It’s February now. And as the days grow longer, there’s more of the harsh light of day shining on the broken promises in your life — remember the eagerness with which you made your New Year’s resolutions a month ago? Still eating healthy? Spending more time studying? Yeah, right.
It is common knowledge that “the best laid schemes of mice and men / Go oft awry,” so it should be no surprise that there are hundreds of song about broken promises (heck, there are even dozens simply entitled “Broken Promises”) and only a few about promises kept. I had actually wanted to do an “Essentially A Playlist” for the first issue of 2011 about New Year’s resolutions and found a dearth of material on actually making and keeping promises. I guess it doesn’t make for rich songwriting the way hopes dashed on the rocks of life does.
New Order — “Broken Promises” [from Brotherhood]
Why not start with something obvious like a song called “Broken Promises,” right? New Order are an interesting case of promises both broken and fulfilled. Formed out of the ashes of Joy Division, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Peter Hook turned their back on the post-punk path they’d hewed with Ian Curtis (after attempting Joy Division-lite on Movement) and went toward the light. The disco light to be precise, with club hits like “Blue Monday” and “Confusion” cementing their place in electronic music’s history.
Burt Bacharach —
[from Make It Easy On Yourself]
This one’s interesting because the protagonist says they’re all through with promises; “Oh, promises, promises / This is where those promises, promises end,” but by the end of the song it’s clear that the only promises they’re truly done believing in or making are ones that involve the lover who keeps breaking both promises and their heart. Ultimately, the song closes on an upbeat note as the singer intones: “my kind of promises / can lead to joy and hope.”
Tony Bennett —
“Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” [from Life In Song]
I’m sure thanks to Richard Gere’s oeuvre we’ve all heard of a gigolo, but have you ever heard of a gigolette? I hadn’t until I first heard the lyrics to this Tin Pan Alley classic written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren in 1934. Tony Bennett may “walk along the street of sorrow,” but it would seem he really likes this particular stretch of road, having recorded this song five separate times since 1950 (on one of his first records). Steer clear of the “Latin” one from 1952.
Johnny Hates Jazz — “Shattered Dreams”
[from Turn Back the Clock]
The one hit from these one-hit wonders is a classic of the broken promises genre (I don’t know if there actually is a “genre,” but if there isn’t, I’m establishing one right now). “So much for your promises / They died the day you let me go,” Clark Datchler sings of being jilted. It was the press who jilted Datchler and the rest of Johnny Hates — there are several strong tracks on this album that shouldn’t be dismissed. Too bad they never got a second chance.
Smog — “It’s Rough” [from Wild Love]
Bill Callahan is the poet laureate of dashed hopes and failure — here his protagonist is the dasher of hope incarnate: “When you’re down on your luck / And you just can’t cope / When the times are bleak / And the friends are few / Don’t turn to me / ‘cause I’m no hope / Don’t turn to me / ‘cause I don’t know what to do.”
Rilo Kiley — “So Long”
[from Execution of All Things]
While she’s busy singing songs with her boyfriend Johnathan Rice in Jenny and Johnny these days, Jenny Lewis spent the aughts fronting Rilo Kiley alongside another former child acter, Blake Sennett (Boy Meets World, among other “classic” television). This is a pretty decent break-up song with the two characters abandoning the promise of their relationship and not holding out for tomorrow.
Gene — “Where Are They Now?” [from Drawn To The Deep End]
The first in a double-shot of mid-nineties Britpop. Gene were that decade’s answer to the Smiths, with the shimmery guitars, an ear for a hook and a lead vocalist with cutting wit and emotional issues. They might not have hit the staggering heights of Morrissey and co., but they maintained a consistent quality over the course of five studio albums and a few compilations. This song from their sophomore record is pretty much the most depressing one on this playlist, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.
Suede — “Everything Will Flow” [from Mantra Mix]
They eventually collapsed under the weight of their promise and talent, but for a while, Bernard Butler and Brett Anderson were the leading lights of Britpop — their debut was the fastest selling debut in British history at the time it came out in 1993. Problems between vocalist Anderson and guitarist Butler came to a head during the recording of their sophomore album, Dog Man Star, and Butler left the band before it was released. Things were never quite the same.
Willie Nelson —
[from Just A Couple Of Outlaws]
I figured it might be a good idea to bookend this particular playlist with another song called “Broken Promises,” from a man who’s seen his share of them and lived to tell the tale. The song may be about a relationship, but it’s Nelson breaking the promises he’s made to himself to protect his weary heart: “Here you are within my arms, the way you used to be / And I broke the promise that I made to me.”
Crowded House —
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” [from Crowded House]
Rather than end on a complete downer after a string of songs filled with despair and disaster, I thought I’d close on a hopeful note, with one of the best songs from a band that have written a whole bunch of great ones. I don’t know if the promise Neil Finn makes to the woman in the song is ever truly kept, but the song is all about the promise and the hope. Best of luck with whatever resolutions you made for 2011 — there’s still eleven months to fulfill them.