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. 51
    Tom on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Where did the band name come from BTW? Like everything else, it hasn’t aged well – caricature gen x half-arsedness – not that any of their peers were great namers (is this the era when “all the good names have been taken” began as an idea)

  2. 52
    ciaran on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #51 – Texas I think.

  3. 53
    Rory on 13 Jan 2014 #

    swanstep @50, Hepburn died in January 1993, so there must have been a wave of TV screenings of her movies that year, which could then have inspired BAT’s songwriter. BAT was recorded in 1994, says Wikipedia. That all fits with this song feeling like a holdover from a few years earlier. Doesn’t really explain why the UK public took to the song when they did, though.

  4. 54
    Rory on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Tom @51…

    “What was that movie from the 1950s we saw the other day on cable?”

    “The Deep Blue… something?”

    “No, not Vivien Leigh, the Audrey Hepburn one.”

    “Roman Holiday?”

    “Yeah, that was it. Let’s write a song about that. And then change the title to her other one. And then call our band the one you first said.”

  5. 55
    23 Daves on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #37 I think a lot of the artists you’ve mentioned tended to get heavy airplay on Radio One as well, it’s just we tend to forget that as the mid-nineties playlists have since become falsely regarded as wall-to-wall indie and dance. Certainly once you got past the breakfast show and into the mid-morning and afternoon output, this kind of record got played often (largely, as I’ve already pointed out, thanks to Father Simon Mayo). “Roll With Me” holds a particular memory for me in that it was the first song I heard on the radio the morning after breaking up with a girlfriend, the alarm clock catching it midway through. Not really an appropriate tune under the circumstances, but that’s always stuck in my head ever since, in much the same way that “Closing Time” reminds me of nineties British licensing laws.

    #50 “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” film posters tended to be quite a common sight in student accommodation around this time, but so far as I know there wasn’t a cinema reissue or major DVD campaign which would have given this song more of a lift (Or was there? I wish I could remember).

    Meanwhile, I promise to reinvestigate Semisonic at some point. I’ve a feeling I may have been sent their CD for review and didn’t rate it at all, actually, but very few specific memories stick out in my mind so I could be wrong.

  6. 56
    Query on 13 Jan 2014 #

    For a long period I was only familiar with the Olde English sketch group parody of this, which at the time I thought was an original song, until I discovered the Deep Blue Something version. For what it’s worth I think the parody captures a relationship’s final throws rather more aptly.

  7. 57
    Cumbrian on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #55: This Audrey Hepburn love in for students was still going on by the time I went to uni in 1999 and was even still in evidence by the time I left. I’ve never seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s – indeed I don’t think that I have ever seen a film with AH in it – but there’s obviously still something about her image that is appealing to some. It doesn’t hurt I guess that she is/was an exceptionally good looking woman.

  8. 58
    ciaran on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Some of ye have mentioned how BAT was 3-4 years too late.I disagree slightly with this as if anything it was 2-3 years too early. In many ways it was a forerunner for the post britpop quirky U.S slacker or post-grunge sound that took hold in 1999.

    The summer of that year was something else. Every second song on the radio at that time seemed to be quirky laid back Americana. ‘Lullaby’ by Shaun Mullins, Semisonic ‘Secret Smile’, Barnaked ‘Ladies ‘One Week’, New Radicals ‘You get what you give’ and the monstrous in the US ‘Iris’ by Goo Goo Dolls, that on top of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers ‘Californication’ comeback. And with the like of Len’s ‘Steal my Sunshine’ still to come.I would have included the sublime ‘Drinking in LA’ by Bran Van 3000 but they were Canadian werent they.(No bunnies in that lot dont worry.)

    That it was around the time that ‘Napster’ was about to get going I always have associated alternative U.S rock of the late 90′s with the beginning of the MP3.Having such a hold of the airwaves in 99 I think I was fairly bored of it for a finish.

    Perhaps Breakfast at Tiffany’s was more influential than we realized!

    ‘Iris’ is interesting as it only charted at no. 26. A very low position for such a widely played song.

  9. 59
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Jan 2014 #

    the film is a very unsatisfactory rendering of truman capote’s book: audrey hepburn — despite many virtues — is not really the right actress to play capote’s manic pixie dreamgirl mary sue of aspects of himself then hard to discuss in mainstream literature, let alone cinema; george peppard is george peppard (his destiny was wisecracking TV beefcake, which suited him), and andy rooney (of all people) was cast to play a spectacularly ill-judged racial caricature of a japanese man, in terrible make-up (the last problem tending to overshadow the others, to modern eyes)

    verdict: of its time (and not in a good way)

  10. 60
    Tim on 13 Jan 2014 #

    When “The Wrestler” came out a few years ago I remember repeatedly hearing on the radio how it was a great return to form for Mickey Rourke which, in my head, clearly meant it was a great return to form for Mickey Rooney. I’ve never seen “The Wrestler” because obviously any version not featuring Mickey Rooney in the central role would be a gross disappointment

    Now I want to see BAT with Andy Rooney.

  11. 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).

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. 64
    mapman132 on 13 Jan 2014 #

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

  15. 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.

  16. 66
    Cumbrian on 13 Jan 2014 #

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

  17. 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.

  18. 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**

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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!

  22. 72
    Auntie Beryl on 13 Jan 2014 #

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

  23. 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.

  24. 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/

  25. 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.

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