‘Mr. Harris,’ Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann Whatever album cover

This blog concentrates on music and melody, so rarely do I pontificate on the words to music. Learning words to a song comes second to trying to decipher the chords and instrumentation, and so I often find myself singing some weird phonetic version of the song like it was in Japanese: “Stada the nine, disco a rye, I’m on the hunt I’m after you / Mowt is a nine, joos is lie my, and I’m HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF!”

So it’s rare for me to know all the lyrics to a song  at least ones that have more lyrics than “Tequila.”

At first,  a song as lyrically diverse as Aimee Mann’s “Mr. Harris” doesn’t seem to be one that I could memorize. In the song, from Mann’s perfect first solo album Whatever, the former lead singer of ’til tuesday (“Voices Carry”) explains her relationship with an older man – why she’s attracted to him, her mother’s concerns about it, and even his mortality. But the tune is beautiful and wistful, with a piano accompanied by strings and an oboe. It’s reminiscent of the Beatles’ “For No One.” – right down to the descending bass line and instrumental solo. It’s a song that begs to be repeated, and it hasn’t gotten old after 18 years.

Mann’s voice is mixed up front, so her vocals are clear and unrushed. And unlike “For No One,” the melody is constantly moving, never lingering on any one note for too long. It’s almost as if she’s speaking, each change in pitch corresponding to a change in one’s voice.

The lyrics are descriptive and picturesque. Mann describes her lover’s clothing, the color of his hair, how he rakes leaves in his yard, with such fondness. And as she talks about him, you can almost picture the two enjoying Mr. Harris’ sunset years together – taking a walk in the park while holding hands, or reading the paper at the breakfast table.

I have listened to “Mr. Harris” ad nauseum, ignoring the fact that it’s written from a female perspective and singing along anyway, sometimes without the music, sometimes singing with my own piano accompaniment. I can do that because, well, I know the words.

So he’s retired
Lives with his sister in a furnished flat
He’s got this suit that
He’ll never wear outside without a hat

His hair is white but he looks half his age
He looks like Jimmy Stewart in his younger days.

And honestly, I might be
Stupid to think love is love but I do
And you’ve waited so long and
I’ve waited long enough for you.

My mother’s calling
From where she’s living up in Troy, Vermont
She tries to tell me
A father figure must be what I want

I’ve always thought age makes no difference
Am I the only one to whom that’s making sense?

And honestly, I might be
Stupid to think love is love but I do
And you’ve waited so long and
I’ve waited long enough for you.

The day I met him he was raking leaves
In his tiny yard

Of course I know that
We’ve only got ten years or twenty left
But to be honest
I’m happy with whatever time we get

Depending on which book you read
Sometimes it takes a lifetime to get what you need

And honestly, I might be
Stupid to think love is love but I do
And you’ve waited so long and
I’ve waited long enough for you.

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  1. Gogmagog

    A fantastic number from an equally fantastic album – she and her spouse’s discographies are two of the most criminally uncelebrated I know of. Thanks for writing it up!

  2. Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas

    A college friend and I were big Til Tuesday fans, becoming more so as each album was better (and more ignored).

    Once I left school and moved away, I became friends with a musician and the subject of Aimee Mann came up. This was in ’91 while she was in record label limbo and had yet to release any solo stuff.

    And, of all things, he had been approached to work with her – an endeavor that fell through. So, you can imagine how I squealed like a little girl – OK, strike that – when he gave me a cassette with half a dozen or so demos that Mann had sent to him.

    I immediately called my college buddy who was duly impressed.

    Most of the songs were on Whatever when it came out a year or so later, but, for awhile we had new music by Aimee Mann while everyone waited for the actual release.

  3. Susan

    Ha! I love your phonetic rendering. I do that with so many songs, and now that my memory is slipping at an alarming rate, I can’t even memorize gibberish!

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