Song 198: The Mamas & the Papas, “Dedicated To The One I Love” (1967)

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Like everybody else, I’d known this song forever. And I hadn’t thought much of it. Similarly, I’d known the big Mamas & the Papas songs, and aside from “Monday, Monday,” which I love, they never did much for me. The second that “California Dreamin'” starts, I change the radio station.

Yet when I saw Morvern Callar and its magnificent last scene, I loved “Dedicated To The One I Love” from that moment on. The song was used perfectly as the soundtrack to a scene that summed up a movie about one woman’s detachment from her spouse’s death: lights strobe, a crowd goes wild, yet Morvern (as played by the great Samantha Morton) just keeps walking forward, as if it’s all she can do.
Why does that happen? Why did it take The Squid and the Whale for me to love “The Swimming Song”? If I had heard the Faces’ “Ooh La La” on the radio before seeing Rushmore, would I have even listened to the whole thing? Why does it take a particular visual context for us to notice some songs?

I can’t claim to know the answer to those questions, but I know that it happens to me all the time. And of course, it’s the reason that some music videos work so well. The director notices something that he or she hears in the song, adds a visual equivalent, and hopes that you’ve noticed the same thing–or would like to. In Morvern Callar, director Lynne Ramsay did that with “Dedicated To The One I Love,” exploiting the song’s grand romantic gestures, dramatic triplets and key changes included, as counterpoint for a complete lack of emotional engagement. It’s perfect.

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