Love Songs, Nothing but Love Songs

Musicians and critics discuss their favorite aural aphrodisiacs

But I've never heard a recording of it that matched the harmony it makes in my head. The Miracles' arrangement is a little too schmaltzy. It lacks the fire of great early Motown at its cheapest--compare it to "Please Mr. Postman"--and Robinson sounds more wobbly than vulnerable. John Lennon, on the other hand, sings it tough and lean, with guitars to match. But both sound like performances--like the song is something the singers can just walk away from...something that, in the 15 years since I first heard it, I've never been able to do.

--Michaelangelo Matos, New York music writer


P-Jay Fidler

Willie Nelson, "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys"

I love a pratfall the way some girls love a flashy car. And I've got a monster-truck crush on Bill Irwin. (You might know him as that clown in the "Don't Worry, Be Happy" video, or as Sesame Street's Mr. Noodle.) His "Clown Bagatelles" are some of the most lovely work I've ever seen. His character Willie does the most graceful wrestling with an old trunk. Look, I know it's the oldest trick in the book. But since when is it a crime to be charmed by an old trick?

I've tried to explain this affinity to friends, but I short. So here's one last try. Forget for a moment that Irwin is a clown. Think of him as a cowboy--cowboys are sexy, right?--and then go with me into the lyrics of Willie Nelson's bittersweet and timeless little waltz "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys."

The simple formula of the waltz is recognizable from the first measure. And like physical comedy, it soothes us with the promise that we will be handed no surprises--at least as far as form is concerned. The song's central focus is the line "Sadly in search of/One step in back of/Himself...and his slow-moving dreams." There you have it, folks: the crux of physical comedy. The space in between the clown's hyperaware physical control and his willingness to appear clumsy or oblivious is where the laugh lives. We all understand choosing something beneath our own wisdom or ability and then being surprised when the results are a drag. Our hearts go out to the clown--and boom! Monster-truck crush.

--Sarah Sawyer,
Minneapolis culture writer and ukulele performer


Kiss, "Beth"

Peter Criss is a genius. In one love ballad he comes up with the ultimate phone excuse for being late again. When he sings, "I can't come home right and the boys are playing and we just can't find the sound," it paints this picture of the absent-minded rock band in their crappy practice space looking behind amps and drums for that "sound" they lost. Is Beth supposed to believe this? She knows that Gene and Paul are responsible enough not to leave their sound just lying around. Did Ace burn it on his last solo? Where is it? Where did it go?

These questions are never answered. Peter just wants Beth to know that he's thinking of her by checking in. Beth is essentially his backup plan for the evening. If they find "it" soon, and that's a big if because there are a lot of places it can hide, he'll head home.

For all this to work for Peter, at some point he would have had to explain that the band is number one and she's number two. Dis. We never know if Peter got away with this one, but I'll bet when Beth went to the shows and Peter came out to the front of the stage with a towel around his neck, she told all her friends that the next song was about her.

--Steve Barone, the Hawaii Show


Oval, "Mediation"

It's probably a sign of communication deficit disorder to find romance in a song without words--as much as it's a sign of emotional retardation to look for love amid the cold electronics made by a bunch of icily theoretical Germans. But damned if I can keep my heartstrings from fluttering each and every time I hear Oval's "Mediation," from their early, near-perfect Systemisch. You see, as much as my left brain truly digs the way the interplay of hushed scraps of melody approximates Gilles Deleuze's concept of the rhizomic heterarchy, my right brain's always gonna find within the song's fluttering, clipped choirs and fuzzy frequencies the perfect evocation of love's queasy onset.

Call me moronic, or just non-Teutonic, if you will. But I'll point you toward Harmony Korine's pitch-perfect use of the tune to underscore an unexpected moment of bliss in the otherwise dour Julien Donkey-Boy to prove me right: You can have your meta-music and feel it, too.

--Nick Phillips, New York music writer and musician in Nicedisc


Richard Harris, "MacArthur Park"

Man sits on beach, deep in thought and staring at sea. Red bandanna tied around head. Jean jacket and dark glasses/cloudy day. Stares off in distance/knowing sad kind of way. Top of album says, "Richard Harris love album." I put needle to vinyl. Lush, symphonic first chords of "MacArthur Park" set in. The lonely man's voice, cat who's been through it all, warbles about a lost love. Yellow cotton dress foaming like wave around her knees/good times spent pressed in love's hot fevered iron like a striped pair of pants. She--gone now/singer is shattered man/ left to put pieces back together. All while knowing inside he'll never be able to replace amazing dream of love/lost.

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