanna say
You know I like my girls a little bit older
We don’t know who Josie is, but we do know that she is on a “vacation far away.” We presume that, because of Josie’s away status, the speaker wants the person addressed in the song to “come around and talk it over.” We don’t know what “it” refers to; we can assume it’s the physical attraction between the speaker and addressed.
There’s more ambiguity in the situation: the speaker has “so many things” that he wants to say. Then the speaker points out, apropos of nothing, that he ‘likes his girls a little bit older.” We don’t know if the older girl is Josie, or if it’s the addressed, or the speaker sharing is compelled to share a tidbit regarding his preferences for older women. Regardless, the song barrels into the chorus, with the speaker wishing to “use” and ‘not lose’ the love of the addressed, “tonight.”
Is it Josie’s absence that sets in motion all this ‘using’ and ‘not losing’? We don’t know. The narrative of “Your Love” turns on the conflict of what Frances Nesbitt Oppel, discussing Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, calls the Apollonian illusion and Dionysian truth. Here’s the song’s third and final verse:
As you leave me, please, would you close the door
And don’t forget what I told you
Just cause you’re right, that don’t mean Imp wrong
Another shoulder to cry upon
When the speaker says “Just cause you’re right, that don’t mean I’m wrong,” presumably after the love-making has happened, we have a classic case of the Apollonian “dream illusion” smacking up against the “empirical reality” of principium individuationis, the belief in the primary importance of the individual, alone and independent in the world. With Josie and the addressed gone, as well as the “shoulder to cry upon,” the speaker can set on a course of ‘using’ and ‘not losing’ love again, presumably with another ‘you.’
As I type these last paragraphs out, aping the language of peer-reviewed scholarship, I realize I may agree with at least part of the Rolling Stone pan of the Play Deep album in 1985. The song does seem to “advocate philandering,” writes Jimmy Guterman, who adds that “the repulsive misogyny contaminates the whole song.”
I never took the song to be misogynist, or jailbait-y, and I still don’t, although when I throw in Nietzsche and really think about Josie’s absence, as well as the “you” who is urged to close the door after she leaves, it makes me think about how I loved, then closed the door on the writing of the Beats in my last years of college. I’m not the first person to say this, but Jack Kerouac’s The Road seemed to make more sense when I couldn’t get a date, when the idea of female companionship, let alone a sexual encounter, was so abstract. Who needs women? the Beats, or at least Kerouac’s characters, seemed to say. They only stifle our precious male creativity. It’s more complicated than that now, I know; but by the time I had an actual girlfriend in my fifth super-senior year of college, I started to question all this male creativity stuff.
So maybe Guterman has a point. God I hate saying that.
But I didn’t think about all this stuff when I listened to “Your Love,” even though it was roughly during that same time when I read the Beats. The most charitable way I can say I interpreted the lyrics is akin to how graphic designers regard the nonsensical lorum ipsum-type placeholders in mock-ups: the Outfield’s lyrics are just there. They have no meaning. It’s taking up space between the riffs, drums, and melody line.
Now that we have talked about “Your Love”’s melodic patterns and lyrics etherized upon a table, what can we make of the song’s continued appeal? We’ve established the lyrics are wanting, perhaps a bit sexist, that the song’s chords are simple and repeated to high heaven. Why the resurgence in popularity? In a recent interview, Katy Perry explained her choice to cover and rework the song is because of its universal appeal; how, when she sees a group of women at a club, “Your Love” will come on and all the ladies put their drinks down and sing along. In Perry’s eyes, only Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” shares this put-down-your-drinks distinction.
Another answer might be found in our over-estimation of taste, or at least taste-driven evaluations, of pop culture artifacts, and how a song’s timelessness trumps initial critical drubbings. “Most popular music scholars,” Williams Brooks writes in his essay “On Being Tasteless,” “have succumbed to the temptations of taste. We have argued that the music of a certain performer or composer is ‘better’ than some other person’s music, or that a particular genre or period is ‘richer’ than another.” Music critics and scholars, Brooks says, “need to do something about our taste: we can acquire a taste for tastelessness.”
This is not the first time I’ve loved tasteless music, nor is it the first time the tasteless music I loved upon its release was reviled and found newfound popularity decades later. I loved the British rock band Queen during the lean years, in the 80s, well before their current re-canonization. After “Your Love” my music-listening trajectory follows what would be called a very tasteful, rock critic-friendly voyage in music, primarily listening to what is now called indie rock. Back then, you could only buy this kind of music in a handful of stores and listen to in a handful of public places. To listen to Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade or the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime, you had to make a special trip somewhere, or borrow a friend’s records. I made those special trips, sure. Very tastefully.
In The Outfield, I thought I had found a guilty pleasure that would be a private one, that no one, at least other than my friend Eric, would ever sing along to this song after the summer of 1986, when I graduated high school. In the years that immediately follow, the song does become a pariah, at least with my hip college friends, and whenever I brought out “Your Love” at parties for what Dave Segal called “reptile-brain feelings of poignancy,” I alone felt reptilian.
No matter how many times I could have talked myself out of it over the years, I still listen to “Your Love” every chance I get. When that guitar chord cycle starts and Josie goes on that vacation far away, so goes my sense of taste. I surrender to repetition, simple words, pure pop ambiguity, all in the name of using your love. Tonight.
This essay was originally published in slightly different form on the defunct website Coldfront, as part of their Poets Off Poetry (POP) feature.