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Culture in Context

Happy ValenChimes Day! A sweet suite of love songs

If you think about it, most songs are love songs. Few things have inspired great works of art, poetry or song as reliably as romance. And on this special day we dedicate every February to that special feeling, Culture In Context is bringing you the very best love songs ever. NOTE: The Chimes cannot be held responsible for violations of PDA regulations, open hours or premature “Ring by Spring” occurrences brought on by this playlist — It’s just that good. – JK

 

1. The Tension and the Terror | by Straylight Run — John Nolan, perhaps better known for his role in Taking Back Sunday as “the talented one,” quit the more popular punk-rock outfit to found Straylight Run in 2003. With more acoustic, alternative leanings, the ill-fated band is now dissolved, leaving behind a ridiculously rich catalog of EPs and two studio albums. This song holds a special place in my heart as it is “our song” — “our” referring to your humble correspondent and the Chimes’ very own senior copy editor Lauralyn Koontz. We’ll be wed this summer; one of our first dates was to a Straylight Run concert. Coincidence? I think not. – JK

2. Iris | by The Goo Goo Dolls — There are some songs that just work. On every level, “Iris” is infallible. You can be the most inscrutable hipster or suffer from a terminal case of Bieber Fever — this song will make you wistful, money back guaranteed. If you don’t like this song, stop listening to this playlist and fit yourself for a casket as you are dead inside, and the outside is sure to follow along shortly. – JK

3. My Love | by Paul McCartney and Wings — No V-day playlist would be complete without an appearance by popular music’s quintessential love song writer, Paul McCartney. Paul and first wife Linda’s was perhaps the most talked-about romance in music culture, and this was just one of the many love songs the former Beatle penned for his muse. – JK

4. God Only Knows | by The Beach Boys — Of all the love songs to choose from off the legendary Pet Sounds record, the obvious choice is “Wouldn’t it be Nice.” But “God Only Knows” has that world-weary edge to it. Whereas the former seems like childish infatuation run amok, the latter admits that feelings of love fade. But the gravity and impact one relationship can have on a person’s life comes through in this wilting, lilting ballad. Hauntingly beautiful. – JK

5. Time After Time | by Cyndi Lauper — Believe it or not, the same chick in the legwarmers responsible for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is also responsible for this achingly-heartfelt ode to waiting on love. Heard behind the credits of Every Romantic Comedy Ever, what’s even more impressive is how nicely the song cleans up. Lauper still performs this song acoustically (with country star Sarah McLauchlan on the recorded version) and it gets even more sublime.  – JK

6. Barry White | by You’re the First, the Last, My Everything — This is a selection from a particular sub-genre of pop/funk/disco tunes known affectionately as “baby makin’ music.” And sure, some of these can be a little too direct for day-to-day listening purposes — think Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” — but they can also be tender and warm. This tune has a groovy, up-tempo vibe with a huge backbeat. If you’re not in love right now, this song will teach you how to fake it. – JK

7. Baby I Love Your Way | by Peter Frampton — This is your parents’ song. Trust me on this. In fact, you know what? Don’t. Call your Mom and Dad right now, and ask them what their song was when they were dating. I’ll wait.

I told you. – JK

8. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea | by Neutral Milk Hotel — Up ‘til this point, my choices have been pretty much radio-friendly hits. I’ve culled less from the deep tracks of alternative hipsterdom where Culture in Context typically feels most at home. Allow me to redeem my Pitchfork cred with a shout out to the band that basically invented the hipster: Neutral Milk Hotel. Powered by the nasal, uneasy vocals of Jeff Magnum and accompanied by lone brass instruments and a singing saw (!), this song's existence is why disaffected music nerds recoil from your Biebers and Pit Bulls. The imaginative, unusual, almost uncomfortable arrangement coupled with the poetic, romantic lyric prove that music can be so much more than drum machines and autotune. If you’ve got your eye on a lad or lass who wears knit wool caps and uses the word “corporate” a lot, let them find you listening to this song. You can thank me later. – JK

9. Love is Lighter Than Air | by The Magnetic Fields — It’s an official rule. You get to know me for five minutes before I bring up how much I love The Magnetic Fields. While Stephin Merritt’s quirky, baritone askewerings of love song cliches may not be for everyone, they certainly fit right in on this playlist. It’s a song almost ecstatic in its celebratory guitar licks. “Love is lighter than air / It floats away when you let go,” sings Merritt. And it’s pretty easy to float away from whatever’s bringing you down when there’s songs like this in the world. - MH

10. Thirteen | by Big Star — Big Star is rarely acknowledged as a classic ‘70s band, but Alex Chilton’s influence rained down over future generations of alternative, lesser-known rockers. This song in particular crystallizes what it feels like to fall in love with rock and roll or a person for the first time, with nothing but the interplay of four acoustic guitars, Chilton’s yearning voice and his band’s la-la-la harmonies. Before responsibility, before innocence is robbed by experience, there’s turning 13. - MH

11. She Sells Sanctuary | by The Cult — Love, for better or worse, is still defined primarily by the ‘80s new wave songs I listened to in my mid-teen years. The Cult’s major hit, “She Sells Sanctuary,” has just the right amount of darkness to give realism to the otherwise naive and dangerous claim that “I know in her you’ll find / The sanctuary” a bit more easy to stomach. And the world and the world and the world and the world / The world drags me down.” - MH

12. Sometimes | by My Bloody Valentine — Given this playlist’s theme, a song from My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” seems to be off-kilter but necessary. The band name and album title both relate but only insofar as they seem to negate the lovey dovey sentiments of the day. “Sometimes” has such an unplaceable beauty to it. There are plenty of whispers about love here: “Over there, and I want true love to love,” “You will find the way it hurts to love,” “Over there, when I await true love for you.” Words like these usually are whispers, sometimes not uttered to anyone but ourselves, drowned out by the ear-busting beauty of the world. - MH

13. Pretty in Pink | by The Psychedelic Furs — Let’s hope no one here thought we were gonna get through this list without including a song from a John Hughes movie soundtrack. I may have testosterone flowing through me but apparently not enough to refrain from admitting how much I love “Pretty in Pink.” Most decent people have been Andie, Blaine and Duckie at some point in their lives because that’s just how human interaction seems to go. And let’s just be real here, when this song gets to the chorus, you are dancing, fist bumping, etc. If you’re not, get your skull checked. - MH

14. The Boy with the Thorn in His Side | by The Smiths — I’m one of those who thinks the musical partnership of Morrissey and Johnny Marr is on the same playing field as Lennon-McCartney and Jagger-Richards. Given all the sex-charged hair metal and naive pop music going on in the ‘80s, Morrissey’s was a voice that needed to be heard. Starting a song, with “The boy with the thorn in his side / Behind the hatred there lies a murderous desire / For love” is a gambit but one that pays off exponentially. Plus, Johnny Marr is one of the most innovative, incredible guitarists of all time. - MH

15. Girl from the North Country | by Bob Dylan — Dylan may have released his voice-of-a-generation protest hit “Blowin’ in the Wind” on the same album, but “Girl from the North Country” sure reveals his softer side. It’s nice to know that in his earliest, most untainted form he was a fingerpicking, lovelorn troubadour just like any of us. “Remember me to one who lives there / For she once was a true love of mine.” - MH

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