Music sure is sexy, and it can even be loveable. Facts are facts: Popular music has long been a repository for the grand narrative of human hook-ups, both good and bad. In particular, the history of rock and roll and pop music is filled with ruminations of smitten artists exploring a phenomenon close to our collective hearts, bodies and minds.
So much of the genre is a direct commentary on our deeply emotional lives that the love song offers a variety of sensual, cynical flavors acting as everything from aphrodisiac to admonition. Whomever you are and wherever you come from, there’s bound to be at least one song with which all listeners can identify, whether expressed in celebratory sighs or mournful cries.
Practically infinite in its iterations, some of this lusty produce is more fecund and affective than others: a version of love’s story, granting access to a sort of nakedness that rises to profundity. And therein is the provocative rub.
Practically infinite in its iterations, some of this lusty produce is more fecund and affective than others—a version of love’s story, granting access to a sort of nakedness that rises to profundity. And therein is the provocative rub. Here is a list of the tunes that do it for us here at the Alibi headquarters.
Our list begins with “Material Girl” by Madonna, a crazy-wicked pop portrayal of American life and love in the specter of the almighty dollar that rose to Number 2 on the American charts in the winter of 1984. Buoyed by a dandy hook and surrounded sumptuously by Peter Brown’s piquant, synth-laden melody, “Material Girl” helped define what sexy really meant to acquisitive, late-20th century hairless apes. The sense of hunger engendered by Madonna’s petulant delivery is palpable.
Clyde McPhatter’s haunting 1962 recording of obscure country songwriter Billy Swan’s “Lover Please” set a standard for longing and desire that remains untouched more than 50 years after its release. Mirroring the isolation and desolation of failed relationships while also presaging McPhatter’s disappointment in his own perpetually stalling career, the song features a ghostlike piano solo that jangles the soul with melancholy and expectation.
Then there’s “The Fountain of Salmacis,” a collaborative composition sung by an uber-self conscious yet undeniably alien Peter Gabriel on Genesis’ third studio album Nursery Cryme. Touching on the troubled love affair between a naiad and the son of Aphrodite (first described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses), “The Fountain of Salmacis” rises up through Tony Banks’ swirling keyboards to reveal a startling end to a presumably doomed relationship, as Gabriel evocatively croons, “Unearthly calm descended from the sky/ And then their flesh and bones were strangely merged/ Forever to be joined as one.”
Back here on Earth, Joni Mitchell’s “Rainy Night House” portrays the complexity of human attraction in a nuanced narrative. The plaintive, piano-focused tune captures the ambivalence and search for identity present at the beginning of most romantic encounters, rendering personal history and circumstance as corollaries to hopeful outcomes. Mitchell's stanza “It was a rainy night/ We took a taxi to your mother’s home/ She went to Florida/ And left you/ With your father’s gun, alone/ Upon her small white bed/ I fell into a dream/ You sat up all the night and watched me/ To see/ Who in the world I might be” perfectly describes the beginning of love or something like it in a symbolic, universal language.