by Kevin Burton
We talk Neil Diamond for the second time this week today, but first, a short digression back to my college days.
My college friend Matt once commented that “the only things Kevin Burton and I agree on are Billy Joel and freedom of the press.”
We favored both, for the record.
Matt also called me “the gutless wonder” which was and still is accurate on so many levels.
His best call of all was when he said I have “a wicked anti-establishment streak.”
That last one has cost me more than once in my work life when I told the truth too loudly and too publicly for my bosses to handle without retaliation.
OK, so back to Diamond. Last week I was looking into songs that rose only to number 22 on the Top 40 and discovered he had two of them, “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” and “Kentucky Woman” That of course led to a story, (“Brother Neil’s Travelling Controversy,” Feb. 22).
While doing that research I discovered my favorite Neil Diamond tune was a little bit too successful for my series, having reached number 20.
That song, “Forever in Blue Jeans,” is one I can’t pass up talking about. If it doesn’t quite fit my series, the song fits me in every other way.
And I knew it immediately. It was love at first hear.
Funny thing, Forever In Blue Jeans is not a screaming denunciation exactly. It’s more a quiet confirmation of the simple things and the loved ones we try to keep within reach.
“Money talks, but it don’t sing and dance and it don’t walk. Long as I can have you here with me, I’d much rather be forever in blue jeans.”
Does that not say it all? Have you heard a better summation of the folk tradition? When I gather evidence for my argument for pop music as high art, this song will be in my briefcase.
If I needed to lay out a musical calling card, to string together four or five songs to show somebody who I am, this would be one of the songs I could use.
That anti-establishment streak, diagnosed by my friend Matt in college? Still wicked.
My father was one who was impressed by money. He believed having it bestowed upon a person some kind of status beyond mere purchasing power. That was a very basic, very pointed philosophical struggle between us as long as he lived. It was always there, like something jagged that you couldn’t push aside and couldn’t be comfortable with.
That friction could have sustained a sitcom for a while probably, but for me it wasn’t funny.
Money talks, but in my experience it isn’t particularly interested in, or especially good at, listening.
When I heard Forever In Blue Jeans for the first time in my mid-teens, I had my anthem. Nobody had to explain it to me.
No screaming guitars, no name calling, no ridicule. The song’s only escalation is having the subsequent choruses beyond the first one sung an octave higher. That’s the way Diamond gave the song energy.
Diamond said that the message of this song is that the simple things are really the important things, according to Songfacts. It was the shortest Songfacts entry I have ever seen. It also says the song isn’t literal because Diamond isn’t known to wear blue jeans.
In 1979 I was a little young to be focused in on “baby’s treat,” the other element in the song. I skipped past that line then and now because the everyman power behind the Forever In Blue Jeans line, dominates.
In my Flying Colors series, I ranked the song third on my blue list (“Favorite Songs With Blue In the Title,” Dec. 1, 2020). I had it behind the pure genius of number two “Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” by Crosby Stills and Nash and number one “Midnight Blue” by the underrated Melissa Manchester. The latter manages to be soothing and soaring simultaneously.
But Forever In Blue Jeans is much more valuable to me in terms of articulating my values.