note: I originally wrote the following article for the website SceneSC.com for an (at the time) ongoing column in which I would discuss songs and artists I loved and spotlight the intermingling of music and imagery. The column never really came to fruition, so I'll be reproducing the unused articles here so they may see the light of day.
This is the greatest pop song ever recorded.
Let that sink in a moment, because I’m dead serious. Greatest. Ever.
Recorded by Lesley Gore in 1964, “Maybe I Know” isn’t her most well-known single (that would be “It’s My Party”) or her most haunting (the magnificent proto-fem statement of self-reliance “You Don’t Own Me”), but it is Gore at her absolute best; a distilled essence of innocence, maturity, love, forgiveness, pop-power and teenage wonder. Try to listen to this song and not feel something - it’s impossible!
Gore’s singles are interesting in that they form a sort of narrative, following Gore’s innocent teen protagonist from first broken heart to independent woman, all on vinyl, and all within two short years. “Maybe I Know” falls right in the middle of this story, an epic in which she’s stung by Johnny and Judy, steals her boy back, and eventually proclaims her identity outside of relationships. She’s the original riot grrrl.
The formation of her personal identity is forged in the first run of the chorus, right up front, in which she proclaims, “Maybe I know that he’s been a-cheatin’ / Maybe I know that he’s been untrue / But what can I do?” She’s still vulnerable, but learning. She’s trying to find the answer outside of the traditional pop-identities shared by women at the time: predominantly the feeling that they’d die without a man to make them whole. What crap.
In 1964, Gore performed for the T.A.M.I. SHOW, a concert film edited together from performances at two separate concert events, and her versions of “Maybe I Know” and “You Don’t Own Me” are particularly memorable. She exudes energy, smiling, swaying, and really belting out the songs. I’ve included the video below for you to check out. The T.A.M.I. SHOW film is one of the key documents of American pop music, and was named to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2006. For those interested in the full film, there are also performances by James Brown (one of the most remarkable I’ve ever seen), The Rolling Stones, Smokey Robinson and Chuck Barry, among others. It is available on DVD.
Back to the song: make no mistake, this is all Gore’s track. Her performance is flawless, and the music is classic mid-60s girl-group pop. Gore’s voice is one of the most memorable in all of American popular music, distinct and mature, and completely unwavering. The song starts out all bouncy horns and soaring vocal, and over the course of 2:35 minutes, it trancends time and space, then brings us back to Earth again. The experience of listening to “Maybe I Know” is always magical, ethereal, and completely jaw-dropping - it is never any different - and it brings me to my knees every single time. “What can I do?,” indeed.