Romeo & Juliet: An Appreciation (for the song not the play)

If you had a crisp dollar bill for each time I had listened to “Romeo and Juliet” today, you’d have yourself a tidy sum of $17, soon to be $18.

Yeah, I’ve been listening to “Romeo and Juliet” a lot today. Why? There’s a lot of reasons. First, because the song is amazing. Second, my friend Steve mentioned Romeo & Juliet in a tweet about the fabulous book The Fault in Our Stars, and I’m nothing if not a slave to power of suggestion. Third, I decided that it was time I declared a definitive answer to the question “Which version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is better?” You know, in case I ever run for president and someone starts asking these kinds of important, personality defining questions.

Aside: During my investigation I discovered The Killers have also covered this Dire Straits tune. If you are so inclined you can listen to it on YouTube. I wouldn’t advise it. Not only is it a bad, lazy cover that sucks the emotion out of the song, Brandon Flowers had this to say about the cover: “We’re not overly anxious about Dire Straits, though. We’re not ashamed of covering ‘Romeo And Juliet,’ either.”

I don’t have a lot of feelings about The Killers one way or the other. They’re not on my radar. However, that’s a really dumb, dumb, dumb thing to say. Because what does it even mean? I’m sure he meant overly excited, but even so, why dis on the band whose song you’re about to cover. Dumb. (FYI: I had to turn off The Killers’ cover after 3 minutes. It’s bad.)

As you can see, I’ve fallen on the Indigo Girls cover side of the “Romeo and Juliet” debate. Now, that’s not that I can’t appreciate the Dire Straits original (also, this live version is pretty spectacular). Until I listened to that Killers’ version, I would have made an argument that with such great source material you couldn’t fuck up this song. I would have been wrong.

But I’m not wrong about this song. From the references to “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “Somewhere” to Romeo proclaiming to Juliet that only the time was wrong, this is the perfect kind of broken-hearted love song, which is why I prefer the Indigo Girls version.

Now, there’s not that I have anything against sappy, dreamy regret-filled songs of love gone wrong the way Dire Straits sings it. These kinds of whiny songs have their place. But I much prefer my love gone wrong with a lot of passion and a bit of bitterness. I want my regret tinged with anger and accusations — that’s what Amy Ray gives the song.

But what really seals the deal for me, what really puts me over the edge is the subtlest of things. In the Dire Straits version Knopfler sings: “All I do is kiss you through the bars of a rhyme.”

Ray sings it, “All I do is kiss you through the bars of this rhyme.” I like that she makes the rhyme specific. THIS rhyme. THIS song, Juliet you bitch, this song is about you and how I can’t do anything but be in love with you and it kind of pisses me off.

Subtle, I know. Stupid, probably. That’s my stance and I’m sticking to it.

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  1. Amy 10.Feb.12 at 9:05 pm

    How much do I love this song? SO MUCH.I encountered the Indigo Girls version first because i graduated college in 1993, so there you go. And it still remains one of my favorite songs to this day despite the fact heartbreak of the romantic variety is, for now, off my radar. Amy’s voice is just so perfect here. I saw them on the tour for Nomads, Indians, Saints and it was so cool to see the crowd go WILD for this song and Amy Ray smile in a very gratified way, like she was so happy we got it. The Dire Straits version? Meh. Rarely does a cover eclipse the original, but this is an instance where I wouldn’t even recommend a listen to the source material.

    1. Jodi 10.Feb.12 at 9:07 pm

      @Amy, I knew the Indigo Girls version first (it is those 90s college years), but after hearing the original in the movie “Empire Records” I developed a soft spot for it too.

  2. tam 26.Feb.12 at 12:31 pm

    I’ve always preferred the Indigo Girls’ version, but I haven’t listened to it in forever. My iPod decided to cough it up while I was somewhere in MA this morning, and I found myself concentrating on the performance of the song.

    You nailed it, Jodi. There’s something about the way Amy Ray belts it out that makes the song mean something. That makes it the love song it was supposed to be.


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