"Fancy" - Bobbie Gentry
Capital Records, 1970
"Just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy, and they'll be nice to you."
I've always loved this late hit by Southern Gothic diva Bobbie Gentry about a backwoods babe who at her mother's urging uses the gifts nature bestowed upon her to land a slew of sugar daddies (including "a king, a congressman and the occasional aristocrat") and trade in her rickety one-room shack for a Georgia Mansion and a New York townhouse flat. I especially loved that line near the end: "I mighta been born just poor white trash, but Fancy is my name." I had the original picture sleeve single (#31 Billboard Hot 100, 1970) on Capital Records, which is long lost in some dust-filled corner of my house. But now, thanks to my friend Cody lending me her The Best of Bobbie Gentry: The Capital Years CD, I've been listening to it all week.
Born Roberta Lee Steeter in Chicaksaw County, Mississippi, Gentry was one of the first female country artists to write her own material and hit her peak in 1967 with her #1 hit and album "Ode To Billie Joe," which saw her receive 1968 Grammy awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Performance.
But it was this 1970 single that remains the definitive Bobbie Gentry track for me.
Bobbie Gentry sings "Fancy" on the JOHNNY CASH SHOW
I guess the reason I fancy "Fancy" is that I can still recall my old girlfriend Sharon performing the song, word-for-word and with choreography, back in the mid-90s, in the days before she was murdered by a drug addict (don't be shocked - this is Baltimore, where murder and drugs are as much a lifestyles cliche as drinking Natty Boh and dropping the "Hon"-bomb). Sharon was a music freak and truly gifted at not just singing along to songs as they played on her stereo, but "performing" them, replete with props and dance routines. (I still can recall one amazing night when, slightly drunk, she performed the entire Andrew Lloyd Webber Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack - in the nude! I remember desperately wanting to have sex with her - her dance routines were very erotic! - and chafing at the bit as she played all four sides of the double-LP before reaching the climax of the final track: "John Nineteen: Forty One." Talk about four-play!) For "Fancy" I recall her prop was a big feather boas that she would toss around her neck dramatically.
Sharon was from Dundalk and unusual in that she was the only member of her family to go to college (and not just any college, but artsy-fartsy MICA) and not work for the government, which played against the negative Dundalk stereotype of the uneducated, blue-collar yokel. That's why I think she identified so strongly with "Fancy," for the song's protagonist is another economically disadvantaged outsider to mainstream society who has to use her wits to get ahead and beat the odds. Not that Sharon used sex as a weapon like Fancy:
Well, Momma washed and combed and curled my hair,
then she painted my eyes and lips.
Then I stepped into the satin dancin' dress.
It had a split in the side clean up to my hips.
It was red, velvet-trimmed, and it fit me good
and standin' back from the lookin' glass
was a woman where a half grown kid had stood.
But I think she liked Fancy's pluck in overcoming her humble roots to have the last laugh. I mean, no Baltimore neighborhood gets dissed more often or as ruthlessly as Dundalk. No wonder there are t-shirts I've spotted that say, "I'm from Dundalk...Fuck you" - a big middle finger gesture that says in effect, "Yeah, so what?"
Or, as Fancy concludes, all things considered: "I ain't done so bad."
"Fancy" mp3 (last.fm)
"Fancy" video (YouTube)