Going back to the year 1997, White Town’s Your Woman played on pretty much every radio station I listened to. Your Woman wasn’t the genre of music I was really into at that time (I was into art-rock and world beat). Still, the pop song grabbed my attention immediately. I couldn’t get enough of Your Woman! I remember sitting in a coffee shop with some friends on a summer evening, talking about Your Woman. We must have talked for half an hour about the song, and what made Your Woman so special.
So, what makes Your Woman so special? Was it just a lucky shot by Jyoti Prakash Mishra (aka White Town)? Or was there something more in the song? Was it in the song’s genes? I don’t know, but I’ll soon find out, that’s for sure. All joking aside, join me as I examine White Town’s biggest hit, and ask the question, “What made Your Woman so special.”
Let’s talk about Star Wars
1997 was a huge year in Star Wars. The special editions came out in early 1997. While critics of now don’t speak highly of the special editions, they were still the biggest news in Star Wars lore since 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Generation X was practically begging for something, ANYTHING (Star Wars related) from LucasFilms for 14 years. What does this have to do with White Town? Listen to the trumpet part and you’ll understand.
The very first sounds we hear in Your Woman resembles The Imperial Death March. We knew those notes forwards and backward, and the very sound of anything that sounded like The Imperial Death March filled us with childlike glee. We just had our first dose of cinematic Star Wars since the early 80s, and we were anticipating the prequels (sigh). Your Woman’s trumpet carries the song, but more than that, it carries our hearts and our sense of childhood wonder.
Mishra did not steal from John Williams
While White Town certainly benefited from a renewed wave of Star Wars fandomania, the trumpet did not actually come from John Williams. Rather, the trumpet was sampled from a song called My Woman. Recorded in 1932 by Lew Stone & the Monseigneur Band, the trumpet piece matches note for note. Once more, My Woman and Your Woman have a lot more in common (as implied by their titles). Both songs are about a relationship gone sour. My Woman is from the point of view of a man, and Your Woman is from the point of view of a woman.
If the origins of Your Woman are not complex enough, there’s more! Lew Stone actually covered My Woman. Bing Crosby originally recorded the song as a simple ballad. Lew Stone fleshed out the instrumentals on My Woman (including adding the iconic trumpet part).
To be fair, record executives saw dollar signs. So, to say White Town owes nothing to John Williams isn’t true. But White Town owes far less to LucasFilm than we assumed at the time.
Your Woman was progressive for 1997
The 90s were a time when homosexuality was barely socially acceptable. Other gender and sexual norms, such as non-binarism and transgenderism were often mocked, or just not acknowledged at all. So, for a male to sing from a female’s point of view in a song that hit the top of the charts – that just did not happen in 1997! I’ll even go so far as to say it was confusing, at least from my perspective. My brain was not able to process that a man was singing from a female’s point of view. In that conversation at the coffee shop I mentioned earlier, this was part of our discussion – was this a man or a woman singing? My friend pointed out the fact that the singer was pregnant, and that’s basically when I realized, yes. This was indeed a gender identity issue. But it still didn’t make sense to me.
Mishra recently told Billboard “When you love somebody, it’s not logical, it’s not rational, and you think ‘This is ridiculous, I can never be with you, I can never be the person you need, why am I even feeling these feelings? So, I was trying to write from all these different sides… I wanted people to go ‘this is catchy’ and sing it, but then be like, ‘What the hell?’ at the same time.” By writing like this, Mishra accomplished their goals with my 20 something ears, as “What the Hell?” was probably the closest response to my mind at the time. I’m certain I was not the only one.
Mishra is a masterful lyricist
Looking beyond the Star Wars connection and progressiveness of the song, Your Woman is a great song. Period. Your Woman, a breakup song, captures a plethora of emotions with its lyrics. In the very first stanza, we hear the line “So cut the crap and tell me that we’re through.” The bold language in this line, and so early in the song, tells us the speaker of Your Woman has had enough!
More emotion comes in the third stanza with the lines “When I saw my best friend yesterday / She said she never liked you from the start / Well me, I wish that I could claim the same But you always knew you held my heart.” We’ve all been there – in a relationship we knew would end in tragedy, but something just grabbed us and wouldn’t let go. Mishra describes this feeling perfectly in Your Woman.
Mishra also treats us to some damned good poetic lines. “So much for all your highbrow Marxist ways / Just use me up and then you walk away” juxtaposes the actions of the speaker’s ex’s philosophies with their actions. The lines “Is it in your genes? I don’t know / But I’ll soon find out, that’s for sure” literally” tells us, without telling us, that the speaker of the song is pregnant. Not to mention these lines add another level of emotional turmoil to the song. This is not just a regular break-up, there’s going to be a child involved and baby daddy is an asshole!
What makes Your Woman So Special? It’s just a damn good song!
Strip Your Woman of the brilliant lyrics, strip it of its sexual confusion, strip it of the accidental Star Wars connection, and what do you get? A song that’s got a great beat and fun to dance to. At the end of the day, Your Woman is a solid pop song and relies on solid musical bones.
Oh, but a good test of a good pop song, at least in my opinion, is what happens when you hear the song reimagined in a different genre? White Town / Mishra shows us with Your Woman 1917. Mishra replaces the modern synths with classical instruments. Even the trumpet is replaced with a violin. Mishra slows the tempo down and sings in an early jazz style. The results? Still amazing. In some ways, I actually like the 1917 version better than the original.
Nearly 25 years have passed, and Your Woman continues to boggle my mind, continues to excite me, and continues to make me want to dance. This is what makes Your Woman so special.