For anyone who wants to contemplate the do-or-die emotions of teenagers from the distance of adulthood, Linda Ronstadt’s Mad Love album is one of the best resources. Yes, I love Mad Love, though I know one might cringe at these canny L.A. millionaires playing distraught teen music with their high-polished sound. It’s just that their playing keeps giving great pleasure.
The hook I should cite for the marvelous teen pathos of the album is the slightly frantic and overwrought style of singing Ronstadt adopts for the whole project, but what sticks out to me is the most artificial element of all, a dark, sour, chorused-or-flanged-or-something guitar voice in “Hurt So Bad” —a much-intensified version of the rhythm guitar on the 1965 original by Little Anthony and the Imperials—that sounds exactly like it’s running through an optimized combination of expensive pedals and processors and amps, and yet for all that still sounds like a fresh outburst from the broken heart of this devastated young dumpee, stabbing through her hopeless plea to her dumper.
Well let me tell you that it
………………hurts so bad
…It makes me feel so sad
It’s gonna hurt so bad if you walk away . . .
The teenisms that were revived in New Wave by Tom Petty, Joan Jett, Joe Jackson, et al.—here by Ronstadt, Peter Asher, Danny Kortchmar and company—could be seen as a hijacking of teen pathos. I would rather speak of transposition. “Hurt So Bad” offers an analogue to teen experience, not a magical recovery of it. The desperation of not-yet-established people who think they’re missing their first big chances becomes a figure for other desperations—even (I reflect, as I seem to be listening to this song all the way to my grave) the angst of aging and the last missings out.
For the funniest take on teen pathos, also from 1980, I cite “Dance This Mess Around” by the B-52s. (High point 1:00-1:20)