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Audiophiles — Song in the Key of Love and Existential Terror

Exploring the emotional spectrum this Valentine’s Day

By Uncategorized



Jonathan Richman - Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love

Jonathan Richman – “My Baby Love Love Loves Me”
Not So Much to Be Loved as to Love (2004)

I adore Richman’s work with the Modern Lovers, but it’s his solo music that I abuse. He is supremely powerful on an acoustic guitar, and on this track drummer Tommy Larkins swings the 2s and 4s giving Richman’s rhythm that extra swagger. With this cut, he gleefully sings the praises of a special woman, that woman who loves him. If he wrote it for me, I’d Love Love Love him extra hard on Valentine’s Day.


The Ronettes – “Baby, I Love You”
Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica (1964)

How to feel about Phil Spector, the mad genius cum convicted murderer? Let us set aside current vents so that we might fully appreciate Spector’s trademark Wall of Sound, a sonic phenomenon in full effect here. Backed by sleigh bells, tambourines, handclaps, and strings, head Ronette (and Spector’s ex-wife) Ronnie Bennett belts lasciviously and with the nuance of a truck. This is a love song at full volume, a proclamation and a classic. Spector reproduced it with the Ramones in 1980, but their version pales in comparison. It seems that he lost that lovin’ feelin’ in the
early sixties.


Stevie Wonder – “Knocks Me Off My Feet”
Songs in the Key of Life (1976)

Between 1972 and 1976 Wonder hit a streak of such staggering brilliance it’s hard to believe it was real. He could’ve written a song about pretty much anything — shoes, turtles, bananas — and it would’ve been great. So when he turned his attention to love, of course he triumphed. “I don’t want to bore you with it,” he sings, “but I love you, I love you, I love you.” Oh Stevie, of course she loves you, man! Now go record
“Sir Duke.”


The Format – “Inches and Falling” Dog Problems (2006)

Before fun.’s hit “We Are Young,” Nate Ruess sang for the Format, a vastly superior indie -pop band. “Inches and Falling” is the penultimate track from their swan song, Dog Problems (2006). It’s got trumpets, a carnival atmosphere, and is that a tuba I hear? Plus the lyric, “I love love. I love being in love.” It’s certainly about love — and yes, it’s fun (hyuk-hyuk) — but that’s not necessarily a good thing. This song’s like the couple who won’t stop kissing and whispering to each other. Roll your eyes, but don’t you dare dismiss the Format. At least not before you give “Oceans”
a chance!


Prince – “Take Me With U”
Purple Rain (1984)

The Artist may be best known for funky carnal workouts, but he’s got a tender side too. In “Purple Rain,” he takes Apollonia for a ride on his purple motorcycle, they picnic beside a lake, smooch a little … and guess what song’s playing? That’s right. On the night I met my girlfriend, I hijacked the deejay’s iPod and put this on. Our first dance! But be warned: if you come to my party and hijack the iPod, I’ll
bounce you.




Roy Orbison – “Crying”
Crying (1962)

I’m sure there were sad men before Roy Orbison, but he was the first to commit his sadness to tape and look cool doing it. On “Crying,” he explores his three-octave vocal range to maximum effect. The song starts innocently enough. “I was alright for awhile,” he sings. “I could smile for awhile.” But then the violins start up and Orbison hits some unthinkably high notes — notes that sound a lot like, well, crying — and only then can we begin to comprehend the depth of his sadness.


Dusty Springfeld – “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me (1966)

Dear Dusty,
On behalf of good men around the world, I’m sorry. Some jerk did you wrong and walked out on you. You had every right to sing about it, but now you want him back?! I don’t get that. You deserve better! The way you modulate during the chorus: so effortless, so powerful. I guess what I’m asking is, will you go out with me? You don’t even have to say you love me.


Ryan Adams – “La Cienega Just Smiled”
Gold (2001)

Adams has made a career on the strength of his forlorn songs. And none is more forlorn than “La Cienega,” a quiet, shuffling number — and the best on his album Gold (2001). His loneliness is two-headed. “Feels so good,” he sings, “but damn it makes me hurt.” We’ve all been there, alone and just wallowing in it, comforted by the pit we’ve dug ourselves. Most of us, however, don’t write such beautiful songs in said pit. Fun fact: Adams married Mandy Moore in 2009. Would he agree that missing someone is like a craving, a craving for “Candy?”


Camera Obscura – “James”
My Maudlin Career (2009)

I want to give Tracyanne Campbell a hug. Four albums with Camera Obscura and she still hasn’t found much to smile about. This time around, some punk named James is to blame. “He hopes that we can still be friends.” What a line!…and what a lie. “James” is the tale of lovers moving apart and of the pain that comes with it. Tracyanne asserts, “I’ll be fine by June,” but do you believe her? Do we ever fully get over our lost loves? And what to make of guitars fading to silence?


Antony and the Johnsons – “Hope There’s Someone”
I Am a Bird Now (2005)

There’s loneliness brought on by a bad break up, and then there’s a more desperate form of loneliness — existential loneliness, the interminable want for human connection. Antony’s “Hope There’s Someone” is the saddest and loneliest song on this mix. Amidst frail piano chords, Antony wields his otherworldly voice to meditate on death and elusive love. The final two minutes are cacophonous, glorious, bleak, and uplifting — an all-encompassing musical expression.

One Response to Audiophiles — Song in the Key of Love and Existential Terror

  1. julie W. says:

    I read it all; you are good! and going places! No wonder Kathy wants to show you off here!

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