Every Time I Switched On The Radio There Was Somebody Else Singing A Song About The Two Of Us

I think Billy Bragg has noted this himself and most Bragg fans too but his back catalogue contains more love songs than political songs, but still he is labelled as a political artist. This song, Walk Away Renee from the mid 80s, is one of his best loved love songs- originally by 60s group The Left Banke, Bragg cajoled tour mate Johnny Marr into playing the guitar and then wrote new lyrics for it, and performed them spoken word style. And what a set of lyrics they are, skewering the rush of  young love and the turmoil of break up.

‘She said it was just a figment of speech
And I said ‘No, you mean figure’
And she said ‘No, figment’
Because she could never imagine it happening
But it did’

Then we get Billy playing the shy boy, which works in terms of getting her attention, but when she speaks to him the first time he gets a nosebleed and ‘she guessed the rest’. The pair go out, get the ferry and when no one collects their fares Billy knows this will be something special- a free ride signifying the blossoming of love and then the radio keeps playing songs about him and her. Like it does. He compares the start of a love affair to a fairground ride, scary and a rush and wanting it to never stop- which is a cliche, and we know it’s a cliche and Billy knows it as well. One of those cliches people falling in love use. Meanwhile Johnny picks away gently and unobtrusively.

Of course it goes wrong as these often things do- she starts seeing someone else. He sees her in the car park with Mr Potato Head (pre-Toy Story this). Car parks -ordinary, prosaic places where nothing happens and where things go wrong in people’s lives. Potato Head puts his coat around her shoulders. Later that night Billy can’t get them out of his head…

‘…I thought about the two of them together
Until the bathwater went cold around me
I thought about her eyes and the curve of her breasts
And about the point where their bodies meet.’

Torment in a rented flat. Head going round and round. Stupid Mr Potato Head and his coat, and them… at it. Sometime later he confronts her- it doesn’t go well, and Billy chucks in another great one liner about being the most ‘illegible batchelor in town’ and she laughs at him and we laugh with him. And then suddenly, as the loss of love builds and jealousy and heartbreak are about to consume him, everything changes, love and infatuation die; Billy plays his trump card lyrically, and the fire burning in him is doused by a massive bucket of cold water…

‘And then one day it happened
She cut her hair and I stopped loving her’

Truly top stuff. I heard it again recently out of nowhere and it was as good as the first time even though I knew what was coming.

Walk Away Renee

4 Responses

  1. beautiful dissection

  2. I think I've said it before elsewhere, but that last line is one of my favourite lyrics ever. Nice writeup.

  3. Great stuff and excellent choice. For me it is the same level as The Street with 'dry your eyes'.

  4. This is cool!

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