Wednesday, May 11, 2005

strawberry wine

(This is a return to my "greatest songs" idea. To wit, 200-1000 words on what you consider the best song ever. Anybody can send one in at Good ones get published here and possibly distributed around the 'net.)

If this one doesn't cement me as a big sissy-pants, my reputation is truly bulletproof.

Here goes: "Strawberry Wine" by Deana Carter.

Well, sung by her at least. Written by Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison, whoever they are.

I kid, of course.

Matraca Berg, in addition to having the most original sounding name I've heard in weeks (muh-TRACE-uh), is married to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Jeff Hanna. The NGDB are most remembered for their long-term project of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" which included all of the Cash-Carter Family. Her first hit song was written at the age of eighteen, and was co-written by Bobby Braddock, who also co-wrote (you guessed it) "He Stopped Loving Her Today". She's been writing since 1983. She's written over 400 songs, mostly for other artists, and received over a dozen BMI awards.

Gary Harrison has been kicking around Nashville since the 1970's, writing over 300 songs for artists like Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, Kenny Chesney, Trisha Yearwood, and Emmylou Harris. His most recent hit was George Strait's single "I Hate Everything". He was an A&R man for Mercury Records for a while before forming his own publishing company, Big Picture Entertainment in 2001. He's won 17 BMI awards, 3 Grammy nominations, and a Billboard Song of the Year award.

"Strawberry Wine" was named the CMA Song of the Year and Single of the Year for 1997. And rightly so.

He was workin' through college
On my grandpa's farm
I was thirstin' for knowledge, and he had a car
Yeah, I was caught somewhere between a woman and a child
One restless summer we found love growing wild
On the banks of the river on a well beaten path
It's funny how those memories they last

Like strawberry wine, seventeen
The hot July moon, saw everything
My first taste of love was bitter sweet
And green on the vine, like strawberry wine

Well I still remember, when thirty was old
My biggest fear was September, when he had to go
A few cards and letters and one long distance call
We drifted away like the leaves in the fall
But year after year I come back to this place
Just to remember the taste, of strawberry wine

The hot July moon saw everything
My first taste of love was bitter sweet
But green on the vine
Like strawberry wine

The fields have grown over now
Years since they've seen the plow
There's nothing time hasn't touched
Is it really him or the loss of my innocence
I've been missing so much

Strawberry wine, seventeen
The hot July moon saw everything
My first taste of love was bitter sweet
But green on the vine
Like strawberry wine

The hot July moon saw everything
My first taste of love. Oh bitter sweet
But green on the vine
Like strawberry wine

It's a tale of first love (or more to the point, lust) as recollected by a woman who longs for the days when she was seventeen and without a care in the world besides her man. It's pure, and that's rare for any song made past 1978. It's got a great hook, and it's appreciated by a lot of teenage girls, even (and maybe especially) by those who otherwise hate country music.

It all goes back to George Bernard Shaw. He once said that "First love is only a little foolishness and a lot of curiosity". He's right, of course. Love is one of those indescribable emotions that you can't truly articulate through words, although many have tried.

But the sensation of your heart dropping in your chest, skipping a beat, when you first see the one person you think you can't go another minute without seeing, that's universal.

First love is stupid, it's childish, and it's the best feeling you can never have back. You can't really choose who it's going to be, and for the first time since you were a baby you can't control your emotions.

That little bit of foolishness, the headrush that comes with the torrent of hormones released when your nerve endings go wild, it's the one thing you keep striving for every time afterwards.

That's the real story of this song: wanting back what time took away. She wants desperately to feel that irresponsible longing she had when she first fell in love.

And she can't have it. No one can.

It's like a moth caught in a candle (to nick a metaphor from Emily Dickinson). First love burns brighter than anything, but once it's gone, it's gone.

The delicate strains of the steel guitar mixed with the forceful throb of the Hammond B3 organ line echo the deep sense of longing Deana feels about her bittersweet romance. Her vocals soar at the right places, and dig down into the crevices of your heart for the full effect. The song is tightly crafted, from the writing to the production (provided by Chris Farren and Jimmy Bowen, plus an uncredited Deana Carter herself).

This is the best that pop-flavored country can get.

And that may make it the best song ever.


Blogger Twiggy said...

As much as I loathe the majority of country music, "Strawberry Wine" is definitely a classic well worth of mentioning. I remember singing it at the top of my lungs throughout my weird pre-teen stage. I have Carter's CD somewhere...most likely tucked safely away underneath my bed.

9:52 PM


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