Today we unveil a handful of songs that focus on infidelity in relationships, but in a relatively positive manner. While these are primarily from the cheater’s point of view, we end up exploring some other rather unique perspectives as well.
Cheating can be a pretty touchy subject. By that we mean, someone gets touchy with someone who isn’t their significant other and all hell breaks loose. It’s something that never ends well and always causes emotional pain for multiple people. On that lovely note, we’ve found a number of songs that not only bring up this subject of cheating, but actually portray it in a way that’s not too bad. Needless to say we found this rather interesting.
By the way, joining us for this episode is our friend Ryan Matsunaga, whose voice you might recognize from The Super Circuitcast. That’s a great podcast as well, but check it out after you’re done here. Don’t cheat on us so quickly.
1. Billy Paul’s Me and Mrs. Jones (1972)
Possibly his most famous song, Me and Mrs. Jonesgives us a melodic taste of the singer’s relationship with this anonymous woman. They meet in the same café and make plans together, but of course there’s the little issue that both of them are married to different people. “We gotta be extra careful that we don’t build our hopes too high / Cause she’s got her own obligations and so do I / Me and Mrs. Jones got a thing going on, we both know that it’s wrong / But it’s much too strong to let it cool down now.”
This theme is a very clear pattern we saw across all of the songs in this list. The cheaters know what they’re doing is wrong, but they can’t stop seeing each other and will keep doing so even if it means risking getting caught. Yikes.
2. Luther Ingram’s If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to Be Right) (1972)
This one is a little unique in our context, since it’s been famously performed by both male and female singers (obviously with a few tweaks in the lyrics). The song came about in 1970 at Memphis-based Stax Records from the minds of writing team Banks-Jackson-Hampton. Upon finishing it, they actually first had it recorded by the Emotions. (For those who don’t know, they were the girl group who co-performed Boogie Wonderland with Earth, Wind & Fire in 1979 – but they were very popular in their own right as well).
Unfortunately, the Emotions’ take on Loving You Is Wrong was, well, wrong. They were just too upbeat for the subject matter, so Stax shelved the song for 2 years until R&B singer Luther Ingram discovered it during a visit. He took the song and made it work with some adjustments in tempo and mood, and recorded it at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama.
3. Clarence Carter’s Slip Away (1968)
Speaking of Southern singers, (wow, a relevant tie-in and some alliteration to boot? We’re on fire!), Clarence Carter, who also hails from Alabama, recorded one of his most famous hits shortly after joining Atlantic Records in 1967. This was Slip Away, which we admittedly didn’t recognize right away as a cheating song. But the message is pretty obvious if you read some of the lyrics. For example,“Could you just slip away without him knowing you’re gone / Then we could meet somewhere where we both are not known.” We can clearly see what’s going on here, but if you’re not paying close attention while listening, you might miss it. At least, we did.
4. James Carr’s The Dark End of the Street (1976)
It would be tough to disagree that this is one of the staples of soul music, and one of the last great ones at that. But wouldn’t you know it, this is another one that we only recently realized was about cheating. In this case it’s a little more forgivable since the lyrics are slightly more ambiguous: “I know that time is gonna take its toll, we’re gonna pay for the love that we stole / It’s a sin and we know that it’s wrong, but our love keeps coming on strong / You and me, at the dark end of the street.”
Again, as in pretty much all of these songs, the adulterers in question are doing their best to keep their feelings hidden, but not keep their feelings hidden. If you know what we mean.
5. John Legend’s She Don’t Have to Know (2004)
This came from his legendary very popular album, Get Lifted, which earned him a solid 3 Grammy Awards in 2006, for Best R&B Album, Best New Artist and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. This song specifically is probably the most “shameless” of the ones we’ve discussed here. Previously we’ve heard the singer express the frustration of having to hide his love affair, but in this case the attitude is a bit different. There’s definitely still the “keep it a secret” theme going on, but he and this woman are definitely taking more risks and outwardly proud of what they’re doing: “When I meet you, I got my shades on to cover up my eyes, I’m hoping that nobody sees me passing by / Through my disguise I still know you recognize / But I know you got a little secret of your own, sneaking out with me while your man’s at home / You know you’re wrong, but it’s so strong, still carrying on.”
We do hope you’ll give a listen to this podcast episode, as we can’t convey the entire thing in writing. With Ryan’s help we discussed a few other songs beyond this, particularly ones that offer the “cheatee” perspective, which in turn can be either positive or negative, interestingly enough. But long story short – don’t cheat on your man or woman. Give them the gift of Funk Radio.