Creepy Love #2, “So fine”: Jefferson Airplane, “Watch Her Ride” (1967)

Arwen on horse sI knew with my last post I’d taken at least one too many swipes at love in song, and it was past time to go positive on this topic. But getting there isn’t easy: the next great trope I think of brings on the spiritual heebie-jeebies all over again. At first, the much-sung idea that the beloved is so fine sounds noble, generous, appreciative rather than possessive–but is “appreciation” of  a “fine” thing ever separate from the desire to have it?  Probably not, as the Chiffons’ unavoidable rhymes remind us:

He’s so fine
Wish he were mine
That handsome boy over there
The one with the wavy hair
I don’t know how I’m gonna do it
But I’m gonna make him mine
He’s the envy of all the girls
It’s just a matter of time

The “so fine”-loving lover is hungry to move up or exults in being on top, as in: owning a mansion, driving a Mercedes, clubbing with a classy boy/girlfriend. Envied by all. There’s a brighter Darwinian future to think of, too, hooking up with better genes (that wavy hair).[1] In fact, the last verse of “He’s So Fine” effectively lifts up the biological perspective as more important than immediate social advantages (although the usual interpretation would say the beloved’s value is “personal”):

If I were a queen
And he asked me to leave my throne
I’d do anything that he asked
Anything to make him my own
For he’s so fine

My second thought about “so fine” was that there may be redemption for it in Jefferson Airplane’s “Watch Her Ride,” where the rhyme with “fine” is “blow my mind.” You laugh, but there’s this to be said for hippie values, they’re a refreshing change from material greed and social climbing. “Watch Her Ride” certainly isn’t about upscale equestrianism. It’s not about gratifying lust, either: Paul Kantner writes and sings “Watch Her Ride” as though the dirty meaning of the title phrase never occurred to him.  It’s about a mental transfiguration.

“Watch Her Ride” start

I didn’t know you were the one for me, I couldn’t see
But you were waiting
For someone to come along to help you out and sing your song
And I was changing
All I see is you
All I feel is you for me!

And I would really like to watch you ride
And always feel you by my side
I would really like to watch you ride
All on me!

Perhaps “all on me” does refer to sexual activity. Be that as it may, let’s move on to “blow my mind.”

“Watch Her Ride” end

And my mind becomes alive with you
It’s all that I can do to sit here and let you blow my mind
Blow my mind, you’re so fine
In my mind you’re so fine

We’re out of the frying pan and into the fire, I guess, if “you’re so fine” is so closely associated with dropping a very fine tab of acid. Even apart from the acid, there’s something basely acquisitive in cherishing your beloved as a Very Fine Experience.[2]

But “Watch Her Ride” is great because it’s not complacent about the issue I’m raising. It’s not sunny. It’s in strangely combined minor chords conveying anxiety, even torment, embossed with nauseous mutations of blues licks by the lead guitar, the vocal verse lines in strained recitative. Who would ever choose such elements for a celebratory love song?[3] Listen to the chords by themselves and consider how they would affect a song’s atmosphere:

The chords of “Watch Her Ride”

In “Watch Her Ride” these chords indeed create uncertainty about how to feel. There’s enough energy in the song, enough exploratory enthusiasm, that it never resolves into a downer–but you can’t say it’s an upper either. It’s on unfamiliar terrain, and it wonders at it.

_______________________________________________________

[1] It’s possible that my assumptions about wavy hair are not the same as The Chiffons’.

[2] The experientialist emphasis goes way back; compare the Fiestas’ “So Fine”:

So fine . . . 
My baby’s so doggone fine,
She loves me, come rain, come shine
Oh oh yeah so fine.
She thrills me, she thrills me
She thrills me, yeah.
My baby thrills me all the time.
She sends those chills up and down my spine.

[3] The bridge’s one chord (D) is major. But the bridge is relatively subdued, emotionally, with a lower melody.

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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Passions & Attitudes, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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