Friday, February 13, 2009

14 on 14: Alternative Valentine Songs

NOTE: This was an unpublished article that I wrote last year. For some reason, it somehow got lost in the shuffle of so many other V-Day pieces at the time. I decided to further improve this and publish it in my Facebook page and now here.

Happy Valentine's Day!

An alternative soundtrack for Valentine’s Day


IT’S Valentine’s Day again and all the mush you can ever want (or dread) is just around the corner. Yes, all those silly love songs that McCartney and a whole lot of other artists sold tons of records with. The way we celebrate V-Day, expect all kinds of love music to be playing in your consciousness and sub-consciousness all day. Many of you may have even stolen a verse or two from those songs and pass them as your own in the greeting card that accompanied your gift to the significant other.

But see, that’s the thing. When it comes to matters of the heart, the object of our affection or desire need not always be the significant other, at least not the only one. Love can and does come in many forms and circumstances and not that each one deserves its own soundtrack but with so many great music out there, do you really want to be humming along to the greatest hits of Michael Bolton and Celine Dion at this time every year? Then check out these alternative gifts of music.

“I’ve Just Seen A Face” by The Beatles. There are countless tunes written about love at first sight but few are as as thoughtfully rendered as this acoustic serenade sung by, well, who else but Sir Paul himself. The way he sings it very fast feels like he actually wrote it at, well, first sight: “I’ve just seen a face/I can’t forget the time and place that we’d just met/She’s just the girl for me/ And I want all the world to see we've met.” Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, na-na-na.

“Love Untold” by Paul Westerberg. The ex-Replacements’ take on unrequited love has an ambiguity to it that partly recalls the masked optimism of Tom Petty’s equally excellent breakup song, “Free Fallin”: “They were gonna meet on a crummy little street/It never came to be I'm told/Does anyone recall the saddest love of all?/The one that lets you fall/Nothing to hold? It’s the Love untold.”

“Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. You can’t love anyone else if you don’t like what you see in the mirror, right? As narcissistic anthems go, only this one can “make a supersonic man or woman” out of you. When the late Freddie Mercury declares “Tonight I'm gonna have myself a real good time/I feel alive and the world it's turning inside out, yeah/ I’m floating around in ecstasy” you’ll have little reason to doubt him.

“Everlong” by Foo Fighters. What seems like a metaphor for an unforgettable sexual encounter is also considered as a touching paean to happily ever afters. You be the judge: “If everything could ever feel this real forever/If anything could ever be this good again/The only thing I’ll ever ask of you/You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when.”

“Lovesong” by The Cure. “However, far away/I will always love you/However long I stay/I will always love you,” declares Robert Smith. For those engaged in long distance love affairs, that’s as good as any assurance you can get. Then let the infectious hook-laden rhythm just sweep the rest of you off your feet and everything’s gonna be all right.

“Can’t Stand Losing You” by The Police. Ambiguity is certainly not an issue when Sting wrote this for his recently reunited band. For really, really bad breakups, it can’t get any better, er, bitter than this: “I guess this is our last goodbye/And you don’t care, so I won’t cry/But you’ll be sorry when I’m dead/And all this guilt will be on your head.”

“Stay Free” by The Clash. Strummer and Jones pay tribute to the best friend, our so-called partner in crime who we most likely did some of the most stupid things we could think of in our youth. When Mick Jones sings “You always made me laugh/Got me in bad fights/Playing pool all night/Smokin' menthol,” it’s hard not to be transported back in time.

“Waiting On A Friend” by The Rolling Stones. When platonic is the only way to go, no other tune bonds as well as this reggae-flavored ditty by the Glimmer Twins. Best verse: “Making love and breaking hearts/It is a game for youth/But I’m not waiting on a lady/I’m just waiting on a friend.”

“Waiting In Vain” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. It’s a different kind of waiting for the guys who can’t stop carrying a torch for the one that already got away. When the braided one croons: “It's been three years since I'm knockin' on your door, And I still can knock some more: Ooh girl, ooh girl, is it feasible? I wanna know now, for I to knock some more,” hope springs eternal.

“Romeo And Juliet” by Dire Straits. A rather lovely homage to the most famous tragic couple Shakespeare ever wrote. Mark Knopfler took the story to a different level, providing a more current setting, just the right dose of wit and oh, yes, romance. “You and me, babe, how about it?,” the epic ballad concludes.

“Cruel To Be Kind” by Nick Lowe. Can’t live with her and can’t live without her? For love-hate relationships, Nick Lowe and later, Letters To Cleo has the perfect explanation: “You say your love is bonafide/But that don’t coincide with the things that you do/And when I asked you to be nice you say/You got to be cruel to be kind in the right measure.”

“Romeo’s Tune” by Steve Forbert. “Bring me Southern kisses from your room” and “Let me smell the moon in your perfume” are two of the most famous lines from this one-hit wonder. Romeo is such a Valentine character that I just had to acknowledge him twice in this piece. Hard to resist him when he utters something like “I don’t ask for all that much/I just want someone to care.”

“Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. Originally about a father-daughter relationship, it’s a poignant lullaby for parental love that is also about starting over and the uncertainties that go along with it: “I’ve been afraid of changes cause I built my life around you/But time makes you bolder and children get older/And I’m getting older, too.” Also covered by the Smashing Pumpkins and the Dixie Chicks.

“Happy Ending” by Joe Jackson. Who doesn’t want it? “Do I listen to my head, do I listen to my heart? Do I try to feel the same as I feel when we're apart? Do I think about the end when it's only just the start?” asks Joe Jackson and Elaine Caswell in this equally lesser known gem from his Body and Soul album. “Anyone can be so hard hearted but everyone/Still, everybody wants a happy ending, na-na-na-na!”

Here's Steve Forbert's Romeo's Tune:

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