Monday, March 27, 2023

Great Lost Songs of the Sixties (An Occasional Series): Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Okay, I've posted about this song -- "Only Pretty (What a Pity)," the Lovin' Spoonful's late (1967) pop/psych masterpiece -- on a couple of occasions over the years(!), but I chanced across it the other day, and was blown away anew.

I've always liked it, of course, for lots of reasons, beginning with the fact that thematically it's an astoundingly dark and worldly wise song for a band pigeonholed as a purveyor of good time music. For another thing, it's structurally really quite clever; verse, chorus, verse, chorus, a bridge in a different tempo that seems to come out of nowhere, and then a final chorus, the kicker being that all the choruses have different lyrics and the Author's Message title phrase doesn't appear until the very end of the song. Plus it's gloriously melodic and gorgeously sung, and if you listen carefully to the very end of the fade-out, there are some really phenomenal sort of modal guitar licks being dispensed.

Eyes to look at, not to see through
She never could see truth for lies
With a smile she'd win us over
Face a trick to take a prize

Tickled pink the mid-aged dandy
Sold his horse to buy her all
The icing for her face like candy
Hung up the mirrors wall to wall

Married life was short but funny
With long lost cousins dropping by
Later on her alimony
Paid for young men's gentle lies

By the window hangs a mirror
Where she hides her sagging chin
Now sadly as she crouches nearer
Never seeing past her skin

"Mommy said, when you were younger
'The face you made would stay that way'
That's all true and if you doubt it
Reflect upon yourself today"

Everyone except the baby
Answers for the face they wear
As a mask of pure contentment
Or a mask of pure despair

Only pretty, what a pity...

As I said, I've always liked it, and the second verse, in particular, is absolutely brilliant -- in four concise poetic lines, writers Joe Butler and Jerry Yester manage to tell you everything you need to know about the arc of the sad, spoiled life of a vain and shallow woman; you can practically see her, her foolish monied husband (the earlier chorus bit about selling his horse is especially nice), and the house they lived in (on Fifth Avenue, if I'm any judge) before she dumped him and turned into a not so gay divorcee.

I must confess, however, that I hadn't understood one crucial part of it until I read the lyrics on-line. That aforementioned bridge, where the vocal goes all robotic, is very hard to make out, but as you can see above it's the voice of Only Pretty's mirror giving her the naked truth; that sound of glass breaking at the end is her smashing it rather than confront herself.

Meanwhile, because I love you all more than food, here's a live clip of the Spoonful doing the song on the Ed Sullivan show.

I should add that I had the privilege of chatting with Joe Butler a few years ago, and he completely did not remember doing the song on TV. He did, however, confirm my suspicion that the song was written about somebody the guys in the Spoonful actually knew.


PriyankUnikart said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mistah charley, sb, ma, phd, jsps said...

i have or did have the lp this is on but frankly i had forgotten this particular song and may not have heard it in half a century - as you say, it is a great lost song, and the ed sullivan performance is wonderfully done

paulinca said...

Oh, wow; this is amazing! I've always argued that the deep cuts are the best. This is further proof. Thank you!