The weird duality of our society’s views on sexuality is never more evident than on and around Valentine’s Day. On the one hand, the holiday is all flowers, chocolate, and slow jams; on the other, it’s crotchless panties, personal lubricant, and…more explicit slow jams. What tends to go unspoken is that both of these extremes–the Hallmark version and the sex shop version–are really just two sides of the same coin. We can layer on as much frothy romance as we like, but after the candlelit dinners are over, we’re just going to be thrusting our genitals and/or having genitals thrust into each other’s orifices. And it’s going to be disgusting, because the human body is a terrifying thing, but we’re still going to want it, because it’s one of the few true pleasures in this brief, bleak, miserable existence called life.
Pop music is an old hand at balancing this imaginary dichotomy of love and lust. Songwriters and singers have been using romance as a euphemism for fucking since the Tin Pan Alley days, and you can bet that beneath all those quaint standards from your grandparents’ generation were urges every bit as primal as the ones we make more explicit today. That’s why this month we’re doing our first ever double-sided Dystopian Dance Mix, celebrating the eternal antipodes of popular music: Side A is devoted to love, Side B to sex. So play the first half while you’re feeding each other chocolate-dipped strawberries or some shit, and play the second half while you’re straight-up banging. And if the dissonance between those two activities is a little too much for you, just remember: like it or not, it’s all coming from the same place.
Side A: Love
1. LeVert: “Let’s Go Out Tonight”
(from Bloodline, 1986)
We open the romantic side of our playlist with a slow jam you could bring home to your mama. Or, in this case, your daddy, LeVert of course being a vehicle for Gerald and Sean Levert: the sons of O’Jays founder Eddie, who also co-produced and contributed vocals to the group’s 1986 Atlantic Records debut Bloodline. Over a mid-’80s quiet storm arrangement that comes straight out of central casting, lead crooner Gerald promises the object of his affection an evening to remember, proclaiming “girl, I’m in the mood for love.” Lest you think his intentions aren’t pure, though, allow him to set your mind at ease: about the raciest thing he proposes is, “we can even go walkin’ hand in hand.” I mean, just look at that little teddy bear of a man. Who wouldn’t want to snuggle with him?
2. Nitty Scott, MC: “Your My Favorite”
(from The Boombox Diaries, Vol. 1 EP, 2012)
One reason why love songs are such an enduring presence in the pop music canon is because music, more than any other art form, is so perfectly equipped to simulate the sugary, youth-restoring endorphin rush of a new crush. That is the driving emotion behind this 2012 track from up-and-coming Brooklyn rapper Nitty Scott, MC, who rhymes over a nostalgic toy piano hook about a lover who brings her “back to the days of barrettes and cassettes.” The song is a clever inversion of something like Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.“: instead of using love as a metaphor for hip-hop, Nitty uses hip-hop as a metaphor for love, telling her “boombox lover” that she needs him “on her arm” and comparing him to her “favorite song,” “so go tell the DJ, keep you on replay all night long.” It’s a sweet song, even veering a bit into saccharine territory; personally, though, I find that it helps me to tolerate the cloyingness when I just pretend that the fine Ms. Scott is talking to me. Wait, what were we talking about again?
3. The Deele: “I’ll Send You Roses”
(from Material Thangz, 1985)
Back in LeVert territory, here are jheri-curl balladeers the Deele with a paean to that most traditional of Valentine’s Day flowers, the rose. Cowritten and sung by a young Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, “I’ll Send You Roses” is a weirdly existential love song. Warning that “like sands through an hourglass, our time will run out,” Edmonds proposes “one last chance” for “you and I to have true romance.” But after all that melodrama, the only idea he brings to the table is sending his lady some roses. Come on, Babyface, if you’re gonna pull the “sands through an hourglass” card, you’ve got to follow it up with something less clichéd than a bouquet of flowers you grabbed from the Safeway on your way home. What is this, amateur hour?
4. The Monkees: “The Day We Fall in Love”
(from More of the Monkees, 1967)
On the 1960s television show The Monkees, every time resident heartthrob Davy Jones would fall in love–which happened about once an episode–the camera would cut to a series of reverse closeups of the two lovebirds gazing at each other with cartoon twinkly eyes. “The Day We Fall in Love,” from the sitcom band’s second tie-in LP, is the musical equivalent of those scenes. Over a heavily phased guitar line, Jones paints a breathless spoken-word portrait of the day in question: a day when “there will be birds singing in the air, and the wind will be blowing through your hair.” It’s the type of prosaic image that could only seem plausible to someone who has never actually fallen in love; how the hell could Davy be able to pinpoint the day he and this girl will fall in love, let alone accurately predict the weather conditions? But hey, maybe he knows something we don’t; just listen to how certain–and creepy–he sounds at the end of the song, when he whispers to his fated lover the ominous words, “You’ll see.”
5. Vanilla Ice: “I Love You”
(from To the Extreme, 1990)
Robert Van Winkle, better known as Vanilla Ice, has been accused of many things: cultural appropriation, unlicensed sampling, getting punked by Suge Knight. But few would call him much of a romantic. That’s probably because “I Love You,” the designated slow jam on Ice’s 1990 breakout album To the Extreme (not to mention a bold-faced rewrite of LL Cool J’s similar “I Need Love“), is more ridiculous than it is romantic. With its dripping sequencer pattern and smooth saxophone licks, the song is so generic late-’80s R&B that it would make an excellent parody, and Ice seems to think the best way to communicate genuine emotion is by reciting all his lyrics in an overly earnest half-whisper. By the time you hear the hilarious spoken-word section—of course there’s a spoken word section—of Ice apologizing to his girlfriend of “about two years” for “all the bad things I’ve done,” the truth becomes clear: this is, quite simply, the greatest love song ever written, and I’m definitely going to conceive my second child to it. So Rob, if you’re reading this, thank you in advance, and of course you’re invited to the baby shower.
6. 2 Chainz: “Kesha”
(from T.R.U. REALigion, 2011)
Usually, The Artist Formerly Known as Tity Boi is all about sexual bravado: this is, after all, a guy with ambitions to put his sex tapes on both YouTube and Netflix. But his 2011 mixtape cut “Kesha”–named for 2 Chainz’ baby mama (now fiancée), whose name is Kesha, and not for the dance-pop singer Ke$ha…though confusingly it does feature a sample of that Ke$ha’s song “Animal“–proves that he also has a soft side. Granted, we’re talking “soft” by 2 Chainz standards: the song’s opening line is “I love yo’ ass–naw, for real, I love yo’ ass,” and Chainz’ idea of a romantic evening is to “pick her up, then take her home and pick her up.” But still, it’s kind of heartwarming to see how hung up he is on his woman: promising monogamy–“when you with me, you don’t really need a rubber”–and even marriage: “before we get married I’mma tell you this / You’re my wife before and after it.” Who knew 2 Chainz was such a romantic?
7. Rick James: “Make Love to Me”
(from Street Songs, 1981)
Like 2 Chainz, Rick James isn’t exactly demure even when he’s in ballad form: everybody knows that when Mr. “Super Freak” paints a picture of “you on the bottom and me on top,” he ain’t talking about a game of leapfrog. Again, though, you have to give this bad boy some credit for showing his sensitive side, with goofy—but no doubt deeply felt—lyrics like “Feelin’ hot, feelin’ cold / Feelin’ young and feelin’ old / That’s what I feel when I’m holding you tighter / Squeezin’ you, baby / Loving you with all my might.” Plus, the sax solo on this one is even more out of control than on the Vanilla Ice cut—which in my book means it’s that much more romantic. Play this the next time you’re “making love” and I guarantee you: at least one partner will definitely “come like the fallin’ rain.” Whatever that means. Cocaine’s a helluva drug.
8. Prince: “Adore”
(from Sign “☮” the Times, 1987)
Let’s be real, you knew he was gonna be on this playlist somewhere: aside from the fact that Dystopian Dance Party has a big ol’ boner for His Royal Badness, Prince is quite simply the, er, king of both love and sex songs. But as he’s mellowed in his age, romance has arguably become the more lasting part of his legacy; and there are few songs, by anyone, more romantic than “Adore.” The closing track from Prince’s double-LP masterwork Sign “☮” the Times, “Adore” is at once the platonic ideal of the soul ballad and a wry parody of the genre: between proclamations that “love’s 2 weak 2 define just what U mean 2 me,” Prince breaks down his devotion in true loverman form, promising that “U can burn all my clothes, smash up my ride…well,” he reconsiders, “maybe not the ride.” Even at its most tongue-in-cheek, though, it’s still a gorgeous song, with a keyboard-driven arrangement that calls back to the likes of Sam Cooke and a backing choir of “heavenly angels” that is, of course, actually just layer upon layer of multitracked Prince vocals. Look, we never said he was modest. But in a way, doesn’t that make his expressions of love for another person all the more meaningful?
9. Tim and Eric: “Poke On”
(from Awesome Record, Great Songs!, 2008)
This week, everybody is talking about 50 Shades of Grey. But back when Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele were just twinkles in a fan fiction writer’s eye, there was Mr. Henderson and Carol: the codependent, often violent, sadomasochistic boss/secretary couple from the twisted minds of sketch (anti-) comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. A note-perfect M.O.R. power-ballad pastiche in the vein of Tim’s schlock-rock side project Heidecker and Wood, “Poke On” marks the moment in the saga when the pair’s abusive relationship finally becomes official. “I love you, sir,” Carol says in her unnervingly masculine tenor. “Come on over here,” Mr. Henderson replies, “I wanna give you a French kiss.” It may not be a conventional relationship, but it certainly piques the curiosity; just listen to the song’s bizarre Greek chorus, who murmur in unison, “Look at them, they’re so in love / I bet they’ll French kiss all night long / I wish we knew which hole he’s gonna poke her through.” And with that, looks like it’s time to transition to Side B, and a series of songs that are definitely, to quote Mr. Henderson, “good enough for a poke.”
Side B: Sex
10. The Notorious B.I.G. featuring R. Kelly: “Fuck You Tonight”
(from Life After Death, 1997)
There is a certain anxiety of choice that comes with selecting a single track by self-proclaimed “Sex Genius“/accused sexual predator Robert Sylvester Kelly to open a playlist about lust. The man just has so many sublime (and by sublime I of course mean ridiculous) sex songs to choose from, as this exhaustive catalogue of his bizarre sexual metaphors shows. So it was a relief when Callie got me off the hook by picking something everyone can agree on: Kelly’s classic guest turn singing the hook for this 1997 anti-love joint by the Notorious B.I.G. While our Side A openers LeVert didn’t care what was on the docket for a romantic evening, promising “I don’t care what we do / As long as it’s me and you,” Biggie and Kellz are all about the brutal quid-pro-quo economy of sexual politics: “You must be used to me spending / And all that sweet wining and dining / Well, I’m fucking you tonight.” And of course, true to skeezy form, the guys seem to be on slightly different pages when it comes to consent; while Big is at least conscientious enough to say “if it’s all right with you, we fuckin’,” Kelly makes it clear that “no matter what you say,” he’s “giving it to you anyway.” That R. Kelly, what a class act!
11. Andre Williams: “Bonin'”
(from Silky, 1997)
What would a sex playlist be without a contribution from Detroit R&B’s original dirty old man, Andre Williams? The aptly-named “Bonin'” finds the then-70-year-old Williams in classic form, holding forth over a fuzzed-out punk-blues groove by former members of Motor City garage forefathers the Gories, Mick Collins and Dan Kroha, and imploring his lady friend to “do the big nasty” and “show me your pee-pee, baby!” So yeah, maybe not the best choice to soundtrack any actual “bonin'” you might get up to, but it’s hard to argue with Mr. Rhythm’s logic: “it’s good when you’re beamin’, screamin’, and creamin’.”
12. Ice-T: “Girls L.G.B.N.A.F.”
(from Power, 1988)
If you thought Andre Williams was blunt in his lustfulness, just wait until you get a load of Ice-T. The ponderous acronym of this song’s title stands for “Let’s Get Butt Naked and Fuck,” and that’s about the level of discourse you’re going to get from Mr. Tracy Lauren Marrow, who has “no time to whisper in your ear”–he just wants to “get you illin’ in a nude mode.” Which is all well and good, but then he starts bringing his crew into it: producer Afrika Islam “takes the pictures,” Ice leers, “and ladies, let me tell ya, [DJ] Evil E’s gonna get ya.” By the time he starts describing his boys’ apparently combustible semen–“hotel rooms cold explode when my posse unloads”–most women I know would be heading for the door post-haste. But who am I to tell Ice-T how to go about his business? Do you, Ice. Just try not to blow up too many hotel rooms, because I imagine that gets expensive.
13. Motörhead: “The Chase is Better Than the Catch”
(from Ace of Spades, 1980)
Heavy metal is a notorious boy’s club, to the point that most metal artists don’t even seem all that interested in sex. Not so Lemmy Kilmister of speed metal progenitors Motörhead, who likes his women like he likes his basslines: fast and sleazy. “The Chase is Better Than the Catch,” from 1980’s Ace of Spades, is slower than the average Motörhead track, but it makes up for that in the sleaze quotient. Lemmy’s leer is palpable as he croaks out lyrics like, “Silver-tongued devil, demon lech / You know just what I’m doin’ / I like a little innocent bitch / You know I ain’t just screwin’,” over a lumbering, lurching riff engineered for sexual predators to stalk to. It’s all very sexist, of course, but as Spinal Tap would ask, “wot’s wrong with being sexy?” And anyway, Lemmy isn’t quite as wicked as he comes on: he assures us that he’ll “treat ’em like ladies, that’s a fact.” See? Total sweetheart.
14. Mystikal: “Dick on the Track”
(from Unpredictable, 1997)
Oh, Mystikal: such a lovable scamp, albeit one who just happened to do six years of hard time for sexual battery. “Dick on the Track,” from his 1997 No Limit album Unpredictable, finds the New Orleans rapper in seductive mode–which, in Mystikal terms, means shouting about his penis until his voice is hoarse. It’s actually an interesting foil to the earlier track by Nitty Scott, with Mystikal’s skills on the mic serving as a metaphor for his skills between the sheets and vice versa: he’s “havin’ sexual intercourse with the chorus / Screamin’, hot vocals got your ad libs gettin’ hoarse / Sweatin’ the whole session, your circuits hurtin’ / She said, ‘baby don’t beat it up no more, it’s just the second verse!'” And yes, by the end, he’s got her “pregnant with my single.” Hey, you’ve got to respect the man for following through on a conceit.
15. Ludacris featuring Trey Songz: “Sex Room”
(from Battle of the Sexes, 2010)
You might think you’re sexy. But if there’s one thing noted wordsmith and thespian Chris “Ludacris” Bridges has taught me, it’s this: you ain’t really sexy if you don’t have a room in your home devoted expressly to sex acts. Yes, yes, I hear what you’re saying: “welcome to my sex room” is usually the last thing you hear before you black out and awaken, days later, dressed in rags and chained to the wall of a filthy basement. But trust me on this–and if you don’t trust me, trust Luda, because this guy knows how to get a lady hot and bothered. Just take a sample of this poetry: “Nipples hard as rocks, lips as soft as cotton / You the apple of my eye, and I got you spoiled rotten.” If your panties aren’t soaking wet by now, then you, sir or madame, are a liar.
16. Run the Jewels featuring Gangsta Boo: “Love Again (Akinyele Back)”
(from Run the Jewels 2, 2014)
One of the many highlights from underground hip-hop supergroup Run the Jewels’ 2014 sophomore release, “Love Again” is that rarest of songs: a macho sex rap that actually seems to care about whether the women involved are having fun. To that end, the track really takes off with its guest verse by ex-Three 6 Mafia member Gangsta Boo, who turns the tables on Killer Mike’s and El-P’s “dick in her mouth all day” posturing and ensures that her clit also gets its share of attention. Women’s sexual agency is always a welcome presence, never more so than in the male-dominated rap game, and Gangsta Boo certainly has it in spades–just listen to her out-nasty RTJ (and most of the other men on this playlist) when she concludes her verse with the proposition, “Let’s have an orgy / I’mma share your ass with all my friends,” calling her man a “ho” to boot. Who said feminism couldn’t be sexy?
17. Iggy Pop featuring Peaches and Feedom: “Motor Inn”
(from Skull Ring, 2003)
Another refreshing pairing of male and female sexuality, “Motor Inn” is a standout track from Detroit punk god Iggy Pop‘s otherwise middling 2003 comeback album Skull Ring, made in part by its strutting dominatrix turn from Canadian electroclash provocateur Peaches. While Iggy’s night at the titular seedy motel is pretty typical male fantasy, involving a “little girl with a heart of stone” who wants to give him an “instant bone,” Peaches invests her verse with a feminist undercurrent: she’s waiting in the room to “do it like hell” with a frustrated housewife whose husband “doesn’t have a clue how to make her groan.” But the award for best lyric ultimately has to go with Iggy himself, for this touching tribute to his wife (and, apparently, twerk partner) Nina Alu: “Well I got a brown girl, she look so fine / I got a brown girl, her titties are mine / Great big titties / Big brown titties / I love those titties, I love those titties / A-titty titty titty titty titty titty…”
18. DJ Quik: “It’z Your Fantasy”
(from Safe + Sound, 1995)
If you can’t tell from that silky laid hair of his, DJ Quik knows what women want. So, ladies, here’s the erotic evening he lays out for you in his 1995 booty jam “It’z Your Fantasy”: first, you’ll “find a place, somethin’ out of Dodge / Like the Quality Inn or the Travelodge”; but, since Quik is “going out of my way / Baby, you pay for the spot / See, it’s only right since you gettin’ the cock.” Oh, and you’ll also probably have to pick up the condoms, because Quik likes “a bitch who carries LifeStyles in her purse.” But don’t worry, he’ll bring “Hennessy and apple juice to sip on.” Now at this point you might be having second thoughts, but Quik has another plan in mind: “turn around, lay down, and let me pound on your cervix.” He also has “more stamina than a horse,” so it’s probably gonna be a while. And after it’s all over, he’ll whisper some sweet nothings in your ear: “You let me drive that coochie and I wrecked it / So even though I’ll never get another chance to kill it / It’s cool, just as long as I made you feel it.” So how’s that for a fantasy? Not your thing, you say? Oh well, to each their own.
19. Marvin Sease: “Pump My Juice”
(from Playa Haters, 2004)
Who else could have closed this playlist out, if not the “Candy Licker” himself? We all know–and Mr. Sease is quick to remind us–that Marvin is all about pleasing his lady: “I’ll lick you here and I’ll lick you there / I’ll lick you everywhere / I wanna make you feel good.” But this time, before you “get up,” he wants to get his, too; and in classic Marvin Sease form, he’s going to phrase his request in the most repulsive way possible. Look, I’m not a woman, and I can’t speak for any woman’s sexual preferences. But I feel fairly confident in saying that “Baby, let me pump my juice in you” is the kind of phrase that will make a vagina dry up like a desert in the middle of a drought. And maybe that’s the lesson of all this. Maybe, after all, we do need a little romance: a veil–if only a thin one–to separate our fragile minds from the true disgustingness of our desires. Because as honest as it might be, I don’t want to live in a world where “pump my juice” is an acceptable phrase, in the bedroom or anywhere else. That, my friends, is my Valentine’s Day wish.