David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 251: Jilted John (Jilted John)

May 15, 2023

My Journey entry this week made me realize just how many great "I've-been-wronged-and-I-won't-take-it-well" songs there are. Especially during my formative years, late 1970s and early 1980s, a whole lot of rockers modeled for me the worst behaviors for when blown off by love interests.

"Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" told me to fall back on a schoolyard taunt, which seems so uniquely American. We lack subtlety, as when Lindsey Buckingham exposes Stevie Nicks with "shacking up is all you wanna do" every time they sing "Go Your Own Way." The Brits, however, were capable of so much more barb with public humiliation. Joe Jackson, in "Is She Really Going Out With Him," skewers the girl's new boyfriend with "they say looks don't count for much/if so, there goes your proof," while Elvis Costello delves into psychotic stalker territory in "Alison": "they say the world is killing you/oh, Alison, my aim is true." Or, maybe these differences merely distinguish the new wavers from the arena rockers?

And then there's Jilted John, so there goes your proof.

Jilted John is one of England's strangest one-hit wonders, created by Graham Fellows to release the single "Jilted John" in 1978. It climbed into the British Top 10 as part of the post-punk new wave movement. The song, for all of us non Brits, or anyone under the age of 50, tells a simple narrative of John's girlfriend, Julie, breaking up with him to date Gordon, "better-lookin" and "cool and trendy."

If Fellows was Sheffield, England, by birth, his alter ego John must have been American, because when he sees Julie and Gordon in the street, he can't fall back on any clever rejoinder (think Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda) and must sneer, "Gordon is a moron," which becomes the defacto hook of this little ditty. Jilted John doesn't up his game during the song's fade out, merely drumming up the ugliest of epithets for the pair: she's a slag, tart, slut, bitch, while Gordon is a creep, cheap, fake tough, and a puff (which John uses twice). All so droll and uninspiring. Go sit in on a Costello concert, buddy.

But, maybe that's part of the song's charm. When Julie breaks up with John in the opening stanza (as they watch telly), we might wonder why she fancies Gordon over him. Well, exciting nights of watching telly with someone whose conflict resolution skills rival an insult comic's are hardly high in a girl's priorities for her life. John is jilted from the get-go, and all we are really left to ask is, "how did he even get Julie?"

Perhaps Jilted John felt the need to answer that question with the almost as quirky b-side to "Jilted John," "Going Steady," which described his relationship with Sharon, who says she loves him: more telly (while she baby-sits the neighbors' kids), fish-n-chips meals, and snogging whenever they can do it. According to Sharon, he's "better looking than Starsky and Hutch," such an American reference in a British song. I think the mystery has been solved about John's nationality.

Jilted John, the artist, which I guess means this fellow Fellows, went nowhere after this single. If that was the case, he was a true punk, loser with a few minutes of fame, and then back to on-going losing. A decade later, Fellows had reinvented himself as Sheffield singer-songwriter John Shuttleworth. I know nothing about him. I barely know anything about Fellows. The pure stupidity of "Jilted John," with just enough musical chops to sound like the new wave I was hooked on, led me to buy the 45 and bring it home to share with my friends, knowing they would never believe it unless they heard it. In fact, even with me playing the record, doubt that the song really existed may have continued with my friends, if not for the advent of YouTube. Anyone and everyone can now see the inanity (real and created) of the song through clips of Jilted John on British television shows of the time. The clip linked below shows all the warts: the broken guitar string, the bassist playing the neck of the guitar with just his middle finger (and dressed as a robot), the Frankenstein-monster dancing of the back-up singer, to name just the highlights. This is a public service announcement: "Watch with care!"

Somehow, I also thought that knowing this song and bringing it back to boring old Morgantown would make me "cool and trendy." Not. Back home, everyone was listening to Atlanta Rhythm Section, Boston, Cheap Trick, Foreigner. There was no room for some nerd showcasing a 45 of some obscure British act. I'd like to say that I, like John, "I cried all the way to the chip shop," but I had Mario's Pizza. It could obliterate any moments of sadness.

Jilted John. "Jilted John." Rabid, 1978. Link here.

Day 250: Journey "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'"

Day 252: Missy Elliott "Get Ur Freak On"

See complete list here.