It's So Nice To Be Insane Or Why Angie Baby Is Every Bit As Terrifying As the Scariest Horror Movie

Image by Waldkunst from Pixabay

What do the songs The Gambler by Kenny Rogers, Ode To Billy Joe by Bobbie Gentry, Harper Valley PTA by Jeannie C. Riley, and Copacabana by Barry Manilow all have in common?

Yes, they’re all the names of songs and movies. Many movies have taken their titles from songs. But what makes the above tunes special is that their lyrics were used to form the film’s plot.

Songs that tell a tale, typically called story songs or narrative songs, are so common that I’m surprised they haven’t inspired a colloquialism. Some type of portmanteau descriptor perhaps? Stongs? Stunes? Snarratives? Hmmm, I’m now understanding why there isn’t a colloquialism…

In my mind there are a slew of story songs still left for movie makers to mine and they cover all genres.

The heartbreaking coming of age tale:
A young woman growing up in an itinerant family living a bleak existence dreams of escaping her chaotic life. She meets a boy who may be her ticket out, or the reason she will never leave.
Gypsies Tramps and Thieves by Cher.

The melancholic romance:
A singer finds himself back in his hometown just before Christmas and bumps into an old girlfriend, now unhappily married. They share a drink and through flashbacks and current conversation, we learn about their past, present, and perhaps their future.
Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg.

The screwball comedy:
A bored shop assistant in a dead end job finds his life turned upside down by a worldly woman. He gives her a ride on his motorcycle but she takes him on a journey he’ll never forget!
Raspberry Beret by Prince and the Revolution

The serpentine thriller:
The wife of an air force pilot searches for answers when her husband goes missing after a mysterious mission. Her quest to find the truth will test the limits of her resilience and her sanity.
Cambodia by Kim Wilde

The ability of songwriters to weave often rich narratives in just a few minutes amazes me. I’d hate to have to pick my favourites but if you did force me to list them they’d include Fast Car by Tracey Chapman, Hazard by Richard Marx, Alone Again Naturally by Gilbert O’Sullivan, ABBA’s The Day Before You Came, and Spanish Eddie by Laura Branigan.

There’s one story song that I had reason to return to recently that would definitely place within my top 3. These types of tunes don’t usually cover the horror genre, but if I read this plot summary on Netflix I’d be clicking on it immediately:
A young, socially awkward woman conjures up an imaginary world full of romance to escape her sheltered life. But when she is stalked by a murderer her pretend world turns out to be not so make-believe and her pursuer ends up the prey.

Angie Baby was sung by Helen Reddy, who has sadly recently passed away, prompting me to play my favourite Reddy hits. The song was written by Alan O’Day who had a hit of his own with Undercover Angel, another song rooted in fantasy, though a little less dark than the Reddy tune.

Angie Baby was a huge hit in the 1970s, and deservedly so. Everything is pitch perfect, from the haunting beat and quivery strings, to Reddy’s expert phrasing, and especially the chilling story it tells. Reddy became a feminist icon through her smash hit I Am Woman and many of her hits were anthems for female empowerment. Ain’t No Way To Treat a Lady. You and Me Against The World. And in Angie Baby the “helpless female ” turns the tables on her would-be rapist.

You live your life in the songs you hear
On the rock and roll radio.
And when a young girl doesn’t have any friends
That’s a really nice place to go.

Folks hoping you’d turn out cool
But they had to take you out of school.
You’re a little touched you know, Angie baby.

Lovers appear in your room each night
And they whirl you across the floor.
But they always seem to fade away
When your daddy taps on your door.

‘Angie girl, are you all right?
Tell the radio good-night.’
All alone once more, Angie baby

Angie baby, you’re a special lady,
Living in a world of make-believe.
Well, maybe.

Stopping at her house is a neighbour boy
With evil on his mind.
Cause he’s been peeking in Angie’s room
At night through the window blind.

I see your folks have gone away
Would you dance with me today?
I’ll show you how to have a good time, Angie baby.

When he walks in the room, he feels confused,
Like he’s walked into a play.
And the music’s so loud it spins him around
‘Til his soul has lost its way.

And as she turns the volume down
He’s getting smaller with the sound.
It seems to pull him off the ground,
Toward the radio he’s bound,
Never to be found.

The headlines read that a boy disappeared
And everyone thinks he died.
‘Cept a crazy girl with a secret lover who
Keeps her satisfied.

It’s so nice to be insane,
No one asks you to explain.
Radio by your side, Angie baby.

As I’ve said, the ability of songwriters to tell stories in song-format is amazing. Here O’Day spins a haunting, nuanced tale in just over 250 words. It typically takes me that many to have a character walk across the room!

The scene setting is economical, yet it paints a picture of an isolated, troubled young lady, living through music, her caring but nonetheless disappointed parents doing their best.

But it’s the moment the ‘neighbour boy’ enters the story that the story truly becomes remarkable.

Let’s start with what “evil” the lad had in store for Angie. He’s a Peeping Tom and promises to “show her how to have a good time” so possibly rape, possibly rape and murder. Whatever it is, it’s bad. As the audience we can only watch, powerless to help our poor, insular, heroine.

However, that’s when the story twists.

First, we have this perfect turn of phrase:
When he walks in the room, he feels confused,
Like he’s walked into a play.

“Like he’s walked into a play”. If, during the Mythic Series, I can ever compose a simile that masterful, I will be delighted.

It turns out this play isn’t what the boy expected. He thought Angie was an easy mark but no, he’s the one marked:
And the music’s so loud it spins him around
‘Til his soul has lost its way.

For me the reference to “soul” is a sign of something otherworldly taking place. The 1970s were awash with songs about demon women working the dark arts to their advantage. There were at least three songs entitled Devil Woman, the best known by Cliff Richard, and then there’s Dark Lady by Cher.

As a horror movie nut, the demon sub-genre hits me primally, a result of my Catholic upbringing I suspect. Perhaps then, the fact that Angie is said to be “touched” in the opening lines isn’t just a euphemism. Perhaps she’s possessed, thus explaining her anti-social behaviour. There were always warnings that rock and roll—specifically name checked in the opening lines—was the “Devil’s music” so perhaps we should have listened to those American style preachers!

Then the radio, or Angie, or whatever, drags the perpetrator in:
And as she turns the volume down
He’s getting smaller with the sound.
It seems to pull him off the ground,
Toward the radio he’s bound,
Never to be found.

This part of the scene used to terrify me when I heard it on the radio. I had a fear the song would work its black magic on me. Like a tuneful version of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the melody would lure me in then pick me off the ground, shrink me, and imprison me forever in our old stereo unit.

While I do love demon-themed films, my favourite horrors are all lone-person-against-attackers. Stalkers, serial killers, zombies, aliens, men—I live for seeing a victim turn the tables on their monsters. 

Thus I feel zero pity for Angie’s potential rapist/killer as he becomes a prisoner in her radio. In fact, if this was a movie, at that point I’d be gleefully shouting ‘You go, girl!’ at the screen as the bad guy got his just desserts.

While “Like he’s walked into a play” is masterful, my favourite lines come near the end of the song:
It’s so nice to be insane,
No one asks you to explain.

I find those words as chilling as the final scene of Psycho, where the camera slowly closes in on Norman Bates, the sound of his mother’s voice giving us a glimpse into the abyss.

But, equally, there’s wry humour in that couplet. Dark humour, yes. But this is a horror story after all. It’s meant to be dark. 

And, as horror stories have done for thousands of years, it’s meant to act as a cautionary tale. Fairy tales. Folk tales. They’re methods to keep social order. Evil-doers beware, you will be punished for your sins. And never underestimate your opponent for you know not what hidden strengths they possess, or what possesses them.