The Curious Meaning of ‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’ by Viola Wills

‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’ is one of those songs which few people realise is a cover version because one (later) recording in particular has come to be viewed as the definitive version. Indeed, to many people, the only version of ‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’ is the one recorded by Viola Wills and released in 1979.

Before we delve into the background and deeper meaning of the lyrics of this song, here’s a brief summary of what those lyrics actually say.

‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’: summary

(We refer here to the most familiar version of the song, just over three minutes long, rather than the extended version.)

The first verse sees the rejected lover addressing her ex. He had told her that she was the ‘neatest’ thing (often misheard as the mondegreen, ‘the latest thing’) and he even proposed marriage to her (hence the reference to the ring). But then the speaker contrasts these overtures of affection with what her ex was doing alongside courting her: seeing other women, and not caring about how such infidelity made her feel.

The chorus strikes a defiant note: the speaker tells her cheating ex that she is going to cope just fine without him, thank you very much. She points out that she got along before she met him, so she can cope without him. She even goes so far as to say that she didn’t like him really, in any case, and has now found someone who is twice as attractive as him.

The second verse accuses the ex of telling everyone that he would remain on good terms with her, post-relationship, but she tells him that she has other ideas: she doesn’t want to be his friend because, despite his profession of friendship, he hasn’t bothered to talk to her for a long time, neglecting her.

The rest of the song’s lyrics reiterate the core message that she will ‘get along’ just fine without him.

‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’: meaning

Hands up: who knew ‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’ was a cover version? The Viola Wills recording, a disco classic, has become the definitive version of the song to the point that many people would swear blind it was the original rendition, too.

But it wasn’t. In fact, we have to go back to 1951 for the first recording. And it was sung by a man, Roy Hogsed. The song was written by Milton Kellem, and had the even more informal title ‘Gonna Get Along Without Ya Now’.

So, Viola Wills covered Hogsed’s song, and hers was the second version to be released, right? Wrong.

In 1956, The Bell Sisters became the next act to record the song, but released it under the alternative title, ‘Boom Boom, My Honey’. Then Tracey Dey covered the song in 1964, Skeeter Davis recorded it twice in 1964 and 1971, The Vibrations in 1966, Trini Lopez in 1967, Brent Dowe and The Melodians in the same year, and Chet Atkins in 1968. Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams also recorded it in 1976, three years before Wills took this defiant song of survival following a break-up to new heights of classic pop.

But how defiant is the song? It’s not as strident (thank goodness) as that other disco classic on the same theme, Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’, and there’s a vulnerability to Wills’s delivery of the lyrics which make it more poised and ambiguous. Even the repetition of that title in the chorus, and towards the end of the song, starts to sound like someone trying to convince herself rather than the war-cry of someone who is ‘so over’ her ex.

Take that second verse, when the speaker announces that she decided to find someone who was cuter than her ex because she didn’t like him anyway. Why on earth did she go out with him, then? And why did she agree to marry him – assuming she said ‘yes’ when he asked her to, in the first verse?

Or could it be that perhaps she did like him, and her assertion that she didn’t like him is just a case of sour grapes (as in the Aesop fable, where the fox, annoyed that he is unable to reach the grapes, flounces off, declaring that he didn’t want them anyway, as they were sour).

In other words, there’s a suggestion in the lyrics to ‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’ that the speaker is acting up to the idea of being over her ex, and is still, in fact, hurting because she did like him, and he mistreated her. And this is before we question why she put up with him running around with all the other girls in town – something she knew about, evidently, because it made her unhappy – when this was clearly a pattern of long-term behaviour!

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