I remember once reading a rant by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe about the "odiousness" of love songs and his pride that his band really didn't do them. Of course, most people could easily rattle off a couple numbers from the group that most would objectively call love songs, namely "The One I Love" or "Strange Currencies."
And, course, Stipe isn't totally wrong. Many love songs can be overwrought and syrupy. But that hardly means there aren't volumes of shining examples. The bulk of the catalogs of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are comprised of love songs. Few would consider them odious songwriters. Meanwhile, the Austin, Tex., quartet Quiet Company (NMT) has devoted their entire collection to non-schmaltzy songs concerning love.
What follows in this special Valentine's Day edition of New Music Tuesdays are my five favorite songs about and informed by love. Certainly, you may have your own list. That's great. Feel free to share yours in the comments.
#5 – "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)"
The Decemberists (NMT, NMT)
The Crane Wife (2006)
I initially considered making this list consist entirely of Decemberists material. Maybe next year. Few songwriters are as able to craft original yet endearing love songs as the Portland, Ore., quintet's frontman, Colin Meloy. It doesn't get much more creative than this posthumous love letter from a departed Civil War solider on the Union side to his Confederate sweetheart, a duet beautifully delivered by Meloy and Laura Veirs (NMT).
Key lyric: "But oh my love, though our bodies may be parted, though our skin may not touch skin. Look for me with the sun-bright sparrow, I will come on the breath of the wind..."
#4 – "She's An Angel"
They Might Be Giants (NMT, NMT)
They Might Be Giants (1986)
Few observers think of the duo of Johns – Flansbaugh and Linnell – who constitute They Might Be Giants (TMBG) as purveyors of love songs. And that's a correct perception, as most of their lyrical compositions focus on matters of science, humor and oddity. But this cut from their self-titled debut has staying power among the Johns' most sincere – if slightly paranoid – contributions on matters of the heart.
Key lyric: "I found out she's an angel,
I don't think she knows I know.
I'm worried that something might happen to me
If anyone ever finds out."
#3 – "I'll Be That Girl"
Much like TMBG, Canada's chief musical humor export are seldom recognized for their more serious offerings, although they actually comprise a greater portion of the band's oeuvre. Not only is this lesser-known track of the group's U.S. breakout record among the best numbers on that album, but it ranks among the best songwriting the now-departed, former co-frontman Steven Page (NMT) contributed to the band, due to its dark, role-reversal theme resting upon seemingly cheery pop-rock instrumentation.
Key lyric: "It's time to kick off your shoes, learn how to choose sadness. It's time to throw off those chains, addle our brains with madness. 'Cause we've got plenty of time to grow old and die, but when at last your beauty's faded you'll be glad that I have waited for you..."
#2 – "We Both Go Down Together"
Meloy is particularly prolific in churning out love songs in the star-crossed lovers archetype ("O Valencia!," "From My Own True Love (Lost At Sea)," the William/Margaret storyline in The Hazards of Love), but, of those, this is unquestionably his best.
Key lyric: "Meet me on my vast veranda, My sweet, untouched Miranda! And while the seagulls are crying, we fall but our souls are flying!"
#1 – "The Gambler"
fun. (NMT, NMT)
Aim & Ignite (2009)
fun. frontman Nate Ruess poured everything he knew about love songs into a fragile but convicting piano ballad from the New York trio's debut. It's not Ruess' own experience of romantic love, but that of his parents. Personally, your blogger and his wife chose it for their first dance. I'm know we weren't the first or last.
Key lyric: "I swear when I grow up I won't just buy you a rose, I will buy the flower shop, and you will never be lonely. For even if the sun stops waking up over the fields, I will not leave, I will not leave 'til it's our time. So just take my hand, you know that I will never leave your side..."