Until recently, I thought “She” was a song about a lady who’d had a particularly volatile relationship with Charles Aznavour. “She” sounded like quite a handful…
Then I discovered that’s not what the song is about at all.
It was originally written as the theme tune for a short run of UK TV plays called “The Seven Faces Of Women”. That made me feel a bit better…
“She” was about seven different women, then, not just one volatile, mercurial, unpredictable woman. Thank goodness for that… (although, for the record, I have had relationships just like “She” but all channelled through a single woman…I’d like to say I’m a better man for the experience, but “permanently scarred” might be closer to the truth…)
“She” was written by Charles Aznavour, who composed the music, and Herbert Kretzmer, who wrote the lyrics. Kretzmer is particularly known for his collaborations with Charles Aznavour, but he also wrote the English-language lyrics for Les Miserables, the longest-running musical in West End theatre history.
Charles Aznavour’s distinctive singing style has always been a tempting target for parodies, but “She” is a fabulous song about life’s inherent contradictions. There are few things which are definitively good and bad…everything has an element of yin and yang…
And these contradictions are not minor differences. It’s not sometimes one sugar in her coffee and other times two. These are polar opposites…
May be the face I can’t forget
A trace of pleasure or regret
May be my treasure or the price I have to pay
She may be the song that summer sings
May be the chill that autumn brings
May be a hundred different things
Within the measure of the day
Just that first verse packs in a lot… “a trace of pleasure or regret” is an especially great line.
It’s not a moment of pleasure, or a night of pleasure, or a summer holiday of pleasure. It’s not even a hint of pleasure…even that seems a little too definite and concrete to describe his feelings.
It’s “a trace of pleasure or regret”…the merest shadow of a memory carried on a soft breeze from a thousand miles away…
And if it was pleasure, what were the regrets about…normally pleasure is associated with a more positive emotional recall.
Perhaps someone you loved who went away…the pleasure of being with them, the regret of them leaving…how do you reconcile those conflicting memories…?
Maybe you were concentrating solely on yourself. You had your fun, but someone was hurt by your behaviour…you felt pleasure at the time, but regret since. You could — and should — have done better…
Or a moment you weakened when you should have been strong. You got carried away in the moment, but wish you hadn’t. You’re left with the regret of what you did…those you might have hurt…the people you let down…
Or any one of a thousand more possible scenarios…
That’s the joy of a well-written lyric. It gives you just a tiny part of a story, sketched out the faintest pencil outline, and you get to build up the colour yourself from there.
A lyric this good can give your imagination hours or days or years of fun working out the possibilities …and you still won’t have exhausted them all. “A trace of pleasure or regret” says so little, and yet says so much…all at the same time.
But so often, despite all the ups and downs, the pleasures and regrets, the memories burrow deep into your heart and won’t be going away any time soon…
May be the reason I survive
The why and wherefore I’m alive
The one I’ll care for through the rough and rainy years
Me, I’ll take her laughter and her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
For where she goes I’ve got to be
The meaning of my life is
She, she, she
Running a close second to “A trace of pleasure or regret”, the lyrics “I’ll take her laughter and her tears/And make them all my souvenirs” are pretty wonderful too.
Again, they convey just enough to get you thinking without giving you enough to finish the story in your mind…so you keep searching, keep imagining, keep wondering…
Herbert Kretzmer makes “She” into a classic with his skilful wordsmithing …a fantastic set of lyrics outlining life’s many inherent contradictions.
Here’s Charles Aznavour with his UK Number One hit from 1974…and some of the finest lyrics in the English language. It’s “She”…
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).