the song
title : Shall I be mother
written by : Eddi Reader, Teddy Borowiecki and Boo Hewerdine
song copyright : © 1996 Warner Music UK Ltd

the performance
Eddi Reader lead vocal
Teddy Borowiecki piano, organ
Calum MacColl electric guitar, dulcimer
David Piltch bass
Roy Dodds drums and percussion
with :
The Electra Strings :
Jules Singleton, Sonia Slaney,
Sally Herbert, Anna Hemery,
Jocelyn Pook, Claire Orsler,
Dinah Beamish and Sian Bell
Bernard Butler electric guitar
key : E flat major (slightly sharp! or a very flat E major!!)
time-signature : 4/4
tempo : MM 72
form : i V B V B R v B RX MX P   (M = V′ ?)

provided for research and private study only (see above for copyright details):

Shall I be mother

hmmnn, ahh [etc.]

shall I be mother pouring tea and sympathy {ah}
forgetting nothing, forgiving much too easily, ah
shall I love you madly {shall I?}
shall I suffer gladly {ah-ah-ah-ah-ah}
be like a mother should be?

and in the darkness shall I awake and listen to you breathe
[loving] […] and bedtime stories no one would believe, ah
with your arms around me {ah-ah-ah-ah-ah}
thank some god you found me {ah-ah-ah-ah-ah}
while you gently drown me

when will you get home, I’ll still be {here}
I’ll still be here, alone, alone


ah, shall I love you madly, {ah-ha} shall I?
shall I suffer gladly {ah-ha}
feel like a mother should be
and when you get home I’ll still be, I’ll still be here
yeah, {when you} when you get home, I’ll still be here,
I’ll still be here

go to sleep baby mine
draw the covers baby mine
[oh no no], fear none
dry your eyes now baby mine
run and play now baby mine
[love] in wonder, kick your behind
watch those clothes baby mine
time for [bed now] more than mine
all mine, all mine… [etc.]

shall I be mother
[I like a distant tease] […]
shall I be mother

still some gaps in the transcription to be filled in, I’m afraid…

the recording
produced by : Eddi Reader and Teddy Borowiecki
recorded by : Gerry O’Riordan assisted by Dan Gilliland, Mark Chambers and Ron Warshow at The Snake Ranch, Lots Road, Chelsea, London
mixed by : David Bottrill at Eden Studios, Acton, London
mastered by : Tim Young at Metropolis
track timing : 6:11
song timing : m:ss
released on
single : Town without pity CD 1 track 4
single : Rebel angel track 4
album : Candyfloss and medicine (US) track 9


Another song which, like ‘Sugar on the pill’, continues the exploration of relationships through medical metaphors, as begun on the associated album. I’m sure that’s why both these tracks made it into the revised track listing of Candyfloss and medicine’s US version, and why that later version is (you’ve heard me say it before) so much more satisfying as an album.

Musically this track well illustrates the fact that the simplest of materials can be the most effective. Tension is built during each line of the verse by the alternating 6-4 and 5-3 chords over a dominant pedal, and then dissipated by resolution to the tonic, only to be reinstated immediately by the move, via a first inversion, to the sub-dominant chord (which of course the 6-4/5-3 has completely avoided). The bass line moving through the third and fourth degrees of the scale then leads naturally enough to the fifth and a repeat of the dominant pedal. This gets to me every time, even though I can explain exactly what’s happening and why. This refutes those who argue that when you analyse music the magic disappears!

The refrain, if that’s what it is, attempts to break out of this cycle, moving to VI and II# (the super-tonic major) chords, thus behaving more like a bridge passage. But ultimately it is a bridge to nowhere and II# only confirms the inevitability of a dominant bass note. The harmony gives up the struggle to achieve resolution and for the last 2 minutes 22 seconds of the track (out of 6:11) it just alternates 6-4/5-3 over the dominant pedal, so the fade arrives without closure.

These unresolved harmonic questions complement completely the unresolved questions of the lyric, starkly highlighted by the song title itself, even though printed without the question mark, “Shall I be mother?”. Note here that this is another song based on a well-known phrase re-applied to analysis of a relationship (see the commentary on ‘Joke (I’m laughing)’).

Adrian Dover