The Heart of Rock and Soul
Dave Marsh, 1989
As a kid, the way people moved in movies like West Side Story struck me as weird. The real teenagers who strolled the blocks near my house moved so much more fluidly and elegantly. The tableaus they set up were finer poses and better thought-out. Where Jerome Robbins made you understand something about the possibilities of human muscles, those kids back in the neighborhood made you understand everything about passion and hope.
"Then He Kissed Me" captures what they looked like in its opening lines, sung at a stately cadence:
Well, he walked up to me and he asked me if I wanted to dance
He looked kinda nice and so I said I might take a chance.
Hearing the Crystals sing those words, you can feel not only the size of the event, but exactly how he moved, slinking his way across the floor, stopping, turning, proposing as elegantly as any cadet, and envision just how she responded, with a mixture of delicacy and suppressed eagerness, each holding back smiles of relief, both hearts jangling like the busy castanets and triangles in the record's background.
Phil Spector sets the song as if it were a jewel, with the gorgeous melody established on guitar and carried away with tympani and strings and an orchestral bridge that tangibly evokes that first dance. It's no wonder that neither Brian Wilson nor Bruce Springsteen could resist covering the song, and it's no wonder that they could never match the original.
Never, because no man could make a mere kiss so meaningful. When she sings, "He kissed me in a way that I've never been kissed before / He kissed me in a way that I wanna be kissed for evermore," what you want to know, first time through, is how. But after a while, you realize that the real question may be where. There's a taboo being broken here, and it's far more meaningful than the line crossed by the Crystals' overrated "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)." As in Aretha Franklin's "A Natural Woman, " the real dimensions of female sexuality remain unspoken, but they're hidden only if you refuse to pay attention.
And that's probably why they had to get married in the last verse.