This song is about a masochist - a guy who likes it when his woman calls him names and beats him up. Armatrading sings it from the man's perspective, which many listeners didn't pick up on, believing the song is about a woman who gets beat up. The song is an example of Armatrading's sardonic comedy, but not everyone got it.
It was not a romantic couple that inspired this song, but rather two feuding band members.
Armatrading recalled to Daniel Rachel in the book The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters: "It's actually about two chaps on tour who were in my band. One of them was little and one was big and they were always arguing, always doing what it says in that song, but you kind of had the feeling that they loved it. Just getting at each other: you'd think, 'Get a room already.' They weren't gay. Like a terrier, that just gets any big dog."
In the 2013 interview with Rachel, Armatrading said this was the only song she's ever written while on tour.
The last verse makes it clear that this is an S&M relationship:
She's wearing heavy leather with lace He dresses up in cowboy taste They punish then they think of a crime It's their way of loving not mine
John Mellencamp released a song with a similar theme a year earlier: "Hurts So Good."
Originally a chart-topper for Steve Lawrence in 1962 chart-topper, "Go Away Little Girl," became the first song of the rock era to be taken to #1 by two different artists when Donny Osmond's cover version also reached the summit in 1971.
The Prince-penned "Manic Monday" was the first song The Bangles heard coming from a car radio, but "Eternal Flame" is closest to Susanna's heart, perhaps because she sang it in "various states of undress."
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