Sadly Beautiful

Album: All Shook Down (1990)
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  • "Sadly Beautiful" is about the cyclical nature of parent-child relationships, the often tragic way that unwanted legacies are handed down (and adopted) unconsciously between generations.

    The first two-thirds of the song come from the mother's perspective. She's mourning the fact she hasn't been around to watch her daughter mature and that her daughter has inherited her melancholia.

    From the very first day that you were born
    To the very last time you waved and honked your horn
    Had no chance at all to watch you grow
    Up so sadly, beautiful
    Up so sadly, beautiful

    The lyrics paint a picture of a mother feeling alienated from her daughter and regretful that she "had no chance at all to watch" her grow. The perspective elicits sympathy, but the last verse of the song turns the whole story on its head. It's sung from the daughter's perspective:

    From the very last time you waved and honked your horn
    To a face that turned away pale and worn
    Had no chance at all to let you know
    You left me sadly, beautiful

    From the daughter's perspective, the mother is choosing to turn away. The choice of words is significant because it contrasts with the story as seen from the mother's perspective. Rather than being something beyond the mother's control, their disconnect comes from the mother's inability to deal with the situation.

    Assuming Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg wasn't trying to vilify the mother (it is of course possible he was doing so), the story that emerges is that mom's own depression was the only thing preventing her from experiencing her daughter's childhood. And, by the time of this song, the daughter has also internalized that sadness. The mother's melancholy has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Paul Westerberg wrote this song with singer/actress Marianne Faithfull in mind. He hoped she would actually sing it. Shortly before recording the Replacements seventh and final studio album, All Shook Down, Westerberg told executives at the Sire record label that he wanted to go solo. He felt artistically constrained working with the other Replacements and wanted to do his own album on which he'd use musicians he admired. The label told him they'd have to reduce his budget if he made the move, so he opted to record it as a Replacements record.

    Still, he brought in multiple supporting musicians for the album. He didn't get Faithful for "Sadly Beautiful," but he did get John Cale of the Velvet Underground at the suggestion of producer Scott Litt.

    Litt had Cale, who played viola on "Sadly Beautiful," in the studio within a couple hours of Westerberg's consent. Cale could be intimidating, and Westerberg felt a bit nervous around him, wondering "if he was going to drop-kick me."

    Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed also stopped by to check on some business. He didn't contribute to the album, but he did listen to the recordings and said he loved it.

Comments: 2

  • Kevin from St. Louis, MoGlen Campbell released a cover of this song on his 2008 album, Meet Glen Campbell. It's an excellent rendition with extra poignancy from the voice of a 71 year old (at the time of the album release).
  • Kevin from Reading , PaI read that Westerberg offered this song to Marianne Faithful to record, but she turned it down. Probably not a good decision on her part, as this is indeed a sadly beautiful song, and one suited to her throaty vocal style. (Kevin C., Reading, Pa.)
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