monday song #9: the queen of spades


i’ve had the basic melody and chords for this song for some months now. the original chorus ended “she’s a star of stage and shingles vaccines,” which i still enjoy, but try as i might, it just wouldn’t spawn any lyrics i liked.

i finally got on track with the line “peter tries to focus on his screen…” and the situation of someone having an overwhelming crush on a person at work. i had the verses in place before i figured out the chorus. at first it was the queen of spades in each refrain, but then i settled on the different suits, in some ways expanding on this woman’s powers, and also suggesting her ability to change her identity, which we discover at the end. the result is a bit of pop film noir.

the verse melody was definitely inspired by xtc, one of my all time favorites. the tone of the story is nothing like their world, but the shape of the melody and the level of word play seemed to fit their style nicely. the other influence, though a less conscious one, is sonny curtis, who wrote and sang the mary tyler moore theme, which is a guilty favorite of mine, right up there with the bridge of the bob newhart theme. the pre-chorus which moves from the II7 to the IV is very close to the section “it’s you girl and you should know it…” not exact, but a definite relative. you never know who you’re going to steal from.

when the song came to me, it really seemed like a power pop song, so arranging it for piano was a bit of a challenge. for some reason i settled on the staccato chords in the verses, sort of like opera. it strikes me as an odd flavor, but it goes along with a stream of courtly references to chalices and vessels and queens. unintended, but it tied in thematically even though i wasn’t intending it.

happy martin luther king jr day.

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