Anatomy of a pop song

When I was 15 a Puerto Rican girl group called Sweet Sensation had a one-hit wonder with a cover of The Supremes' 1968 hit Love Child.

Being a child of illegitimate birth myself, I found this song resonated with me, certainly enough that I remember my reaction to it over 20 years later. Some pop songs wash over you, leaving very little in the way of lasting effect; others enrage you with their catchiness or capture a moment in your life so perfectly that they become enmeshed in the memory of a time, place or feeling.

For me, Love Child represents teenage incredulity, exasperation and annoyance. Basically when I think of this song I feel a fast approaching tidal wave of "Oh for effing heck's sake". In an attempt to exorcise myself of this particular demon, I thought I might go into what exactly bothers me about it so very much.

For those of you not familiar with the song, a young woman (with backing singers) tells a tale through song of being an illegitimate child and the associated suffering of having that status.

I don't want to downplay anyone else's experience of being "born on the wrong side of the blanket". I'm sure that growing up in the 50s in America as an illegitimate child was somewhat different from growing up in the 80s in New Zealand. Probably there was quite a lot of stigma. Personally, I never really felt that. Yes, I was aware that our family unit was a bit different from those of my friends and I probably would have preferred to have a nice nuclear family with a station wagon like you saw on American sitcoms but I don't think anyone ever made me feel bad about my parents never having married. What I'm saying is, I wasn't really aware of any stigma associated with being a "love child"...until that song hit the top 20, that is.

Yep, there you are going about your business, happy in your teenage bubble of Johnny Depp clipping-cutting and not tidying your room, content in the complete lack of time you spend thinking about your parents having sex outside of the bonds of marriage and then some cheesy cover of a Motown hit changes everything.

It's hard not to be a bit disturbed by lyrics like "Love child, never meant to be". I mean how exactly is a person supposed to feel about an observation like that? It's not a million miles away from saying "Oh, we meant to abort you but then we missed the bus so...whatever. Happy birthday."

Hm. And things don't really get better.

"My father left, he never even married mom."

What a jerk. You should definitely marry someone if you do the nasty with them, even if it turns out that you don't really like each other that much. IT'S THE RULES, OKAY? This line left me wondering if I should belatedly try to arrange some kind of shotgun wedding for my parentals. By that stage I had seen the movie The Parent Trap so would have had a rough sort of plan to work to. Too bad my sister and I weren't identical twins who looked like Hayley Mills. Just too damn bad.

"I shared the guilt my mama knew, so afraid that others knew I had no name."

This really bugged me because of the whole of the "my mum's a loose woman and that must make me bad too" implication. This is the only song I've ever heard that has made me want to get all up in its face and yell "What did you just say about my mother? Oh no she di'int..." And then I'd threaten to slap its chorus off.

And as for having no name, well, I've got enough accumulated vowels in my moniker for three or four people. What on earth was this woman bleating on about?

"Love child, scorned by society."

At 15 I was confused about when the scorning started. Was I being scorned without my knowledge? Was that legal? (As an aside this line always made me want scones.)

"Love child, always second best."

No, that would be my younger sister. Oooh, burrrnnnn.*

"Love child, different from the rest."

You know, a person could really start to get a complex.

Beyond my own personal reaction to the lyrics, I actually don't buy the premise of the song either wherein the singer's suitor is asked to hold off on getting jiggy because she doesn't want to be saddled with a love child of her own which they'll "only end up hatin'". Nice.

Given that The Pill became available in the US in 1960 and this song came out in 1968 I question the veracity of her claim to be concerned about having a child out of wedlock. You know what I think? I think she just didn't want to have sex with the guy. That would explain all the overwrought, Dickensian childhood nonsense. "No, I really do properly love you and I fancy you a lot. It's just, I have this tragic childhood, you see...". Sure you do.

So, in summary Love Child is a terrible (but catchy) song which actually might be the worst "not tonight dear, I have a headache" brushoff ever...depending on how you interpret it.

Thankfully I've long since got over any lingering uneasiness I might have felt about being illegitimate. In fact, after hearing the song in my impressionable teenage years I started to think of myself as a "bastard" and liked to imagine that this made me something of a badass. It didn't, but you have to find your positives where you can. In any case "bastard" as a term is infinitely preferable to "love child" which just makes me think of my parents having sex while dressed as hippies. I am not cool with that. I'm scarred enough as it is, what with all the scorning and self-hatred. Need we bring parental relations into it?

Anyway, I just wondered if anyone else ever felt bad hearing this song. Also, is there any stigma any more about being illegitimate? I'm sure there probably is within certain religions but on the whole, I'm not sure that society really does scorn us. Does it matter at all if a person's parents aren't married?

* love you sis!

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