Love Songs, Nothing but Love Songs

Musicians and critics discuss their favorite aural aphrodisiacs

The first boy I ever loved broke my heart. I know, the fact that I'm the kind of girl who would even think about using that cliché in this introduction means he was probably justified in dumping me. And looking back at the skinny, self-obsessed, politically clueless boy who played indie-rock versions of "La Isla Bonita" at the local punk club, I can see now that our breakup was a good thing for me. (Recalling the melodramatic, poetry-writing 16-year-old I was, I think it was a good thing for him, too.) But there is one thing I'll never absolve him of: destroying my favorite song.

I was a high school sophomore, dating one of those senior boys who think they can score chicks by saying things like "Hey, I'm a feminist, too!" (Um, okay, so it worked on me then...and, er, maybe it still does now.) A few months after he moved away from our Portland, Oregon, suburb to enroll in a liberal-arts college that offered classrooms

filled with young women studying Judith Butler and bell hooks, he called me. My cherished bootleg of then-local brooder Elliott Smith's "No Name #4" was playing on my stereo.

"I miss you," he said, "but I just think that it might be better if we took some time off and..."

"Wait!" I gasped. I wasn't thinking, I need you now and forever! I was thinking, For the love of God, let there be time for me to turn off the stereo before you break up with me and ruin Elliott Smith for good!

Love songs. They have no sense of timing. And that means you can't choose which ones are yours. Sure, you can sync up that record of Let's Get It On so that it's ready to play when you bring someone home after closing time. But when you're actually having your first "moment" with your significant other, some Sting song could be playing on the radio. And then there's nothing you can do. You're stuck with it.

Luckily, I got a great one: David Grubbs's "Banana Cabbage." First released in 1997 on Grubbs's post-Gastr del Sol solo album, "Banana Cabbage" has no words yet still manages to encompass the entire span of a relationship. Its components are minimal: two sparse pianos, each playing a dissimilar melody, each alternately starting and stopping at a different time from the other. The song, like its title, initially feels tentative, clumsy, nonsensical. But slowly each piano section begins to occasionally (and, it seems, accidentally) sound as if it perfectly complements what the other is playing. "Banana Cabbage" is awkward. Then it's moving. Then it's boring. Then it's holy. And it's only when the song is ending that you realize just how beautiful the whole thing was.

My boyfriend played that song on our first date. I have no idea whether it means the same thing to him as it does to me. But every time I hear it, I'm amazed that something so structurally simple is so damn complex. Which is exactly what surprises me about relationships themselves. (Then again, it's also the same thing that baffles me every time I try to program my answering machine.)

What follows are the amorous songs that have meant the most to local musicians and City Pages critics. I've allowed these witty Casanovas to interpret the term love songs--herein represented by tunes about sex, drugs, and self-manipulation--in any way they want. If that ain't free love, I don't know what is.

--Melissa Maerz,
City Pages music editor

 

The Pharcyde, "Passin' Me By" and "Otha Fish"

It ain't easy being a 14-year-old hip-hop putz. A white, brokenhearted b-buffoon in freshman hell, where the closest you'll come to sexual healing is the incidental brush of an upper arm in the cafeteria. And more than likely, even if that happened, you were wearing a heavy flannel shirt à la House of Pain and couldn't feel the soft womanly flesh against yours anyway.

These were my adolescent years--most of my time spent in misery, lamenting the no-play that I was getting. During this time, the Pharcyde's two-song combo of "Passin' Me By" and "Otha Fish" became my musical refuge. Face buried in a tear-soaked Phillies Blunt stocking hat, I played these songs numerous times each day, reassured that I wasn't a lone vulnerable dork with an affinity for phat beats.

These guys wore Adidas running pants, they rapped, they smoked weed, and... they couldn't get any ass either? I was all, "I feel your pain, Tre!" I was like, "Keep your head up, Fatlip--we'll get through this, man!" And persevere we did, didn't we? Why, the Pharcyde continued to release quality music, throughout the...uh... Well, at least I went on to pull lots of honeys in my, uh...oh, ugh...shit.

Where's my (sniffle) stocking hat?

--Andrew Broder, the Fog

 

Gang of Four, "Damaged Goods"

When the mortal flaw in a dying relationship isn't the sex--when in fact the sex is still amazingly good and is perhaps getting better as a result of the emotions collapsing around it--big trouble surely cometh. (Or big fun, depending on how twisted you like to kink.) Either way, it takes a hefty amount of willpower to let repulsion rule over attraction, prompting the coveted clean break.

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