“Wasn’t Expecting That” — Jamie Lawson

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Photo by Na Inho on Unsplash

Continuing our short series of songs which tell complete stories, today it’s Jamie Lawson’s unbelievably poignant “Wasn’t Expecting That”.

It’s everything you could want in a song. The concept is inspired, the set-up is masterful, the storytelling skilful and the “plot twist” right at the end will have you in tears.

Jamie Lawson originally released “Wasn’t Expecting That” back in 2011 to little public recognition outside his native Ireland. But thankfully “Wasn’t Expecting That” was re-released in 2015, when it did much better, reaching number six in the UK charts and doing well in Australia and New Zealand.

Sadly, in most of the rest of the world, “Wasn’t Expecting That” was an underground hit at best. Which is a great shame as it means millions of people missed out on something truly special.

Over the years I’ve heard many people say that lyric writing is dead. In the era of mass-produced boy bands and girl bands where songwriting teams of eight or nine are credited on individual songs, it’s tempting to think that’s true.

Rather too many sets of lyrics today sound like they’ve been translated from Bulgarian to English by someone with a less-then-perfect command of either language.

But there are exceptions. And “Wasn’t Expecting That” is most definitely one of those.

The lyrics are nothing short of poetry, and the emotional journey they’ll take you on sets a standard virtually no other song in the history of recorded music could hope to match.

“Wasn’t Expecting That” combines my two favourite lyric writing styles — telling a story and using a repeated word or phrase to give structure to the lyric while bringing you back to the essential message of the song.

To make the challenge even greater, either technique on its own…and certainly both used together…are fairly hungry on space in the context of a three-minute song.

It takes a considerable level of lyric-writing skill to incorporate both of those techniques into the same song and tell your story before the DJ gets fidgety and starts thinking about fading the song out to make way for the next commercial.

That’s why, for me, lyric writing is such a wonderful art form. The constraints in space and time means each single word on its own has to do the same amount of work as several hundred words would do in a typical novel.

So it’s a testament to Jamie Lawson’s considerable gift for storytelling that I’ve never heard “Wasn’t Expecting That” faded out on the radio before its very moving final line. When even hard-bitten, cynical DJs don’t want to interfere with the poignant ending to a beautiful song, you know you’ve discovered lyric writing gold.

“Wasn’t Expecting That” isn’t just a nice piece of poetry, though…although it’s that too.

Jamie Lawson’s performance is just as integral to the impact of his song as his lyrics are. Nothing gets in the way of the words and the story…no soaring strings or gospel choirs in sight. Just a wonderful, poignant, heart-rending story, beautifully told.

Which is a good thing. All great artists know there’s a point at which you should stop tinkering with your work and just let it be.

In the case of “Wasn’t Expecting That”, I’m prepared to bet there was a producer or an A&R man somewhere who wanted to put attractive backing singers on the video and weave in a sample of an old bass line from a long-forgotten Northern Soul classic to create some PR buzz or to try to sell it to the youth market.

Thank heavens they didn’t.

Had even one single extra element been added to “Wasn’t Expecting That”, it would have moved a truly great song towards something considerably less inspiring.

I can’t tell you much about the song or the story without giving it all away. But I can tell you how our story starts…

If you haven’t heard “Wasn’t Expecting That” up till now, I can’t say any more to save spoiling the story for you, but that’s enough to give you an idea of the challenges of telling a story when so many of the words you use repeat themselves throughout the song…there isn’t much space left for the rest of the story!

But somehow Jamie Lawson does it. So rather than exploring the lyrics any further, you’ll just have to discover one of the best-written lyrics of the 21st century…and possibly of all time…yourself.

What I will, say, however, is that I’ve linked to two videos below.

The first was recorded back in 2011 when “Wasn’t Expecting That” was originally released. It’s just a “straight take” of Jamie Lawson singing in the studio and playing along on a guitar.

He gives a great performance and I especially like the last few seconds when you can tell he’s been so moved by his own song that he needs a moment to collect his thoughts before he can end his performance.

There’s also an updated video which accompanied the 2015 re-release.

The song itself is virtually unchanged from Jamie Lawson’s studio recording from four years earlier, although a few technical bits around the sound quality have been tweaked and the vocal is a little more polished.

For people not familiar with the song, I’ve found the updated video a bit confusing.

It’s lovely, and well-made, but because the video swirls around the story, dipping in and out and time-shifting as it goes along, with lots of short clips and flashbacks it might not be the best starting point to explore this lovely song.

Once I’d got the story sorted out in my head, the undated video is actually very good and the swirling and interweaving of the different elements of the story is a great creative device to replicate the emotional highs and lows on what is already a very emotional song.

So if you’re not familiar with “Wasn’t Expecting That”, I’d recommend you watch the original video first to get your head around the story. That way, you’ll enjoy the updated music video much more.

Enough from me…before I risk spoiling the story, please find below both the 2011 and 2015 videos for one of the most moving songs you’ll have heard in a long time.

It’s Jamie Lawson with “Wasn’t Expecting That”…and just a word of warning, you’ll be crying when the final line hits, so have some Kleenex handy…

https://open.spotify.com/track/2a5VluIESm1JP4Qwvo02H8

Original video…

Updated version, with extensive use of flashback as a storytelling technique…

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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