A Preliminary Defense Of The Jets’ You’ve Got It All

One of the consistent patterns of song reviewing is that a certain set of songs consistently receives a lot of hate by those who review music in given years.  One of those songs happens to be one I greatly enjoy and appreciate, The Jets’ “You Got It All.”  The song was released in 1986 as the fourth single to the family group’s self-titled debut album and it peaked at #3 on the pop charts in early 1987 as well as #2 on the R&B charts and #1 on the Adult Contemporary charts, also featuring in a lot of soundtracks who found the song to be an enjoyable one for soap operas and one of the films in the Jaws franchise (!).  A version of the song was later recorded by Britney Spears, and two Filipino acts have recorded the song as well.  As far as songs go, it has the sort of sound one would expect from a young family group in the 1980’s, with a sultry sax solo that seems mildly out of place with the impassioned lead vocals from the group’s thirteen year old lead singer, with a smooth and polished sound that is typical of the adult contemporary of the period.

There are a few elements of the song that have earned the song the metric boatload of hate that it has received from angry reviewers of the songs of 1987.  In particular, reviewers have noticed and critiqued the disconnect between the lyrics that express a certain world-weariness and experience with abusive and unhappy past relationships that have led to problems with the narrator’s new flame with the fact that the song is sung by an innocent and fresh-faced thirteen year old vocalist.  A great deal of the cynicism that the song possesses can be credited to the song’s writer, Rupert Holmes, best known for writing and performing somewhat cynical and world-weary songs like “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” and “Him,” which explore aspects of rivalry and jealousy within relationships and similarly have received a great deal of critical dislike.  Intriguingly enough, the song was written for the songwriter’s then ten-year old daughter, but tragically she never got to hear the song because she died of a brain tumor before the song was recorded and released [1].  And also intriguingly enough, the song was written by the songwriter with young singers in mind, to be appropriate as a love ballad for a young teenager.

This obviously prompts some serious questions about what Rupert Holmes (and presumably the music buying public of the United States, who made this song one of the biggest hits of 1987) consider appropriate for teenagers.  For one, the song possesses a large degree of idealism about the present relationship the narrator is in, and supposes that teenagers would be experienced with toxic and abusive relationships and the sort of damage it does to later relationships that are affected by those past realities and the awkwardness they bring.  As Rupert Holmes himself said: “I thought writing a love song for a 14-year-old girl would be tough because some of my lyrics used to be about some pretty strange characters. I thought it would be a challenge to see if I can write a love song that sounds appropriate sung by a 14-year-old girl. This was before we had all the Britneys, Mandy Moores, and all these teen stars. I purposely tried to write a very clear, simple, unaffected lyric that would have a little lilt to it, that would be a positive song for a young girl getting over her first heartbreak. Letting her know that this boy she just lost, or who didn’t treat her appreciatively, was not going to be the only boy she’d ever have as a boyfriend. I also wrote it thinking of my daughter who was at that time 10 years old. I thought maybe it would be a song she would enjoy and be fun to hear with her friends and say ‘My father wrote that [1].'”

I personally think this song is one that a lot of teenage girls can relate to.  It is common for people to fear at any age when coming out of bad relationships or a long stretch of time without a relationship that there will never be another relationship to enjoy.  Likewise, one of the negative aspects of having a relationship history is that people one is in a relationship have to worry about being compared to all of the past people one has been in a relationship with or been interested in, or that there may even be attempts by past partners to rekindle the flame of a relationship.  The singer here is earnestly seeking to put those concerns to rest, and it comes off sincerely.  Perhaps people are not used to thinking of the complex relationship histories of young people, but quite a few young people have to deal with a surprisingly complex history of romantic relationships and the damage that result from them.  When I was a middle school student myself, as clueless as I was about relationships, I certainly saw other people engaging in them, and throughout my life since then I have seen the repercussions of early relationships and that tragic loss of innocence that young people have to deal with going forward.

To be sure, Rupert Holmes may not be the best person to write love songs for teenage girls to sing, and I may not be the best person to defend such songs, but the song did resonate for a lot of people at the time, and I suspect it resonates with even more people now.  It is a straightforward song sung with conviction by a young person caught up in the world of popular music in a family group, and even if the thought of a guy having taken advantage of the singer would prompt many people (myself included) to clean our nearest rifle while having a stern conversation with the young man in question, it does not strike me as an unrealistic scenario at all, as sad as it is.  Like the narrator in the song itself, the listener is left to hope for the best for the young woman, that she will have a better relationship in the future and will be able to move on with as few scars as possible.

[1] http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=2897.  Accessed May 5, 2019.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A Preliminary Defense Of The Jets’ You’ve Got It All

  1. Catharine E. Martin says:

    I googled the song and once the music began, I remembered it very well. The video made this 14-year-old girl look like she was in her late teens; she was working in a soda shop and her boyfriend looked to be older and worldly-wise; his offering of a long-stemmed red rose just the thing to capture her innocent heart. While the music, sound and lyrics are sweet and mellow, the video takes on a different air when the viewer knows that the female vocalist is only 14 and possible jail bait.

    • Yes, the video does take on a very different perspective when one realizes that the singer was only 13 or 14 when she was recording this song. It is interesting that the song itself was deliberately written with a young singer in mind, which adds to the mystery of it all as well.

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  3. Catharine Martim says:

    I was disturbed to say the least by the video’s showing her to be working at the soda shoppe. Usually a young person has to be at least 16 to hold down a part-time job. She is made up to look at least that age. The only other explanation for her employment status is that she lied about her age. This is a mixed message. That this was recorded 32 years ago only makes one wonder and shudder at what is put out there for 13- and 14-year-olds now.

    • Technically speaking one could work four hours at a time if one was under 16, but she definitely is made to appear as someone who is of age to work, despite the fact that she was 13 when the song was first recorded. Given her general naivite, it does not appear that she would have lied about her age, but I agree that it is a mixed message to young girls, as the gentleman who gave her the rose is portrayed as being at least a businessman in his mid 20’s or even 30’s. There are clearly some unpleasant undertones in the video at least, and even in the song structure itself, I find it a bit alarming that Rupert Holmes wrote about issues of a controlling relationship and people dealing with being used in a song that he knew was going to be sung by a young teenager with the explicit goal of being encouraging to other young teenagers. If such was the case in the mid 80’s, it is right that we should be alarmed at the kind of messages that are being deliberately sent to young people today.

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