Death by Power Ballad: Nazareth, “Love Hurts”
So you’re Nazareth—big-willied purveyors of Seventies cock rock. In your native Scotland and across the UK, you’re a sizeable hard rock presence—your singles and albums skirt just under the radar of mainstream success, but your fan base is loyal, and you make a decent enough living headlining theaters and hitting the arena circuit in Europe with blokes like Uriah Heep and Rory Gallagher. In the U.S., though, you’re a perennial second-tier act—a Scottish REO Speedwagon, if you will. In fact, once in Peoria, you even opened for REO Speedwagon. And Kevin Cronin made fun of your hair.
He was probably right. You’re not very attractive men. Only the guys in Blue Oyster Cult and the douchebags in Uriah Heep pull fewer chicks on the road. It’s one reason you love to tour with Blue Oyster Cult and Uriah Heep; next to them, you are the golden gods you always imagine yourself being. If your wives back home ever find out, though, you’re done for.
It’s 1975. You’re in the studio, working on your next album, and it’s chockablock cock rock—fierce fucking stuff, maybe the best songs you’ve every come up with. Your guitars cruch and rumble. Your singer, Dan McCafferty, sounds like he swallowed Satan’s gonads and chased them with Robert Plant’s liquefied soul. You have a song with a chorus that simply repeats the sentence “Now you’re messing with a son of a bitch” over and over. You’re thinking of calling it “Hair of the Dog,” for no apparent reason (maybe because “hair of the dog” sounds sorta like “heir of the dog,” or “son of a bitch.” Nah. You’re clever, but not that clever). This song will one day get a college freshman DJ in trouble, as he thought it was okay to play over community airwaves. He was wrong. It will, nonetheless, become the theme song to the as-yet-unmade film about his life.
Anyway, you’re in the studio, churning out some hellacious rock, and someone suggests the need for a ballad—probably your guitar player, Manny Charlton, who had supplanted Deep Purple’s Roger Glover as your producer of choice. Manny’s a good bloke, but he’s a bit of a softie—you’ve already recorded songs by Joni Mitchell (“This Flight Tonight”) and Tomorrow (“My White Bicycle”) previously, and you don’t want to become just another hard rock band who become famous for cover tunes. You’ve already cut a version of Randy Newman’s “Guilty” for this record, but you balk at Manny’s suggestion to cover Tiny Tim’s “Daddy, Daddy, What Is Heaven Like?”
Someone—again, probably Manny—suggests the chestnut “Love Hurts.” You balk at that, too. Who wants to hear a big-willied cock rock juggernaut like Nazareth cover a Boudleaux Bryant song made famous by the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison? Who would want to hear a Nazareth version after hearing Jimmy Webb bleat it, or hearing Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris sing a transcendent version of the song, right before Parsons packed his Nudie suit and shuffled off to the great opryhouse in the sky? And word has it that Jim Capaldi and Cher are covering it for their next records, and God knows no one in Nazareth wants to be associated with them.
Then Manny brings those three bottles of Glenmorangie over to the studio that one fateful night, and the arguments end. And you, Nazareth—you put your indelible stamp on “Love Hurts.”
The gently picked opening guitar figure woos the listener into an immediate trance, punctuated by a couple fierce cymbal crashes and a brief cesaura before McCafferty enters to plead in the most sensitive of cock rock voices those truth-filled words:
Love hurts, love scars
Love wounds and mars
Any heart not tough
Or strong enough
To take a lot of pain
Take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud
Holds a lot of rain
You look around the studio as the words pour from McCafferty, and everyone puts down their Glenmorangies, mouths agape, and breathes in the pain of this man, of this voice, of these words. By the time the middle eight comes around, there is not an arm in the place that is not rippling with goose bumps.
Some folks think of happiness
Some fools fool themselves, I guess
They’re not foolin’ me
I know it isn’t true
I know it isn’t true
Love is just a lie
Made to make you blue
Then the solo—oh God, now you see why Manny pushed for the song. The single bent note is an arrow to the heart. It ups the drama, the pain, the despondent desolation of the lyrics and the man giving them voice. It is short, and it blends into the final verse in a single, glorious flow. When it ends, even the walls of the studio have begun weeping over what has transpired within them. Glasses once more are raised in tribute to the moment.
It works. Your song ascends to the Billboard Top Ten in the States. Your album goes platinum. For a season, you, Nazareth, ascend to top billing status in arenas across this land. When you play “Love Hurts,” fifteen thousand lighters are held aloft before you, as befitting one of the mightiest of power ballads.
Others have followed in your path—Triumph, Joan Jett, Heart, Rod Stewart, Pat-fucking-Boone—but none have outdone your performance; they can only hope to copy it, only hope that some of your magic rubs off on them, though it never does.
Well played, Nazareth. Well played.