In our weekly MKE Music Rewind, we revisit a notable Milwaukee song that was released before Milwaukee Record became a thing in April 2014.
Way back when The Beatles were nearing the heights of their early powers, manager Brian Epstein was asked what the “next big thing” would be. “The next big thing is a great tune,” he replied. I’ve always liked that quote because it boils pop music down to its most basic unit: a good song. Image, celebrity, promotion, and money have plenty to do with pop music, but at its core lies a catchy tune. The Beatles knew it, ABBA knew it, Nirvana knew it, Taylor Swift and Cardi B know it.
Which brings us to “Ollie & Delilah,” the opening track to Testa Rosa‘s 2007 self-titled debut album (also known as Testa Rosa I), and, for my money, one of the purest pop songs ever crafted by a Milwaukee band. It’s a song that practically whistles itself, barreling along with a jangly and reckless abandon that mirrors its titular doomed lovers.
Written by wife-and-husband scene veterans Betty Blexrud-Strigens and Damian Strigens, “Ollie & Delilah” boasts more than just a winning melody. Both in 2007 and in 2018, Blexrud-Strigens’s voice is an absolute delight. The lyrics, too, are clear and evocative, spinning a Sid and Nancy-esque tale of love, trouble, and doom. Compare the first verse…
Ollie and Delilah / Down on their luck at seventeen
Wait on the corner, try not to be seen
Delilah softly holds his arm / While Ollie smiles, swallows hard
And he says, “Don’t be scared, I am here, you’ll always have my heart.”
…with the last…
Ollie and Delilah / They’ve got each other now to blame
Now that it’s over, guess it’s all the same
And now they both are in her room / Delilah goes to get her gun
Says, “Ollie, you’ll be dead, and I’ll be gone before the day is done.”
If the opening bass line of “Ollie & Delilah” calls to mind a pepped-up version of Weezer’s “Only In Dreams,” chalk it up to the era in which it was written. Strigens explained to OnMilwaukee back in 2006:
“I wrote the progression for ‘Ollie & Delilah’ while living at the Sidney HiH in the early ’90s. It was really intended for the Nerve Twins but they passed on it. Betty came up with this killer chorus and I was like ‘Yes! Let’s work this up.” It was hibernating. Same goes for ‘Weather Underground’—an old riff I had laying around, Betty wrote the vocal melody and some great lyrics.”
Testa Rosa is a Milwaukee band that’s easy to take for granted. Goodness knows I’ve done it. They’ve been around for a decade-plus, they’re not especially prolific (three full-length albums in that decade-plus), and they play out whenever they feel like it. I adored 2015’s Testa Rosa III (check out the dreamy “Castaway”), but inexplicably forgot to include it in our 2015 best-of list. I’m dumb like that sometimes. “Ollie & Delilah” is a reminder to pay attention to a band that can’t help but write a great tune.
Oh, and bringing it back to The Beatles, Testa Rosa even recorded a German version of “Ollie & Delilah.” Move over, “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand.”