Gilbert O’Sullivan just wanted to write simple pop songs on his piano. He didn’t have time for image or presentation. Like me for my music, or don’t bother, he said, leave the glitz to those glam rockers. But the problem was that Gilbert broke through in a big way in 1972 with Alone Again (Naturally), a slow, moody ballad about killing himself. Believe it or not folks thought that the song was autobiographical. So Gilbert was in need of something to counteract this sad sack image…
Actually Gilbert followed up his maudlin megahit with a spritely, up beat tune about a girl named Clair.
The tune made it up to #2 in late 1972 and people were even more confused about what kind of guy Gil was. I mean, would you want someone to babysit your kid who only just before wanted throw himself off a nearby tower? I need a little more stability in my caretaker’s personality than that.
Now before you start to groan or roll your eyes at where you perceive I’m going with this, I need you to take a deep breath. After all this is only pop music. Before I get the, ‘you have a sick mind, jerk’ and ‘it’s a sweet song. why are you ruining it?’ comments, I want to remind you that I am writing about this song 40 years after it was written. A lot has changed socially. Some for the better as in our acceptance of minorities, enough to elect one to run the country. (Back then, the Dems hopes were pinned on George McGovern or George Wallace) But when it comes to children, we have become incredibly protective of them, some say to much. Others believe our protection borders on paranoia. Whatever you believe, that feeling as well as our habit of treating everything with sarcasm and irony, has blurred everything that was created from someone’s heart, a straight forward sentiment with no hidden agenda or secret motive.
With that in mind, how many folks listen to a song like Clair and not look for a secret meaning in some of the words, which would lead people to think the singer is creepy, at least and a pedophile at best? I played this song for 5 people over 40 and 3 people under 30. 4 of the 5 over 40s thought the song was sweet (the 5th thought it was cheesy at most). All 3 under 30 thought the dude singing it was lame until they realized that Clair was his niece and they thought he was a sicko. I did this to show how much things have changed with people socially in these last 40 years. I wasn’t shocked at all by the people under 30 who thought each line was a double-entendre. They were raised by a society who beat the message over & over, ‘don’t believe what you hear, read between the lines, everyone’s out to get you’. That seems to be the media’s mantra, with every expose, broadcast, special show they do.
Me, I think this song walks the line between cloying and sweet natured. Plus it brings back memories of those simple pop days of the early-70s. From Gilbert’s plaintive whistle intro the song moves into him singing about a girl named Clair which may or may not be his girlfriend. But it’s very plain to see he adores her rather than lust or infatuation. This could be two 6-year-olds singing to each other. She gets to him in a way that he can’t describe. When Gil says to Clair, I don’t care what people say, to me you’re more than a child, it’s such a tender sentiment. Can you read more into that? Yes I guess you could. But Gil and the arrangement really don’t allow you to. He’s letting you know right off the bat with that whistling. The cleverness of the lyrics is that the reality of what’s going on is brought to light in a few lines, with parts like Nothing means more to me than hearing you say, I want to marry you. Will you marry me, Uncle Ray? (Ray is Gil’s real name) How many little girls have melted a dad or uncle’s heart with something like that. This song gets to me, even more so now that I have a daughter. Also for your information, the Clair that Gil wrote about was his producer, Gordon Mills’ daughter.
So all you perverts out there, find another song to pick on. Or, I will for you.
Quick aside: I love the group Jellyfish. They have a song on their 1993 Album, Spilt Milk called Sebrina, Paste and Plato which I always thought was an homage to Clair.
BTW: I love to sing this at karaoke. Here’s a few tips to make the performance a winner. First pick out any lady in the room, point to her and say, This is for you, Clair. Second, just before the end of the song, ask someone close to the stage where in Wisconsin do they live….and then finish the song. You’ll see what I mean.