John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“Things To You” Is a Charmer

Collaboration of Skeeter Davis and NRBQ is a less-is-more classic.

By - Mar 3rd, 2016 05:12 pm
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Skeeter Davis

Skeeter Davis

Even if she didn’t have one of the most adorable voices in all of Country, you’d just have to write about Skeeter Davis at some point. Her name was Skeeter, for god’s sake! Combine that with a sunny attitude and a voice as light and airy as taffeta, and there is no defense possible. When you bring her together with the massive joy generator known as NRBQ, you get a wonderful romp of a record called, “She Sings, They Play.” It’s an album full of near perfect songs, so which one should we write about?

Winnowing things way down, I am torn between two, NRBQ’s own delirious love song “Things To You,”  and their very clever cover of “Someday My Prince Will Come,” which is rejiggered completely, taking it from waltz and somehow making it work in 4/4. It might be an old trick, but I haven’t run into it before or since. You would think something would get lost jettisoning that lilting rhythm and letting it swing, but they make it sound so natural it’s hard to imagine it any other way.

I love that one, so I included the video, but for sentimental reasons, I will go with the first. Though it was written by that rascally Terry Adams, it sounds like it was tailored for bassist/crooner Joey Spampinato. He may be the best pop singer in America, after Tony Bennett, though he’s mining a whole other vein. But there is a similar effortlessness and warmth in both of them that is unforgettable. As a duet partner, he was perfect for Skeeter, not only in the studio but, for a while, in life, where they became partners and then husband and wife. That had to be one tuneful household.

The melody to this song barely qualifies as one. In at least a couple places, it’s just a flat line. Like a lot of their work, it’s a nursery rhyme dressed as a love song. It exudes innocence. The chords aren’t much either… aside from perfect. They are simple, but move around a bit more than the tune. Terry Adams, the resident mad doctor of the band, voices them with diabolical precision — he’s a student of every piano player from Thelonious Monk to Jerry Lee Lewis and at times he channels both simultaneously. From top to bottom, he places every note consciously and carefully, with one intention — to grab and hold your attention. This charm offensive is effective; I’ve been under the spell this song casts ever since I first heard it.

Words are kept to a minimum. NRBQ seems allergic to pretense and make a very strong case for self editing. It goes against the grain of everything held dear in rock criticism, but it will make you wonder why a lot of other writers are so long winded. Here, in their abbreviated glory, are the words:

Let me say things to you
You are a true dream come true
You are like the clear sky of blue
Let us be one plus one
Love that will never be done
A Love that’s always just begun
Let me say things to you
Words don’t always come out like I plan
This I think that you will understand
Let me say things to you
You are a true dream come true
You are like the clear sky of blue

Darlin, hold on, hold on for me

© Terry Adams

Looks simple, but so does riding a unicycle. In my song-writing clinics, I try to teach people to edit, but by nature we are nervous hoarders of words. We hope more is more, but time and again, torrents of information that sound kind of impressive at first are just annoying in the end. Only John Wayne or Gary Cooper spoke less and said more.

Vocal harmony flows from two important streams in American music, Black Gospel and Bluegrass. Any group worth their salt is familiar with both and in this setting, Skeeter was an authentic star when Bluegrass still informed the best Country records. She earned her stripes with her first group, The Davis Sisters, whose hit, “I Forgot More (Than You’ll Ever Know About Him) was a close harmony masterpiece, reminiscent of the Louvin or Delmore Brothers. It was also covered by none other than Bob Dylan on “Self Portrait.”

The Davis Sisters were siblings on stage only. In real life, they were high school friends who were somehow issued the same voice. Skeeter’s real name was Mary Frances Penick, and her partner was Betty Jack Davis. Here’s the sad part: Shortly after the release of “I Forgot More…,” they were involved in a terrible car accident. Skeeter survived, Betty Jack didn’t. Davis then tried to carry on with Betty Jack’s sister, Georgia, who was a good singer, but the chemistry never happened between them. By the mid 1950’s Skeeter was a solo artist, and a very special one.

She scored an enormous hit with “The End Of The World,” a aching ballad that Elvis Presley called one of his favorites. She was also a long time favorite at The Grand Ole Opry, an association that lasted until shortly before her death from breast cancer in 2004. America’s so chock full of wonderfully unique artists, you’d think the loss of one here and there wouldn’t be such a big thing. There are others coming up to replace them, I’m sure, but slogging through the airwaves looking for a new Skeeter in this auto-tuned age is beyond my level of ambition. So I’ll spin this one again; it never gets old.

2 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: “Things To You” Is a Charmer”

  1. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    Let us be one plus one
    Love that will never be done

    are great poetic lines, and when a person is in love, aren’t they always trying to remember things that they want to say to their loved one, a continuous talk about everything? (And I’ve always wondered whether the nickname “Skeeter” had something to do with a mosquito – does it?)

  2. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    So then I looked up Things To You on YouTube (so I could hear the voices and sound, too, and you’re right, it’s a charmer!) and was amazed at the angelic quality of Skeeter Davis’s voice on it – an entirely happy sound that anyone would love! Thanks for familiarizing me with this song, John Sieger, and I also agree that the nature of poetry has to do with a brevity not found in novels (and that’s what makes it intense, the same reason that people give each other flowers, because once they’re cut their life is brief, and so they’re passing and fragile and memorable).

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