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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" has the perfect amount of narration

Elliot Lurie and Looking Glass relay just enough to the listener to make their story both succinct and rich.


Music, like all art, is a method of storytelling. When it comes to creating music, the key question, again like all art, is how much of that story you want to make concrete.


This is the eternal question when it comes to lyric writing, and it naturally lacks a one-size-fits-all answer. From my experience, I've found that it's easier to take creative liberties in the more abstract direction, leaving more for the listeners to fill in and in the process giving them a greater personal connection to the song. When a writer goes in a more concrete direction, they risk getting bogged down in the details and selling the lyrical story over that of the music, when they need to strike a balance between the two.


Today's song goes just far enough into telling a thorough story, while also leaving enough for the listeners to fill in and let the music do the talking behind it. It's no shock that a song that accomplishes such a feat is so widely loved and appreciated. I assume most of you have heard "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" by Looking Glass before, but even if you have, take another listen before you continue reading. If you haven't heard it before, I'm truly sorry; let's immediately remedy that.

Even before Elliot Lurie begins his lead vocal line, Looking Glass set the scene for the story that will soon follow. The opening keyboard and guitar figure, especially its first few beats, give me the impression of a gently rising and falling sea in its tone and gentle up-and-down contour. In hindsight, the rich backing vocals which immediately precede the verse make me think of the patrons in the bar where Brandy works. They imply another voice and character or group of characters apart from the titular bartender and Lurie's narrator.


Lurie then enters, singing about the western port where Brandy works, laying down "whiskey and wine" for sailors. In saying merely that the sailors "talk about their homes," he leaves room for those conversations and the port scene themselves to be filled in and thought up by listeners, especially in the context of the bar where most of the song takes place.


I also love how Lurie chose the name Brandy for the bartender, adding another connection to drinking, then in later sections makes it clear that Brandy isn't for any of the sailors to have, between their commitment to the sea and Brandy being committed to a sailor herself. The small detail of the name adds so much without needing to be pointed out; it just washes over the listener at first, before building into a strong thematic connection as the track continues.


Throughout the track, Lurie continues this trend of saying just enough to establish a setting, while leaving any smaller details for the listener to imagine. From my own experience, this is a very tough balance to strike, as it requires both a deep understanding of the story you want to tell and a trust in your listeners to fill in the gaps. The reason why Lurie and other artists are successful in their endeavors is because they nearly completely rely on sight in their narratives. Considering how much interaction and media intake relies on stimulation of sight, it makes sense that it's easier for us to infer the rest of a story once its visual element is described. Sure, Lurie could have gone into detail on what Brandy's lover said that made her so enraptured, but that would have ruined the magic of that scene. In instead describing her "watch[ing] his eyes," we get a greater sense of how she feels in that moment, a sensation which is much more powerful.


Of course, Lurie's narrative isn't entirely sight-based. The iconic chorus is implied to be sung, first by the group of sailors at Brandy's bar, then by her lover the second and third time through. Just as important as it is to rely on listeners' visual imagination, it's important to give that sense a break, and that's exactly what the chorus does. If you're constantly being asked to visualize scenes, it gets tiring, and the scenes themselves become less vivid. The chorus provides a reprieve while also furthering the characterization of the sailors who sing it — as much as they appreciate Brandy, their seafaring life makes it inevitable that they must leave her behind.


"Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" has stood the test of time because Elliot Lurie and Looking Glass know how to tell just enough of a story to make listening to a song rewarding. The narrative is both easy to follow and easy for the listeners to imagine and fill in the details. Add that quality to a production with catchy harmonies and a melody that's easy to sing, and you've got a track that continues to be loved and receive air time on 70s and easy listening stations close to a half-century after its release.

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