Listen now on:
This week’s pick: “Harry Worth,” released on Momofuku (2008)
Gary Stewart: What happens when you mix the bossa nova rhythms of swinging bachelor pad/lounge music with the more sinister tones and textures of ’60s-era spy soundtrack music? You get something that sounds like “Harry Worth.” But it’s a mistake to hear this as mere genre mashup. First of all, the way the arrangement’s playful/casual side exists in perpetual tension with its more threatening elements is brilliant. And if you get sucked into the atmosphere and don’t pay attention, you’ll miss the tale of a relationship that’s doomed from the start. If you’ve ever gone to a wedding knowing the marriage won’t last, then you’ll find that feeling here.
Sure, the bossa nova rhythms can disarm you, but then you hit the chorus and hear lines like, “It’s not very long that you spend on this earth.” All of a sudden you’re in the middle of a James Bond theme—the kind that tend to be ominous and philosophical (think “Live and Let Die,” “The World Is Not Enough,” and “Die Anther Day”).
“Harry Worth” is somewhat buried on Momofuku, an album that was barely visible when it was first released. Recorded in a flash at the recently made famous Sound City Studios, it was released somewhat silently, initially only on vinyl. When it got noticed, it was mostly because E.C. and the Impostors had made another “rock” album. But that description is just way too narrow, as evidenced by this track. That won’t be a problem forever—Momofuku’s reputation keeps growing because of songs like this.
David Gorman: I’m not gonna pretend I’m not totally sucked into the hype surrounding the last episodes of Mad Men, so maybe that’s why when listening to this song again, all I can think of is what a perfect soundtrack it makes to Don’s failed marriage to Megan. It’s as if someone decided to make a Mad Men musical (and let’s not kid ourselves, it’s been pitched by some hack already) and cast Elvis as the narrator of the romance we’re all watching end so bitterly, one Sunday night at a time.
The bossa nova groove that shuffles “Harry Worth” along was, of course, the hippest sound around for upscale urbanites when Don and Megan first met in ’65. It was the time of “The Girl From Ipanema,” Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. It’s a sound so connected with the man Don Draper embodies that I reflexively look for a copy of the (VERY Trunkworthy) album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim every time Draper’s New York penthouse is shown on screen. And that groove, combined with the cooing chorus in the background, sets “Harry Worth” squarely in the Mad Men era.
And then, of course, the lyrics. The references to his cruel humor and her quick tongue. The loss of youth (called out specifically in this week’s episode). The trips meant to reignite the spark that only lead to more fighting. And, of course, the wordplay around the idea of Don’s real worth, both personal and financial, which was also referenced in the last episode. (“You were a millionaire when I met you” was its most snap-worthy line.)
It’s all so spot-on that I’m willing to put forth the theory that Elvis wrote this song at the behest of Mad Men’s creator, Matthew Weiner. Either that or Elvis saw the first season of Mad Men and predicted with freakish accuracy its eventual outcome. After all, it was recorded just after Season One ended, while I’m sure Weiner was dreaming up the stories that would unfold over the next several years. Sure, the song doesn’t mention adultery, and “Harry” is already the name of another key character on the show, but grander conspiracies have glossed over much larger holes. I mean, the retroreflectors didn’t make the moon-landing deniers give up hope, right?
The Elvis Costello Song Of The Week playlist grows! Now that we’re back to covering “officially available” stuff, our playlist expands once again: