Sunday, February 14, 2010
Like many of the blog entries to have come before it, this one started as a drunken debate.
In his own nomination below, Dom Farrell gives the full break down of how it happened, but basically we got to arguing the toss of what might be the greatest love song of all time.
Of course, it's an impossible question. In the five months in between time, we've barely managed to define the boundaries of a love song, nevermind establish the best one.
But we figured it was a good excuse to get most of the Musical Advent Calendar panel (plus a couple of newbies) back together, and pontificate.
The only condition we asked for when panelists made their nomination is that they must be able to explain why their song is a love song. It might not necessarily be, as Ali Mason neatly described them, a traditional 'chocolates and roses' love song, but that had to be the basic theme.
And what better day to tackle this subject than Valentine's Day?
Away we go...
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Into My Arms (The Boatman's Call, 1997)
Let us start from a sensible premise. Asking for the greatest/best/most definitive love song is a ludicrous question. It’s impossible. It doesn’t, nor can it, exist. Having acknowledged that let me now posit the following contention: Nick Cave’s Into My Arms is the greatest, best and most definitive love song going. While free of the saccharine strings and Hallmark-style lyrics which blight so many ‘classic’ love songs, there is something unapologetically tender about this song. Nick Cave being Nick Cave, things aren’t all that straightforward. He begins the song from the obtuse start point of conditional atheism (“I don’t believe in an interventionist God”) and spends the rest of the song meditating on the only counter argument he can think of for the presence divine being: his lover. If this song has been conceived of as more a song of religious conversion than love, and the imagery invoked certainly suggests that, then what of it? The cental theme at play in both - faith and faithfulness - is the same. That he wrote this song in the same sessions as he composed Murder Ballads - an album of homicidal fantasy culminating in an exaggerated male rape at gunpoint - makes its plaintive, heartfelt delivery all the more remarkable.
Lance Pierce - This Guy's In Love With You (Simply The Songs of Burt Bacharach, 2008)
One of the more criminally under-rated products of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David songbook, This Guy's in Love With You first came to my attention when Noel Gallagher bigged it up in the mid-90s as the best song ever written. It was certainly good enough for him to plagiarise wholesale for Half the World Away, and for me to trawl through 60 cover versions on Spotify to find this one. What I love about it is its simplicity - melodically, it has just enough twists, turns and peaks to hook the listener, but it's such a simple message lyrically, encapsulated nicely within the title. Nothing too fancy - just a guy in love with a girl, pleading with her to love him back. I still get shivers when I hear the line "My hands are shaking".
Daft Punk - Digital Love (Discovery, 2001)
With approximately 92.3% of all love songs lamenting the break-up of a relationship, I decide to buck the trend and plump for an uplifting slice of electronica. The French DJ duo artfully reworked the George Duke song "I Love You More" into a dancefloor-friendly ballad of love at first sight, which is worthy of a place at any Valentines Day table. The soft synth is punctuated by staccato guitars that build to a euphoric 80’s style axe solo, which should be out of place, but somehow rounds off a fantastic ode to disco romance. Honourable mentions… A Perfect Circle – 3 Libras, MF Doom – Let Me Watch, Bloc Party – Biko, The Hold Steady – First Night, Oasis – Slide Away.
The Beatles - Here, There and Everywhere (Revolver, 1966)
“Love is hard to find. And even harder to define,” sang Richard Hawley on Truelove’s Gutter track Open Up Your Door. Of course, he’s correct on both counts, but that hasn’t stopped virtually every songwriter having a go at the latter. Many have come close, some have manage to capture certain elements of the Big L, but none have nailed the most mysterious and powerful of emotions quite like Paul McCartney did with this 1966 composition. At the time, artistically at least, McCartney was in direct competition with head Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who, just a few months earlier had unveiled his masterpiece Pet Sounds. McCartney’s determination to top that album, particularly the choral majesty of God Only Knows, together with his love for then-girlfriend Jane Asher resulted in, even by his own admission, one of the finest songs he’s ever written. Despite it’s natural flow, it was musically very clever (for example it incorporates four separate keys – G major, E minor, G minor and B flat) while lyrically it’s breathtakingly simplistic – he wants and needs this person by his side – yet within the song’s perfect two minutes and 25 seconds, he conveys exactly how he feels and why this person’s so special. The description of his love, making each day of his year and changing his life with the wave of a hand, is enough to inspire jealousy in the listener, yet somehow, amid all the high emotion, the song manages to steer well clear of both that and cloying, greeting-card sentimentality. For me, at least, that’s proof of its life-affirming brilliance and place as the best love song ever written. If someone ever asks you what it’s like to be in love, play them this song. If they get anywhere near something this pure, they'll be doing just fine.
Pulp - Something Changed (Different Class, 1996)
Whether he’s singing about sex or senior citizens, Jarvis Cocker always manages to bring a sense of romance to his music. A love song with a twist – it was written “two hours before we met,” – Something Changed captures the feeling of meeting a new love, its strings orchestrating the first flutter of the heart and its lyrics ruminating on the role of fate. Totally irony free and schmaltzy in all the right ways, it sounds like falling in love.
Rufus Wainwright - The Art Teacher (Want Two, 2004)
Every Rufus Wainwright album contains a great song. On Want Two, it's The Art Teacher. It's an atypical love song, told from the point of view of a woman remembering the art teacher she fell for as a schoolgirl. The relationship that never was is recalled through one specific occasion - a field trip to a gallery - with touching details about who liked which artists. Not many singers pack as much emotion into their voices as Rufus and as he powers through the details of how life turned out over the relentless piano, it seems almost too painful for him voice. It's not a traditional love song, but it does speak of the sheer, overwhelming power of love. Some will see this choice as a cop-out, and it probably is, but I couldn't think of a pure, chocolates-and-roses ballad which I was prepared to name as the best love song of all time. And anyway, it has wild applause at the end - what could be more uplifting than that?
REM - Nightswimming (Automatic For The People, 1992)
During a party at my house a couple of months back, attended by some of these fine contributors, a good number of people ended up drunk in the kitchen listening to music - as it should be I'm sure you'll agree. It was here that I proclaimed Nightswimming to be the finest love song in the history of ever. Obviously this is an overly bombastic statement that it is hard to argue convincingly in favour of. But that isn't about to stop me. I'm generally a big fan of sweeping drunken statements and will tend to defend them to the hilt. A song by a band who have produced numerous truly beautiful moments, Nightswimming could just be REM's finest hour. The trick is in its simplicity. Mike Mills' circular piano motif is underpinned by a deft strings section (arranged by none other than Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones) and joined late in the piece by a solitary oboe. This allows a flawless melodic structure and Michael Stipe's stark lyric to come to the fore. I adore Nightswimming as a love song because the love it depicts is fragile and one striving to be expressed with great conviction. There is no sugar coating, just pure vulnerability, casting Stipe as the nervous guy waiting in the corner waiting for his date to arrive five minutes after they said they would, as opposed to the sweeping romantic with half a dozen roses in his hand and a further one in his teeth. And in the line "I'm not sure all these people understand" Stipe nails it. A love between two people can only be fully comprehended by those involved, that's what makes it special. Sod it, it bloody well is the best love song ever.
The Band - Long Black Veil (Music From Big Pink, 1968)
Yeah, I know, it's a long way from being a traditional love song, but it is about a man willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his love, even if it is an illicit one. Sung from beyond the grave by the man who loved his best friend's wife and hung for it, this is a haunting tribute to the woman who may not be his widow, but does nevertheless loyally visit his grave in a long black veil. It was written in 1959 by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, first sung by Lefty Frizzell and has been covered dozens of times since, but I've never found a version better than that of the Band's legendary Music From Big Pink.
So there we have it. No doubt no one agrees with any of our picks.
One last thing before we go though. I just wanted to post this track, cos, well, I love it, and today is the day. Here's Steve Earle singing Valentine's Day. It's a live version, with a long, rambling intro posted alongside it too.
Steve Earle - Intro To Valentine's Day (Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt & Guy Clark, Together at the Bluebird Cafe, 2001)
Steve Earle - Valentine's Day (Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt & Guy Clark, Together at the Bluebird Cafe, 2001)
Happy Valentines Day