Most mawkish song of all time?
The tragic tale of an heroically faithful sheep dog scoops Little Nell Award for shameless emotional manipulation
“One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.” Oscar Wilde
Strict eligibility criteria needed here. No ghoulish tributes to real people, however heartfelt, and no exceptions for showbiz pals. Mentioning no names Elton but you should have stuck with Candle in the Wind.
No teen tragedies involving motor vehicle accidents — an honourable pop sub genre that produced Leader of the Pack and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. That clause extends to wilfully atrocious parodies like the (literal) car crash that is I Want My Baby Back. Climbing into her beloved’s coffin was a nice touch but we’re all in on the gag.
That still leaves an extensive field of strong candidates — with numerous touching messages from those about to leave the field. It’s tempting to go for Terry Jacks Seasons in the Sun, with its brazen heart string plucking.
We had joy, we had fun/We had seasons in the sun”
The Jacques Brel original Le Moribond was cheerfully macabre as Jacks explained
It was about an old man who was dying of a broken heart because his best friend was screwing his wife. He wrote this in a whorehouse in Tangiers.
One for the Indie market then but Jacks went for a poe faced translation by poet Rod McKuen and the full five-hankie Love Story treatment, complete with overblown arrangement. That for some of us (me) eliminated any trace of fun. He also disqualified himself by talking about being inspired by the experience of a close personal friend
Executive decision needed. Let’s stick to dogs. Or rather one heroically selfless sheepdog with supernatural powers .
And the winner of the Little Nell Award for shameless emotional manipulation of the record buying public is (drum roll) Old Tige by Jim Reeves.
Old Tige sets out its stall from the opening bar. A wistful old West harmonica, a faint celestial chorus warns of awful news.
Tige you were taken…
Then Jim begins his tale. The mood does not lighten.
Three years of Army Service done and I was headin’ home at last
I got to thinking ‘bout my dog and things long gone past
How old Tige pulled me from a creek when I had no pulse or breath
How he saved me from the changin’ bull that gored my Dad to death.
The only way is up though, now, eh Jim? At least you’ve completed your bafflingly long tour of duty. And you’ll be reunited with Tige?
The big bus stopped and I got off it was awful dark and thick with fog
That’s not promising. Nor is some hocus pocus about a ‘dangerous dam’.
Then something gently nuzzled me and there stood Tige my dog
Clever old Tige has read the bus timetable (unlike Ma Reeves, who is still lolling in her rocking chair). The faithful old dog steps up to the plate. He guides Jim past the deadly dam (?) and safely back home. Mission accomplished, he mysteriously vanishes into that awful dark and fog.
A happy ending?
In the final verses we seem to stumble into the Bates Motel.
Then through the mist I saw a light and mother in her chair
And I reached down to pet old Tige but he wasn’t there
Where is our hairy hero? While we wait anxiously for news, Jim launches into a toe-curlingly clumsy tribute:
I’m thankful Mom you had old Tige these three lonely years
I owe my life to him tonight I couldn’t help my tears.
Now it’s Ma Reeves’ turn to do a double take.:
I hate to tell you son she said but now you’ve got to know
When you left it broke his heart Tige died three years ago.
And that’s it! The needle lifts and we’re left to mull over this tragic tale. Gotta tell ya, Jim- it ain’t feelgood
In fairness to Old Tige, it should be conceded that was always a B side and B sides were expected to live down to their name. Frankly it initially got played in our our house because we only had a handful of singles and we believed in getting our money’s worth.
That excuse is not available to the Irish radio djs who gave it extensive airplay. They were simply gripped by Jim fever, especially when their hero pitched up in Ireland and spoke to his adoring fans from the ramparts of Bunratty Castle
I will also confess that I was devoted fan until I did my own flip to become a snooty sour faced teenager. Some might suspect the zeal of a repentant sinner. Or perhaps more precisely that of a smoker who now despises that which he once loved.