Lyric Lens: “My Heart Was Set on You” by Jeff Blumenkrantz
Gather around everyone, it’s story time! Well, story song time. A little while back, my good friend Hannah Ehrenberg wrote a fabulous post on story songs, and I’ve been thinking about them ever since. One of my favorites is a song by Jeff Blumenkrantz called “My Heart Was Set on You.” Sutton Foster sings this song on an episode of Jeff’s podcast, and also on her solo album Wish, which is where I first heard it. Sutton’s version isn’t on YouTube, but here’s a nice performance that is:
I should say before I go any further that this will in no way be a comprehensive run-through of everything I love about this song, which would probably take many blog posts. I’m just going to point out some highlights that are on my mind right now. Come to think of it, the disclaimer really applies to every post in this series—the great thing about great songs is that you can listen to them hundreds of time and still be discovering new things about them.
Anyway. Back to this song. I love it a whole lot. I love the journey that it takes, the emotional highs and lows of the story. I especially love the mood shift in the song when we realize that it’s probably not going to have the happy ending the first verses were setting us up to expect. It really feels to me like I go through the heartbreak along with the character who sings the song. But I’m getting ahead of myself! Let’s start at the beginning (insert obligatory Sound of Music reference):
My mother told me to break up with you.
She didn’t think that you were good enough to take this prize.
She didn’t see any sparkle in your eyes.
These first few lines set up a dynamic right away that sounds like it’ll make for an engaging story. There’s the singer, and her love interest, whom the song is directly addressing, but there’s also the outside voice of her mother, who wants to break up this couple. Conflict! Dramatic tension! I also love the way these lines show us the voices and perspectives of both the singer and her mother: the mother sees her daughter as the priceless commodity in this situation, but the daughter seems more focused on a small thing that makes her partner valuable to her, “the sparkle in your eyes.” They “prize/eyes” rhyme does a wonderful job of accentuating this contrast.
In fact, this song has a bunch of memorable uses of rhyme. I’ve said before in this series that I love a good juxtaposition of general and specific details, and right in the next couple of lines we get:
She said you acted like a boy,
And you wore too much corduroy.
I find that so adorable and evocative, and yet I think it’s topped in both respects by a pair of lines in the second verse, which is about the singer’s roommate’s criticisms of the same partner:
She couldn’t stand the way you always left some toothpaste in the sink.
She was amazed at your capacity not to think.
These lines make me smile the biggest smile. I feel like I know exactly what this person is like when I read these two descriptions side by side.
I skipped over the first chorus because I was so excited about getting to that rhyme. I do want to keep moving and get to the second half of the song, but first I need to spend a moment on the brilliance of the lyric hook/song title: “my heart was set on you.” Was. In other words, might not still be. One small word gives so much emotional depth and tension to the song.
The third verse contains a great example of another way to harness the power of rhyme: for comedy! Take a look at this hilarious couplet, which comes after a psychic tells our main character that she and her love interest aren’t meant to be:
I got her message loud and clear,
Then shoved it out the other ear.
Personally, I don’t think this would be half as funny without the rhyme. That first line fakes me out and lets me think maybe she’s going to listen to the psychic, but the second line drops the truth on me. The sass! It’s so great.
Towards the end of the song, these lyrics really bring the sadness. Our character sings:
It was terrible to face them when it all fell apart,
When I was the last to know.
Yet there they were to catch the pieces of my breaking heart,
With the grace not to say, “I told you so.”
I love the bare, open vulnerability of this part. The quirky, specific details of the earlier verses have been stripped away and replaced with deeply relatable emotion.
In the final verse, there’s a shift in both attitude and time as we move from the past into the present:
And now to see you after all this time,
I’m reminded of the clarity I had back then.
It’s nice to see that our character has had some time to mull all of this over, to get some perspective on what happened. I also love this shift because, to me, it’s what makes it a musical theater song, and not just a song: it’s not just a person standing at a microphone and telling a story. It takes place in a specific dramatic moment—in a scene.
And then the very end:
I’ll always count myself among the lucky few,
To have loved
The way I loved
When my heart was set on you.
Basically all I really want to say about this is, “OH, MY HEART.” But I’ll strive for something a bit more coherent. I adore this twist because no matter how many times I listen to this song, it feels like I never see it coming. It’s so simple, and yet so complex. So bittersweet. It’s an outlook I think we can all aspire to: the ability to let go of the bitterness we feel about relationships that go wrong, and to cherish the good memories and the lessons we learned from them.
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