If you’re a lover of pop culture, it’s likely that you’ve often encountered “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass. The Simpsons have dropped a couple references to the song, Kevin James turned in a memorable karaoke performance of “Brandy” in an episode of The King Of Queens, and, most recently, it served as a key plot point in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2.
The song has also had a number of urban legends grow up around it, the most durable of which is that it was based on an actual woman whose grave can be found in New Brunswick, NJ, which is where Looking Glass originated. That a Jersey college band hit #1 on the charts in 1972 with a song from their self-titled debut album that was originally a B-side should have been fantastical enough for people, but the false stories behind “Brandy” have persisted.
In actuality, songwriter and Looking Glass lead singer Elliot Lurie simply made up the story from scratch, as he explained in an interview with The Tennessean in 2016. “Brandy is a made-up individual,” he said. “The name was derived from a high school girlfriend I had whose name was Randy with an ‘R.’ Usually when I write — I still do it the same way I did back then — I strum some guitar and kind of sing along with the first things that come to mind. Her name came up. Then I started writing the rest of the song, and it was about a barmaid. I I thought Randy was an unusual name for a girl, it could go either way, and (the song was about) a barmaid, so I changed it to Brandy.”
So now that the myths have been settled, what is it about the song that fascinates to this day? Well, first of all, it’s an irresistibly romantic story, economically and expertly told by Lurie. The first verse puts in in the middle of a “port on a western Bay” populated by sailors passing through on the way to their next destination. It also introduces Brandy, who serves drinks to these sailors at a bar and enthralls them in the process. “Your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea,” they tell her.
In the second verse, we meet the man whose name Brandy wears on a locket around her neck to keep him as close to her heart as possible. In flashback, we learn how he wowed her with exotic gifts and vivid tales of the sea (“Brandy used to watch his eyes when he told his sailor’s story/She could feel the ocean fall and rise, she saw its ragin’ glory.”) But he made no promise of forever: “But he made it clear he couldn’t stay/No harbor was his home.” The reason: “My life, my love and my lady is the sea.”
An epilogue shows Brandy alone, as she likely always will be, walking the streets of the harbor town, a girl who “loves a man who’s not around.” From that line you can glean the subtle resonance of Lurie’s creation. Yes, it’s a captivating story, and it’s fun to sing along to it. But it’s also a metaphor for any romance where one party is totally committed and the other just can’t make that leap.
Looking Glass didn’t hang around too much longer; after a minor hit the next year with “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne,” Lurie left the band to pursue a solo career. Yet in a lot of ways, they’ve never left thanks to “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl.)” The song continues to win new fans while the old ones still sing its praises. And that’s true whether you’re married to the sea yourself, or just pining for someone who is.