Checkmate

Album: It Begins Again (1978)
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Songfacts®:

  • Labelle founder Nona Hendryx wrote this song at the request of her friend, Dusty Springfield. In a conversation with Songfacts, Hendryx said that the chess-metaphor of "Checkmate" is a double entendre. The surface layer has to do with love and romantic relationships, with references to kings, queens, bishops, and knights played against each other in a battle for power. Neither the lyrics nor Springfield's vocal performance are cynical or defeatist, but there is an edge of anger in lyrics like:

    I'm a Queen to your King
    Yes, I've been told that you use your pawn to hurt me


    Springfield seems to enjoy the game, though, when she asserts:

    You can bait me, fake me
    But I keep on comin' at ya


    So this is a chess game between two evenly matched opponents who trade wins and losses, even if such a power struggle in a relationship may not sound entirely healthy.
  • In addition to the more obvious relationship layer, there is also a chess game being played out between Springfield and Hendryx. According to Hendryx, Springfield was a fan of intelligent, complex lyrics, which meant Hendryx had to bring her A-game in writing a song for her. "Checkmate" was Hendryx's victorious response to Springfield's request.

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