It's bad timing and me
We find a lot of things out this way
And there's you
A little black cloud in a dress
The temptation
To take the precious things we have apart
To see how they work
Must be resisted for they never fit together again
If this is rain let it fall on me and drown me
If these are tears let them fall

[Chorus:]
Must I paint you a picture
About the way that I feel
You know my love for you is strong, girl
You know my love for you is real

It took a short walk and a talk
To change the rules of engagement
While you searched frantically for reverse and them claiming
That virtue never tested is no virtue at all
And so I lost my ignorance
And now the bells across the river chime out your name
I look across to them again

All your friends said come down
It will never fly
And on that imperfect day
We threw it all away
Crisis after crisis, with such intensity
This would never happen if we lived by the sea

Most important decisions in life
Are made between two people in bed
I found that out at my expense
And when I see you
You just turn around and walk away like we never met
Oh we used to be so brave
I dreamt the world stopped turning as we climbed the hill
I dreamt impossible dreams that we were lovers still


Lyrics submitted by Madame Me

Must I Paint You a Picture Lyrics as written by Billy Bragg

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Must I Paint You A Picture? song meanings
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6 Comments

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  • 0
    General Comment<3 AWESOME song.
    rushyon January 29, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song reminds me of a situation I'm in.

    I think obviously he is in love with this woman and wants to have sex with her and he is trying to tell her how much he loves her. I think they decide in the second verse either to have sex or not to have sex, but she still doesn't want to.
    Then, on the 'imperfect day', they have sex and it ruins what they have, and she will no longer be with him anymore.

    It's a very beautiful and sad song.
    Rachy_Con August 15, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI don't think this is a song about a relationship that isn't consummated, I think this is a break-up song. He's fallen in love with the "little black cloud in a dress" - she's obviously angry & unhappy when they're together now - & they have had sex - "most important decisions in life are made between two people in bed - I found that out at my expense" - but she doesn't love him & as the song goes on, she no longer even speaks with him - acts like they've never met.

    It's a heartbreaking song - he thinks he's not explaining himself well enough - even though he knows as much as he explains, he's "taking the precious thing that we have apart to see how it works" only to be unable to put it back together - he wonders if she would understand his love more if he painted her a picture (figuratively, of course - the phrase is usually used in sarcasm, not desperation).

    But of course it's over. There's really nothing he can do.
    vchamberlainon February 06, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI agree on the below thought of a former relationship.
    To me the song starts with them as a couple, then it comes the black cloud: she telling him she has been unfaithful - the tempation of breaking things...-
    As they walk and talk he realizes the situation so they break up even when she tries to reverse it, frantically, and THEN (not "them") arguing that "virtue never tested is no virtue at all"...
    Then it's "her version", talking of how different their lives would have been if they had gone somewhere else - or chased their dreams, in a way...
    They eventually split up and later, they turn around when they see each other, although he still dreams of them being lovers.

    I find this song specially touching, and there's that one verse I'm particullary fond of, "most important decisions in life are made between two people in bed". Beautiful.
    spac3b0yon April 12, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is about Mary and the destructive relationship Billy had with her. In the song Life With Lions he's singing about how he doesn't like who he is when he's with her which I think goes with the line, "And there's you A little black cloud in a dress". The relationship brought people around them down. She was a black cloud around him, made him depressed. At one point Billy bought Mary a ring and Mary thought or assumed he was asking her to marry him, they became engaged very quickly in a kind of accidental crazy way. "And now the bells across the river chime out your name I look across to them again." I think this song is very much about their quick engagement. "And on that imperfect day We threw it all away Crisis after crisis With such intensity." Calling off the engagement after all the drama and arguing. "And when I see you You just turn around and walk away like we never met" It was said that Mary threw the Workers Playtime album off the Hammerstein bridge after she heard it when it was released.
    sunshine333on March 06, 2018   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAlso an interesting note to add to this is how much Raglan Road seems to inspire this song. Note the lines from Raglan Road:
    "On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
    Away from me so hurriedly"

    and Bragg's line:
    "And when I see you
    You just turn around and walk away like we never met"

    And this bit about Kavanaugh who wrote Raglan Road: "Kavanagh was besotted with Hilda, he even acquired a painting of the Kerry beauty which he had propped on top of the mantle piece in his dwelling on Dublin’s Pembroke Road."...which could be where Billy Bragg got the title.
    There is a documentary on Patrick Kavanaugh called Gentle Tiger that aired right around the time Billy Bragg was writing this album.

    Found in an old review of one of his concerts on Oct. 15, 1988:

    "Bragg left the stage after "Help Save the Youth," and returned to sing three of the new record's most painful love songs. "Must I Paint You a Picture," with Cara Tivey sharing the lead vocal, was particularly pretty, but all three were sung with enormous feeling by Bragg. He told us why. "Part of performing," he began, "is not just coming out onstage and talking. A lot of these 'confessional' songs are important, because the feelings, after I sing the songs, come back to me as well."

    It wasn't precisely clear what he was saying, but he pressed on. "When I sing them, I feel a lot less of an asshole. I want to thank you for letting me feel this way.

    "The woman I wrote the last three songs about got married today," Bragg said, and suddenly the room was respectful and quiet. He continued, with an absurd exactness, "She got married at 3 PM England time, 9 AM your time. Generally when we come out for encores we're supposed to leave everyone cheering for more, but I'd like to sing an Irish folk song by Patrick Cavanaugh. Thank you," he said again, "for letting me feel a little closer to you tonight."

    The song he sang I don't know the name of; it had a line about "Loving too much, and such, and such," and a recurring chorus of "At the dawn of the day," which could be the title, but I was too moved, and too interested in watching Bragg's face as he sang, to take competent notes. With that song, whatever it was, Bragg concluded one of the rock 'n' roll events of the year."
    sunshine333on October 25, 2018   Link

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