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Exclusivity is at the heart of romantic love. Like other emotions, love is discriminatory and partial – one cannot love everyone. How is it then that many people claim that they have loved two people at the same time? And how do they deal with this situation?
There are many movies, novels, poems and popular songs depicting a person who is romantically in love with two people. A popular song, one of which is obviously depicted in its title, is the hit “Torn Between Two Lovers.”
Join me as we unravel the story of this song, and more importantly, the making of this music that has changed the singer’s career.
‘Torn Between Two Lovers’
A song written by Peter Yarrow (of the folk music trio Peter, Paul, & Mary) and Phillip Jarrell, “Torn Between Two Lovers” describes a love triangle and laments that “loving both of persons is breaking all the rules.”
Yarrow originally intended the song to be sung by a man, but it was ultimately made famous by a woman, Mary MacGregor, who recorded it in 1976. The song became the title track of MacGregor’s first album.
“Torn Between Two Lovers” reached no. 1 on both the U.S. pop chart in February 1977 as well as the easy listening chart in the final week of 1976 and the first week of 1977. It also reached number one on the corresponding Canadian charts. The song also peaked at #3 on the country charts of both nations. In early 1977, the song peaked at #4 in the United Kingdom.
Of Peter Yarrow & Mary MacGregor
Born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mary MacGregor studied classical piano at the age of six. Within eight years, she was singing professionally with a local big band. After attending the University of Minnesota, Mary began touring the rest of the country with various folk, R&B, and rock bands.
It was during one of these national tours that she caught the attention of Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary. Impressed with her double-octave range, Yarrow invited her to join him on a national tour as a backup vocalist. Her blossoming vocal talent led to her first solo endeavor, produced by Yarrow, the fateful “Torn Between Two Lovers.”
In one of her interviews, Mary stated,
“I never liked the song too much, and I still don’t. There are just some songs I like, and some I don’t, and this is one of them. Peter and I had a very long relationship. We’re both very emotional people, and whenever we got together it was a very volatile experience. Sometimes it was positive, sometimes negative, and on this particular song we had a lot of fights. Was it really good? Was it going to make it? We had a lot of discussions about this song.”
“For me to sing anything, I have to get emotionally involved. That’s what really makes it for me. I didn’t like ‘Torn’ mostly because it was boring to sing. It’s a real ‘sleeper’ kind of ballad. Peter thought it was a real statement, and he wanted it to happen. He wanted a woman to sing it, and he wanted that woman to be me.”
MacGregor and ‘Torn’ (as she calls it)
Mary was trembling when she recorded her big song, and not from the studio air conditioning. Happily married for five years, Mary’s thought of being unfaithful to her husband, Don, was traumatic. But then came stardom, and the hopes, pressures, fears, and disappointments came with it. On May 25, 1978, Mary filed for divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Her next release — a flop — was called “Memories.”
“A lot of people are torn between two lovers or have been, or will be. The single itself must have touched a lot of them, because it sold more than two million copies worldwide.”
“Torn Between Two Lovers” began its rise in November 1976, finally peaking at number one in February 1977.
It put Mary in the spotlight — for the moment — but ruined her career singing advertising jingles.
Living on her central California ranch where she raises horses and writes songs, Mary looked back at her moment in the spotlight. She says the song ultimately proved to be a strain
“not because I was sleeping with someone else, but because I was living with my career instead of with him. But those things happen.”
“Success is so fickle,” she warned. “You’re only as good as you’re next hit.”
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