I love many kinds of music, but I’m primarily a rocker—I like swaggering, almost comically masculine hard rock. I want to bang my head, shake my fists, and rock out to thundering power chords and hypnotic bass lines. When I listen to rock, I feel like a panther taking flight on the wings of a phoenix.
But I also have a softness—a weakness, really—for late Fifties/early Sixties doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll. Sometimes—perhaps, embarrassingly often—that love extends to female torch singers (I promise, I’m an allegedly heterosexual man).
Lately, I’ve had the 1962 tune “Johnny Get Angry” stuck in my head—constantly. Songwriters Hal David and Sherman Edwards wrote this bit of bubblegum pop for Joanie Sommers, and it was a modest hit for the songstress.
That 1962 version is pretty catchy, and the instrumentation is interesting—especially the kazoo chorus when the key changes from D major to E major—but the version that really got me into this song is from the 1990 film Nightbreed, specifically the Clive Barker-approved director’s cut. Other versions of the film apparently were missing the song—performed by actress Anne Bobby in the role of heroine/love interest Lori Winston—which is a travesty, as it’s really key to highlighting the struggle inherent in Lori and Boone’s relationship in the flick.
Just listen to this powerful vocal performance (and try to ignore the audience shifting from clapping on beats 1 and 3—lame!—to beats 2 and 4—good!):
The song also reveals something interesting about women in romantic relationships: girls want someone who will protect them and keep them in line.
Granted, not every woman wants that—at least, they’ll all say they don’t want the latter—and I’m definitely not the type to “keep them in line” (I assume—naively or otherwise—that the women I date respect me for who I am, which historically has not been the case, but is currently, Praise Be to God). But the whole song is like a sh*t-test for poor Johnny: the narrator dumps him “just to see what you would do”; she gets upset that he lets “Freddy cut in constantly”; and while she “loves you, of course,” she wants Johnny to show her that “you’re the boss.”
I sympathize with Johnny in this song—he sounds like a sweet, unassuming fellow. Of course, others—such as the song’s narrator—would probably say he’s a wimp (she complainingly asks “why must you be so meek?”). D’oh!
Besides the interesting sociosexual theme of the song (all the stuff we’re not supposed to notice or acknowledge anymore), this Nightbreed version is just great: the powerful vocals; the late 1980s band mimicking a group from the early 1960s; the arrhythmic hand claps.
In my quest to find different versions of this tune, I came across a few versions by k.d. lang & The Reclines; this one is indicative of her (!) approach to the song:
Be honest—how many of y’all thought that was just an 80s dude with a really high voice? Apparently, k.d. lang is a woman; not surprisingly, a lesbian, which explains why she looks like a twelve-year old boy.
I really enjoy the performance art style of lang’s version. It’s fun, and the pratfall and operatic vocal runs are hysterical.
Naturally, I’m going to have to sing this song—embarrassingly—to my buddy John Pickett one night at open mic, as my tribute to our friendship.