Editor’s Note: As I’ve mentioned in the past, our Dystopian Dance Mix series was
inspired by shamelessly ripped off from a similar series of “mixtapes” on my old blog, the Modern Pea Pod. So, with Valentine’s Day coming this weekend, I thought it might be fun to post my own entries from our February 2006 Valentine’s mix. The mixtape had an interesting conceit, in that we chose two tracks each from a single artist: one a love song, one a breakup song. My choices, if nothing else, demonstrate that my musical tastes haven’t changed much in the last 10 years. But hey, at least there’s no Sufjan Stevens. – Z.H.
Love, lust and loneliness; Valentine’s Day must be like Christmas for songwriters. The love song–and its reverse, the breakup song–stands as pop music’s ultimate cheap thrill: easy to write and easier to listen to, its appeal comes to us immediately because we fill in the blanks with our own experiences. Everyone has fallen in love, and almost everyone has fallen out of it, too; these feelings have mass appeal because they truly are universal. So when we hear a great love song, it’s less like hearing somebody tell us about their lives, and more like reliving our own. So what if many of the great love songs weren’t inspired by great romances? So what if, like John Lennon said, 90% of the Beatles‘ early tunes didn’t stem from personal experience? We experience these songs with the intensity of a real-life love affair, and that’s what’s important; the “She” in “She Loves You” might not have been a living person, but the love was real.
So in celebration of this most romantic (and loneliest) of holidays, and the twin songwriting traditions it inspires, we present this lovingly compiled mix, with two songs each by four artists: Side A love, Side B loss. Maybe it won’t keep you warm at night–or make you loathe some heartless bastard with every fibre of your existence–the way real love can. But it’s our hope that for at least a few minutes, it will remind you of just what a powerful and inexplicable force human connection can be.
Side A: Love
Prince: “I Feel for You”
(from Prince, 1979)
Before Chakakhan, Chakakhan and her ’80s pop-a-fied rendition of “I Feel for You,” there was Prince. And frankly, the original version is still the best. Over a bed of synth and guitar as lush as the real ones in which he used to frolic onstage, the Purple One lights a few candles, slips into his best falsetto, and it’s seduction time. So what if “it’s mainly a physical thing?” (Or, as Mr. Jehovah’s Witness sings it today, a “spiritual thing?”) It’s Prince. And when the come-on is as ebullient and joyous as this one, who wouldn’t want to fall in love with a tiny man in high heels? (Editor’s Note: My writeup notwithstanding, you’ll notice that the Spotify playlist below features the Chaka Khan version of the song, because Prince is a little bitch. – Z.H.)
Joe Jackson: “Fools in Love”
(from Look Sharp!, 1979)
If Cole Porter had lived and worked in 1970s and ’80s London instead of 1930s and ’40s New York, he would have been Joe Jackson. More than any other song on Jackson’s debut album Look Sharp!, “Fools in Love” is proof: the lyrical motifs and piano solo are classicist pop at its best, updated with a reggae-influenced arrangement and a cynical approach to romance that are pure New Wave. But what makes this a truly marvelous song, instead of a mere Tin Pan Alley rehash, is the way Jackson feels every word he sings. It’s easy enough to say “fools in love are zeroes,” but Jackson knows, because he’s a fool in love himself.
The Beatles: “I’m So Tired”
(from The Beatles, 1968)
Everyone knows love can keep you up at night, but it’s not always in a good way. John Lennon sings this song with the intense malaise of a man struggling against forces he knows he can’t control. A woman (Yoko Ono, of course) is in his head and he can’t get her out. But he’s miles away, he’s married, and he doesn’t even know for sure how she feels about him. It’s little wonder why this “White Album” highlight remains one of Lennon’s most passionate, soulful vocals: this shit is the real “Real Love.”
Bob Dylan: “Lay, Lady, Lay”
(from Nashville Skyline, 1969)
(Editor’s Note: This was a “runner-up” track that didn’t make it into the final mixtape. I’m not going to bother writing an update to a 10-year-old post, especially when everybody knows there are like a dozen better Bob Dylan love songs than fucking “Lay, Lady, Lay.” So instead, please enjoy this image of Dylan making the world’s creepiest bedroom eyes in his 2004 ad for Victoria’s Secret. – Z.H.)
Side B: Loss
Prince: “Strange Relationship”
(from Sign “☮” the Times, 1987)
Nobody, but nobody, has explored the psychological intricacies of the (mostly) heterosexual relationship like Prince. He’s got songs about love, songs about sex, songs about breaking up–and, in “Strange Relationship,” possibly his most awe-inspiring “love” song, he’s got a song about the moment when you realize your love has gone sour. When Prince sings, “Baby I just can’t stand 2 see u happy / More than that, I hate 2 see u sad,” chills run down my spine. And when he threatens, “Honey if u left me I just might do something rash,” one gets a pretty good feeling he means business. Stunning, heart-wrenching intimacy from a tunesmith with so much more depth than just “1999.” (Editor’s Note: Prince is still a little bitch, so Spotify users can enjoy a faithful cover version by Houston pop-funk artist De Holley, featuring none other than Dr. Fink of the Revolution on keys. – Z.H.)
Joe Jackson: “One More Time”
(from Look Sharp!)
Sure, “One More Time” is one of my all-time favorite breakup songs, but it’s also one of my all-time favorite songs, period. Why does it work so well? It isn’t just that diminutive, pasty-faced, curmudgeonly Joe Jackson sounds like the last person in the world you’d want to piss off. It’s that his voice is the voice we all hear when the person we love tells us it’s over: angry, scathing, unreasonable–and, most devastating of all, completely unable to accept that what he’s just heard is true.
The Beatles: “For No One”
(from Revolver, 1966)
Yeah, I know I’m hard on Paul McCartney sometimes. And yeah, I know he’s an easy target. But how’s this for making amends? “For No One,” a Paul number through and through, is one of the most impeccably crafted and absolute, knock-your-socks-off gorgeous songs in the Beatles canon. It’s simple yet baroque, beautiful yet heartbreaking: like the world’s saddest ice sculpture. If all of our breakups sounded like this, there would be no reason for breakup songs; we’d be only too thrilled to have our hearts broken over and over again.
Bob Dylan: “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”
(from Blood on the Tracks, 1975)
(Editor’s Note: Again, I didn’t write this one up at the time, and I’ve already spent way too much time cleaning up this article. So please enjoy this picture of Bob Dylan glowering at you in the snow. – Z.H.)
Here, as always, is a Spotify playlist with all eight of the songs in one fashion or another (ahem, Prince). We’ll be back Monday to break y’all’s hearts: