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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. 61
    23 Daves on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #58 Len were also Canadian, as were Barenaked Ladies. It’s very lucky for you that my wife isn’t reading this thread, or there would be merry hell to pay!

    Very interesting that almost all successful Canadian bands are one-hit wonders in the UK, though (if even that – The Tragically Hip never made any headway on these shores).

  2. 62
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Jan 2014 #

    er yes, i meant mickey rooney, not andy rooney (andy rooney was a sportwriter and broadcaster: that would have been AMAZING casting, in an even more dreadful way)

    we just need someone confusing mickey rooney with the bassplayer for the smiths to complete the figure

  3. 63
    mapman132 on 13 Jan 2014 #

    I first have to say that I was squarely in the US demographic, both musically and generationally, that this song was aimed at. Many of the alt-rock groups mentioned above (Smashing Pumpkins, Third Eye Blind, Semisonic, Better Than Ezra, Spacehog) read like my 1990’s personal chart hall of fame. Not to mention Counting Crows, early Green Day, I could go on and on…. So I heard this a lot in the fall of 1995. Unlike songs by most of the above groups, it actually got a single release, allowing it to reach #5 on the Hot 100 (the #3 peak was actually on the Pop 100).

    I don’t usually analyze lyrics closely, but the inanity of these lyrics quickly became hard for me to ignore. So, a girl’s about to break with you, and the only commonality you can think of is liking an old movie? Seriously?? What was your relationship based on, anyway? Well, other than you know what?

    I tried looking for some good parody versions of this on Youtube, but surprisingly, there were none. I think the structure of the lyrics must make it too hard. I tried coming up with my own version with US Congress solving their differences over mutual hatred of the local NFL team owner, but I couldn’t squeeze in the words right. Probably the best for everyone ;)

    Chartwise, this was quite a role reversal for me as a transatlantic chart watcher. Usually, songs hit big in the UK and then gradually make it over here (eg: Wannabe). I was very surprised in 1996 to see this year-old song suddenly appear atop the UK chart. It didn’t sound like a typical UK chart topper either. Certainly any of the previously mentioned US alt-rock groups would’ve seemed more likely.

    But despite everything above, I actually don’t hate the song. In fact, I’m going to give it a 6/10. Maybe I just enjoy it ironically (and not Alanis-ironic either – another song from the period I enjoy despite ridiculous lyrics, although there the irony is meta).

    PS #19: have to reiterate what others have said: this song may be alt-rock, but it’s NOT grunge.

  4. 64
    mapman132 on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #56: OK, that’s the type of thing I was looking for!

  5. 65
    James BC on 13 Jan 2014 #

    re Semisonic.

    The month Discovery by Daft Punk came out, there was a letter in Q magazine complaining that they hadn’t given a 5 star review for absolutely ages. Q replied, “Well take a look a the reviews section and you are in for a treat!”

    Lo and behold, there were two 5 star reviews that month. One of those era-defining instant classics was Discovery by Daft Punk. The other was Chemistry by Semisonic.

  6. 66
    Cumbrian on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #63: And I said, what about jailing Dan Snyder?

  7. 67
    Lazarus on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Wow, busy thread – hard to keep up. Haven’t you all got work to do?

    # 51 – surely the era of the ‘wacky’ band name was the mid-to-late 80s – Curiosity Killed the Cat, Living in a Box, Johnny Hates Jazz, It’s Immaterial etc

    As we have it on at work, I can confirm (re # 30) that this is played on Heart far more than any other ’96 chart-topper, only ‘Return of the Mack’ coming close. Haven’t heard ‘Wannabe’ or ‘Killing Me Softly’ in yonks.

    ‘Never You Mind’ is another Semisonic song that should have graced the Top 20.

  8. 68
    Cumbrian on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #65: Yeah – but that’s Q for you isn’t it?

    I’ve got Chemistry by Semisonic and still give it a spin every now and then. It’s not era defining but it’s pretty decent imo.

    Of course, you know why they hadn’t dished out a 5 star review to anything for a while right (except re-issues of acknowledged canon staples)? It’s B* H*** N**

  9. 69
    flahr on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #63 It’s odd, in a way, because you’d think the fact the chorus doesn’t actually rhyme (does that make this unique among #1 hits?) would make it easier to fit words in.

  10. 70
    Chelovek na lune on 13 Jan 2014 #

    “Secret Smile” (and I had no idea who performed it) is possibly, for me, the most cringeworthy turn-the-radio-off-NOW track of the 90s. Well that and “Lemon Tree” by Fools Garden. Don’t think I would recognize any other tracks by Semisonic, or indeed, most of the other bands mentioned here.

    “Mrs Jones” by Counting Crows, however, was that kind of US alt-college rock-thing pretty close to its best. I might have expected to that to have done more in the UK.

  11. 71
    Cumbrian on 13 Jan 2014 #

    70: Well, we’ve been on the same page some of the time recently (at least I think so from memory) but I would absolutely reverse that. I find “Mrs Jones” to be bloody awful!

  12. 72
    Auntie Beryl on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #58 “Iris” eventually reached number three in the UK in 2011, after repeated X Factor annihilation.

  13. 73
    fivelongdays on 13 Jan 2014 #

    I have to have my say here, even if I’ve fot here a bit too late.

    Yep, this is one of the few US College/Alt (there’s bugger all grunge about it) hits to have made it big over here. I’m not quite sure why either, but there you go. I always thought the problem was the singer never quite committed to being sarcastic or desperate. That said, I’d rather listen to this than the bloody Fugees any day of the week. It’s enjoyable, catchy, and has a pretty cool chorus.

    7.

    PS – ‘Semi Charmed Life’ is a classic, and wasn’t the equally lovely ‘Breathe A Little Deeper’ by Blameless a hit around this time?

    PPS – This was at number one when 14-year-old me went to see Metallica at the NEC, one of the moments which helped my move away from the charts…but I guess the final split is still a few years away. Nevertheless, there’s a possibility that, from now on, I’ll be commenting on less entries.

  14. 74
    MBI on 13 Jan 2014 #

    This song raises mediocrity to an art form. One of the more interesting defenses of the song I’ve ever read was about just how paradoxically boring and yet singularly weird this song is.

    ‘The song does so very, preciously, historically little to steer itself out of the way of bland averageness that it at least sounds like it couldn’t have possibly been that much of an unintended consequence. We’ll get another twelve “Smells Like Teen Spirit”s, another fifty “Wonderwall”s, and about a thousand more “Creep”s before we ever get another “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”‘

    http://intensities.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/request-line-i-got-you-hurts-so-good-another-girl-another-planet-breakfast-at-tiffanys/

  15. 75
    Patrick Mexico on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Ah.. only just realised after 17 years how I thought the lyric, “And as I recall, I think, we both kinda liked it”, was “And Miss, I recall, I think, the book kind of lied, dear” – which book, the Truman Capote one? The Bible? Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Shame it wasn’t, as it could have just given the song a Smiths-esque sheen. Point knocked off for the real lyric – it unveils a slippery slope from here to this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWLhrHVySgA

    Still a high 6.. a very inoffensive record but I can’t find much offensive about it either.

  16. 76
    James BC on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Has nobody suggested that the protagonist is being deliberately funny?

    Relationship is at a low. Girl says they have nothing in common. Boy comes out with absurd line about Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Girl laughs. They both laugh. They realise (remember) that they share a sense of humour after all. They do have something in common – and not just the film. All is well.

  17. 77
    Tom on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #77 a nice reading but not really backed up by the emotional mood the music and performance is setting IMO.

  18. 78
    mapman132 on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #72 Interesting fact: “Iris” was initially yet another victim of the no-unreleased-singles rule on the Hot 100, but spent a still-record *18* weeks atop Billboard’s Airplay chart. When the Hot 100 started allowing non-singles in December 1998, “Iris” finally debuted at #9, but went down from there as it was well past its airplay peak.

  19. 79
    23 Daves on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Actually, having seen other examples of American alt-pop/ alt-rock of this era listed in front of me, I do have to wonder if I should have given this one more points. I don’t find it overly irritating, and I do know that almost all the other tracks mentioned in this thread so far send me running for the hills. There’s one particular song I don’t even want to mention or dissect I despise it so much (not only does it aggravate me, it’s an unshiftable earworm once I get thinking about it). That nameless track would have scored an easy zero had it climbed to the summit in this country. Actually, come to think of it, there are two US mid-nineties alt-rock hits I almost despise beyond all words.

    I can’t work out what it is that unites them all, but part of it may be a cold, calculated feel. A lot of these records are knowing and wry without being too intelligent, are ROCK without being too wild or spontaneous, faintly emotional without generating much empathy, and constantly looking over their shoulders towards an MOR/ AOR past. But then Supertramp tick a lot of these boxes too (apart from the last one) and I enjoy a lot of their stuff. Something really irks me about this style and I can’t place precisely what. Perhaps my brain expects something more than any of it actually delivers.

  20. 80
    MBI on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Now, personally, my reading is that it’s not meant to be funny or sad; it’s a relationship ending with a shrug and moving on. I don’t hear much pathos or bathos in it.

  21. 81
    Doctor Casino on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Agreed with MikeMCSG #35 and Rory @ 47. This kind of “pretty” alt-rock is more than just a cleaned-up grunge or a alternified AOR (though I think punctum’s reading is interesting) – it’s actually continuous, genre-wise, with what got played as “college rock” in the late 80s and early 90s, and which in the US made up much of the Modern Rock chart before Nirvana. REM made a bunch of really good records – this is the last, sad trickle-down of the most easily ape-able aspects of their sound (and that of the Replacements, and the Smiths, and…). Deep Blue Something’s song is a lousy, underwritten example, and the only kind of nice thing about it is the guitar break – generic, but not unpleasant to hear at the grocery store or dentist’s office. So I don’t think Tom’s review is wrong, either. But there was just a lot more happening on American alt-rock radio than this might suggest. IIRC this had a very short lifespan on said format before being fully adopted by the top 40 and adult contemporary stations. Matchbox 20 and the Wallflowers, who really were what Punctum describes, made a similar transition.

    Semisonic isn’t a totally far-off comparison, and that dude did have some kind of limited college-rock credentials viz. Trip Shakespeare, though I liked them better with a little more grunge-wash to the guitars, as on their first record. “If I Run” remained their best single IMO, though “Chemistry” isn’t bad. “Closing Time,” though, yikes – if Tom went after Deep Blue Something’s lyrics, then I shudder to imagine what would happen if we took that one on.

  22. 82
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Jan 2014 #

    one of the ways the book BaT differs from the film is that the relationship ends in the book; the film has standard RomCom ending — the book version of the guy is also a bit of a deluded dullard, iirc; in the film, by contrast, he rescues her from her sadness (and flighty self) by being her future dependable other half…

    so the song actually matches the book a little better, curiously enough, in that the guy in it is also baffled and saddened by the fact it’s ended — only to discover that holly golightly (for it is she) is not really at all who she seemed to him to be; the way she presents herself to the world — which he had been so beguiled by — is a mask, deliberate or otherwise, to distance herself from her hard upbringing (and other hinted-at traumas?)

    so there’s a teeny glimmer of room for this to be quite a clever, culturally literate song — though it entirely depends on the listener knowing both the versions as well as what the song actually talks about (and i don’t think i believe the song IS this clever… it’s basically using culture as a get-out-of-tastejail-free card, because everyone of taste loves audrey hepburn films, right? (same way aretha especially sometimes got deployed in music in the 80s, as a transcendent marker of excellence that no one could possibly disagree on)

  23. 83
    iconoclast on 13 Jan 2014 #

    I remember when, not long after this was at Number One, a girl I went to work with told me she was learning to play the guitar, and this was one of the songs she could strum along to. I didn’t know whether to regard that as a Good Thing or not. Anyway, it’s dull, boring, tedious, and forgettable. At best FOUR.

    #27: ah, that would be an ecumenical matter.

  24. 84
    Billy Hicks on 13 Jan 2014 #

    75: I thought it was “Ah, yes! I recall. I think? We both kinda liked it”, pushing the conversational nature of the chorus to the extreme.

    Ditto also the early comment about mistaking thinking it was about a first date rather than a breakup.

  25. 85
    Another Pete on 13 Jan 2014 #

    I think Sweden had a big part to play in the reason why US alt-rock didn’t fair too well in the UK. In 1996 they were having something of a Britpop style boom themselves Cardigans, Wannadies, Whale, The Hellacopters etc. The sound wasn’t too dissimilar to Britpop and if required to come over to the UK to promote the single/album a flight from Stockholm is far cheaper and shorter than a transatlantic one.

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s follows on perfectly on from not knowing whether Peter Andre was in a soap or not, in that I assumed this must be from a film, how else would it be number 1. Yet there were no clips of some romcom injected with footage of the band in the video.

    #79 Is it ‘Peaches – Presidents of the United States of America’ they were probably the one of the few US alt-rock acts to have some relative success in the UK in 96, though it was only for that year.

  26. 86
    23 Daves on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #85 – Yes! Well done! I despise that song. Being aware of my weakness, my housemates used to taunt me by playing it or humming it to themselves.

    The very fact that the only clues I gave anyone were that I would have given it 0 out of 10 if we discussed it here and found it incredibly irritating, that’s an impressively quick guess. Maybe I’m not alone.

  27. 87
    Patrick Mexico on 13 Jan 2014 #

    I like this more than I should also because Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the film, was pretty bloody obscure to a boy of 11. I guess nowadays I might prick up my ears if a massive hit was called Aguirre, Wrath of God or Valerie and her Week of Wonders. Budding musicians – don’t get any ideas from this assertion. Please don’t. :)

    Not really interested in much that weekend.. apart from worrying Nick Griffin lookalike Paul Barnes’ five goals for Burnley against one of our quirkier (and arguably unnecessary – legend has it they picked on us as no “big” Greater Manchester teams could be arsed) rivals, Stockport County. They hit fame that year reaching the Coca-Cola Cup semi-finals – and promoted to the second tier – beating, finishing higher than, and briefly in a division above Manchester City!!

    Just like Deep Blue Something, you have to feel a bit sorry for wherever the poor buggers are now.

  28. 88
    Another Pete on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #86 Said song was brought up in conversation yesterday at a family party by way of my cousin remembering my younger brother teaching him how to play it on guitar.

  29. 89
    Kat but logged out innit on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #75: I thought it was ‘we both had an idea’! As in, the couple had once had goals/dreams of a happy future but Oh Well Never Mind.

    This was a firm fixture on the Capital FM playlist; I’d never seen Breakfast At Tiffany’s but I had DEFINITELY seen 95% of Friends episodes (thx to non-existent social life and always being in on Fridays) and the BAT video had wide-angle lens skyscrapers in it, which was basically identical to all the Friends between-scene external shots. The song inhabits a totally different space to the Rembrandts for me though! The latter was all bouncy Monkees hijinks, while BAT was way more like Scruffy Dudes Be Unlucky In Love aka the Spin Doctors. Semisonic and all that were YEARS later before they made an impact.

    However, a momentus thing had happened by this point! I HAD MY OWN CD PLAYER! (A Discman that didn’t work too well on the move, so I just plugged it into my tape deck’s speakers.) I didn’t have to go downstairs and listen/transfer to tape in the living room anymore! Parental Advisory here we come!

  30. 90
    MikeMCSG on 13 Jan 2014 #

    # 87 I think it’s more likely that they saw you as rivals because you were down in the Fourth Division with them for five seasons or thereabouts.

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