Love Songs, Nothing but Love Songs

Musicians and critics discuss their favorite aural aphrodisiacs

 

X, Wild Gift, 1981

The greatest album ever about love during recession. John Doe and Exene Cervenka don't just perfect punk as the ultimate rock for messed-up boho, welfare-thrift Catholics, they do it with rats in the stairs and a mugger on every corner. From the confessional to the living-room couch, from the radio that breaks your heart to the bars where "singles rule the world, feeding on flesh," it's a jungle out there, baby, and you're all alone...together.

 

Al Green, Call Me, 1973

The single greatest marriage of mind, heart, and body that music has ever produced. Mind: The erotic contemplation on this sublime study of Apollonian horniness is so deep, so perfectly understood, it seems to transcend this spoiled world itself--no wonder the best ballad here, "Jesus Is Waiting," is a three-way between Al, the listener, and Christ Chile. The heart: This is mainly a record of need--gentle requests, frantic pleas, covers of Willie Nelson and Hank Williams weepers that feel as if he's singing them at the edge of a cliff. For a soul man who was supposed to be the new Otis, this soft-strong subtlety is shockingly daring. The body: Al Jackson's tricky, supple, passionately restrained 4/4 groove trips up the body each time Green seems surest of his emotions. His may be the greatest performance of any musician on any love record.

 

Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians, 1978

Since screwing to James Brown is like a challenge to climb Pike's Peak, and since doing it to soul music can seem a cliché, here's the best sex record of all time. Ninety-nine percent of Western music is revoltingly Christian, imposing a narrative that often climaxes in some Ultimate Revelation (death, orgasm, assumption, etc.). Reich, a Jew studying African rhythm, didn't write the only piece that suspends narrative for earthly repetition (see dance music). This moist, modulating 67-minute opus, however, is one of the most sensual, actually timing the pulse of its cello, violin, marimba, xylophone, metallophone, clarinet, and piano to sync up with the breathing of the musicians. It doesn't "go" anywhere, it just builds, flows. And who knows where the time goes? Suddenly the boot-knocker is free to forget time itself and create his/her own mind/body/spatial/temporal biosphere. For 67 minutes, at least.

 

Joni Mitchell, Blue, 1971

Ya know what? Songs are like tattoos. Thirty-one years later, this is still the freshman guide to romantic maturation. Why do pretentious art-major girls fall for indulgent English-major boys? Why do indulgent English-major boys think they "understand" art-major girls? Why should both parties know better? The answer to all these questions and more lies within.

 

Frank Sinatra: Greatest Love Songs, 2002

Sort of hard to big up such an awful human being. But if you want to be reminded of the power of pal Frankie to transform the banal or even the grotesque into beauty, just imagine him singing these songs to the creepiest people imaginable: "You had such persistence [John Ashcroft] you wore down my resistance"; "Let's close our eyes [Lynne Cheney] and make our own paradise"; "In other words [Paul O'Neil] I love you!" See, still heart-stopping.

 

Aretha Franklin, I Have Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, 1967

Along with Blue and Carole King's Tapestry and Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville and Mary J. Blige's The Tour, this is one of the most triumphant expressions of womanist soul power in a man's man's man's man's world. Aretha (Ms. Franklin if you're nasty) busts nuts, heals, wounds, takes out the trash, takes you home, and makes you like it, cause only you can hear her "Soul Serenade"--and that's the most open-hearted love song of all time.

 

various artists, Bootyz in Motion, 1998

Remember all that shit I said about that Steve Reich record? Forget it. If you can't back that azz up to this set of cheesy please-me Miami bass novelty crunk, you might as well get snipped. Stoopid like Cupid, silly like putty, and retarded as love itself.

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