Treat Her Right was considered Boston’s best-kept secret until the punk-blues quartet recorded “I Think She Likes Me,” one of the best oops-she’s-married songs since Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps.” The song made waves on the U.S. college charts and in the U.K., and RCA Records picked it up in 1988.
The inspiration? Guitarist Mark Sandman wrote it after an incident in Fairplay, Colorado.
“I will remain mute about the specifics, but I maintain it’s true,” Sandman said.
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Sandman worked a variety of blue-collar jobs. He noted he would often earn considerable overtime pay, which allowed him to take leave of work and travel outside of New England to places such as rural Colorado, the setting for a number of his songs, including “I Think She Likes Me.” Sandman sang about the confusion of walking into a bar and being approached by a woman whose husband later makes an unwelcome appearance:
She’d told me things about her life
She’d never told me she was someone’s wife
The man with the gun says, “Why’d you buy her a drink?”
I said, “I think she likes me that’s what I think”
Sandman played only the bass strings of his guitar. “We’re not revivalists or purists,” he said. “But we do have an aesthetic—keep it simple at all costs. Resist the temptation to add. If you’re going to do something to a song, subtract.”
After the demise of Treat Her Right, Sandman formed Morphine, an unlikely rock ‘n’ roll trio. The instrumentation was guitarless, “low-rock” played on baritone sax, drums and Sandman’s homemade two-string slide bass. The song “Thursday” became a college-rock success in 1994, with Sandman delivering particulars about weekly infidelity and jealousy.
“And I’m not kidding, I imagined ‘Thursday’ taking place outside of Fairplay,” he reported. “It’s like the continuing adventures of the character, getting involved with the wrong woman.”
In July 1999, Sandman suffered a heart attack on stage at a festival outside of Rome and died on the way to the hospital.