By TIM MAYTOM
Today is Valentine’s Day, and your thoughts may well be turning to love, whether you’re in the warm flush of new love, the comfort of a long-term relationship, or free, single and out on the prowl. More than anything else, love has provided the fuel for some great songs, either in celebration or in mourning. But what makes for a better song: love or heartbreak?
If you’re lucky enough to share today with a special someone, you might just be looking for that perfect song to soundtrack your night. If you’re single and bitter like me, you might be looking for something to help you wallow in pain as you drown your sorrows. We here at eventseeker believe in providing something for everyone, so here are five songs for the romantics and five for the cynics.
For the Smitten…
Bjork – “It’s Oh So Quiet”
There’s nothing quite like a hyperactive Icelandic woman to capture that feeling of the first burst of love: the fireworks, the raw energy, the feeling that at any moment, the whole world will erupt into an intricately choreographed dance routine. “It’s Oh So Quiet” evokes old school Hollywood musical numbers, but filters it through Bjork’s unique sensibility to produce something entirely different. Playing up the contrast between the quiet and loud sections, she ensures the choruses (if they could be called that) arrive with a memorable shock. As much as the lyrics could be read as preferring the quiet peace of a world without love, the music lets us know where her true passions lie.
Talib Kweli – “Never Been In Love Before” (feat. Just Blaze)
Hip-hop isn’t the first genre most people would go to when thinking of love songs, but that makes them all the sweeter when a great one comes along, and Talib Kweli’s “Never Been In Love Before” is nothing if it isn’t sweet. The child-like intro and playful soul sample (taken from The Imaginations “Because I Love You”) lend the whole thing an innocent air, even when Kweli is talking about getting the girl “wetter than the perfect storm”. If “It’s Oh So Quiet” was about the impact of love at first sight, this song is about the realization that what was a casual relationship is something a whole lot deeper; it’s a more grounded take on the love song and feels drawn from life, which make it all the more effective.
Marvin Gaye – “Let’s Get It On”
From the first smooth, reverberating note, “Let’s Get It On” claims its place as one of the most iconic love songs of all time. Marvin Gaye, a talent taken from us far too early, pours soul, charm, longing and sweetness into every note in an often-copied but never equaled vocal performance, and the lyrics strike the perfect balance between laid-back and insistent, finding the very essence of cool. The song has sound-tracked so many flirtations and seductions that it carries an almost totemic power, and stands beyond parody or irony – the simplicity and directness of the desire behind the song cuts through all that and creates something pure and perfect.
The Wannadies – “You & Me Song”
Perhaps it’s growing up in the ’90s in England, when this song was a permanent fixture on the radio, but to me The Wannadies’ “You & Me Song” captures with crystal clarity the feeling of young love in the summertime. The meandering verses, all melodica and acoustic guitar, give way to a power-pop explosion come the chorus, much like “It’s Oh So Quiet”. But where that conjured up images of stillness making way for dance numbers, this is more like lazy mornings in bed turning into afternoons spent racing through fun fairs or across beaches. At less than three minutes, it’s a flawless slice of pop and a brilliant depiction of carefree, unquenchable love.
Aimee Mann – “Beautiful”
Aimee Mann is best known for providing most of the soundtrack for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, but for me her best work will always be 2005’s The Forgotten Arm, a concept album following the love story between two screw-ups in 1970s Virginia. The final track, “Beautiful”, finds the lovers John and Caroline finally reunited and happy after years of separation, and is a stunning portrait of two people hesitant to accept how happy they are after all the heartbreak. Like the best love stories, it’s tinged with sadness, but true love wins out in the end, and Mann’s wonderfully tender and vulnerable voice carries the emotion of the situation perfectly.
For the Spurned…
The Long Blondes – “Heaven Help The New Girl”
A lot of break-up songs are filled with unfiltered sadness or anger, but The Long Blondes have always taken a more complex view of relationships, and “Heaven Help The New Girl” sees Kate Jackson looking back at a philandererous ex-boyfriend with the withering contempt and resigned melancholy of someone who never expects relationships to end well, or partners to be faithful. There’s no hope for change, simply a warning for the next girl who will be cheated on and left in the same situation, delivered in Jackson’s sultry voice, which makes getting your heart crushed almost seem worth it.
The Mountain Goats – “No Children”
Not so much a song for the spurned as a song for those mid-spurning, “No Children” recognizes that there’s something fascinating and almost alluring about a relationship in total self-destruction mode, and dives straight into the thick of it. Over the kind of simple melody that could accompany a sweet love song, John Darnielle lists off the ways the relationship could worsen and collapse with a mix of anger and a kind of self-loathing thrill. There’s a twisted romance to the idea of such a doomed love; only great passion tends to sour into such potent hatred, so the song functions as a dark reflection of a love song, finding beauty and excitement in misery and death.
Adele – “Rolling In The Deep”
Sure, it was everywhere last year, and sure, every film this year that features a montage of a heartbroken woman will use it as a soundtrack, but there’s a reason for that – it is a fantastic song. Adele walks a fine line between heartbreak and righteous anger, and finds the sweet spot that integrates a perfect mix of that sadness, anger and regret. As much as her voice carries the ragged sadness of a freshly lost love, there’s steel underneath, and a determination to be the one who comes out ahead. That resounding drum isn’t just a heartbeat, it’s a march to war, and Adele layers sound upon sound, building an orchestral force behind her words without ever drowning out the power of her voice.
School Of Seven Bells – “I L U”
So far we’ve mostly had anger in various forms, but more often than not the end of a relationship brings nothing but a deep chasm of sadness that seems to last forever. Ethereal and haunting, “I L U” is a beautiful lament for a lost love, one missed so profoundly that you can’t sleep, can barely breathe, and all you want to do is let the other person know how much they meant to you. Alejandra Deheza’s voice gives life to such grief that it can be almost overwhelming – if I’d just had my heart broken, I think I’d have to mark this song with a warning label, for fear that it would cause me to melt into a puddle of sadness and melancholy.
John Lee Hooker – “My First Wife Left Me”
When it comes to a broken heart, everything takes a backseat to the blues. The rawness and purity of “My First Wife Left Me” is what makes it so effective and so glorious. Everything is stripped down to basics – just an electric guitar and a man in pain. John Lee Hooker’s wonderfully deep voice is powerfully evocative and he’s a fantastic storyteller, but to me, the real beauty of the song lies in the sense of acceptance Hooker brings to the lyrics – there is sadness there, of course, but more than that, there’s an almost Zen-like level of resignation and a recognition of his own faults and misdemeanors in the relationship. He has perspective, and that’s what brings peace.
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