Tag Archives: Chuck Berry

Black is the Colour of my True Love’s Hair

How do you reclaim a colour that has been used against you as an insult? You take it and you warm it by breathing love into it.

In the traditional Scottish song Black is the Colour of my True Love’s Hair, the choice of black as opposed to brown or grey gives a slight boost of exotic ‘gypsy’ passion to the true love. That’s all. Red would have done the trick just as easily.

Truly (natural) black or red hair is unusual and eye-catching. It sounds special, implying some exceptional quality to the singer too, for having captured the love of such a rare creature.

For Nina Simone and Emile Latimer, in 1960s America, black was much, much, much more than a hair colour. How do they infuse the word with the love it deserves? Like this:

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Oh Beryl, I think it’s time for running for cover

You’re writing a song, in English, about a young woman whose life has taken all the wrong turns, most of them involving rock musicians:

Well, sometimes it seems impossible
That the game could get that rough
But the stage is set, the exit’s barred
And the make-up won’t come off

To fit the music, you need a two-beat, two-syllable name for your young, damaged woman. Something that begins with a young, clear-as-a-bell consonant,  but dulls into a schwa sound. Better still if the end of her name is a thick, tongue-clogging l, so that you can drag her name down into the dirt when you sing it.

You think I make the choosing of names for songs sound mechanical or cynical? No name finds its way into a song unless its sound serves that song. Layla, Emily and Jane suit the psychology of the songs where they appear. Each name is a sound picture.

To choose your heroine’s name, you start running through the alphabet and come to B. Two syllables, the second one a schwa followed by an l. Beryl. Beryl the rock groupie. Really?

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