Wishin’ and Hopin’ for Behavioral Modification Therapy

As I’m sure you all know, subsequent editions of the Oxford English Dictionary (now on it’s third electronic edition) will probably only appear in electronic form.  More and more, the gigantic books with which we have surrounded ourselves are going electronic.  Obviously, this is mostly devastating, but I think I have spotted a silver lining.

Soon, I’m sure, another of those gigantic books, the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (now on its 5th edition), will also be fully electronic, and then it can become fully multi-media.  Imagine: a friend or coworker is acting peculiar, you start to wonder whether they might be ill, you go to the DSM website to see whether they meet the diagnostic criteria for a psychiatric condition, and there, next to the relevant behavioral criteria, will be illustrative pictures, links, and…music!

Don’t you think it would facilitate your understanding of psychiatric disorders if you had musical accompaniment while you researched them?  Songs which showed, by example, how sufferers of particular disorders might act?

And, in that spirit, I’d like to nominate a song as the musical embodiment of the Borderline Personality Disorder: Dusty Springfield’s ‘Wishin’ and Hopin’’.  It’s very instructive:


Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’

Plannin’ and dreamin’ each night of his charms,

That won’t get you into his arms.

So if you’re lookin’ to find love you can share,

All you gotta do is

Hold him and kiss him and love him

And show him that you care.


Show him that you care just for him.

Do the things he likes to do.

Wear your hair just for him, ‘cause

You won’t get him,

Thinkin’ and a-prayin’, wishin’ and hopin’,


So if you’re thinking how great true love is,

All you gotta do is

Hold him and kiss him and squeeze him and love him.

Yeah, just do it, and after you do, you will be his.


All the diagnostic elements of Borderline Personality, they’re all there! The fear of abandonment, the obsessiveness (wishin’ AND hopin’ AND thinkin’ AND prayin’), the identity disturbance (show him that you care JUST for him), the self-mutilation (wear your hair just for him), the clear instability.  Granted, Dusty doesn’t display any “intense, inappropriate anger” in the song itself, but it isn’t hard to imagine that she’ll react badly when all that wishin’ and hopin’ doesn’t work out.  All the rage and agitation which are characteristic of the Borderline Personality, it’s all simmering right below the surface of the song.  Can you imagine rejecting that woman?  She’d probably kill your dog!  She’d probably squeeze him right to death, with all that love she meant for you.  I think that integration of music and other media into the DSM will help animate and clarify the diagnoses – isn’t the Borderline Personality a little more…immediate for you now?

Adam Levine and Signaling Theory

Maroon 5 has a new single.  It’s called ‘Maps’ – maybe you’ve heard it?  You’ll know it when you do, because, even though most it of it sounds exactly like all other Maroon 5 songs (not that there’s anything wrong with that), there is one distinctive feature: right after the chorus, Adam Levine (a high singer under normal circumstances), sings, “Following, following, following.”  Or, he doesn’t so much sing it as melodiously squeak it.

I have it on good authority that Adam Levine is very attractive.  I also have an impressive amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests that squeaky voices are not considered desirable in men.  However, in pop music, men often shriek at very high registers in their pursuit of women.  For example, last summer, Jason Derulo subjected us all to the ear-splitting insistence that some poor woman “take him to the other side (toniiiiiiiiight)”.

Munchkin-sounding men are a pop-music staple.  But why?

In evolutionary biology (bear with me here), a ‘signal’ is a trait or behavior which modifies the behavior of the recipient of the signal.  For example, female bower birds are more likely to mate with male bower birds that adorn their nests; nest adornment is therefore a sexual signal.

Signaling is sometimes described as either ‘honest’ or ‘dishonest’.  In the context of sexual selection, an ‘honest’ signal is a signal which accurately predicts the presence of other desirable but invisible traits.  A famous example is the peacock’s tail.  Some evolutionary biologists have argued that the elaborate tail of the male peacock is an honest signal because the tail is metabolically costly, and because the unwieldiness of the tail makes the bird vulnerable to predation, and the male’s continued existence and evasion of predators is testament to his superior genes.  It is not the genes of the tail itself which are desirable, but the genes which allow the bird to maintain the tail.

Which brings us back to Adam Levine and his Minnie Mouse impression.  Many sexual signals have to do with cost, i.e. I can grow and keep this enormous tail and still have enough energy to walk and eat and mate – I must therefore be a genetic dynamo.  Perhaps Adam Levine’s vocal stylings are a perverse sort of honest sexual signal.  Perhaps, when he whinnies, “Following, following, following”, what he’s really saying is, “I am so sexually attractive that women will want to sleep with me even if I sound like a member of the Lollipop Guild”.  Maybe, just maybe, it takes a really big man to sing in such a wee voice.

Or maybe not.


Love is Gonna Get Ya!

One of the great delights of listening to pop music is finding weird juxtapositions between music and lyrics.  They can sneak up on you, the strangenesses of pop lyrics; they can strike you the first or hundredth time you listen to a song.

For example, I was struck recently by the lyrics to a song I’ve loved for years, ‘Sooner Or Later’, by the Grass Roots.


‘Sooner Or Later’ is as perky a pop song as has ever been recorded, but the lyrics are, upon close read, slightly threatening:


Sooner or later, love is gonna get ya!

Sooner or later, girl, you got to give in!”


Despite the singer’s optimism, the object of the song seems to have been clear about her unavailability:


“You say you’ll never be mine,

But, darling, there’ll come a time

I’ll taste all that love that you’ve been hiding. [Author’s note: Ew.]

It’s just a question of time

Before you make up your mind,

And give all that love you’ve been denying.”


It is this woman’s stated intention “never” to come around.  For heaven’s sake, she’s been hiding from him!  But never mind that, sooner or later, love is gonna get her.

‘Sooner Or Later’ reminds me of another great song of upbeat menace: ‘Get Ready’, by the Temptations.


“If you wanna play hide and seek with love, (it’s alright),

But the lovin’ you’re gonna miss in the time it takes to find you, (it’s outta sight).


And I’m bringing you a love that’s true,

So get ready, get ready!

I’m gonna try to make you love me, too,

So get ready! Get ready, here I come!”


Get ready!  Here he comes!  This lady has also been hiding, apparently, but that will avail her naught! Her silly resistance is just so much time-wasting!

These guys have the same romantic strategy: true love will wear her down.  Whatever her objections, they are no match for his determination!  If she eventually comes around, it’ll make for a very romantic story. If she doesn’t, well, one wonders what’s in store for her that requires such readiness.

Some hint may be provided:

“So fee-fi-fo-fum,

Look out, baby, ‘cause here I come!”


In case you missed it, that’s ‘fee-fi-fo-fum’, from Jack and the Beanstalk:



I smell the blood of an Englishman.

Be he live, or be he dead,

I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”


Fee-fi-fo-fum, that’s what the giant says before he eats you.


Sex Bomb

     Too little scholarly attention has been paid to Tom Jones lyrics.  Jones has sold over 100 million records in his career, and has been given an OBE and knighted.  His knighthood, granted to him in 2006, was awarded for “services to music”, although the specific services rendered were not detailed.  Despite these accomplishments, it is apparent that Tom Jones’ cultural contributions have not undergone rigorous explication.  For example, a search for “Tom Jones Singer” on Google Scholar returns 44,100 results, none of which are actually about Tom Jones (the first result is a 2002 Nature paper, “Initial sequencing and comparative analysis of the mouse genome”).

     It is the opinion of this author, if not the larger critical community, that Jones’ greatest contribution to world music is his 2000 semi-hit ‘Sex Bomb’.  Despite the obvious value of this contribution, the song’s message remains mysterious.  The most pressing question raised by ‘Sex Bomb’ is: what, or who, is the Sex Bomb, exactly.  A cursory listen would suggest that the Sex Bomb is the second person object of the song, perhaps Jones’ girlfriend or wife:

(You know what you are, you are)

Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb,

You’re a Sex Bomb.

You can give it to me when I need to come along.

Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb,

You’re my Sex Bomb,

And, Baby, you can turn me on.

     This possibility is alarming.  Is there some woman wandering around who is an undetonated sexual explosive?  And, if so, what sort of bomb is she?  Does she have a timed fuse?  Is she remote detonated?  Perhaps the most likely, and certainly the most troubling, possibility is that she is an impact-detonated explosive – this would seem to be the type of explosive with the most utility in a sexual situation.  However, the potential for accidents seems high: what if she is jostled in a non-sexual situation?  For example, what is she is involved in a minor fender-bender, and the airbag deploys?  Will there be a sexual detonation?  What if she accidentally bumps into someone on the street?  What if she bumps into a child?

     However, this interpretation is complicated by the next lines:

Now, don’t get me wrong,

Ain’t gonna do you no harm.

This bomb’s for loving.

You can shoot it far.

     It seems unlikely that Tom Jones plans to shoot his girlfriend “far”, which argues against his girlfriend herself being the Sex Bomb.  It also begs the question, why would anyone want a Sex Bomb that you would shoot a significant distance away from yourself?  Besides the minor socially terroristic appeal of lobbing a sex bomb into a group of unsuspecting people, there really is very little strategic benefit to making the enemy feel sexier.

     However, there is some suggestion that the Sex Bomb is not only a sex weapon.  The song opens with the lines:

Spy on me baby,

You’re a satellite,

Infrared to see me

Through the night.

     Perhaps the Sex Bomb has infrared surveillance capabilities.  Perhaps Tom Jones has developed a tool of sexual reconnaissance, capable of searching out targets and then detonating on (at? with?) them.  One can only imagine what such a detonation might look like, but some rough measure of its force can be extrapolated from Jones’ background vocals, in which he can be heard saying, “Ow” and “No no!”  Apparently, the topic deserves further scrutiny, for Tom Jones’ sake, if nothing else.