The Mystic Myth of the Love Song
By Mark Lopez
That's amore! These two simple words can evoke so many emotions. As the love season looms, people often turn to old records, CDs, tapes or iTunes playlists to rekindle that sacred flame and ignite sparks of amorous fancy. As a music writer and enthusiast of love undone—or let's say love on the upturned nails—I sought to dissect the myth of the love song.
So, I asked musicians and music lovers alike what their favorite love songs were—both old and modern—and found the answers were incredibly diverse and interesting. My goal was to determine a specific formula for how love songs have been composed and restructured as the decades have passed, and my findings were somewhat predictable, yet surprising.
I figured people would mainly pick songs within the genre wherein they spend most of their listening time: The punk kids would pick The Ramones' cover of The Ronettes' “Baby I Love You,” and people who dig rap would probably pick Biz Markie's “Just A Friend,” (even though it's not necessarily a lovey-dovey ditty). That isn't so. We seem to have reached an age where music genres don't hold a listener hostage.
When I was growing up, you had punks, goths, rappers, skaters, Rastas and so on. You could point your finger at a random person and take a somewhat accurate guess as to what music they were consuming as of late. Now, your chances of getting it right are probably 50/50, because even scenesters and hipsters strive to be ironic by listening to music that was once considered garbage. But, hey, who am I to judge?
Let's get back to the point, the love song. As I began working on this article, I posed the question: Are good love songs still being written today? Let's take a look. I wondered about this when I was listening to Adele's album, 21. Most people know the track, “Rolling in the Deep,” which made Adele one of the biggest chart-topping bullets in her record company's ammo belt, but “One and Only” is one of the best love songs I've heard in years.
Another surprisingly notable love song originates with Fiona Apple. On her latest album, The Idler Wheel..., there's “Anything We Want.” For someone who finds her elevated niche in the dark and dank aftermath of love-no-more, Apple sure has a knack for poetic intimacy, and even compares herself to “a neon zebra shaking rain off my stripes.” That may sound weird now, but listen to the song and you'll understand.
I'm not the type of music listener who willfully searches for songs about love, but when a good one hits, it's undeniable. My all-time favorite love song is “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by The Everly Brothers. While they were considered teen heartthrobs in the '50s, they touched on rock and roll's vivacity and added a twinge of sentimentality that made them seem ahead of their time. As far as love songs go, this one is an instant keeper.
Veering back to the “favorite love song” responses I got, some of the modern tracks were considerably ironic or less mainstream, like “Good Head” by Turbonegro, “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel and “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today” by She & Him. Some stuck mainly to the top-40 anthropological mantra that love is always a wildly popular human emotion. Let's face it, some people are only looking for love because—as B.J. Thomas put it— they're hooked on a feeling. The more popular submissions included The Cure's “Love Song,” “More Than Words” by Extreme and the Backstreet Boys' “As Long As You Love Me.”
One thing I've noticed about hardcore audiophiles is that they sometimes let their dissatisfaction with the music of today—in comparison with music of the past—override their appreciation for good music in general. The whole point of music is that it evokes feelings, emotions, thoughts and even … love. We'll always have Otis Redding, Al Green, Nina Simone, and such, because these musicians/singers are unparalleled in their ability to sing so nakedly and tenderly about love, lust and the power of the human mind to evoke such vivid details about its attributes.
Now, we have John Mayer's “Your Body is a Wonderland.” That's not necessarily a bad thing, because we also have Alicia Keys' “No One” and “Ready For Love” by India Arie. These are both good love songs, because they deal with love as a basic human emotion, which is what it is.
The myth of the love song—well, it's not a myth. They're out there, and they're coming for you whether you want that or not. Back to the question I initially posed: Are good love songs still being written? The answer is yes. It's just a matter of search and seizure. You have to look hard for them and seize those bastards like nobody's business. Love songs are as illustrious as the Macy's parade and as intimate as studying your reflection in the mirror for changes (not that I've done that). Break-up songs are just as natural, but that's an entirely different story. We're talking about love, man.
And, as Edison Lighthouse reminds us, “Love grows where my Rosemary goes.” You get the idea.
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Erika Wennerstrom • singer-