In 1994, when I was a young teenager towards the beginning of my thus far uneven and eventful career as a tragicomic romantic hero, a movie came out called “Four Weddings And A Funeral” which featured strong performances from Andie McDowell and Hugh Grant. At the time, Hugh Grant had made a profitable string of movies as a romantic hero before his own tragicomic moral failings came to the surface. At any rate, what I remember most and still enjoy the most about this movie was its theme song, a classic cover of the Trogg’s hit “Love Is All Around Me” by the British band Wet Wet Wet. The song is a perfect example of what a cover should be, made the band’s own with a passionate performance that clearly demonstrates how much the band enjoyed performing it, and a video that mixes the familiar footage from the film and from the band performing the music in an inventive fashion that looks like it was fun to make as well.
So far, it might seem like Wet Wet Wet was following a classic pattern for a one-hit wonder . They release a hit cover for a soundtrack and are never seen again on American radio. Of course, their big hit only managed to hit #41, and so despite the fact that it is widely considered a stellar example of a soundtrack hit (VH1 once named it as the #1 soundtrack song of all time), there are many who would not consider the band to have had any hits stateside at all. I happen to love the song and play it on heavy rotation in terms of my own personal playlist, and the song deservedly managed a top 10 status on the Adult Contemporary chart. Yet that narrative of being a stereotypical one-hit wonder whose only hit was a cover breaks down when one looks at their career in the United Kingdom, which was far more successful. There “Love Is All Around Me” was #1 for fifteen weeks before the single was deleted in order not to draw attention away from the band’s upcoming album, becoming one of the biggest UK hits of all time. Nor was it the band’s only hit, with two previous #1 hits (“With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Goodbye Girl”) and several other top ten singles before and afterward. Their album success was also notable, with four multi-platinum albums and three platinum albums, and albums certified in the EU as a whole as well as Australia. Admittedly, their UK hits are unfamiliar to me.
Now, it would be easy for me to look up music videos of Wet Wet Wet and watch them, but I know that even if I enjoy the songs themselves and their videos, they will not have the same impact on me as their hit cover because of the context in which they came. Why is that? Well, the reason why is that I first heard “Love Is All Around Me” on the radio, and hearing a song on the radio tends to color my impression of a song. I was once a radio deejay myself , and I made it my mission to play obscure songs from popular artists that deserved a hearing on the radio. That is to say, I had to engage in an act of imagination in thinking of a song as a single that had not been a single, or at least had not been a hit, and then to play the song on the radio and turn that imagination into a reality. There is a certain quality a song gains simply by being on the radio, at least subjectively to me, and it is impossible to replicate that act unless I can visualize a song being played on the radio, thus elevating it in my mind from mere album filler to something that was a forgotten gem. This is not an easy thing to do, not least because the charts of other countries do not necessarily hear a song as a hit in the same way that we do in the United States.
How much does the context of a song matter? Would the song have been nearly as lovely had it not come in a romantic film, or had I not been such a frustrated romantic from my youth? Would I have appreciated the song differently had I heard it at a different time of life, or would I have liked the song as much had I never heard it on the radio? The objective nature of the song itself would not have been changed in any of those circumstances, yet my own subjective impression and feelings about the song depend on a wide variety of factors. And if that is true of me, someone who pays a great deal to logic and rationality and who seeks to understand the context in which I live, how much is that true of others as well? If objective truth for someone who at least makes some sort of claim for objectivity is so difficult to untangle from its subjective context, how much is it so for someone who makes no claim for objectivity or who does not have any conscious knowledge of the role of context in their decisions? How are we to judge fairly and act reasonably in the face of our unreason? Let us note that this difficulty does not in any way undercut the existence of objective truth beyond our subjective impressions of it. The song “Love Is All Around Me” exists, and it has certain lyrics and music that can be objectively noted. It has a clear history in terms of its release and its reception, all of which is sound as music history. Yet our ability to get at the song is entangled with all kinds of subjective questions–like how much we enjoy romantic comedies with Andie McDowell or Hugh Grant, or how much we enjoy accoustic love ballads, or covers of 60’s hits that become hits in a slightly different genre themselves, and so on. The love may be all around us, but how do we get at it and make sense of it?
 See, for example:
 See, for example: