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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

On "I Got You Babe," Groundhog Day, and diegetic music

No song is more appropriate for a musical discussion on February 2 (or 3).

"Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties, 'cause it's cooooold out there today!"

Or should I simply say, "Phil? Phil Connors?"

In the waning hours of Groundhog Day, I'm reflecting on the movie which bears its name. I didn't get the chance yet to watch it like I normally do this time of year; that must wait for the weekend. However, I can certainly still talk about it through the song that defines it: Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe." Through discussing "I Got You Babe," I'll also turn a lens toward the broader use of diegetic music in film, and the impact such use leaves on a movie and its viewers.

"I Got You Babe" was the signature song of then-husband and wife duo Sonny & Cher. The two were a massive entertainment success, both on screen and on vinyl, and this song more than any other remains the hallmark of their collaborative legacy. Owing to Sonny Bono's work producing for Phil Spector, it makes sense that, even for a song more along the lines of folk pop, the backing arrangement is quite dense. Harold Batiste's instrumental arrangement includes a vast array of instruments, both from popular and orchestral ensembles: Batiste himself on piano, as well as an acoustic and electric guitar, an electric bass, and drums are heard consistently throughout the track. Auxiliary percussion includes what is likely a glockenspiel doubling Barney Kessel's lead guitar, adding a high metallic brightness that helps it cut through the crowded mid-range. Additionally, the chorus backing prominently features double-reed instruments, with a bassoon providing bass notes and an oboe providing a prominent harmonic voice.

Sonny & Cher's lyrics of an innocent and true love, which will prevail even through life's tribulations — as Sonny Bono sings in the second verse, "we don't have a pot / But at least I'm sure of all the things we got." However, it isn't until after they key change and into the third verse that we hear the lines familiar to Groundhog Day viewers: "Then put your little hand in mine / There ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb." I find it quite interesting that each repetition of February 2 opens at this point in the song and with this line. It seems to truly resonate at the movie's end, when Phil Connors (portrayed by Bill Murray) is able to move forward with the lessons and love he has gained.

Listening to "I Got You Babe" and thinking about its use in Groundhog Day got me to thinking about the greater use of diegetic music in film and other media. Diegetic sound is heard by the characters in a program as it is heard by the viewers; it is part of the story being told. In Groundhog Day, "I Got You Babe" serves as Phil Connors' radio alarm in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania's Cherry Tree Inn, with each repetition of his time loop opening around the song's halfway point and transitioning into banter by the radio hosts. The song seems endearing and naïve upon its initial use, but with each loop Phil's reaction likely echoes that of the viewer: exasperation at his seemingly inescapable predicament.

I'm drawn to media that uses diegetic music because it further immerses the viewer in the world the media inhabits. For Groundhog Day, hearing "I Got You Babe" the way Phil Connors does makes his situation more tangible, and his reactions more relatable. Similarly, in the scenes in which Phil plays the piano, the viewer hears Phil's playing and, through it, his progression both as a pianist and as a person beyond his playing capabilities. When we hear a shift in the diegetic music, we understand there is a shift in the larger setting and story within the film. Sure, non-diegetic music (a score the characters don't hear) is capable of eliciting such understanding in viewers, but a diegetic score allows for a closer relationship to the action through the common hearing of music across media and viewing settings.

Understanding what someone is hearing allows us more easily understand their reaction to how they hear it. This effect of diegetic sound is what makes the ending to Groundhog Day so profound for me — I can get inside Phil's head when he finally hears an earlier segment of "I Got You Babe" and realizes he's finally out of the time loop. There's a shared relief between the character on the screen and the viewer, and an understanding from the latter that the former has learned something about themselves and about life. Sonny & Cher's lyrics take on a new meaning in this context for both parties, and that shift is something only diegetic music can enable.


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