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Title: ‘Soak Up the Sun’
Where to find it: ‘C’mon C’mon’ (2002, A&M)
Performed by: Sheryl Crow
Words by: Sheryl Crow

I know all the lyrics to this song by heart. Why? I roomed with a friend one year and he was working as musical director of an a capella group, and he arranged this song for their singers. He must have played the hell out of that song, oh, hundreds of times and I could heard it through the walls of our flat.

When I went out for a run last Sunday, I queued this song up on my mp3 player and wham, bam! The song had a completely different meaning to me than it did years ago. Just wow. A quote from one of my favourite films seems particularly apt right now: “Sometimes we don’t see certain things until we’re ready to see them in a certain way”. Indeed.

First, the words:

Verse 1
My friend the communist
Holds meetings in his RV
I can’t afford his gas
So I’m stuck here watching TV

I don’t have digital
I don’t have diddly squat
It’s not having what you want
It’s wanting what you’ve got

Chorus
I’m gonna soak up the sun
I’m gonna tell everyone
To lighten up (I’m gonna tell ’em that)
I’ve got no one to blame
For every time I feel lame
I’m looking up
I’m gonna soak up the sun
I’m gonna soak up the sun

Verse 2
I’ve got a crummy job
It don’t pay near enough
To buy the things it takes
To win me some of your love
Every time I turn around
I’m looking up, you’re looking down
Maybe something’s wrong with you
That makes you act the way you do

Chorus
I’m gonna soak up the sun
I’m gonna tell everyone
To lighten up (I’m gonna tell ’em that)
I’ve got no one to blame
For every time I feel lame
I’m looking up

Pre-bridge
I’m gonna soak up the sun
While it’s still free

I’m gonna soak up the sun
Before it goes out on me

Bridge
Don’t have no master suite
But I’m still the king of me
You have a fancy ride, but baby
I’m the one who has the key
Every time I turn around
I’m looking up, you’re looking down
Maybe something’s wrong with you
That makes you act the way you do
Maybe I am crazy too

Chorus
I’m gonna soak up the sun
I’m gonna tell everyone
To lighten up (I’m gonna tell ’em that)
I’ve got no one to blame
For every time I feel lame
I’m looking up

I’m gonna soak up the sun
I’m gonna tell everyone
To lighten up (I’m gonna tell ’em that)
I’ve got no one to blame
For every time I feel lame
I’m looking up

Outro
I’m gonna soak up the sun
Got my 45 on
So I can rock on

Now, the analysis:

There’s definitely more to this song than meets the eye, and it’s very interesting in that respect, because I am positive when the song came out years ago, it came across to most people as a poppy, peppy, sunny, song of fluff. The official video that goes with it does not help matters. But it’s not a straightforward love song but rather one that shows the voice of the song appealing to her other half to stop being depressed and look on the bright side of life. (No Monty Python jokes, please.)

One theme of this song is money can’t buy you happiness. Our protagonist “can’t afford his gas” to get to her boss’ meeting, she’s watching tv without digital cable (oh, the horror!), yet she fully recognises “It’s not having what you want / It’s wanting what you’ve got”, probably one of the best lines about life ever written. It’s very true. We get so caught up with keeping up with the Joneses and coveting our friends’ gadgets and lifestyles that we forgot all too often that our lives, as they are, are pretty damn good. My grandmother used to repeat the adage, “you have health, you have everything.” I used to hate it when she repeated that phrase over and over again, but I’ve come to the point where I agree with her entirely. No-one’s lives are perfect, but what we do have, whatever it is we have, is pretty good. We’re alive. We have things to look forward to when we get up every morning.

But if you’re suffering from depression, you don’t feel that. I’ve been through some pretty bad times. Important people in my life passing away. Being in hospital and very poorly. Even these days every once in a while, I’ll get up and wave my fist at the sun when I’m particularly blue. It’s like the sun is mocking me. Everyone else is happy that the sun is shining…but I haven’t gotten the memo. For those moments, it’s a struggle, but in order to live, you’ve got to force yourself and think “I’m looking up” in “every time I feel lame”.

Which leads me to what I think this is a unique twist to the song: the person singing it has troubles in her life too, she’s not perfect either! But she’s coping, as evidenced in the bridge. She’s not wealthy, but she’s in control, which is most important to her (“Don’t have no master suite / But I’m still the king of me”). She sees her other half with “a fancy ride” but insists “I’m the one who holds the key”. Is the key happiness for him, her being able to give him this happiness? It’s not literally the key to drive the car, of course. “Every time I turn around / I’m looking up, you’re looking down”: she’s trying to be positive, but he’s always down in the dumps. “Maybe something’s wrong with you / That makes you act the way you do” – hmm, is this the depression? Is she spelling it out for him? It’s almost like she’s trying to give him an out. But to bring levity to the situation, she ends the bridge with “Maybe I am crazy too”. Crazy in love? Crazy in love with him? Not sure.

The pre-bridge is pretty amazing too. “I’m gonna soak up the sun / While it’s still free”: some of the best things in life are free and you can take advantage of them. “I’m gonna soak up the sun / Before it goes out on me”: she’s going to live her life to the fullest because one day, like it does for everyone, life for her will end. Yes. This is definitely worth deeper thought than you imagined for a piece of surf pop fluff, isn’t it? It’s the song equivalent of an antidepressant: she’s trying to get her guy to look at the bright side of things. She knows how difficult it is to do it, and therefore she’s the best person to show him, because she’s been through it too.

And then at the end of the song comes my favourite part of the song. “I’m gonna soak up the sun / Got my 45 on /
So I can rock on”. Music keeps her going. As it does for me too.

Lastly, the song, presented in that carefree, surfer-y promo video that does the meaning behind the song no favours!

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