I think it would be fair to say that the majority of all art concerns itself with love on one level or another. Love means so many different things to so many different people that I, for one, don’t relate to the sentiment that Hallmark and Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and other corporate entities connect to the holiday. On the other hand, I find the anti-Valentine’s Day crowd more obnoxious and pretensions than those who fawn over flowers and chocolates.
The ten songs on this list are those that I have connected with and are concerned with love or some element thereof. That is the only criteria I have used. Some of the choices are obvious while others are not. Put together in the right order and this would make a fun, eclectic side to any love-themed mix tape. Without further adieu, my cuts.
“Headup” – Deftones
-The mid-nineties were very tough on Max Cavalera. The then-Sepultura frontman was unceremoniously fired/quit from the trailblazing Brazilian metal band he formed with his brother, Igor. During this time, his stepson died in a car accident. With creative, financial, and personal disasters occurring in a brief amount of time, one begins the question their place. Chino Moreno asked Max to guest on this song from their amazing Around the Fur album.
The song is, in effect, a love song from Max’s friends telling him to stick it out. The emotion of the song (wrapped up in the alternative metal stylings the Deftones are great at) is that when you are down, you can be assured your friends love you and through the power of music will be able to get through the difficult times. Max was so moved by the song and gesture of love by Chino and company that he named his next band Soulfly after the guttural chorus he screams on this track.
“Roads” – Portishead
-This is a rather obvious choice. There will always be something riveting about hearing someone so vulnerable. Perhaps it is because most lack the strength to admit such insecurities so openly. Not so for Beth Gibbons, who for an entire album leaves her heart on a wire for all to see. This track is the emotional apex of the album, where our beaten and battered narrator questions the one thing she thought unfathomable; her emotions:
How can it feel so wrong/At this moment, how can it feel so wrong
If people can be wrong, it goes that feelings and emotions can be too. We don’t ever consider that element of a relationship. Leave it to Portishead to bring it to the forefront. Thanks Portishead!!!
“Maps” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
– The song, written by Karen O about her love for then-boyfriend Angus Andrew (of Liars fame) and the separation caused by his constant touring. Many have been in a situation where they meet their soul mate, only for time and distance to get in the way. It’s her repeated pleas of “Wait! They don’t love you like I love you” that the song really carries the emotional impact. Though it started to lose its emotional punch after constant playing in ’04, it is still great and will be the song forever attached to them.
“All That I Got Is You” – Ghostface Killah
-This track stands out as one of the most earnest rap songs in the brief history of the art form. At the apex of the Wu’s dominance of the hip-hop world, Ghostface closes his debut effort with this simple love song to his mother. While rapping about the hard knock life was hardly new or original by 1996, Ghostface eschews the me against the world and thugged individualism that comes with that scenario and instead paints a portrait of shared suffering with his siblings, with his mother being the rock that kept it all together:
And there was days I had to go to Tex house with a note
Stating “Gloria can I borrow some food I’m dead broke
So embarrasin I couldn’t stand to knock on they door
My friends might be laughin, I spent stamps in stores
The most emotional moment comes not through his heartfelt appreciation for his mother but the simple “word up mommy….I love you” at the end.
“Good Weekend” – Art Brut
-To lighten up what is admittedly a pretty heavy mix, we turn to Art Brut, whose post-ironic musings on life and love are begged not to be scratched deeper than for what they are. The song is concerned with the all-encompassing weeks when you are constantly thinking, “I got myself a brand new girlfriend” and the corresponding strong physical attraction to one another. Surprisingly, not many songs concern itself with this beautiful grace period though when you think about it, this is the time that concept of love that most associate with V-Day. Frontman Eddie Argos keeps the songs innocence. When he screams “I saw her naked….TWICE,” he takes every guy back to that time when you can’t believe that a girl actually wanted to take their clothes off in your presence.
“In Your Eyes” – Peter Gabriel
-All right, I think I should be allowed one clichÃƒÂ©, cheesy selection. Sue me. I know the song has been played out to death, but damn if it isn’t a great song. There really isn’t anything I can say about this song that hasn’t been written out (or parodied) for ages. Let’s just agree that it’s a guilty pleasure for a lot of people, including yours truly. Let’s move on.
“What Can I Do?” – Antony and the Johnsons
-There is no denying the love and pain are intertwined. Sung by guest vocalist Rufus Wainwright, “What Can I Do?” off of the great I Am A Bird Now focuses on the delicate line that separates the two feelings. In under two minutes, the listener becomes invested in the story of a mother bird who must leave her young child behind because he/she can’t fly on it’s own. Wrenching and powerful, it shows how easily feelings of love can be turned against you.
“Hospital” – The Modern Lovers
–Jonathan Richman, I feel, gets unfairly criticized as a simple songwriter. Yes, he uses straightforward melodies (despite his amazing guitar ability) along with a child like wonder in his lyrics, but sometimes he bares all and this song from his breakthrough debut is proof of this. On this song, Jonathan relays a true story of a woman he loved that was suffering from mental illness and how it created a barrier between them. Though sometimes love is not enough, that doesn’t mean he didn’t appreciate the feelings he had for her.
“Ian Curtis Wishlist” – Xiu Xiu
-Now I know I may have lost some people with this choice. Xiu Xiu deal in some pretty unsettling topics, but foremost of them is love in all of its unsavory forms. Many point to this as their most unsettling (whatever that relative terms means), but it is also their most raw and revealing. With little to no musical accompaniment, Jamie Stewart bares his unadulterated feelings towards the unidentified recipient:
Will you ever bleep out
Do you love me Jamie Stewart?
J.S., I am kidding
I’m just kidding
Not captured on the page are the spaces between phrases, as if he has said these words in his head hundreds of times, weighing each phrase that come out as either whispers or screams. What makes the song jolting and gives it its true impact comes from the realization that you could replace Jamie Stewart with the name of anyone we have ever loved (or wanted to love us) and the song is instantly relatable, scars and all.
“I See A Darkness” – Will Oldham
-Will Oldham wrote an entire album about sex and love (“Ease Down the Road”) but I think his best song associated with love is on his album examining death. The title track from Oldham’s masterpiece details a confession to a friend about the crippling thoughts that are always threatening to engulf him. Some people peg this to be a rather dark song, but I see it for the inverse. Specifically the second verse where he tells his confidante “And draw the smiles inside/And light it up forever/And never go to sleep/My best unbeaten brother.”
The song (one of the few truly first person song Oldham has written) is an admission of depression and inner conflict but through the love of his friends and family, he perseveres. If Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, I can’t think of any better song to show that.