Leaving all issues of authenticity in pop music aside (as I promised to do just yesterday), there are some things that are hard to fake convincingly. One of these is naïveté. I don’t mean music characterized by foolishness or a lack of sophistication, but the sincere, uncynical type of songs that only be produced by non-professionals not yet molded to industry standards. This guilelessness is a large part of what gave records like “Come Softly to Me” and “Please Mr. Postman” their charm. The vocals may not be refined, the lyrics a bit facile, the production low-budget, but there’s an honesty there that’s stands out alongside more polished, conventional fare. This isn’t to say that naïve music is inherently better than its radio-ready counterpart, merely that it can be an appealing change of pace.
Compare “Hey Paula,” a ballad written and performed by a couple of Texas college students, with Steve Lawrence’s “Go Away Little Girl“: both take on the subject of young love. But although the former’s simple arrangement and endearingly clunky lyrics mark it as the work of amateurs, it is all the sweeter and more believable for being something two (quite talented) kids might actually sing to each other. “Go Away Little Girl,” on the other hand, doesn’t have a sincere note in the whole record. Even if the love depicted in “Hey Paula” is as artificial as the duo’s noms de musique, the latter’s strict adherence to pop formula comes across as smug, creepy and dull. “Hey Paula” also has an ace up its sleeve with the voice of Jill Jackson (our “Paula”), whose manages the rare feat in pop of being technically proficient yet seemingly unschooled. Like “Hey Paula” itself, her singing is enchanting because its loveliness is seemingly by chance. 6
Hit #1 on February 9, 1963; total of 3 weeks at #1
85 of 976 #1’s reviewed; 8.71% through the Hot 100