Angel of the Morning

There’s a very interesting song called Angel of the Morning. Originally recorded by Evie Sands in 1967, the best known version is a 1981 cover by Juice Newton.

It’s a very pretty song in Newton’s version, though it does have the problem that it is entirely about fornication and is mostly positive about it. It’s not entirely positive, though, and that sad strain in it is where I think it might be possible to rescue it in interpretation.

Most people think of marriage as something done by a priest or some officiant, but marriage is actually a sacrament confected by the people who are marrying. Historically this led to all sorts of problems where a man and woman would dispute whether they were married, quite possibly because one lied to the other in order to convince them that they were not fornicating but rather consummating their marriage. This led to the Catholic Church creating an impediment to marriage that the marriage had to be witnessed by the Church, which at least put an end to disputes about whether the marriage happened at all.

Juice Newton is probably not Catholic, and in any event the main character in the song is almost certainly not Catholic. As such, the impediment does not apply to them and the main character and the man she’s with could morally, if not legally, marry each other in the privacy of an apartment, then consummate their marriage. The song could, then, be a lament that the singer (in character) thought that she was doing that but realizes in retrospect that she was wrong, is taking responsibility for her mistake, and is not trying to guilt him into marrying her. “There’ll be no strings to bind your hands/ Not if my love can’t bind your heart/ There’s no need to take a stand/ For it was I who chose to start”

This is a tenuous interpretation. The lyric, “If morning’s echo says we’ve sinned” are consonant with the interpretation that she thought she was marrying him earlier, but it’s now seeming like it was not the case. However, the second part of the sentence, “Well it was what I wanted now” is dangerously close to trying to make out the sin as good. I do think it’s just possible to interpret it as meaning that she’s taking responsibility for the sin rather than blaming the man, as opposed to saying that she prefers the sin to having been virtuous. (Note: there’s absolutely no way to exculpate him from fornication.)

In support of that, there’s the metaphor about facing the light. From the first verse, “I see no need to take me home/ I’m old enough to face the dawn” and then, in the second verse, right after the lyrics about “if morning’s echo says we’ve sinned,” there are the lines, “And if we’re victims of the night/ I won’t be blinded by the light” — both of these metaphors about facing the light work quite well as meaning that she will not be destroyed by facing the truth that she screwed up big time. The last two verses also support this interpretation:

Just call me angel of the morning, angel
Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby
Just call me angel of the morning, angel
Then slowly turn away
I won’t beg you to stay with me

Through the tears
Of the day
Of the years

In short, it does work if you take it to be a lamentation of sin and the intention to repent rather than to try guilt her partner in the sin into covering it over so that she appears guiltless to the world.

Of course, all of this is predicated upon her not getting pregnant from the actions of the night (fertilization of the egg does not happen immediately, and once fertilized it takes a few days to implant if it doesn’t die from genetic incompatibility, as seems to happen surprisingly often). If she does, there’s a new person who has entered the world and it has a natural right to be raised by its father, and her intention to not try to cover up her sin would then be irrelevant in the face of the child’s rights.

So, yeah. I think it’s possible to save the song, and it’s only a bit of a stretch, and not to the breaking point.

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