Connie Stevens – Sixteen Reasons

I have selected this song for my first post since it serves as an example of the complexity of the love song as a phenomenon despite their apparent simplicity. My aim is to post songs that can be taken at face value, enjoyed for their purity and ostensible sincerity. And yet it can be difficult, because distrust has permeated the western culture, whatever that may be. I do not necessarily mean distrust toward relationships and the permanence of romance. That may be a reality as well, but in the context of love songs I’m going to focus more on the distrust toward narratives that claim to be earnest, especially if they’re deemed positive, or viewed critically, sentimental and saccharine.

Sixteen Reasons was released in December 1959. Connie Stevens has been known mainly as an actress, and later she dismissed the song, saying it was a kids’ song for 12-year-old girls. Well, there’s nothing wrong with being a 12-year-old girl. Certainly the song has the kind of charming naivety that serves as an escape from the reality of relationships, the incompatible views and goals that always exist until they are resolved one way or another.

The song has also been featured in the David Lynch movie Mulholland Drive, and one of its functions is to bring forth the artificiality of the entertainment industry. What first looks like a recording scene then turns out to be a movie set, and the performance an audition. It shows a reality constructed in layers, and the movie itself is yet another layer, another narrative that is just as much a construction. Even the criticism of values is another narrative, which brings us to an endless cycle of critique. In the end I have grown tired of how futile it starts to feel, when all this talk of narratives only leads to emptiness.

Moreover, the overuse of innocent songs as an ironic contrast to scenes of violence in modern cinema has made me tired of the trick. And yet the “sincere” use of such songs often makes me squirm as well.

As a writer I have a bad habit to examine the structure of the works I am trying to enjoy. If I feel touched, it is tempting to immediately ask: how was this effect achieved? And unfortunately the answer is a realization that I am being manipulated by really simple means that are used over and over again. Certainly when it comes to love songs, the melodies and lyrics tend to choose the tried and true formula. Yet what makes a song different from a text is of course the performance, the emotion that a human voice brings to it, transforming what now would seem like kitsch (and let’s face it, most love songs are kind of musical kitsch) into something heartfelt with which we can identify.

And that is what Connie Stevens brings to the song. She may not be technically a great singer, having been just 21 years old when recording, but performing the song she is being a great actress, and that is why the song is still popular, at least considering it’s more than 60 years old.