David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 140: Jill Sobule & John Doe (Never My Love)

April 29, 2022

About the time I turned 12, I decided playing the piano was not cool.  I certainly wasn't very good at it anyway, suffering through a few years of lessons.

I never looked back, but I wish I had.  I can only imagine the feeling of musicians blending together to make beautiful music. By staying with the piano, maybe I would have eventually felt that kind of elation. Such collaboration happens less obviously with writing, although I have experienced it with "script-like" writing. In my profession, you hope rewarding collaboration comes from the efforts to plan good meetings and workshops. I know, really pathetic, but cut me some slack.

As a result of this collaboration-wanna-be mentality, I have always been fascinated by some of the one-off collaborations in popular music between male and female artists. They usually turn me onto something I didn't know before.

For instance, I never would have discovered Lucinda Williams if it isn't for some one-time Crossroads show on CMT that paired her with Elvis Costello for a concert (and eventually to show up on a few songs on each others' albums).

I also don't realize the simple brilliance of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe," if it wasn't for Chrissie Hynde recording it with UB40 (and later, finding an even more ironic version with Joey Ramone teaming with Holly Beth Vincent for the song). 

I also don't feel such pity for Smokey Robinson if I don't accidentally hear "Cruisin'" by Huey Lewis & Gwyneth Paltrow, but that's another story.

Then there's the time I stumbled onto A Day At The Pass, a 2011 CD from Jill Sobule ("I Kissed A [Original] Girl" fame) and John Doe (X fame).  The songs were recorded live at a venue in Los Angeles. 

While on A Day At The Pass the pair alternate between their own songs, for me, the highlight is the cover of The Association's 1967 hit, "Never My Love."  The original oozes ethereal dreamy ballad, punctuated by a light electric piano and heavenly harmonies. No wonder it was dubbed "Sunshine Pop." Sobule and Doe feature a heavier drum beat, harshly strummed guitars, and the kind of vocal interplay that Doe perfected with Exene Cervenka in X.

When Sobule proclaims at the beginning of the song, "I'm sorry but this one's gonna kick ass right now," she ain't lying. It helps when you have John Doe as your singing partner, but it sure doesn't hurt to have Don Was (Was Not Was) on bass; Doug Pettibone (session player with Mark Knopfler, Lucinda Williams, Michelle Shocked, and Joan Baez, to name a few) on steel guitar; Victor Indrizzo (Queens of the Stone Age, Chris Cornell, Willie Nelson, Liz Phair) on drums; with Dave Way (Sheryl Crow, Fiona Apple, Beck, Neil Young, to truly name just a few) producing and throwing in some tambourine.

Especially with Sobule singing lead, the divinely simple lyrics sound so angelic and pure: "You ask me if there'll come a time/I'll grow tired of you/never, my love/never, my love/you ask me if this heart of mine/will lose its desire for you/never, my love."  When the music drops so that she can emphasize "depends . . . on you," you want to melt.

However, it is the wonderful "ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba" vocal fills shared by Doe and Sobule that kicks this one up a notch, especially as it hones in on the finale. Since this whole album seems like a one-off, as it was recorded live, I suspect natural improvisation feeds off of each other.  Whether intentional or not, they skip the first "ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-bas" that was in The Association's version (right after the opening verses) and for the most part make them the fade-out three straight times, separated by the "never, my love." The first time they "ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba," they do so in a perfectly coordinated melody of voices. 

However, before the second run through, Sobule calls out "AGAIN," and all of a sudden Doe's voice is a counterpoint; Sobule yells "ONE LAST TIME" for the third round and I sense each pushing the other to a new height. The chemistry! (Or, maybe you will tell me that a cigar is just a cigar.)

The problem is by yelling "ONE LAST TIME," I know it is coming to an end.  On other songs on the CD, she gives cues to the band, which suggests this truly was a one-off, a get-together, no practice, turn on the tapes, and roll kind of collaboration.  Improvisation on top of collaboration: two things so hard to capture through just writing. Perhaps, someday.

Jill Sobule & John Doe. "Never My Love." A Day At The Pass. Pinko Records. 2011. Link here.

<-Boston. "More Than A Feeling."

See unfinished link here.