Apologies for the delay in getting around to “I Want to Be Wanted.” I suspect three factors: a sudden influx in work due to the real start of a new semester, blowing my wad with the lengthy “Mr. Custer” post and not being particularly inspired by Brenda Lee’s second number one. If this were a middling single, that wouldn’t be much of an issue – compare its good points with its bad points and blame its overall blandness for the short entry. The problem is that I actually like ‘I Want to Be Wanted” quite a bit. I think it does a better job than the (quite good) “I’m Sorry” of establishing Lee’s persona: the little girl with the big voice that can sometimes mask her insecurities. Really, though, this is just another solid Brenda Lee single. That shouldn’t be taken as a dismissal, but a sign of the uniformly high level of quality present in her early ’60s records. The song itself may or may not be that great, and the production is pedestrian though not overbearing. But Brenda herself is always believable, with a powerful yet vulnerable voice that set her apart from her contemporaries. (Wanda Jackson had the power and Connie Francis the vulnerability, but neither of them could convey both simultaneously.) Before writing this post, I thought that the most difficult songs to write about were the boring ones that give you nothing to say, either positive or negative. Turns out it’s the good ones that just aren’t special. 7
Hit #1 on October 24, 1960; total of 1 week at #1
39 of 965 #1’s reviewed; 4.04% through the Hot 100
The lyrics to “I’m Sorry” are as simple as they come: Brenda just apologizes. There’s no hint in the song as to what her misdeed was, who she wronged, why she’s so self-flagellating even when the person to whom she’s apologizing tells her that “mistakes are part of being young.” “”But that don’t right the wrong that’s been done,” she replies, her voice softly betraying depths of sadness. The nonspecificity of the lyrics could be interpreted as a maneuver to allow for listeners to plug in their own interpretations, but also adds an air of mystery. Is this some simple romantic snag, or is it something so sinister that Lee cannot bring herself to utter it aloud? “I didn’t know love could be so cruel,” she sighs, shaking her head in dejection. It’s a wonder David Lynch hasn’t used it in a movie yet.
The lyrics, although enigmatic, are still rather simple and repetitive on paper. But where lesser singers might have descended into histrionics or insipidness, Lee makes you believe in the sincerity of every apology. The restrained production – muted guitar, minimalist strings, backing singers barely audible except in the spoken interlude – allows for the specter of her voice to fill the record. The unaffected catch in her voice, as in nearly all of her songs, adds an emotional note to the song that feels real when so many others just sing the words on the page. “I’m Sorry” is often considered Lee’s signature “straight” song, although “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” will be around as long as there are winter holidays. But despite her usual brilliant performance, “I’m Sorry” never really lives up to its promise. It’s not a great song, but it’s a good one, and she’s superlative. 7
Hit #1 on July 18, 1960; total of 3 weeks at #1
32 of 964 #1’s reviewed; 3.32% through the Hot 100