A Week of Fridays: Mary Margaret O’Hara, “Body’s in Trouble”

I usually check with the authors of these guest posts as to how they would like to be billed in their introduction, but I’ve known all along that I was going to insist upon referring to today’s wordsmith as Phil Defiler. Using the moniker that links him to his beloved music project is the best way I can think of to pay tribute to his immense, playful talent, which is itself only made more endearing because of his modesty. I can’t even begin to describe the reasons why, but seeing him play live in the WPRK studios during one of the station’s fundraiser marathons remains one of the most magical experiences I’ve witnessed. He is the only person I know who is equally well-versed in NBA history, General Hospital and incredibly obscure music. Someday he will find a way to write about them all in a single essay and it will be the greatest thing you or I have ever read.

By the time Spin magazine released their Alternative Record Guide in 1995, I was already immersed in the post-Nirvana world of popular rock music. However, when I first skimmed through the book, I could tell its true purpose was to educate the younger generation about bands and artists that pioneered “alternative” music, rather than showcase current trends (the first record by Stone Temple Pilots received a 4 out of 10). That publication, along with the 1988 edition of the Trouser Press Record Guide, instilled in me a deeper appreciation for music. That was when I realized I could give that Gin Blossoms CD to my brother.

My favorite feature of that book was the artist-contributed Top Tens. Some were insightful (Lou Barlow’s #1, the Wanna Buy A Bridge? compilation, introduced me to Rough Trade post-punk), some were amusing (if you’re not Prince, N.W.A. or Public Enemy, Greg Dulli doesn’t like you), and some seemed lazy (Mark Arm: #1, all the Stooges records; #2, all the Capt. Beefheart records). Though I only knew Tanya Donelly from “Feed The Tree” and her duet with Catherine Wheel, I always remembered her #1 for some reason: Mary Margaret O’Hara, Miss America.

When I decided to buy that particular record a few years ago, I was determined to purchase it the way I had collected 90% of the records I bought during the 1990’s: I would buy it without having heard one song. Even in the post-download/YouTube era of music listening, I wanted to approach Miss America with the same wide-eyed innocence of my tween years. The song that struck the strongest nerve was the third one in, “Body’s In Trouble.” Sure, traces of 1988 were inescapable. Every studio guitarist wanted to use delay like U2, and there were other strong female vocalists with Irish blood emerging around that time. Even with the absence of a proper chorus, the song could very well fit into, say, a 10,000 Maniacs record. Except for the vocals…

On “Body’s In Trouble,” Mary Margaret O’Hara sings as if she’s practicing for an audition. She recites the same line over and over, alternating between desperation, resignation and sarcasm. It’s as if she didn’t let her record producer edit anything, with her voice weaving in and out of rhythm. Truly, a strange track from a strange woman.

Mary Margaret O’Hara, “Body’s in Trouble”

Disclaimer: This song is posted and shared with the understanding that it is out of print and therefore unavailable for purchase in a way that will provide due compensation to both the artist and the proprietor of your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I will gladly remove it from the interweb if requested to do so by someone with due authority to make sure a request.