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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 147
Tues. June 25, 2013

“Joey”
Concrete Blonde

1990

“♫ Joey
if you’re
hurting
so am
I
♫”

Remember how “Joey” begins, with that dramatic heart thumping drumbeat and James Mankey’s echoing guitar strum, looking back I never realized how powerfully moving the music was from this Top 20 hit. Johnette Napolitano, singer of Concrete Blonde, discussed with Songfacts how the sound of “Joey” came to life, when she said. “Well, yeah. Definitely. We did a demo with no lyrics. It was just like scratchy vocals, just me making sounds, basically, where I knew the melody would go. And right away everybody reacted to it. There weren’t any lyrics, but there was something about the music that everybody really reacted to. And so we went to England to record the record with Chris Tsangarides, our producer. I knew what I wanted to say, but I wasn’t looking forward to saying it. And so it was the last vocal that I recorded.”

Being a writer and a poet, I never realized how much I connected to Johnette’s words. Did you know that Napolitano had trouble writing the lyrics to Concrete Blonde’s biggest hit single? Johnette explained to Songfacts when she said, “And I remember Chris every day, “Do we have vocals to ‘Joey’ yet? Do we have words to ‘Joey’ yet?” And I’m like, “Not yet.” So I literally wrote them in a cab. I knew what I was going to say, it’s just a matter of like a cloud’s forming and then it rains. The lines are forming in my head and they’re all in my head, and I know the chorus, and I know what I’m going to say. It’s just a matter of fine tuning the details and how I’m going to lug it out. And then it rains. The clouds all formed and it rained. And then it happened. And that was it. And it was just there. “

There’s something about the honest desperation from Johnette’s aching vocal. Her lyrics reflect a yearning to help the helpless, making “Joey,” a literal rallying cry anthem for the soul that’s just about to give in—Johnette is there loudly and urgently moving you with her heartfelt vocal. And that’s what we connect to, Johnette’s urgent sincerity, when you hear “Joey” you experience the emotion in her voice. Napolitano delved into the topic of her singing voice when she explained, “But I do know when I’m on and when I’m not. What it’s really about is just surrendering to the entire emotion of it. That is what you hear: the emotion that’s behind it, not the singing, but the emotion. You can play a solo with one note, and that one note better have your life and death in it; And I want to be coming from that place. It’s like the story about when Laurence Olivier was working with Dustin Hoffman on Marathon Man. Hoffman was getting himself all twisted up to do a scene and Olivier tells him “Why don’t you just try acting?” All the contortions, you know, it’s not worth it. I want to be able to feel it. I want to feel it. It’s just the purest thing in the world, you know. You feel the note coming and the music’s there. I’m on another planet, definitely another planet, and I want to take everybody else there. It’s one of the most beautiful feelings in the world to write and perform music that people connect to.”

When CultureBrats asked what specific song(s) defined her band Concrete Blonde, Johnette Napolitano replied, “I’d have to say “Joey” or I’d be lying because that’s an important song. That was the first time I realized that people were listening.” Almost twenty five years later, and I’m not only still listening but I’m hearing the emotion of Johnette’s character pleading to “Joey” with all the love, compassion and desperation that we connect to when listening to Concrete Blonde’s most successful song. I used to think, “Joey” in Johnette’s song was a barfly who was lost in his drug addiction but now I feel the hurt, anguish, anger and confusion my little brother has been experiencing his losing his wife only a few short months ago. I dedicate “Joey” to my little brother. We’ve been estranged and at times fierce rivals, but when you forget all the bickering, I remember at the end we’re brothers. Just like Johnette sung in Concrete Blonde’s Top 20 hit, I want my little brother to know, “I’m not angry anymore.”


and here’s Concrete Blonde’s stripped down acoustic version of “Joey”:

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