What a strange, strange little hit. This was Joanie Sommers' only entry on the Billboard Top 40, and it is notable as a historic piece, if nothing else. Such dark lyrics set to such a cheerful tune wouldn't come along again until Steely Dan formed.
This song tends to make us cringe now because social standards have changed so much. These days, feminists would be picketing the record studio for such a song. While you will notice that the lyrics do not invoke actual domestic violence, it's heavily implied that things may go farther than "the biggest lecture I ever had." Still, this is the person expressing what they want - is she wrong in asking for it? Indeed, she's deliberately emotionally abusing "Johnny" in order to provoke him. Should we rush in with therapists and medications to treat the dysfunctional people? Should we threaten Johnny with anger management classes and a restraining order if he lays a hand on her? Or should we just leave the enigmatic couple to their little games if that's what floats their boat? The question hangs open. That such a taboo idea could be expressed in 1962 and still be taboo today, while other counterculture ideas of the '60s have become less shocking, says a lot for the daring minds behind the concept.
To make this song even more surreal, an ensemble of kazoos are just thrown in there like they were regular instruments. That's another mind-bender almost worthy of John Cale. Is that to make this seem like a novelty song? Or is it perhaps making a statement about the singer's unbalanced mental state?
"Emotional Masochism," our subculture department informs us, "is a variant of S&M in which the bottom wants the top to "mess with their head." Through such means as humiliation, name-calling, confrontation, provoking jealousy, and degrading treatment, the masochist hopes to reach an emotional low which would provoke the same triggered release of endorphins that physical pain would." It's considered shocking "edge play" even within alternative lifestyles, even if it's fully consensual and the parties understand that it's "just pretend."
One more bit of cultural ground this song opens up: Notice that the singer is disappointed with the way Johnny acts like a doormat instead of being her "cave man." Today we have the term "friend zone" for when a woman deflects a man who has romantic interest in her by relegating him to "just a friend." Or join an online discussion on dating and ask the ladies why
men get friend-zoned. The responses generally even out to "he acted like a friend, not a lover." Hey, wait a minute. Michael Bolton would like to have a word with you
This was written by Hal David and Sherman Edwards, who were part of the New York City songwriting community in the '60s - often simplified as "The Brill Building." David would later team up with Burt Bacharach and form one of the most successful songwriting duos in pop music history. These staff songwriters were always looking for topics that would resonate with the listening public, and emotional masochism was a winner here.
Sommers seemed to enjoy a relatively stable career for an early '60s vocalist, but also went on to do considerable voice-acting work in several animated TV and film works.