FFWDing to the Best Part: “The Promise,” When in Rome (1988)

I spent four hours in a rented Hyundai driving across the Buckeye state yesterday … thank goodness I was equipped with Sirius XM.  A little bit of Howard, a nice dose of Lithium (duh, “’90s alternative and grunge,” not the other thing), and a decent-sized chunk of ’80s on 8.  Fortunately for the happy handful of y’all reading this blog, I aborbed a few post ideas along the way.  Including today’s…

Arguably the best one-hit wonder to come out of the late 1980s (Edie Brickell fans, don’t even start), “The Promise” is upbeat yet melancholy, sweet yet sad.  The postscript of When in Rome (they broke up after just one album) makes their one notable contribution to the world of pop that much more precious.  And in our current musical era, where The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs, et al. are still attempting to churn out what qualify as modern-rock “hits,” it holds up remarkably well.  It’s never vanished from ’80s radio as a sporadic pleasant surprise, but Napoleon Dynamite launched it back into the collective conscious in — wait for it — 2004.  (How is that movie almost 10 years old?  Gosh!)

Best part? You would think it’d be the chorus, right?  I thought it was the chorus as I hummed along I-71 North.  “But if you wait around awhile, I’ll maaaaake you fall for me, I promise … I promise you, I will.” Such an intensely romantic (albeit slightly creepy) pronouncement, set to a beat that could have come straight out of Bernard Sumner’s kitchen.  But in fact, the best part occurs at 2:38 – 2:50 (unless you’re listening to the extended remix, in which case … you’ll have to find the timestamp your own self).  The song’s protagonist pledges the following, in repetitive fashion of escalating intensity:  I gotta tell ya; Need to tell ya; Gotta tell ya; I’ve gotta tell YAAAAAA … and then … DRUM SOLO!!!!  And a quick reversion into the aforementioned very accessible chorus.



3 thoughts on “FFWDing to the Best Part: “The Promise,” When in Rome (1988)

  1. Woo synth bass!! That’s So Eighties. The crisp piano puts it in the late 80s, after Bruce Hornsby reminded us (“The Way It Is,” 1986) how lovely a well-recorded piano could sound. Pianos were miked differently after that. Musically, a great example of a song that keeps the same four chords almost straight throughout. But the verse jumps around the third degree of the scale, while the chorus jumps around the fifth degree, so the two could be overlapped for harmony.

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