Monday, February 14, 2011

In the Mood for... (unconventional) Love Songs

As I’m kicking this blog off on Valentine’s Day inspired by the most recent episode of Gleeful Podcast, I thought it only appropriate for this first entry to cover the emotion most celebrated by the music industry, L-O-V-E. I have never been much of a traditionalist when it comes to love though so there will be no Celine Dion or Whitney Houston here. Instead, in honor of Cupid’s (and Hallmark’s) #1 holiday, I’ve put together a list of five of my favorite not-so-common love songs.

Note: I decided to focus on modern (21st century) songs, otherwise there is no way I could limit my selection to just five.

My favorite kind of song is one that tells a story that is both personal to the songwriter and metaphorical allowing us as listeners to internalize the lyrics and draw parallels to our own experiences. When it comes to a love song, I just can’t handle endless declarations of happiness and perfection. I prefer those that deal with realism and obstacles, yet still have an idealistic or romantic quality to them.  

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“First Day of My Life”
Bright Eyes (I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, 2005)
One of my favorite songwriters is the man behind Bright Eyes, Connor Oberst ,whose angst ridden lyrics are often as agonizingly raw as his vocals.  The great thing about this song is proclamations like, “I’m glad I didn’t die before I met you” that can be read either as sincere or sarcastic, making it relevant to hopeless romantics and jaded romanti-phobes alike.
Sample lyrics:
Yours is the first face that I saw
I think I was blind before I met you
Now I don’t know where I am 
I don’t know where I’ve been
But I know where I want to go

“The Art Teacher”
Rufus Wainwright (Want Two, 2004)
Like Oberst, Wainwright’s songs come off as deeply personal. His voice evokes passion in every word, forcing you to live the lyrics with him, but also inspiring you to reminisce about your own experiences. Here, Wainwright sings in first-person narrative of someone unsatisfied with their current life looking back on a first love. Although the lyrics are quite specific, the subject of adolescent crushes and unrequited love allows us to draw parallels to our own secret yearnings and the loves that shaped us, sometimes unknowingly.
Sample lyrics:
He asked us what our favorite work of art was,
And never could I tell him it was him
Oh, I wish I could tell him --
Oh, I wish I could have told him

“Last Night on Earth”
Green Day (21st Century Breakdown, 2009)
Last summer I took my brother to his first concert to celebrate his 17th birthday. We went to see his favorite band, Green Day. I was a fan of the band in my teens, but hadn’t really listened to them in recent years other than the overplayed singles from American Idiot. They played all of the hits I was familiar with at their show, but near the end they played this song, which I had never heard and instantly fell in love with. As part of a concept-album that I have never listened to straight through, I am not really sure what it is about as part of the rock opera that is 21st Century Breakdown. I prefer to listen to it as a bittersweet love song with melancholic and apocalyptic undertones. We never know if the narrator reaches his love, but we don’t doubt the sincerity of his feelings.
Sample lyrics:
My beating heart belongs to you
I walked for miles 'til I found you
I'm here to honor you
If I lose everything in the fire
I'm sending all my love to you

“Inside of Love”
Nada Surf (Let Go, 2003)
Nada Surf is still often regarded as a one-hit wonder for their 1996 fast-talking hit “Popular,” but their subsequent albums showcased their indie sensibilities and provided some really great songs that have played in the background of many TV shows. This song exemplifies the internal struggle of someone who has convinced himself he is okay being alone as a defense mechanism after obviously experiencing heartache in the past, yet he fears he may be missing out on something great and can’t decide if it’s a leap worth taking. I find this song deeply depressing in a really hopeful way.
Sample lyrics:
I'm on the outside of love
Always under or above
Must be a different view
To be a me with a you
Of course I'll be alright
I just had a bad night 

“I Will Follow You Into the Dark”
Death Cab for Cutie (Plans, 2005)
Losing someone you love is one of the most painful experiences in life so it would seem an unlikely subject of a love song, but as Romeo and Juliet taught us there is nothing more romantic than dying with the one you love. In this song, the band explores this sentiment and gives us one of the most heartbreaking yet idealistic songs of all time. Ben Gibbard may not be willing to take a grenade for his love the way Bruno Mars claims to be, but he is willing to go together or at least provide the comforting thought of love not ending just because life does.
Sample lyrics:
You and me have seen everything to see
From Bangkok to Calgary
And the soles of your shoes are all worn down
The time for sleep is now
It's nothing to cry about
'cause we'll hold each other soon
In the blackest of rooms

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