Song of the Day #217: ‘Annie Waits’ – Ben Folds

suburbsBen Folds’ first solo album, Rockin’ the Suburbs, could easily have been another Ben Folds Five album — more smart piano/bass/drums pop. It was also a step up from Reinhold Messner because Folds focused more on writing good songs than delivering an oddball concept album.

Still, in a way Rockin’ the Suburbs is a concept album in its own right. Almost all of its songs are character sketches, short stories told in three minutes’ time. And Folds proved to be an expert at these mini-narratives.

There’s Zak and Sara, a young couple shopping at a guitar store when she has an episode due to her mental illness; Fred Jones, a lonely man who goes unnoticed on his last day after 25 years working for a newspaper; Cathy, a fragile young woman whom the narrator isn’t strong enough to prevent from taking her own life.

One of the album’s best tracks is the opening song, ‘Annie Waits,’ another poignant character sketch. This song follows Annie, a young woman who keeps getting burned by love but not enough to prevent her from taking another stab at it. She sits quietly by the phone, her hopes rising every time a car approaches her house. She tells herself she won’t go through this again, but it’s a lie: “Annie waits for the last time… just the same as the last time.”

For all of Folds’ onstage piano-bashing antics and gratuitous juvenile profanity, he has an uncanny ability to nail these sentimental subjects. Looking at his romantic history, it’s easy to imagine he’s been the guy who isn’t calling Annie, yet he can tell her story so effectively. He has a gift for drawing characters and spinning micro narratives that is found more often in authors than songwriters.

Finally, I love the little twist at the end of this song, where it’s revealed that, even as Annie pines for her absentee date, the narrator is pining for her. “Annie waits… but not for me.” Ouch.

And so Annie waits, Annie waits, Annie waits
For a call from a friend
The same
It’s the same
Why’s it always the same?
Annie waits for the last time

The clock never stops, never stops, never waits
She’s growing old
It’s getting late
And so he forgot, he forgot
Maybe not
Maybe he’s been seriously hurt
Would that be worse?

Headlights crest the hill
Shadows pass her by and out of sight
Annie sees in dreams
Friday bingo, pigeons in the park

Annie waits for the last time
Just the same as the last time

Annie says “You see, this is why I’d rather be alone.”

And so Annie waits, Annie waits, Annie waits
For a call from a friend
The same
It’s the same
Why’s it always the same?
Annie waits as the last…

Headlights crest the hill
Who will be the one for evermore?
Annie, I could be
If we’re both still lonely when we’re old

Annie waits for the last time
Just the same as the last time

Annie waits
But not for me

10 thoughts on “Song of the Day #217: ‘Annie Waits’ – Ben Folds

  1. Dana says:

    Okay, i know you tell us to ignore the video, but, seriously, who put this together? It seems rather professionally done.

    Anyway, I again find myself agreeing that this is a great song on another strong effort by Folds. In fact, I think that from start to finish this may be Folds’ most even and consistent album. There really isn’t a weak song on it, which I can’t necessarity say about any of his previous albums. Yes, the earlier albums arguaby had greater songs, but they also had, in my view, songs that would rank lower compared to the songs on Suburbs.

  2. Amy says:

    This one i like. :-), although I’m surprised you find Folds ability to write “micro narratives” unique. It seems to me that’s what most great songwriters do. Still, he does it exceptionally well, I agree. As for the ablum as a whole, yada yada yada – what the hell would I know about the album as a whole? Great song.

  3. Clay says:

    I don’t know… I can’t think of many examples of songs that have actual characters (not off the top of my head, anyway). Billy Joel, of course, has Brenda and Eddie, with the middle section of ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’ covering a novel’s worth of material in a couple of minutes.

  4. Alex says:

    I like the video. Must be an aspiring filmmaker. Ok song. I like that Ben Folds can tell a good fictional story as well the wonderful personal ones. I wonder how many of his characters are real, like Gracie and Summer B, and how many are made up or an amalgam of people he knows. What percentage are totally made up?

  5. Dana says:

    I’ve heard interviews where he has ssaid that many of his songs, particularly early ones, were based on real people, mostly friends.

  6. Amy says:

    Billy Joel writes lots of micro narratives – “Rosalinda’s Eyes” is one of my favorites. I’m not sure a song has to have a named character to qualify; the “story” can be told from the persona of the singer (“Stan”) or about an unnamed couple (“Tunnel of Love”) Just seems to me that more songs are little stories about the lives of particular people than aren’t.

    Now, if I were to only listen to the first verse of one such song (like watching a single scene from a film), I might have an incomplete picture of the entrie micro narrative. Otherwise, I think one can have a very complete experience listening to “Jack and Diane” even if one has never heard another song on that album (sorry had to continue the debate from the previous thread 🙂 An album such as Watertown, on the other hand, requires to be listened to in its entirety, as the micro narratives combine to make an epic.

  7. Clay says:

    I don’t think an album has to truly be a concept album (like Watertown) to reward, or even require, a complete listen. Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom, for example, feels like a carefully-orchestrated suite… sure, individual songs are great, but the album as a whole is, to use the cliche, more than the sum of its parts.

    I’d say the same for just about every Ben Folds album, as well as the best work of just about all my favorite artists.

  8. Clay says:

    As for Rosalinda’s eyes… I love the song but I don’t think it is the sort of micro-narrative we’re talking about (or at least the sort I’m talking about). He plays nights in the Spanish part of town and he loves a woman named Rosalinda… there’s no real plot there.

    ‘Piano Man,’ on the other hand, sets a vivid scene populated with well-drawn characters.

  9. Amy says:

    You’ve been watching too much Lost – you’re all plot crazy all of a sudden. Since when does an emphasis on plot make a great narrative. There are plot heavy and plot light narratives, as long as there are intriguing characters, the plot isn’t all that matters. “Rosalinda’s Eyes” provides a glimpse into the lives of a struggling musician and the woman who loves him and believes in him. Just because they don’t buy a couple of painting from Sears and get divorced doesn’t make it less of a “micro narrative” in Amy’s eyes ;-P

  10. Clay says:

    It’s not a narrative, it’s a sketch. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

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