Jun 25, 2012

Monday Music Duel #2: Stay

Last week's Monday Music Duel surprised me with a resounding victory in for Metallica in the comments. I thought there would have been a more even distribution, but it was metal by 8 to 1. So with the internet appropriate emotion of \m/ - I'm delighted to retire the blokes for a week, and bring on our first battle of the ladies.

The early 1990s was a good time to be a female vocalist. You could be appreciated for your voice and your writing talents, and not have to be a fantastic dancer or look hot in a bikini. That seemed to turn a corner in the mid-to-late 90s - heralded in many ways (including ironically) by the arrival of Girl Power - but let's take a moment to appreciate these pre-princesses of pop.

Stay by Shakespears Sister

"Staaaaaay.... wiiiiiith..... meeeeeee..."

I can still remember my mother's delicate voice eeking out those vowels. She heard the song on the radio and fell in love with it. I can't remember if she picked up the CD herself, or if I helped find it for her in Brashes (remember Brashes?). But she put that thing on repeat like no one's business.

Shakespears Sister seems an oddly constructed sort of band, comprising two hardcore vocal dynamos. Siobhan Fahey founded the group after leaving Bananarama. That's right, Bananarama. I think she was the goddess on the mountain top. Oh no wait, Venus was her name. Anyway, she teamed up with American chanteuse Marcella Detroit to produce a few albums, complete with eponymous name alterations at every turn. Wikipedia instructs me that the true version has no "e" in Shakespeare and no apostrophe. Rebels. It sounds like Fahey was a complicated character, and apparently declared the band split to the public before Detroit herself even knew.

Stay - released in 1992 - is such a simple song but in many ways a perfect pop power ballad. The light ethereal keyboard chords; Detroit's haunting entreaty to her lover ("I'll go anywhere with you/just wrap me up in chains"); then that chorus. Three words. "Stay with me" repeated, repeated, amen. It's a hymn, a prayer, an ode, a plea. Suitably, Detroit is featured in the film clip in a demure in a simple black dress, maintaining a vigil by her lover's bedside (my favourite thing about the clip is that there's a bunch of medical machines near him, but no evidence he's actually hooked up to any of them). It's given a cosmic edge by the night sky and shooting stars out the window; and a 90s grunge with Fahey's on-trend heavy eyeshadow and full red lips. How good is the short hair? Heroine characters in film clips never have short hair anymore, unless you count Pink.

And then! That crunchy guitar kicks in and hello, here's Fahey, resplendent in a devilishly sparkly onesie, gurning like she just ate bad cheese, stalking her way down from some other dimension to mock Detroit's suffering in the bridge ("Only time can tell/ if you can break the spell/ back in your own world"). By the way, I'm pretty certain I had the exact same shade of greyish-purply lipstick as Fahey's when I was in Year 9. It was called "Iron Vixen". HOW COOL IS THAT NAME. 

The tension mounts until the only thing Detroit can do is letting out her piercing howl of a high F. Apparently, this is called "whistle register". Hells yeah. Play this song in front of your dog, see what happens, report back in the comments. Detroit's character wins the day; her lover comes back to life, and Fahey's villain is admonished enough to slink away. Part of me wishes the song had a stronger solid ending, but as it started soft, I can see the why the choice was made to let it fade out; repeated, repeated, amen: Stay is the hymn that never ends.

Stay by Lisa Loeb

Were you a teenage girl in 1994? Did you like reading books, or find yourself in awkward conversations about how many boys you've kissed when in reality you hadn't kissed any? Did you keep a journal of your thoughts, and attempt to style your frizzy hair in a series of interestingly antique up dos, in the hope that people at school would find you noble and unknowable?

Then chances are you had the CD single of Lisa Loeb's Stay (technically, it's got a bracketed "I Missed You" on the end, but what the hell). Famous as a soundtrack hit from the Gen-X-define-a-thon movie Reality Bites, it's a wonder of introspective stream-of-consciousness. Like the best love songs, it's about a relationship going wrong, and the hurt and accusations on both sides.  "I don't understand if you really care/I'm only hearing negative/no no no no".  Despite its relatively unstructured structure, it's a terrific karaoke number, particularly if there's a few of you around who were teenage girls in 1994. It's almost spoken word in a way, and the musicality of the long sentences and high emotion behind them are wonderful to replicate, even after a few too many raspberry Bacardi Breezers.

The video clip was actually directed by Ethan Hawke, and in it, Loeb is the ultimately geeky thinking man's geeky girl crumpet. Massive librarian-friendly horn-rimmed glasses, brown hair, a cute short black dress with thick black tights - and a cat! Who wouldn't want to wake up next to that, drink coffee and read the newspapers? The popularity of the song was a victory for sensitive, artsy types everywhere. It was OK, for just a little while, to be vulnerable, to put your true feelings out there. Our pain was here, expressed, all the frustration, all the pain, all the longing, and of course... all the rejection. "And you say/ I only hear what I want to" is the closing line - it's after he's asked her to stay, but is he going to treat her any better?

This song always reminds me of the one boy I went out with in Year 9. It turned out he'd only "gone out" with me (we'd spent half a Saturday morning walking around Westfield Strathpine) to get revenge on my friend, whom he'd dated a few weeks before. After six days, he got his best friend to dump me at the school swimming carnival. I spent most of the day in tears, but did woman up enough to win a first in the breaststroke (insert your own jokes here). I later heard he'd had a mental breakdown and had to be institutionalised because he thought he was Jesus, and had written down a list of the 12 "disciples" he was going to take back to heaven with him. 

I never bothered to find out if it was a true story.

Anyway, Lisa Loeb's song came out around that time - early 1994 - so it is forever linked with awkwardness and a little touch of heartache. But at the end of the day, I think soul-pop epic drama beats out folk-pop personal tragedy.

Verdict: Shakespears Sister. By that whistle. 

Over to you! Leave your verdict in the comments, and we'll see who wins next week.


  1. I'm going to show my age here. I've never heard that Shakespears Sister song before. I don't know if I've ever heard of Shakespears Sister. But I have seen that Lisa Loeb video before, heard the song a couple of times. Maybe it was that two year gap? (I was 9 instead of 7) Or maybe it was just longer lasting.

    So while I was watching closely enough to also wonder why he wasn't hooked up to the medical equipment, I'm going to do with the folk pop. (Plus she looks like me!!! I'm a geeky girl who can't figure out relationships too!!!)

    Mind you, when you use the word Stay as a starting point for songs, my mind immediately goes to Sway by Bic Runga. (Say I'll stay/ Don't come and go, like you do.) 1997, so I was 12 by this point.

    That's the way it goes with pop songs- they tend to be remembered by those who were around to hear them at the time.

  2. Heh - I went about 17 years without hearing the Lisa Loeb song. Then I heard it on the radio a few months ago, and now again here. Shakespear's Sister should win this contest easily, but they came a year or two before I started watching Rage. So I'll vote subjectively for Loeb because it has the comforting familiarity of a song I listened to on lots of weekend mornings long ago....

  3. Neither song is going to sit in any playlist of mine but if I was to pick one over the other, it would be Lisa. I'm just not into pop. The vocals were lovely but the whole tone of the song ... Meh.

  4. Neither song is going to sit in any playlist of mine but if I was to pick one over the other, it would be Lisa. I'm just not into pop. The vocals were lovely but the whole tone of the song ... Meh.

  5. Maybe the 2nd one is a bit better, but for Stay this is better
    Jackson Browne Live At Shepherd's Bush Theatre, London 1978

  6. The second biggest surprise I had in reading about Banarama a few months ago was the phrase "Born: 1961 (age 51)".

    The biggest one was "Years active: 1979–present".

    It's a tough call to make between both 'stays'. I might have to go with Shakespear's Sister on this one mostly for nostalgia value.

  7. A tough one - both songs significant in my past.

    Just to add to your lovely analysis of SS's clip - Fahey's big moment is almost a carbon-copy of the mannerisms of Maria in Metropolis (not nice Maria, but the robot version). Don't believe me, then take this as an opportunity to get your silent movie on ;) Any music video that echoes a favourite movie of mine in a clever way always wins points from me ;)

    I totally agree with the ease with which one can sing along with Lisa and it's a little easier to relate to than SS's Stay. With that said though, it was the SS song I chose to include in the Snow White Pantomime I put on at Act One those many years ago to express the Snow Queen's desire to take Kai from Anya...proving that to me, the fantastical is usually always the winner :D

  8. I think I have to go with Shakepears Sister. I initially didn't think I would, because that bridge, with the Rocky Horror reject... yikes. But ultimately, I love the goofy earnestness of it. It's much simpler in both structure and style to the Loeb song, but I really don't like Lisa Loeb. That sort of early 90s indie-pop ballad does nothing for me. I have a knee-jerk kickback against the style which I try hard to overcome nowadays because it means I miss out on good songs, and this isn't a bad song. But ultimately the talk-sing structure and rambling narrative just loses me.

    Also, it seems like Detroit is objectively a much better singer than Loeb, and Fahey is delightfully unhinged in her bit. I feel like that sent it over the top for me.

    Also I think the sentiment of the Sister track is more heartfelt, even though it's arguably more detatched. That plaintive repeated line really hammers through to the core of you. Loeb's song, on the other hand, is more personal but actually feels more detatched than its minimalist rival, because she's talking about a specific scenario. Shakespears Sister is singing to everyone; Lisa Loeb is singing to herself.

  9. lisa all the way for me. her greatest hits is on constant rotation in my car

  10. Shakespeare's Sister for me. Lisa's song has better lyrics, in my opinion, but if I was only interested in lyrics I would be listening to poetry recitals :P The tune for Lisa's song is bland and generic - the content is also a touch too inwardly-focused for my tastes.

    I did, however, arrive at this opinion after listening to both songs for the first time just now, so unfortunately I have no song-based nostalgia with which to guide my decision.

  11. Lisa Loeb wins for me. I love SS - have a couple of their albums, even - and never really liked 'Stay' as an example of their music. The release of Lisa's 'Stay' happened to coincide with a tragic (*eye roll*) breakup, so for me, the nostalgia value of the lyrics takes it over the finishing line in first place.

  12. oh my god ... listening to both of those, which I haven't done for years, just took me right back.

    Stay (Shakeespeare's Sister) was the very first CD I owned. I played it over and over and hearing that again just now refreshed so many memories. We were living with my Grandparents at the time and I have a very vivid memory of my Grandma singing this in the kitchen after I'd played it a million times.

    And Lisa Loeb - I was a huge Reality Bites fan *cringe* and remember listening to this on repeat waiting for my boyfriend to show up one Saturday afternoon - when he did show up, he caught me belting out this tune in my bedroom - I was 15, I was mortified !! I'd forgotten that until just now.

    So ... Shakespears Sister it is!!