by Tom Hallett
Yowza, it’s already Valentine’s Day!! Y’know what that means ... yep, you got it. Gaggles of greedy corporations (and plenty of like-minded small businesses and individuals) are lining up to guilt you, the American consumer, into buying a whole lot of useless crap for your sweetheart, your family and every single screaming little monster in your kid’s fourth grade class. AHHHGGHH!!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Love is a madness; if thwarted it develops fast.”
— Mark Twain
SONG OF THE WEEK: “To Love Somebody”
— Bee Gees/Slobberbone
not that I’m a total curmudgeon concerning the subject of love—on
the contrary, under this thick skin and sharp tongue lies the heart of a swooning,
sappy, hopeless romantic. And even though I was raised in a family that fell
victim to divorce (who wasn’t, these days?), I think that even as a very
young tyke I was already in love with at least the idea of love. I mean, I can
remember chasing a pretty young thing around and around in circles on the playground
back when I was 8 years old or so; her skipping daintily and breezily around
a small crowd, myself engaged in a futile chase (one that would last the next—oh,
let’s see—30 years or so, involving different gals, of course),
flopping and clopping in my insanely huge black rubbers and stupid, puffy red
ski jacket. No wonder she ran like hell.
Well, as time went on, I found that the old saying was true—you really
could catch more flies with honey. But I didn’t particularly enjoy hanging
out with flies, so to win the heart of a prospective gal pal, I’d make
her mix tapes (later, CDs) and, once in a blue moon, I’d actually nail
it and find my prospective sweetie’s interest growing. It’s tough
to pin down the perfect love song—it’s as elusive a thing as the
invisible hormones emanating from one human body to the next, determining whether
any kind of connection at all is possible—but I think I’ve managed
to knock the ol’ ball outta the park more than once.
The thing is, there’s a certain strain, or style, of song that seems to
cross a lot of taste and genre boundaries—and when you find one, it’s
like spotting a silver dollar in the bottom of a deep creek bed. At first, you
can’t quite believe it’s real. Then, when you try to grab for it,
you find it’s not quite where you thought it was. It’s elusive,
yes, but a deft hand and a sure eye guarantee victory. Finding the perfect love
song is a similar experience, except it’s the connection between your
ears and your heart (or, more specifically, the object of your affection’s
ears and heart) that you’re searching for. And while the process can sometimes
be frustrating and time-consuming, the rewards far outweigh the work.
Sure, you’ve got your classics, ranging from old-time ballads (“Fair
And Tender Ladies”) to lusty jazz (“All Of Me”), smooth soul
(“Let’s Get It On”), dirty blues (“Back Door Man”),
and kitschy country (“Crazy”) croonin’. Ya gots yer rock ’n’
roll (“Youngblood”), yer psych-a-jam-a-delics (“Foxy Lady”),
an’ yer pouty, pop-punk (“Punk Rock Girl”) ditties. But no
matter what the groove, the ultimate sparkin’ tunes are the ones written,
sung and perpetuated by people who are truly in touch with the pain, joy, hope
and lonely desperation that lurks at the bottom of every human soul. In other
words—the more heartbreak one’s experienced, the more accurately
one’s able to capture both the woozy, pitiful depths and the glorious,
life-affirming peaks of that crazy lil’ thing called love.
So in the true spirit of a once-honorable holiday for sweethearts that’s
been (like every other major American holiday) twisted and contorted into a
vile, obscene commercial mockery of itself, RTD presents a short list of songs
(Note to over-enthusiastic music-heads—I’m not including a lot of
“Big-name,” or “Classic” love songs, simply because
I’m assuming most people reading this already know that, say, Al Green
or Barry White or Frank Sinatra were masters of the art-form) that just might
help you in your quest to build a perfect mix for your heart’s desire.
You’ll have to decide whether you want to use the sappy ones, the sexy
ones, or the smoove ones—or maybe you can just shuffle ‘em up and
let the cards fall where they may. For your sake, I hope the Queen of Hearts
lands face-up. And what the hell—even if you are a big curmudgeon about
the holiday, I can guarantee you that you’ll find something to your liking
on the list below. It’s just good shit, any way ya looks at it.
Best of luck, and remember, corny as it sounds—it means a whole helluva
lot more in the long run to show your love and affection the other 364 days
of the year than it does to just buy some fancy gifts and overpriced cards one
time a year. And yes, Charlie Brown, Valentine’s Day IS bigger than The
Little Red-Headed Girl. There’s hope for you yet. Word.
RTD’s Annual Valentine’s Day Mix CD Suggestions
1) “Lay My Love”—John Cale & Brian Eno: Although
these two quirky musical geniuses worked together on more than one occasion,
this track, with its piercing, electronic-violin-and-drums groove, sexy, slinky
vibe and hopelessly romantic lyrics has to be their ultimate collaboration.
2) “Then I’ll Go”—The Roach Brothers: The Indiana
farmers/rockers might be best known for their killer live shows and twisted,
humorous story-songs, but when they put their minds to it, they can write a
magnificent ode to love. This heart-worn, melancholy story of two lonely people
in a bar should be on every jukebox in America.
3) “Where Nobody Knows”—The Kings Of Leon: These New
Southern rockers write fantastically mushy lyrics, sung in a haphazard style,
over layers of slammin’ pop hooks and driving beats. Sample lyric: “I
can’t hardly see you/Cuz I’m tryin’ so hard to be you...an’
I’ll be drivin’ you where nobody knows...” Super-tasty!
“Just One Thing”—My Morning Jacket: What can I say? If
you can’t at least get to first base with this song, a bottle of wine
and crackling fire, you need more help than I can give you. Captures both the
warm glow of new love and the gigantic terror at opening your heart to someone
5) “Temptation Eyes”—The Blake Babies: Yeah, I know
it’s a cover of an old Grass Roots tune (which was cool in its day, as
well), but Juliana Hatfield’s chirpy little-girl croon puts a hot spin
on what are already some of the lustiest lyrics in Top 40 history. Just plain
6) “Indoor Fireworks”—Elvis Costello: Elvis can slay
the best of ‘em with his razor-sharp wit and biting lyrical imagery, but
he can also put a torch to the iciest of hearts, and this one has to rank up
there with his top five love songs. I think the title says it all—you’ll
have to provide your own matches.
7) “With Tomorrow”—Gene Clark: A soft, gentle song
of hope with that slight twist of self-doubt that was the late, former Byrds
member’s trademark. Hauntingly beautiful and one you’ll never forget.
8) “You Don’t Have To Tell Me Now”—Grant Hart: The
ex-Husker Du skin-man has always written songs, both on his own and with former
bandmate Bob Mould, but for my money, Grant really came into his own lyrically
during his tenure with Nova Mob and on his subsequent solo efforts. 1999’s
Good News For Modern Man, though, is surely his finest work to date. Every song
is good, and most of ‘em are great. And nearly every song deals with love,
romance and heartbreak. It was tough to pick just one for this mix, but I think
this one encompasses the best aspects of the whole album, as well as proves
Hart to be one of the sharpest, most underrated songwriters of his generation.
9) “I’d Run Away”—The Jayhawks: Here’s
another band with more great love songs than I could list in several columns,
but this one could be the soundtrack to almost anybody’s love affair—and
that’s the universal ingredient I was flappin’ about. A genuine
10) “Sweet Angel”—Jimi Hendrix: A lot of people think
of Hendrix as this stoned-out, psychedelic hippie freak who loved to crank his
amps up to eleven and mock-fuck amplifiers with his guitar. Well, he was. So
what? He also wrote some timeless love songs, both with lyrics and without,
and this is one of them. A heavenly musical offering to a true love, and it
sounds just as good at low volume.
11) “Apartment #9”—Tammy Wynette: I’ll admit
that I wasn’t too familiar with Tammy’s version of this song—I’d
heard it as a kid and forgotten about it. But when I got a bootleg of Keith
Richards singing it, solo at a piano, during a forgotten honeymoon in the ’80s,
I fell in love with it post-haste. A stinging, heart-wracking cry of loneliness,
it’s one of the most powerful ballads I’ve ever heard. The aforementioned
Roach Brothers do a smash-up job covering this one, as well. Find this song
“I’m Your Man”—Leonard Cohen: Let’s just get
this out of the way—Leonard Cohen could sing a technical manual from the
1950s-era U.S. Air Force and make it sound sexy. And though he’s another
one with a whole passel of romantically-inclined tunes, “I’m Your
Man” stands out as one of the smoothest and sexiest of ‘em all.
I bow before you, sir.
13) “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”—Marianne Faithfull:
Why did I include a cover of a Bob Dylan tune and not one sung by Zimmy himself
on this list? Because almost every song Bob’s done feels like a love song
to me, and I wanted to point out one of the many fine folks who’ve done
a marvelous job of covering or re-interpreting his work. Ms. Faithfull, who
has a long and wild history in the singing/songwriting biz, brings this song
to shimmering, burning, lustful life in a way ol’ Bobby D. never has,
at least to me. Divine.
14) “Free Of Harm”—Mark Eitzel: It’s no real
stretch to say that gay men have written some of the greatest love songs of
all time. Why is that? Probably because they’re more in touch with their
feminine sides, and because of that, they’re not afraid to bare their
souls and put their hearts at risk like your average, monkey-headed macho man
is. Eitzel slays me, both with American Music Club and solo, but this track
produces more warm and fuzzies than most. Powerful stuff.
15) “Give You My Lovin’”—Mazzy Star: I’ve
dug this band for years, but Hope Sandoval always seemed, to put it nicely,
a little down on love. The thing was, it didn’t matter if she was singing
the most bitter, sour-on-romance lyrics in the world, her voice is so honey-dipped
she couldn’t help but sound torch-y. On this track, the lyrics finally
match up with that lusty, throaty voice to produce one a classic ballad you’ll
both be swooning to in no time.
16) “Hey”—The Minor Planets: I loved this band from
the first time I saw ‘em live—granted, I’d just strolled into
the Entry after ingesting a couple ‘o ‘shrooms (yeah—the kind
you can’t get on yer Domino’s pizza) and a 12-pack of beer, but
later listens proved that my affections were well placed. Eric and Dana were
about the closest thing to Gram and Emmylou I’d ever seen together on
a stage, and their debut album, Rotate & Balance, was chock fulla killer
love songs. This one is not only my fave, but the one they were playing when
I walked in and melted to ‘em that first night. Dana Thompson has a new
album out, Ox, that you should own. She rules! Yummy.
17) “Bleed”—The Negro Problem: I’ve never understood
why these cats didn’t go farther than they did. Led by Stew (an African-American,
so don’t go gettin’ all fussed-up about the group’s name),
a witty, romantic soul with a delivery and style all his own, TNP laid down
some damn tasty tune-age. This track, from their album Joys And Concerns, is
so beautiful and fragile you’ll just HAVE to share it with the one you
dig. And, if you’re as nuts about music as I am, just about everybody
else you’ll ever meet, as well.
18) “When Love Is New”—Dolly Parton & Emmy Rossum:
Though this song is actually more of a warning about the dangers of love from
an older woman to a younger one, it’s still a great love ballad, and the
co-mingling of these two awesome voices (Emmy plays the young girl singer—basically
herself—in the excellent movie “Songcatcher”) makes it all
the more vivid.
19) “A Little Bit Of Sex”—Tommy Womack: “A little
bit of sex is a dangerous thing/Sometimes a little bit of sex, wrecks everything/It’s
amazing how a little bit of sex, will cloud your thoughts all day/When a little
bit of sex, just a little bit, is all you’re ever gonna get anyway ...!”
Need I say more? Smokin’ Southern love-rock from a very, very cool guy
with a huge heart. Get all of his albums now!!
20) “Valentine’s Day”—Steve Earle: Steve wrote
this song for his wife (whom he married and remarried more times than he himself
can probably count) one year when he was flat broke and busted, comin’
offa 25 years of hard drug and alcohol abuse. With his ragged, worn voice and
brutally honest confessions, Earle and his muse make a true and lasting gift
to his loved one. Writing a song (or a poem or a letter or painting a picture
or finding a special stone or any number of things that don’t involve
spending money, but investing time and care) instead of buying chocolates or
cards seems to me more in keeping with the true spirit of love, and this one
says it all. Humble, honest and selfless—it’s the real deal, baby.
That’s it for me this week, lovers, loners, players and vixens—my
best to you and yours on Valentine’s Day! Thanks to ARTMAN for the VD
card! Next time out—reviews, reviews, reviews!! Until we meet again—make
yer own damn (mixes and) news!! ||
If you have local music news/gigs/events/CDs you’d
like to see mentioned in this column, or you’d just like to complain that
I neglected to list Barry Manilow’s “Looks Like We Made It”
on my VD mix list, send replies to: (temporary e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org.