You’ll probably know this song, if you do at all, through the Four Tops version. A grand, rather desperate plea. There should be a “Just” in the title. And here it is…
But I want to share with you a version that you may not have heard. More a poem, or just a monologue. By the Essex punk-folk bard, Billy Bragg. A simple tale of ordinary love lost.
Here’s the tune.
This is what I’ve just written about the song for my book on my musical journey.
” My favourite Billy Bragg moment is on a single from 1986, “Levi Stubbs’Tears”. Levi Stubbs was the singer from the great Motown soul band, the Four Tops. They had a hit single in 1968 called “Walk Away Renee”. It was originally recorded by a band called the Left Banke in 1966. The second song on the B Side of the Billy Bragg single was a version of “Walk Away Renee”. Not the lyrics, but just the melody eked out on a lovely acoustic guitar while Billy tells a story of falling in love, and then being jilted . The tale of a gauche lad, who can’t get his words right, delivered with touching humour.
I said “I’m the most illegible bachelor in town”, and she said, “Yeah, that’s why I could never understand any of those silly letters you sent me.”
The break up hurts:
I went home and thought about the two of them together,
Until the bathwater went cold around me…
What a powerful image of everyday love and hurt that is!
And…then one day it happened…
She cut her hair and I stopped loving her.
Comes out of the blue…
I love that line so much. Is it trivial, superficial, sexist, or just incredibly profound? Why should cutting her hair make any difference to a real love? And yet…
Especially when you are trying to escape the hurt. A simple lad. A simple love. But no different to the rest of us. A universal love. A universal hurt. And a universal escape.
With that classic, rather grandiose melody, gently strummed in the background.
A piece of simple genius by yer man, Billy Bragg.”
What do you think?