Love is the topic for a depressing, or inspiring, depending on your current relationship status, amount of art. Year in, year out, it’s a dead-cert that love, lust, sex, or any of its variations and derivatives will be the preferred subject for an artist’s self-expression. Recessions, revolutions and wars come and go, but love is always there.
Music is the most shameless culprit of this shameless recycling of a tired and overrated theme, (have you got that I’m single yet?) so doing a themed post on music suitable for Valentine’s day might be a little dull. With that in mind, I’m going to spice things up a bit and spread the net a little further. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Seven Ages Of Love… in song form.
1. First flushes and unrequited admiration
Probably the most common, most unsatisfying period of any relationship is the period where it isn’t a relationship at all. In the best case scenario you’ll get it together eventually; in the worst your heart will be wrenched painfully through the mangle of rejection. Or maybe you won’t even approach her, or him, and you’ll just admire from afar.
Unsurprisingly this state of inaction, rejection and, sometimes, validation is a pretty rich vein for ‘artistic expression’. From mopey, self-pitying angst, stalkerish obsession, all the way to sleazy, slow-motion perving, there’s a lot to be said about that initial spark.
The White Stripes – Fell In Love With A Girl
Out of the massive pool of songs that attempt to coin that initial jolt of love/lust into a traditional song structure, I can’t think of any other song that best nails it. In terms of both form and content, it is that dizzing feeling of realising there’s someone else. The lyrics, delivered in that excitable yet anthemic spray of pure emotion, the wordless ‘woo-hoo’ cry of the chorus, perfectly sums up the indescribable sensory overload of young love/lust in its initial sprouting; it’s irrepressible, universal nature is only matched by that abrasive buzzsaw-guitar riff and Meg’s chaotic yet straightforward drumming that mimics a panicked heartbeat.
Yet, at the same time, it’s brutally humble, rawly pragmatic. Apart from her ‘red curl’, there’s no time for a soppy and trite tribute to this girl’s beauty; it’s all about that overwhelming explosion of that initial meeting, which is what makes it so great.
And it’s all over in under two minutes.
2. She Loves You!
You pluck up the courage to approach her and you get on! She says yes! Excellent! Brilliant! You spend the day together, tentatively feeling each other out – perhaps literally if she’s that kind of girl – and then you skip home and do a celebratory dance in your bedroom (Just me?).
Nothing can go wrong; you’re invincible!
The Beatles – She Loves You
Obvious choice, but it really sums up the buoyant, ecstatic mood of getting with that special one. Like a lot of The Beatles pre-Rubber Soul stuff it does sound very much of its time – it wears that Merseybeat DNA very much on its sleeve. A little trite, a little hokey and somewhat childlike in its excitable naivety, but unlike other happy-smiley Beatles songs of the period, it makes perfect sense for the song to be as it is. Yeah, it’s annoyingly bright, but the opening days and weeks of a relationship are like that. The song’s that annoying couple who are always lost in each other’s eyes, with the public displays of nauseating affection before they become that annoying couple and are merely sweet.
3. The Honeymoon
Everything’s going swimmingly and you’re a tight unit. You have your rows, but what couple doesn’t? You’re stronger than squabbling anyway. Perhaps you’ve moved in with each other, she’s got a her own key and you’re looking forward to a long future together.
All very nice, but this isn’t really the sort of comfortable equilibrium pop songs are made from. At least not very good ones. Regardless, listening to music isn’t so important to you any more. She doesn’t quite appreciate the nuances of chillwave and prefers to have Radio 1 on for ‘some proper tunes’. You’re cool with that though, right?
Animal Collective – Bluish
Probably one of the less appreciated tracks off a thoroughly appreciated album. Unlike most Animal Collective songs, there’s no huge, dubby soundscapes, ravey repetition or any other sort of sonic tomfoolery at the forefront, dragging you in – there’s just some really nice lyrics that are perfectly romantic and natural. A chorus instructing a partner to dress in a certain way for the singer’s own pleasure would sound seedy and controlling in hands of most bands, but when Avey croons it, its the sound of a lover lost in the beauty of his partner. The delicate, carefully textured melody perfectly suggestive of an enclosed, sequestered space – A bed, a sofa, or, if I’m going for full wanky points, a more abstract ‘place’ such as a happy relationship – in which two lovers are immersed.
So your differences in what constitutes ‘real music’ are starting to grate, but to make up for subjecting you to all that awful James Blunt, there is that thing she does quite well.
If your a particularly cold, detached bastard you might have ended up here without going through the joys and tribulations of the previous four ages. For those heartless people, have a little Serge.
Serge Gainsbourg – En Melody
It’s Serge Gainsbourg, there’s a woman’s orgasmic snorts, even that guitar riff is pure filth. Smut in the form of music; a News Of The World headline in notation.
That thing isn’t doing it for you any more and things are starting to grate. She wants to take you to Radio 1’s Big Weekend, but you’ve told her you’ve already arranged to go to Glastonbury and she’s not happy.
The Long Blondes – Giddy Stratospheres
Karen Jackson got a lot of unjust criticism for trying to imitate Jarvis Cocker – from Jarvis Cocker himself at one point – but I’ve always been a fan. The Long Blondes two albums were pretty much all about relationships and sex, but it was intelligent, witty and catchy. Here Ms Jackson plays Devil’s Advocate, reminding a friend, or maybe a boy she wants to steal away, that the girl he’s with won’t take him to ‘Giddy Straospheres’, presumably in the bedroom department. It’s a refreshing and sharp take on the usual ‘pre-break-up’ angle of pop song which usually revolves around Male/Female tribalism; there’s something refreshing about hearing a girl bitch about a girl for a change.
6. The Break-Up
This is going to hurt, but the entire, poorly tagged, John Mayer discography she dumped in what was your immaculate, carefully ordered iTunes library was completely unacceptable.
The Smiths – I Know It’s Over
The prefect song for moping to. Put this on and the tears will come. There there, it’s ok. Like The Beatles song that kicked it all off, it’s perhaps a little OTT, a little maudlin, (‘oh, mother!’) but like The Beatles track, that’s exactly what you want right now. Your world is falling in on you. You can feel the soil falling on your head and Morrissey’s tender falsetto is exactly what’s going to get you through this.
7. Single and reminiscing
So, it’s all over and you know it. Time to reassess. Maybe you’ll embrace your newly gained independence. Maybe you’ll hurtle into the depths of despair wondering where it went wrong. If it’s any consolation, the best songs get written in this final, post-relationship stage. Just listen to this one.
Nick Cave – Disco 2000
The ultimate anthem for awkward and bitter geeks everywhere. On the original and in this Nick Cave cover the expression is kept fairly muted but admirably defiant for a song about watching your childhood sweetheart slip out of your life because you were too socially inept to do anything about it. The story of missed opportunities, teenage insecurity and playground politics somewhat redeemed in the end by a hopeful look to the future is wonderfully cathartic. It’s a karaoke classic in the best possible sense. When people sing this, slightly drunk in their local, they’re imagining their own Debra. Like all of the best Cocker lyrics it’s romantically soaring but all the while it remains grounded in the mundane, the kitchen-sink element of ordinary day to day life. The little details: Debra’s married, she has a kid, the woodchip on the wall, the way Cocker intones ‘popular’ with barely suppressed condescension and rage, that her precocious spurt into puberty is what undoes the fairy-tale romance alluded to in the first verse ‘You were the first girl at school to get breasts/And Martin said that you were the best/Oh, the boys all loved you, but I was a mess/I had to watch them try to get you undressed’. A perfect song I’ll never tire of.
Maybe in ten years time you’ll look back fondly on your relationship, maybe you won’t. Time is a great healer, so they say.
…Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!