In the pop canon there are songs about death, surfing and job-stealing Japanese robots, but music's most enduring theme is love. Why? Maybe because music's mysterious effects on us are a lot like the mystery of love itself. Is the love my boyfriend and I share powered by chemistry, or quantum physics, or by our mutual interest in Julianna Margulies? Not sure, but I can sing you a song about it.
In this season of Valentine's Day, I asked six local musicians to riff on their favorite love songs: Mike Reisenaur of the acclaimed chamber pop group Pale Young Gentlemen; Whitewater polka mainstay Steve Meisner; singer and songwriter Jentri Collelo, of Flight; Sims Delaney-Potthoff, who with wife Maggie performs the gypsy jazz of Harmonious Wail; Danny Hicks of the country act Danny Paris and the 'Shiners; and Shane O'Neill, who sings with pop-punk favorites Screamin' Cyn Cyn and the Pons and heads up the electro project Shane Shane.
For the record, my favorite love song is Blossom Dearie's "Rhode Island is Famous For You." Runner-up: Olivia Newton-John's dreamy disco single "Xanadu." It's about building dreams together, and if the Coleridge reference conjures up hubris and regret, well, those go with love, too.
"Lovefool" by the Cardigans is maybe one of the best pure pop songs ever written about love or anything. I remember hearing it for the first time on one of those free Urban Outfitters cassettes they used to give away. I think it works because it tackles teenage love in a way that adults understand. The lyrics are kinda teenager-in-love serious, but the music frames them as, "Oh well, I'm young. Who cares? Let's dance!"
Love is so huge and volatile nobody'll ever stop writing songs about it.
I'm a hopeless romantic, so love songs are always my favorites. In fact, the first LP I recorded in 1983, titled Songs of Love, included several originals -- polkas and waltzes with titles like "Songs of Love," "I Love You," "All For You" and "My Sweetest of Dreams." "All For You" and "Songs of Love" have been popular requests throughout the years for weddings and anniversaries.
My favorite love songs happen to be my own compositions because they have a direct relationship to my 25-year marriage with my wife Barb. My favorite composition is undoubtedly "Mysterious Stranger" from the Meisner Magic release because I wrote it for Barb. (Barbara means mysterious stranger.)
Ironically, my wife's favorite is "The Way You Look Tonight" -- not a Meisner original. However, it is important to note that this tune is only her favorite if I sing it. If it makes her happy, then I'm happy to oblige.
Harry Nilsson's rendition of the Badfinger song "Without You." His voice is unreal, and it's fun to sing at the top of your lungs in a car full of people.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention what a perfect Valentine's event the Midwest Gypsy Swing Fest is. Parisian romance and gypsy passion. [It's this weekend at the Brink Lounge.] As for songs, Harmonious Wail has forever had in its repertoire "Exactly Like You." We will be playing it Saturday night at the fest with special guest Les Thimmig.
Two others. One is "The Vegan Zombie's Lament," a tune written by our son Henry. It's the title track of our new CD, due March 15. Second is another new tune, self-penned, from the same CD, called "Lagavulin Bay."
One more for me. I have always had a soft spot for "My One and Only Love." Makes me cry.
I'm sure there are more -- "Anouman" by Django Reinhardt. "La Mer." "La Vie en Rose."
Sorry. I could go on and on.
There's nothing like a woman defending her love. It always makes me smirk when my wife, Annelies, sits in with Danny Paris and the 'Shiners and sings Loretta Lynn's "You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man." I feel the love.
One of my favorite songs about lost love is Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone." It's filled with desperation and optimism; conflicting emotions always make a great song.
The best love songs in the universe were written by the Minneapolis band Best Friends Forever. While I love and relate to the creepy narcissism of "Twins in Love" and the obsessed-from-afar factor in a whole bunch of their other songs, my favorite is "My Head in Front of Your Head," alternately titled "Abe Lincoln."
"My Head in Front of Your Head" is a love song dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. It's cute and funny, and I get the sense it's one of those songs that is so frequently requested that the band members themselves are totally sick of it, but I can't help loving it.
The most crucial part for a love song to work, for me, is an element of unrequited feelings or tragic roadblocks to an otherwise perfect love. You can't get a much bigger impediment to true love than the fact that your beloved was assassinated over a century ago.
The first time I heard the song was at a BFF show at the Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis. While I laughed at the absurdity, and was impressed at the song's accurate biographical details, I actually found myself tearing up at the conclusion of the chorus: "If I'd been on the balcony of Ford's Theatre, when Mr. Booth came up with gun in hand I would have put my head in front of your head."
Ultimately, "My Head In Front of Your Head" is about feeling wholly devoted to something abstract and invisible, yet incredibly dear. That's the kind of love I find most romantic and can most relate to, especially since it can't get clouded by ugliness like genitalia or responsibility.