Bernadette - the Four Tops
Curiously, Bernadette though a not uncommon name, doesn't have many famous exemplars. If one googles it, the only one that springs up through the ether is that of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, the young girl who had visions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes.
Perhaps, then, it is appropriate that the third part of the great Four Tops "Trilogy of Slough and Despond" is "Bernadette". While the first two chapters of the trilogy begin with love as rescue from depression , then as desperate lust, we now ascend to love as an almost religious experience.
The main tenet of the song is that other men want Bernadette, they even befriend him to get closer to her, but they don't love her in the same way he does. But the nitty gritty of that love is the nub.
"Bernadette, people are searching for the kind of love that we possessed; some go on, searching their whole life through and never find the love I've found in you...."
he begins, and his rival suitors
"....want you because of the pride that gives but Bernadette, I want you because I need you to live..."
but then like a pentecostal Christian he declaims
"I'll tell the world, you belong to me I'll tell the world, you're the soul of me I'll tell the world, you're a part of me, Bernadette"
and he gets even more ecclesiastical
"In your arms I find the kind of peace of mind the world is searching for but you, you give me the joy, this heart of mine has always been longing for.
In you I have what other men long for - all men need someone to worship and adore - that's why I treasure you, and place you high above for the only joy in life is to be loved...."
"....So whatever you do, Bernadette, keep on loving me, Bernadette, keep on needing me..."
who's he kidding? Who needs who in this relationship? The song climaxes with the words:
Bernadette you're the soul of me more than a dream, you're a plan to me, and Bernadette, you mean more to me than a woman was ever meant to be Bernadette, my darling, Bernadette!"
Any notion that this is a mere love song, is laid to rest by the final lines. But even more powerful is the desperate and agonised tone of Levi Stubbs' vocal, one of total dependency. This, as music critic Mike Marsh has pointed out, is more the language of addiction than love, Bernadette meaning more "than a woman was ever meant to..." This is love as something complex, as agony AND ecstasy, love as martyrdom.
Listen to the haunting, hopeless passion as Levi Stubbs shouts out "Bernadette!" 2 minutes 37 seconds into the song. The idea that Holland-Dozier-Holland were just churning out hits for Berry Gordy and Motown (see two posts ago) is a gross misapprehension. They were artists, the musical equivalent of Bernini.