This month, on account of the greeting card holiday at hand, we explore the realms of foreign loves – in language, in content and in means. These 11 tracks range from lyrical diabetes set to music to the grimiest guttural howls this side of Valhalla to the hammiest soundtracks for your failed pick-up attempts, which will undoubtedly meet your purposes as we approach Valentine’s Day.
Origins: The back of your rattling skull.
Veteran MBV fans will tell you that the experience of their live shows is comparable to sitting on the wing of a 747 while it takes off. “Feed Me” catches the band in the pre-”Loveless” days – in a squelching, arrhythmic, atonal mode, but still manages to work in cutesy boy/girl dynamics.
Origins: Mexico, the darkest corners of your haunted soul
This song from Chavela Vargas starts off innocently enough, very much comfortable in the sound of traditional Mexican folk music. The sad story of a lover driven crazy by her partner’s infidelity begins to take shape as the singer whimpers her lament. When the first chorus hits, however, Vargas summons some visceral beast that comes forth to shout some statement of intense desperation.
Origins: Switzerland, construction yards in the 1980s
Fun fact: the vocalist for Yello is actually a millionaire industrialist, a professional gambler and a former member of the Swiss golf team. The song was also featured in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” as the theme song for a Ferrari F250. Do I really need to keep writing?
We live in a post-ABBA world these days, which means that while we can no longer rock matching sequined jumpsuits, we can enjoy the hooky earworms and beat-driven camp that make up the legacy of Swedish pop. “Lovefool” by the Cardigans supplies a great example of that legacy – complete with self-loathing lovers and a matching Leonardo DiCaprio film.
If you couldn’t tell by the breathy whispers or the lackadaisical swing beat, this is work from French pop royalty. The joke of the title, which translates roughly to “I love you... me neither” plays on the traditionally bittersweet nature of French romance in movie, music and literature. The highlight of my winter vacation: the awkward moment when my mother and I hit a lull in our conversation right as Birkin has an orgasm right into the microphone.
Bollywood is all about love in all its incarnations – lost, found, forbidden, et cetera. “Jaan Pehechaan Ho,” also known as “That One Song From That ‘Ghost World’ Movie,” originally appears in the opening scene of Indian film “Gumnaam,” but you don’t need to know that to suddenly feel the need to dance to it.
Origins: Taiwan, karaoke bars all across Asia
Every once in a while, it’s nice to have a traditional love song to listen to. No complications, no backstabbing, no infidelity – just simple idealized love. Teresa Teng’s “Tian Mi Mi,” which translates roughly to “Sweetie,” provides that flittering sappy romance that very few of us are fortunate enough to know.
“Nina Bobo,” which translates to “Lullaby” is a traditional Indonesian folk song sung in that country like “Hush Little Baby” or “Rock-a-bye Baby” is in the US. But just like the strange propositions found in those two songs (buying infants exotic pets and children falling from trees), the Indonesian analog focuses on a more sadistic lyric – “Kalau tidak bobok, di gigit nyamuk” translates to “If you don’t go to sleep, mosquitos will bite you.” How tender.
When I was a kid, if you liked a band, you wrote their name over and over onto everything you owned – folders, notebooks, shoes, limbs, for a start. Shonen Knife took their love of L.A. band Redd Kross and turned it into an amazingly catchy tribute song in perfectly broken English that actually managed to kickstart a real-life rapport with the band. (That would have happened to me too if Blink 182 had managed to see any of my Pee-Chees.)
Origins: Spanish (language), Outer Space (artist)
When I was twelve years old, I stumbled onto my parents’ dusty vinyl collection and found the name “Engelbert Humperdinck” scribbled alongside the visage of a mustachioed man. I instantly thought this was one of two things: 1) some porn star’s debut record, or 2) a joke. Turns out it was neither, but a serious musical career that had seemingly come and gone and left this guilty little pleasure, which intermittently lodges itself into my gray matter.
Origins: Germany (band), South Korea (vocalist), England (original artist)
The skittering percussion and understated bass of this Human League cover takes the original shopping mall torch song and turns it into a gorgeously subdued hymn fit for the cyberspace schoolyard. In the four-and-a-half minutes it takes for the song to pass, each portion of its composition seems to settle and relax itself into a state of playful rhythmic harmony.