Tuesday Night Smash — Part II: Run Baby Run| Revisiting the first half of Sheryl Crow’s collaborative debut hit.
Welcome back! Now that we have a little insight into how Crow go into the business and the work that took her to this record, let’s go in depth into the record that started her career. The title to the album is a nod to the name the group called themselves when they came together to write. Ironically, the album took time to garner to success that it would get. If you ask anyone about the record, they will bring up the infectious hit “All I Wanna Do”, but this was the third single off the album. The first two singles off the album, “Run Baby Run” and “What I Can Do For You” both barely charted. The 3rd try really was the charm for Crow. This would jettison her to stardom and give her 3 Grammy awards including best new artist. Let’s sit down to front stage seats at the Tuesday Night Music Club.
“Run Baby Run” is the first single to be released off the album just ahead of its official release. According to Sheryl Crow, the meaning of the song is:
“The meaning of [“Run Baby Run”] was really about a person who was sort of caught in between generations. She was raised by hippies in a time of real conservative social structure. I wrote that song with a couple of friends of mine the night the election results came in, when we were watching the government change from conservative George Bush to young, unconventional, good-looking Bill Clinton. That was a large influence on the song.”
Much like Crow described above, the opening of the song gives us the the historical background of the woman’s parents, “And her mama believed that every man could be free/ So her mama got high, high, high/ And her Daddy marched on Birmingham/ Singing mighty protest songs and he pictured all the places/ Where he knew that she’d belong but he failed and taught her young/ The only thing she’d need to carry on”. Her parent’s instilled in her a need for movement and social justice. The chorus to the song, “He taught her how to/ Run baby, run baby, run baby/ Run baby, run… Past the arms of the familiar and their talk of better days/ To the comfort of the strangers slipping out before they say/ So long baby loves to run”, could be seen in two different ways. On one hand, you could see this has the woman constantly running from her problems to something else. I prefer to few it as her need to keep moving and not stagnate like the generation before her. This is nodded to in the second verse, “And stares hopeful out the window/ At the workers fighting through the pouring rain/ And she’s searching through the stations for an unfamiliar song/ And she’s thinking about the places where she knows she still belongs/ She smiles the secret smile, and sure she knows exactly how to carry on”. The lyrics blend seamlessly into the soulful country rock sound of the track.
“Leaving Las Vegas” is the 4th single released off the album. The song, written lyrically by David Baerwald and based on the book of the same name by his friend John O’Brien. There would be controversy and major tension between Crow and the rest of the Tuesday Night writers when on Letterman she was asked if the song was autobiographical and she offhandedly stated, “Uh, yes, actually. I’ve never lived there.” From several sources it appears that Sheryl was extremely nervous when talking on Letterman and seems to have accidentally said yes instead of no. This statement was spark anger amongst the co-writers of Tuesday Night Music Club, most notably David Baerwald who would fear his friend took the title of his book without crediting him. His friend John O’Brien would be angry about this comment too. This snippet for Crow’s 1996 Rolling Stone piece speaks a lot about the turmoil this moment would ensue:
To the TMC, and especially John O’Brien and Kevin Gilbert, who were separately watching at their homes in L.A, it didn’t help that Crow at once confessed that she’d never lived in Vegas and that the song was “metaphorical.” (“As soon as I said the word yes,” says Crow, “I was doomed. But, hey, you learn as you go.”). When O’Brien heard Crow say, “Yes,” recalls his sister Erin, “he got really torqued.” O’Brien’s father, John, drove his son through Venice, where O’Brien found Baerwald’s house and pounded on the door. The wrath rattled around — after O’Brien shot himself three weeks later, Baerwald wrote a heartbroken piece for the L.A. Weekly accusing Crow of causing him to betray his friend and, by pointedly saying he didn’t really blame anyone for O’Brien’s suicide, somehow blamed her. “That absolutely destroyed me,” says Crow. O’Brien’s family, however, absolves her. “John was just mad about it,” says his father. “I don’t think anything at all having to do with this Sheryl Crow business was even one block in the foundation of his suicide.” Says Erin: “John had a pretty jaded view of the entertainment industry, and, you know, this type of event contributed in no small part to that attitude. But the problems that drove him toward the end were — you know, that’s a long, long bloody trip.”
I have not found any pieces on Crow correcting these statements after the fact. I do understand mistakes and nerves as I have made my fair share of flubs and fuck ups under duress. That said, if she never corrected the issue, that’s worthy of being called out (obviously if anyone knows more, please feel free to comment). The writing of the song is an interesting one. This SFGate article shed light on Baerwald’s state during the writing of the track:
Baerwald showed up with musical sidekick David Ricketts (from the 1986 David and David album), both of them high on LSD, with the first verse already written to a song, “Leaving Las Vegas.” Baerwald picked up a guitar, Ricketts the bass, and the band fell together to pick up where it had left off. Baerwald “couldn’t function,” said Bottrell. “Sheryl started to get drunk. I was looking for that moment when the good take would happen.”
The track follows someone’s various misfortunes throughout their time in Las Vegas. The song opens with colorful description of landscape of the city through an almost apathetic point of view, “Life springs eternal/ On a gaudy neon street/ Not that I care at all/ I spent the best part of my losing streak/ In an Army Jeep/ For what I can’t recall”. The mystique and adventure of the city seems to have lost all color to her, “Used to be I could drive up to/ Barstow for the night/ Find some crossroad trucker/ To demonstrate his might/ But these days it seems that/ Nowhere is far enough away/ So I’m leaving Las Vegas today”. Along with this loss of joy seems to be a loss of luck for Crow sings nothing appears to change the outcome of her situation, “I’m standing in the middle of the desert/ Waiting for my ship to come in/ But now no joker, no jack, no king/ Can take this loser hand/ And make it win”. She ends the song stating that this time she gone for good from this place (possibly a nod to giving up on these vices that have had a hold over her during the song), “I’m leaving Las Vegas/ And I won’t be back/ No, no, no, no/ No, I won’t be back”. I haven’t read O’Brien’s book nor have I seen the movie, so I can’t comment on its relationship to the lyrics. It has sparked my interest into both.The David Hogan directed music video includes numerous Vegas iconography as Crow is seen singing in the desert. It is one of the most striking videos from this album and worthy of a watch.
“Strong Enough” is the 5th single off of the record. The track would make it to the Top 5 in numerous countries, including the United States. While on the road touring her debut, Crow would take up her accordion to add texture to the live version. The track is definitely one of the best ballads on the album. The song sees Sheryl trying to let this man know the many facets of her self the kind of strength she’s seeking in the man she needs. The song opens to what feels like a breaking point for her trying to explain what she needs, “God, I feel like hell tonight/ Tears of rage I cannot lie/ I’d be the last to help you understand/ Are you strong enough to be my man?/ My man?”. This frustration sees her just needing to be on her own for a bit. She explains she’s not changing and he can’t change her, “Nothing’s true and nothing’s right/ So let me be alone tonight/ ’Cause you can’t change the way I am”. The song’s chorus doubles back to this sense of need, “Lie to me/ I promise I’ll believe/ Lie to me/ But please don’t leave/ Don’t leave”. Even though things aren’t working, she doesn’t want to be alone. She’d rather be lied to than be left to herself. Crow then tries to let this man know that he needs to dig deeper into their relationship to understand her more, “ I have a face I cannot show/ I make the rules up as I go/ Just try and love me if you can”. The last verse really pushes at him to man up when she’s at her lowest, “When I’ve shown you that I just don’t care/ When I’m throwing punches in the air/ When I’m broken down and I can’t stand/ Would you be man enough to be my man?”. The song is truly a fantastic country ballad. Sheryl puts so much emotion into her vocal delivery that it feels raw and passionate.
“Can’t Cry Anymore” is the final single released from Tuesday Night Music Club. The Americana sound gives a sort of earthiness to lyrics asking to pull yourself up by the boot straps and keep going through life’s tragedies. This is one of the more tongue and cheek Americana tracks on the album. She opens with sly take on breaking up, “I took your car/ And drove to Texas/ Sorry, honey/ But I suspected we were through/ And I can’t cry anymore”. It then shifts to struggles over money, “Money comes in/ But the fact is/ There’s not enough to/ Pay my taxes”. The theme of being down on your luck continues into notion of drug abuse and the inability to stop someone’s spiral, “Well, I got a brother/ He’s got real problems/ Heroin, and now there’s just no stoppin’ him tonight”. Throughout all these many woes, the central theme is you can’t cry anymore. This could either be a sense of giving in (as I can’t change it so I can’t cry over it anymore) or a statement of strength (to stop wallowing and pick yourself up). The final verse gives a little optimism through the trails, “Well, it could be worse/ I could’ve missed my callin’/ Sometimes it hurts/ But, when you read the writin’ on the wall/ You can’t cry anymore”. The final chorus breaks us through this daydream of leaving it all to finally gather some strength to move on, “Well wouldn’t it be nice if we could hop a flight to anywhere?/ Well so long to this life/ So much for pretendin’/ ’Cause bad luck’s never-endin’/ And too much time I’ve been spendin’/ With my, heart in my hands/ Waitin’ for time to come and mend it”. The final line held out of just a bit to cleverly fade away until she delivers the final repeating line, “I can’t cry anymore”.
“Solidify” is the stand out funky groove on the album. Here, Sheryl refuses to mold herself into what this man wants her to be. She opens by letting us know of this man’s suave nature, “Pouring in and around the great wellspring / Of simple feeling / And I need bearings in the face of your/ Cool cool fire”. She continues to pointing towards this man’s demanding ways, “Walking backwards with the pounding of your voice / Makes my soul tired / And concrete is / As concrete doesn’t”. She refuses to dull her shine and hopes to make his come true, “ I guess you thought / I’d hide the sun from my liquid thoughts and / Make ice for you”. This comes with a bite as Crow lets him know she ain’t about to shrink herself for him, “You thought I’d seed my clouds/ With the rain of your personal dreams / I guess you thought I’d throw confetti / At your parade of lofty thoughts / I guess you thought I’d shine good morning/ In some good morning Jack / Surprise”. The chorus begs the question to him of why should she do all this for him, when she’s nothing to him, “Why should I?/ Solidify / Make me real / So you can see me”. This is a fun and funky track, but I find it to be overall skippable when compared to the rest of the tracks on the album.
“The Na-Na Song” is a reinvented version of of b-side released on the single for “What I Can Do For You” titled “Volvo Cowgirl 99”. This version slows the faster motion of the original and changes the chorus. The track has a Dylan-esque delivery over various topics of the time and those personal to Crow. When discussing the the writing process behind the song, Sheryl told Performing Songwriter:
“We were at the studio on the Tuesday night that Clinton was elected. We were watching the polls come in and there was definitely sort of a ’60s feel in the room. It was the first time in years that with an election there came optimism and new hope for youth in the White House. Since Kennedy, I don’t think we’ve seen that happen. So there was a lot of energy. We hooked up the TV monitors through the board and kind of jammed to what we say with this ’60s groove. The lyrics are stream of thought. Some of them are things that were happening with me at the time. Others are just information overload. Just mainly thought association. It’s nothing more than just a fun jam, I wasn’t trying to make any sort of point.”
The song really doesn’t have a straightforward theme, as it is an amalgamation of thought. There are several lines in the track that stand out. Crow hits on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell with the line, “U.S. Army only wants a few straight men”. Other lines point towards the Yugoslavian war, “Steely Dan rather be hammer than a nail/ The Serbs, the Poles, and the check’s in the mail”. One of the most stand out is the complete call out of Frank Dileo, Michael Jackson’s manager who Crow was sexually harassed by during her time as a backup singer, “Clarence Thomas organ grinder Frank Dileo’s dong/ Maybe if I’d him I’d have had a hit song”. I personally refer the more unpolished edge of “Volvo Cowgirl ‘99”, but I do find the constant folk rock groove of this track infectious.
We will take a break here and come back in part III to discuss the second half of the album in much more depth. I will provide my regular review score at the end of the third part.
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