I am woman on the verge

Helen ReddyIt’s odd enough that Helen Reddy, who made a name for herself with her breakthrough hit, “I Am Woman” (#1, 1972), and was the real thing when it came to fighting for women’s rights and empowerment, had a big hit about an insane woman; but consider this: she had three!

Yes, Helen’s three biggest hits after “I Am Woman” — “Delta Dawn” (#1, 1973), “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)” (#3, 1973), and “Angie Baby” (#1, 1974) — are all about women who have, shall we say, gone off the deep end…and that’s putting it mildly.

If you’re of a certain age, you already know the stories: Dawn went crazy after being abandoned by her betrothed, a man of low degree; Ruby lost it after being abused by some farm boy up from Tennessee; and Angie — well, we’re not quite sure what happened there, but the boy who snuck into her room to rape her was never heard from again.

Once you consider the stories, though, it kind of makes sense that Helen Reddy would sing these songs. And not just because Helen is a little cuckoo herself…though she is, kind of (but I like her). Songs told stories back then. Cheesy as they might sound to us now, these songs are about women who suffered abuse at the hands of men and were never quite the same after.

Helen Reddy album coverSure, it might have been nice had these women triumphed and come into their own à la “I Will Survive” rather than go insane (arguably, Angie triumphs, though she was insane to begin with), but those would have been different songs.

As it turns out, Helen Reddy had hits with a few songs like that as well. “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady” (#8, 1975) is about a woman who ends a bad relationship; so is “I Can’t Hear You No More” (#29, 1976). In “You and Me Against the World” (#9, 1974), Helen seems content to raise her child on her own. And in “Peaceful” (#12, 1973), she’s quite happily alone, no one bending over my shoulder, nobody breathing in my ear. Not so surprisingly, Helen Reddy was in a really bad marriage, her second of three, throughout this time.

Just to show she’s well-rounded, Helen also had hits about relationships going well, a cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” (#51, 1971) being a good example, though the title might lead you to believe otherwise. But it’s drama that sells, so the insane-women hits are bigger. This was the 70s, after all!

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2 thoughts on “I am woman on the verge

  1. Funny you mention Helen Reddy. A week ago, I featured her on my own music-related blog. It was for the song “Emotion,” one that I really never paid any attention to but was a little surprised once I actually paid attention to it (“Peaceful” is another one of those songs that struck me years later). In my entry, I mentioned that — while I grew up a little later and was instilled with a negative bias about Reddy before I really had time to form my own opinion — I was beginning to wonder if I really needed to do a complete overhaul in my attitude of her.

    But no treatment of 1970s female-oriented “story songs” would truly be complete without any mention of Cher. Her three #1 singles that decade had a story to tell (a knocked-up Gypsy…a girl who was of mixed ethnicity but not embraced by either side…a woman visits a psychic and ends up killing her along with her cheatin’ man).

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