Don’t Ever Change, You Hungry Little Bashful Hound

Few songs mix joyous sound, crushing heartbreak, and subtle humor more deftly than “14th Street,” the pinnacle of Rufus Wainwright’s Want One (2003). Wainwright’s show-tune-ready tenor sets the stage for dramedy from the song’s opening lines; honestly, I’m struggling to think of a more hilarious way to describe a lover than what Wainwright gives us:

You’ve got my lost brother’s soul / my dear mother’s eyes / a brown horse’s mane / and my uncle’s name

Yes, he just compared the object of his affection to three different family members and a fucking horse. Later, he’ll describe this guy as “vaguely missing link,” which, I mean, [chef’s kiss]. In college, I was literally an archaeologist-slash-lyricist and I can assure you that I never approached the brilliance required to frame a romantic partner as a Neanderthal—as a term of endearment, no less! Really incredible stuff here from Wainwright, a songwriter who is as adept with his arrangements as he is with his wit.

“14th Street” is ostensibly a breakup song—the main refrain is “why’d you have to break all my heart? / couldn’t you have saved a little bit of it?”—but it has got to be the single most sonically-uplifting breakup song ever written. Forget walking down 14th Street, as the song suggests, because listening to this track sounds like vamping down the center of the road at the head of a parade, with floats and balloons surrounding the marching band and choir (and banjo player) that flank Wainwright on the track. “14th Street” reminds us that even when love is hard, it can feel like a celebration.

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