12
Jan 14

DEEP BLUE SOMETHING – “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”

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#746, 5th October 1996

dbs It’s by no means a hard-and-fast rule, but if you’re writing a break-up song it’s often a good idea to try to make your protagonist sympathetic, or at least not a fool. Here we have a guy who knows his girlfriend is going to break up with him and clutches at an Audrey Hepburn-shaped straw as evidence that maybe – just maybe – the two still have a chance. Your judgement may rest on whether you think “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” trades in bathos or pathos. Is it a merciless document of the kind of undignified rhetorical lunges men will make to avoid being dumped – or is it supposed to be touching?

Probably both. “We both kinda liked it –“ – this comes across as baffled politeness from the girl, and establishes only the feeblest of rocks to cling to. The attempt to stall an oncoming end is surely doomed. But the song, for all its conversational pretences, isn’t necessarily happening in the real world. As “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” frames with its title, the track nods to romcomland, a special place where predestined lovers ultimately overcome their differences, however unpromising the start.

The song’s clunking reference fits ever so slightly with the zeitgeist, at least. Outside the charts, we’re in the age of early Tarantino films – mixing stylishly choreographed violence with nerdish dissection of cheeseburgers or Madonna – and more pointedly of High Fidelity, with its seductive (if ultimately doomed) intertwining of music taste and romantic destiny. Both nail particular tropes of what will become “geek culture” and its relationship with consumption and preference. “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” shows one logical extension: if being into the right things is a precondition for love – the geek romantic dream – then breaking up when you both like an old film really is an injustice.

Or the man’s a ridiculous whiner. Anyhow, when I first realised I detested this record – a minute or two after I heard it – the lyrics weren’t my only problem. It mixes ingredients in the same broad way the Cranberries do – light indiepop guitar hooks on a bed of mild post-grunge crunch. Neither element does the other any favours. The song is too self-pitying to have any bite, but the attempt to flex its muscles and telegraph serious feelings just underlines how over-sensitive and entitled our hero sounds. Almost no mid 90s American alt-rock made it successfully to Britain – even the fakiest most corporate examples tended to stall or go unreleased. So it’s hard to know how typical this weak effort was, even of the blandest end of modern rock radio. Probably “Breakfast” was a harmless fluke. But to this day I’m annoyed far more than I should be by its sulky self-importance, its overwrought beating on a very puny chest. Just let her go, man!

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Jonathan Bogart on 12 Jan 2014 #

    This was my favorite song the year it was released! I was a senior in high school, everything was taking on a melancholy glow of prefabricated nostalgia, and I thought the instrumental break at the end of the chorus was just about the most beautiful musical sequence I’d ever heard. (My musician friends assured me it was not as complex as it sounded, but I didn’t have the ear for complexity yet; a basic descending sequence still went a long way with me.)

    I don’t know that I ever thought much about the lyrics, except to the extent that I also kind of liked the film and so identified with both the song’s characters; but I certainly never thought the song supported the idea that kind of liking an old movie was a solid basis for a relationship. That self-absorbed doofiness was, I suppose, part of the charm. (Only, perhaps, because I was also exactly that sort of self-absorbed doof. With more maturity under my belt I would no doubt have hated the song too. I certainly would hate anything similar that became popular today; and one of the best things about the postmillenial pop landscape is that this kind of mealymouthed power-pop would have a hard time getting any traction.)

  2. 2
    hardtogethits on 12 Jan 2014 #

    I don’t like this record, but I do rather admire the philosophy that shared cultural references and preferences can make a relationship work. Funny you mention High Fidelity, Tom,because the idea that the key to a relationship is ‘not what we’re like, it’s what we like’ is pure Hornby-ism. The thing is, in my experience, if you have to express those similarities, your relationship may have run its course anyway – and certainly if you get to having to list them, you’re doomed.

  3. 3
    Brendan F on 12 Jan 2014 #

    I remembered it being around at the time but I’m amazed it actually went all the way to the top. It seemed too bland and tuneless (with trite lyrics to boot) to even be a top 10 hit let alone a #1. Maybe they were extraordinarily handsome which seemed to be the main criterion for male pop acts to hit big in the late 90s.

  4. 4
    Ricardo on 12 Jan 2014 #

    As you said, Tom, American corporate alt.rock tended to either underperform or be DOA in Britain. Which makes this song’s arrival to the top spot almost a year after it hit its peak in its Motherland even all the more confusing.
    Why it did so? Pardon my French, but fuck knows! To answer Brenda F’s doubt, the lead singer was quite cute, yes. But even that fails to fully explain why this hit #1 when, say, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Live or Third Eye Blind never translated their multiplatinum American appeal across the pond – and just in case you were wondering, “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” parent album, Home, never went beyond Gold status in the US.
    Anyway, if this isn’t a completely forgotten #1, blame it on the lyrics, basically. It’s their utter clumsiness that save this song from total MOR oblivion, really.

  5. 5
    Patrick Mexico on 12 Jan 2014 #

    I expected Tom to savage this one, and so be it.

    Can’t agree with the mark. Well, bloody good point about that scattergun pop-cultural referencing – imagine if it went “And I said, what about, Sex Lives of the Potato Men?” Mind you, I know it’s not very hip or sexy, but I’ve always had a fondness for this über-anthemic, whitebread, middle-Americana. (see also: Semisonic, The Connells, honestly much of R.E.M and Pearl Jam’s discography.) You could call this a Butlin’s take on the Replacements. But at least it’s something vaguely like the Replacements. 7.

  6. 6
    DanH on 12 Jan 2014 #

    This boring nothing-song managed #3 here in the States, but not for lack of airplay. It blows me away that this made #1 in the U.K….that would be the equivalent of….whatever British band that never crossed over, help me out here, regulars :-)…making #1 in the U.S.

    I do appreciate your insights into this song though. Helps me see it had some worth, or at least potential. That’s why I like this page :-)

  7. 7
    Tom on 12 Jan 2014 #

    #1 Great comment – I feel lucky that the set of “Number Ones” and the set of “Songs I found meaning in in High School” don’t intersect that much.

    #4 This feels like a record a DJ might have got behind, there’s always a couple of dudes at Radio 1 at any time who like bland, lyrics-y songs.

    I saw Live live, you have just reminded me. They were terrible! REALLY turgid. They were supporting Frank Black (whose set I can also remember nothing about at all). I wasn’t going to many gigs by anyone else’s standards but mine, but I had just started to get pretensions of becoming a ‘rock critic’ and I thought one of the things you ought to do was pay attention to support acts. Live were, I think, the very worst act I denied myself the pleasure of the venue bar for.

  8. 8
    DanH on 12 Jan 2014 #

    For the record, I would prefer Gin Blossoms…similar, but not as in-your-face boring. Did they ever have hits in the U.K.?

  9. 9
    punctum on 12 Jan 2014 #

    American AoR, otherwise unchanged since the seventies, smuggled itself back into the nineties under “alternative” cover, and the facade proved highly profitable. Throughout the mid-nineties there sprouted a rash of essentially conservative rock/pop groups who typically enjoyed one major hit single and one auxiliary major hit album before going back to the bars or to infinitely more profitable careers writing and producing for others. The Spin Doctors, 4 Non-Blondes, Soul Asylum…all could have existed in 1975, but with the correct post-Cobain packaging and marketing they looked “alternative” and prospered with the post-Hornby clientele anxious still to look “with it” but fearful about allowing music to come too close to them lest it disturb them and thus remind them of their own rapidly dwindling mortality.

    “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” was the culmination of this line of selling and in a lot of ways is the “Release Me” of its time; the song concerns a couple on the verge of breaking up, hating each other actively and passively. In desperation the singer summons up a dim reminder from their distant beginnings (“And I said, what about Breakfast At Tiffany’s?“) to little effect (“She said, I think I remember the film” – hardly the cherishable memory as the foundation of a deep and lasting relationship). He persists (“And I said, well, that’s one thing we’ve got”); his underlying desperation and insecurity surf to the surface (“I see you, the only one who knew me”) before he finally gives up (“I guess I was wrong…/Still, I know you just don’t care”).

    This minimalist scenario is played out in just two verses and a chorus and might have worked had it found a more sympathetic musical setting than DBS’ bar-room politeness alternating with “punk” guitar “thrashes” and noodling which might pass as Johnny Marr at 50,000 miles, not to mention the terrible, hearty lead vocal which sounds like Pete Seeger being subpoenaed into singing with the Rembrandts. Music for the intimidated middle-aged couples who lived through punk and couldn’t understand why their sun wasn’t blotted out anymore.

  10. 10
    Tom on 12 Jan 2014 #

    #9 ah, yes, he gives up on it by the end – I think I must have tuned out in the instrumental break every time. Which makes it closer in scenario to “The Winner Takes It All”, and there the comparison should end.

  11. 11
    Ricardo on 12 Jan 2014 #

    #9 Not that it’s really important. But out of those you mentioned, only 4 Non Blondes actually sprouted a member who ultimately went to songwriter/producer-for-hire’s greener pastures – no need to name names here, I suppose.
    Another “alternative” star one who went on to find fortune (if not fame; but that’s exactly the point, right?) in that very field was Dan Wilson out of Semisonic. Those royalties from Adele’s “Someone Like You” surely will be enough to pay his rent for the next few years!

  12. 12
    thefatgit on 12 Jan 2014 #

    Yeah, this one…

    “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” was nothing more than an overplayed borefest on daytime radio. The mentions of 4 Non-Blondes and Semisonic are par-for-the-course. 90′s post-grunge was a wasteland with the exceptions of Beck (if you can count him as mainstream anyway) and Tool, foreshadowing something else.

    So Deep Blue Something sort of exist in some kind of obscure plane, in the same way Hootie & The Blowfish are “cool” in the Friends Universe or The Violent Femmes are “cool” in the How I Met Your Mother Universe. Somewhere in the corporate world, DBS are a “cool” rock band. The only attractive thing about the song is the hooky chorus. The rest is dull, unremarkable karaoke-fodder for accountants. This is probably the least cool #1 outside the novelty canon.

  13. 13
    Alan not logged in on 12 Jan 2014 #

    I saw this was coming up and spent quite some time looking for the Harry Hill clip of him and Stoufer the cat singing this. If anyone finds it, I owe you a google (I owe you a duckduckgo sounds filthy).

  14. 14
    Ricardo on 12 Jan 2014 #

    #12 Well, Violent Femmes are still very much considered “cool” in a (index word alert!) hipster way. I don’t have any idea of them having lost their “cool credentials” at any point. Unless we’re trying to call Reality Bites into mind here – and wouldn’t you know: DBS, in many ways, DO remind me of Reality Bites.

  15. 15
    23 Daves on 12 Jan 2014 #

    #5 I was wondering if someone would mention Semisonic – I always had that band and Deep Blue Something tied up quite closely together in my mind, although as you point out, there are numerous other contenders from the same period. Bloody hated Semisonic. A local pub I used to frequent was owned by a brewery who had some kind of deal going on with their record label where for a few weeks they would play “Closing Time” at, you guessed it, closing time. The tune was turgid anyway, but to cap it all off someone thought it would be a wise idea for it to accompany the “drink-up” cries of an impatient and scowling landlord. Not the best marketing device I’ve ever come across, to this day if someone mentions Semisonic (which isn’t often) I just associate them with being kicked out of pubs and having a lonely walk home to my student digs.

    Anyway, Deep Blue Something. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is one of those records I really don’t like, but I can grin and bear it if it comes on the radio. It’s music you can imagine one of the characters from “Friends” really enjoying, slick yet slightly bitter-sweet and not too edgy. If you were a young aspirational person, you could put it on the stereo at one of your first dinner parties and at least nobody would complain.

    At the time the lyrics made some kind of sense to me, but now I’m a grown adult I just listen to it and think “What? You’re trying to save a relationship based on mutual film and music likes? Get a grip. For that reason alone, leave, woman, leave”. These days I’m not the kind of romantic who thinks that shared cinema tastes and shared love of the same band t-shirts means much of a damn thing, to be honest, it’s just a nice bonus.

    EDIT TO SAY: I think Simon Mayo got right behind this single, didn’t he? It seems like the kind of record he would unconditionally support. That and bloody Joan Osbourne’s “One Of Us”.

  16. 16
    mintness on 12 Jan 2014 #

    The instrumental break referred to above (#1) always puts me in mind of the theme tune to The Kids In The Hall. Now there’s a slice of the 90s (by the time it reached us, at least) that does stand up to a revisit.

    That said, my most recent encounter with “Breakfast…” was when an inspired piece of playlisting at a Leuven gay bar last October prompted a venue-wide singalong at four in the morning. The kitsch factor, dewy-eyed 90stalgia, cheap sticky drinks – probably an appropriate enough spiritual resting place for the song.

    (But a good call at #8 – I’d give up the singalongs and cheap sticky drinks for life if it meant we could talk about “Hey Jealousy” here instead…)

  17. 17
    To Mewing! (@tomewing) on 12 Jan 2014 #

    Perhaps YOU will be the one to overturn critical consensus about Deep Blue Something! http://t.co/BQLPYWmi0E – but probably not tbh

  18. 18
    Chelovek na lune on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #8 Yes, the Gin Blossoms had four fairly small UK hits: of which one (“Hey Jealousy”) was certainly superior to this.

    I can’t bring myself to hate BAT, but,it’s just so….insubstantial. I think the dorkiness of the lyrics is kind of self-conscious. Well, hopefully anyway. And musically: well, it has a structure that flows and works up to a point, without setting the world on fire and serves its purpose reasonably well – an opening hook draws the listener in; the chorus steps things up a gear and draws the listener in a bit more. The emotion isn’t overstated: as break-up songs go this is remarkably un-upsetting: perhaps one for the stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on audience. But then, it just repeats – no doubt, as story- and lyric-wise it has nowhere to go. It’s over.

    I can’t remember why on earth this was a hit – was there some promotion tied in with it? (a quick glance at the chart run shows it was a re-release, having got to no 55 in the summer). Yes, it’s inoffensive mainstream radio fayre, unchallenging but unrepulsive.

    I could stretch to a 5.

  19. 19
    flahr on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Surprised by the strong reactions to this. The song strikes me as of course a bit of a joke, there’s no way the line “we both kinda liked it” would appear if the narrator wasn’t supposed to be a bit pathetic*, but there’s something slightly adorable in how earnest his scrabbling away at straws to try and salvage something so palpably doomed is. I certainly don’t get any sense of irritation from the song.

    It’s a bit too repetitive, though, and as much as I’d like to stretch to a 7 for contrariness’s sake I think 6 is as high as I can go. Which is odd because I gave “Wannabe” a 7 and I listen to this for pleasure far more than I ever would to that.

    What else to say? I think it’s the second, and last, grunge #1 hit (after “Inside”), although I might have forgotten some, and it’s entirely possible some of the later Oasis hits (which I haven’t heard yet) are grunge like most of …Morning Glory was (but not “Some Might Say”). Someone mentioned the album, Home, upthread; it was complete pish and I think of it as the archetypal “album that’s only good for one song”.

    *that’s probably why I’m so surprised by the reaction to the song, actually: the narrator is so obviously pathetic that you all read like HOWWIBLE BULLIES by being mean about him

  20. 20
    Rory on 13 Jan 2014 #

    UK music buyers do it again: first Stiltskin achieve the grunge number one that should have belonged to any number of better bands and songs, and then these guys do the same for the poppier end of ’90s alt-rock. I never had much time for most of the representatives of the latter mentioned so far, but a few did appeal to me a great deal: Matthew Sweet, Ben Folds, the New Pornographers and Semisonic were at various points in the ’90s and ’00s among my favourite artists, and I still check out their new releases. (I must admit that I still haven’t listened to Dan Wilson’s Free Life since I picked it up last year, but I would go in to bat for Semisonic any day: they were a hell of a lot more than the guys who did “Closing Time”, and that was a lot better than the song under consideration.)

    So I know the musical language of which we momentarily speak. I can recognize this as a typical example of the use of that vernacular. And I can hear the words recede into the background like chatter in the street, as I forget what any of them were beyond the title. It was apparently chosen because it made for a catchier song title than Roman Holiday, but one unfortunate consequence is that the song brings to mind Mickey Rooney’s performance rather than Gregory Peck’s. (Another, according to the singer, was that they always ended up being asked to appear on breakfast radio.)

    I had no memory of the song, but when I watched the video something stirred, so I must have heard it when it was reaching number 3 in Australia in early 1996. But as Texan power-pop alt-rock one hit wonders of the ’90s go, I’ll take Fastball, thanks. (The Houston Press, meanwhile, once called this the second-worst song from Texas of all time, after another old friend).

    Unfamiliarity breeds slightly less contempt, so it’s a 4 from me today.

    [I wrote this when there were only seven or eight comments, before the Semisonic hate appeared, but I knew it was coming!]

  21. 21
    flahr on 13 Jan 2014 #

    P.S. Hootie and the Blowfish are shitter than shit.

  22. 22
    taDOW on 13 Jan 2014 #

    hard to describe the horror just seeing the words ‘deep blue something’ provoked in me. third worst song of the 90s. 1.

  23. 23
    Rory on 13 Jan 2014 #

    flahr @19, I’d never call this grunge myself. Post-grunge, sure, but that scene was as distinct from grunge as post-punk was from punk.

    Meanwhile, I have managed to survive 46 years without ever knowingly hearing a Hootie track! Woohoo! (And that took some doing in the 1990s, I tell you.)

    (Of course, now I wonder if there was something I was missing… but no, my curiosity isn’t going to get the better of me at this late date.)

    (It is, isn’t it. Curse you, Internet.)

    (LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO. [Runs sobbing from the screen.])

  24. 24
    Rory on 13 Jan 2014 #

    P.S. Hootie and the Blowfish are shitter than shit.

  25. 25
    Alan not logged in on 13 Jan 2014 #

    I notice a few mentions of “Friends”, I often confuse this song with the theme to Friends, and this band with The Rembrandts (I just had to google them). I’m not quite sure what the link is, but if other people have mentioned it, I’m clearly not entirely mad. (I am not a fan of the show.)

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