Song of the Day #918: ‘Belinda’ – Ben Folds

Best Songs of 2010 – #1

It’s probably not a surprise that my number one song of the year comes from my number one album, Lonely Avenue, the collaboration between Ben Folds and novelist Nick Hornby.

This meeting of the minds of two of my very favorite artists in their respective genres was destined to make me happy, but it wound up surpassing my expectations.

Folds composed his most consistent and enjoyable batch of tunes in years and Hornby delivered a dozen character sketches that dive deeper than the average pop song has a right to.

The CD liner notes include an e-mail from Folds to Hornby about the challenge of a particular song, closing track ‘Belinda.’ The song is about an aging rocker who has to go on stage every night and sing his biggest hit, ‘Belinda,’ which he wrote years ago about a woman who is long since out of his life (Hornby has said he was inspired to write the song after thinking about Eric Clapton having to sing ‘Layla’ at every concert).

Hornby quotes the rocker’s hit song in the first verse, and Folds wrote that this posed a particular problem, because he had to hint at the song’s chorus well before delivering the real thing, and you don’t want to spoil the surprise (which is what a good chorus is, when you get down to it) so soon. His solution was to offer up a quiet version of a line from the chorus in a different key in the middle of the first verse.

I mention that because one of the reasons I love this song so much is that, paired with that correspondence, it provides a wonderful glimpse at the songwriting process, and the collaborative process that went into making this album. The fact that the song itself is about songwriting and performing just adds to the meta fun.

The result is the best song on the best album I heard this year — alternately funny and touching, the perfect marriage of a Nick Hornby character with a Ben Folds melody and performance.

Every night around this time
He has to sing ‘Belinda’
“Belinda, I love you
Don’t leave me, I need you”

He tried to stop a while back
But what is he without her?
A one hit wonder with no hits is what he is

And anyway
He always hears how much it means to people
There’s a lot of fortysomethings
Who wouldn’t be in the world without it
So now he does it with this lyric in his head

Belinda, I loved you
I’m sorry that I left you
I met somebody younger on a plane
She had big breasts
A nice smile
No kids either
She gave me complimentary champagne

No-one ever wants to hear the song he wrote for Cindy
“Cindy, I love you
I need you, don’t leave me”
And he can’t blame them, they can tell
His heart was never in it
And Cindy never liked it but
She never much liked him

Belinda, I loved you
I’m sorry that I left you
I met somebody younger on a plane
She had big breasts
A nice smile
No kids either
She gave me complimentary champagne

So every night about this time
He feels the old self loathing
While the old folks in the audience sing along
And he smiles and waves the mic at them
So they can do the chorus
But he’s not there, he’s somewhere else
He’s with Belinda
In the days before he made it all go wrong

Belinda, I love you

She gave me complimentary champagne
She gave me complimentary champagne

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #918: ‘Belinda’ – Ben Folds

  1. Dana says:

    At dinner last night, we were speculating as to which song off this album would be your number one pick. I believe Maddie and Amy initially predicted “Belinda,” but then I started pushing the notion of “Doc Pomus,” which, in a way, is the title track (based on the use of the phrase Lonely Avenue) and another wonderful example of the marriage of Folds’ music and Hornby’s lyrics.

    While I love “Belinda,” I’m not sure I would have picked it as my favorite. Then again, no one song clearly stands out as a favorite in my mind. I love them all! I do, however, love the story behind the song you referenced from the liner notes. One correction, I believe, is that Folds doesn’t change keys (or say he is changing keys). What he does is sing one line from the chorus in the middle of the verse.

    Anyway, the concept, musically and lyrically, is wonderful. I also particularly love the musical breaks, infused with soaring strings and that wind whooshing sound (no idea what the technical term for that is), which are so reminiscent of the power rock ballads from the 80’s — think Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” or “You’re the Inspiration..”

  2. Amy says:

    Yup; I predicted this would be your pick. For all the reasons you mentioned. It’s difficult not to fall in love with this song when you’ve been given such a cool window into its creation. The fact that Hornby even suggested to Folds that their e-mail exchange wind up somewhere in the liner notes – and that the e-mail suggestion is ALSO included – all just adds to the meta fun. When I first read about it, and listened to it, I thought of Billy Joel having to sing “Just the Way You Are” in every concert, but I guess there are dozens of artists in the same boat – which is part of what makes it work so well.

    Regardless, it’s a wonderful song from a wonderful album, and a great pick for number 1 of the year!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.