The Great British Songbook #9: ‘Teardrop’

It starts with a simple thought of arresting clarity, especially coming from a singer whose recorded career had largely been spent singing in a made-up language. Elizabeth Fraser, of the Cocteau Twins, coos a delicate “love, love is a verb. Love is a doing word” over a heartbeat bass drum. And the world suddenly spins a little slower and woozier.

“Teardrop” is a lament, hidden in a lullaby, smothered in hard-won fortitude and grace. The lyric was written by Liz before the death of her close friend Jeff Buckley in 1997, but as she explained afterwards, he was on her mind when writing and recording. Now of course, the whole song feels like an elegy, or at the very least, a song about the crushing arrival of bad news. Black flowers blossom indeed.

The most curious thing about “Teardrop” is that it was very nearly a Madonna song. The stately backing had been completed, and the band were thinking about singers. Of the three members of the band at the time, Mushroom wanted Madonna (he had already sent her the track and she koved it) while 3D and Daddy G preferred Liz. Democracy prevailed, thankfully,

Here’s a rare live version:

Now, under normal circumstances we’d be talking about a cover version (of which there are many, including a TERRIBLE one-line-per-singer version made for the BBC’s Children In Need) that proves this song is worthy of admission to our entirely arbitrary and made-up songbook, but “Teardrop” is a different case for two imortant reasons.

1: It does not need our praise. Nothing anyone can say about this remarkable song could ever dent or tarnish it. All we’re doing here is standing in front of it, and pointing over our shoulders, as if we’re also in the picture. We are not.

2: Having said that, you can’t argue when a song is taken up by the biggest show on American TV:

That’s the cover version, right there. And even TV ubiquity can’t wear the shine off, probably because there are still those lyrics to wade through, and that voice to savor. “Teardrop” is a thing of wonder, forever.

Final fun fact: Did you know that during the Gulf War, there was a certain pressure from the British government that music artists rein in their tendency to go with explosive names for things, out of sensitivity to the troops? So Bomb The Bass became Tim Simenon for a while, and Massive Attack became just plain Massive. Weird, but true.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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