“Plus Ones” explained


I’ve been thinking about the song references in the song "Plus Ones" by Okkervil River.

In case you’ve been wondering too, here are the lyrics with referenced songs footnoted and linked.

Plus Ones

No one wants to hear about your 97th tear (1), so dry your eyes or let it go uncried, my dear. I am all out of love to mouth into your ear, and not above letting a love song disappear before it’s written. And no one wants a tune about the 100th luftballoon (2) that was seen shooting from the window of your room, to be a spot against the sky’s colossal gloom and land, deflated, in some neighbor state that’s strewn with 99 others.

8 Chinese brothers (3); well, there’s a reason why the last is smiling wide and sitting higher than the others, swinging his arms.

You would probably die before you shot up 9 miles high (4), your eyes dilated as light plays upon the sight of TVC16 (5) as it sings you goodnight. Relaxed as hell and locked up in cell 45 (6), I hope you’re feeling better. The 51st way to leave your lover (7), admittedly, doesn’t seem to be as gentle or as clean as all the others, leaving its scars.

All in the after hours of some Greenpoint bar, I told you that I can’t listen, baby, about the 4th time you were a lady (8), and how your forthrightness betrayed a secret shyness, stripped away by days of being hailed as "Your Highness." And what’s new, pussycat, (8.5) is that you were once a lioness; they cut your claws out. Kitten, not everyone’s keen on lighting candle 17 (9). The party’s done. The cake’s all gone. The plates are clean. The chauffeur’s leering from the cheerless mezzanine. And, in just 1 year, the straight world can pay to see what they’ve been missing.

You were caught kissing 8 Chinese brothers, but there’s a reason why the last is smiling wide and sitting higher than the others, stinking with charm. And he says, "Let’s get lost. Let them send out alarms." (10) He says, "Let’s get crossed out and come to harm. Let’s make the world’s stupidest stand and truly mean it. Let’s hit the limit of laws over lovers’ arms – no, let’s exceed it."

1 "96 Tears," Question Mark and the Mysterians, 96 Tears (1966).

2 "99 Luftballons," Nena, single (Wikipedia entry for the song).

3 "Seven Chinese Brothers," REM, Reckoning (1983).

4 "Eight Miles High," written by Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn, and David Crosby, recorded by The Byrds and included on Fifth Dimension (1966).

5 "TVC15," David Bowie, single (1976); a song possibly about Iggy Pop hallucinating, or possibly not.

6 "Care of Cell 44," The Zombies, Odyssey and Oracle (1968). (I had to look this one up; had no idea what it might be. But it turns out that Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs covered this song, and maybe also Elliot Smith? Seems as much like an Elliot Smith song as anything I’ve heard.)

7 "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," Paul Simon, Still Crazy After All These Years (1975).

8 "Three Times a Lady," The Commodores, Natural High (1978). (FWIW, this was the supreme slow dance song of my junior high years, and therefore among my most-dreaded songs at that time.)

8.5 "What’s New, Pussycat?," Tom Jones (1965). (Thanks to Bob for reminding me to link in this one.)

9 "Sixteen Candles," The Crests (1958).

10 "Let’s Get Lost," Chet Baker (1955). (Thanks to HMC for cluing me in via the comments.)

Those are the number song references. Are there others? Let me know in the comments.

UPDATES: Two so far, "What’s new Pussycat?" and "Let’s Get Lost." Songs by two of my favorite musicians, too.

12 replies on ““Plus Ones” explained”

  1. Not a numerical reference, obviously, but “What’s New, Pussycat” is a shoutout to Tom Jones. But you knew that.

    I kept waiting for a reference to the 17th vestal virgin, or the 20th nervous breakdown. I suppose six senses working overtime would’ve been a little obscure.

  2. Danielle: Ooh! That sounds like it would be awesome. I don’t think I’ve heard it.

    Bob: I did see “What’s New Pussycat,” and I don’t know why I didn’t link to that. I guess I was too focused on the numbers. I’ll add it.

    “Senses Working Overtime” couldn’t be more obscure than “TVC15” or “Care of Cell 44.”

  3. No, you’re right, I didn’t know the Bowie or Zombies songs. XTC got pretty heavy airplay on WXXP back in the late 80’s, so not really that obscure at all.

  4. “Let’s get lost. Let them send out alarms” is from Chet Baker’s song “Let’s Get Lost.”

  5. Pretty awesome! I caught a couple of them when listening to it (97th tears and 100th balloons were most obviously), but this is cool.

  6. Eric: I don’t know any about Ender’s Game aside from what I just read in Wikipedia. It doesn’t sound like it’s related, but I can’t say for certain.

    “Plus One” sometimes refers to the additional guest a person brings to an event. For example, if I’m listed on a guest list as “Cynthia Closkey + 1,” I can bring a companion. That extra person is then called “a Plus One,” (i.e. my guest would say “I’m Cindy’s plus one”). That’s the definition I’ve thought the title to this song refers to; the songwriter uses the term in this way in another song on this album.

  7. I am making a mix for an annual mix exchange party, and I am using this list with the okkervil song as the bookends. I had a good number of the references, but your list was a big help. Thanks!

  8. Thanks for explaining this
    it’s been very interesting.
    I have a suggestion:
    “I hope you’re feeling better”
    is a song by Santana

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