Pick Your Poison
Two Valentine’s Day mix tapes for one special reader
Before we begin: Happy Valentine's Day! And thanks for spending a portion of it here at TMT. We'd send you all chocolates, but we don't want to be known as "that online music mag with all the fat readers." You'll just have to live with the gift of a couple of mix tapes instead.
Music is all about context. It has to be, or else we'd all love some obscure symphony from the 18th century best. And one of the most powerful musical contexts comes with the ones you throw your heart at. Seemingly benign songs get the "remember forever" treatment when they get played on the car stereo as the windows fog up or, conversely, as the door slams shut and you're left all alone in the dress you bought specifically for what you hoped wouldn't be the last date.
And sometimes those big moments don't even need to happen. A song can hold that power in itself, whether it's in the singer's throat or in the way the lead guitarist tries desperately to explain himself in a solo before finally devolving the whole attempt into feedback. Music helps us express ourselves. It helps us love and hate. We sing gaily at weddings and chant menacingly at protests.
So, I guess the question is: are you going to kiss someone today or are you going to tell someone to kiss your ass? TMT has decided to help you do both. Pick your poison: champagne or hemlock? For those of you going with "fuck yeah!," congratulations. And for those of you opting for "fuck it," just know some of us here at TMT are lonely with you. But hey, I know I'm not going to let it bother me. At least I have my records.
1. Paul Williams - "Old Fashioned Love Song" (Live On The
Muppet Show, June 1976)
Anybody who doesn't love "The Muppet Show" is evil. Paul Williams, who
originally wrote this tune, stars in the closest thing to a Muppet music video
as you're gonna get dating back before Jim Henson died. So that's lovely.
There's Muppets popping out of shit, heads blowing off, really confused looking
semi-celebrities everywhere, and 70s production values. You know it's one of the
best TV series of all time. You know that. Introduced by Kermit as "one of the
most talented people in the business," Williams would go on to score "Emmett
Otter's Jug-band Christmas," "The Muppet Movie," and "The Muppet Christmas
Carol." If you do anything this Valentine's, rent/download/buy the first season
of "The Muppet Show." I guarantee action.
if you do it, babes will come... – fillmore mescalito
2. Jeff Buckley - "Mojo Pin" (Live at Wetlands)
Buckley wrote some great love songs, and Grace is one of
the sexiest records ever, but this version--taken from the b-side of a foreign
EP--is easily his sexiest moment ever. Consider this: the recording is
fourteen minutes long, and of those fourteen minutes, the first part of the song
is a seven and a half minute ambient drone, with him singing about being turned
on and wanting to turn his lover on, exclaiming "your love is like chocolate
melting on the tongue of God"--which he draws out for well over two minutes, his
voice flying into a fever pitch that is purely orgasmic and lustfully ecstatic.
He was channeling Nusrat, but this vocal exercise was something all his own. His
version of "Mojo Pin," when he decides to come back to it, is excellent, made
even more horny by the first half of the song. –misterjoseph
3. Vincent Gallo - "I Wrote This Song for the Girl
OK, I have a few confessions. I thought I had sort of immunized
myself to celebrity fixation. Arrogant? Maybe. Hopeful? Yes. In any case, after
listening to this first track off of Vincent Gallo's gorgeous album When,
I had to figure out what the deal was with Paris Hilton. I mean, why did Vincent
Gallo write this hauntingly beautiful, sedated song about Paris Hilton? Well, I
came across a few celeb gossip websites as I scoured the web. As I soon found
out, these two were evidently together for a while. Not only that, in an
interview, Gallo referred to
Paris as intelligent and very sexual. Gallo's fixation, however
momentary it may have been, speaks through the song. Respectful. Delighted.
4. Björk - "Like Someone In Love"
A standard magically recast as a torch song for the inimitable chanteuse. I
particularly love the spare instrumentation and sounds of traffic on this
recording, but mostly my heart swells because of how shaky she sounds. The
vocals come wincingly close to cracking at times, tempering the yearning its
lyrics bestow on this lonely soul with an understanding of the wariness that
comes with being perched on cloud nine. Being in love is as sweet and
transcendent as this tune illustrates, but anything so blissful reflexively has
us looking for that other shoe. It may not drop, but we still take those
sideways glances. Maybe that's just part of the enticement. –willcoma
5. Smog - "Dress Sexy at My Funeral"
What better way to show the one you care for just how much you'll still love
them in the afterlife. I know that when I go before my gal (and it'll happen in
some clumsy and/or gruesome manner), I want her to move on at any age. Whether
she's still as young and sexy as a
Hollywood starlet or as spry as Rue McClanahan, she'll always
have this eternal ode to remember me by. Morose-- probably. Twisted--most
definitely, but love is both these things and so much more. -jspicer
Pavement - "Spit on a Stranger"
Probably Pavement's sweetest song, "Spit on a Stranger" is
coherent and straight-forward, not to mention hopeful. Also, it doesn't hurt
that it has one of the best-written lyrics ever: "Honey I'm a prize and you're a
catch and we're a perfect match." Yep, it just might be the perfect soundtrack
for a new beginning. The blindness of love. Just makes you feel all warm and
fuzzy inside, doesn't it? – d.j.
7. Dawn Penn - "Are You There?"
Penned by Burt Bacharach/Hal David and popularized by Dionne Warwick, this tune
broke my heart the first time I heard it. While the ska treatment may render the
song too quaint for some tastes, this kind of thing is right on my wavelength.
If you're open to it, nothing will make you shuffle and smile so contently. The
sweet perfection of the melody makes me oblivious to David's lyrics about a
lover's jealousy and heartache. It makes me forget sex games and Valentine's Day
and painful longing. It makes me feel mighty and in love with the transportive
powers a simple song can contain. –willcoma
8. The Magnetic Fields - "The Book Of Love"
I've never been particularly fond of the Magnetic Fields, or really even love
songs in general, but there's something undeniably charming and genuine about
"The Book Of Love." Armed with only two chords and a silly reification of love
as a giant book, Stephen Merritt sums up everything there is to know about the
matter at hand: "some of it is transcendental/and some of it is just really
dumb." It's kind of like an episode of Pete & Pete, but in song form.
It's also entirely possible that this song, too, is just really dumb, but hey -
that's love for ya. –adam wallis
1. Jeff Mangum – "I Love How You Love Me"
A love song about loving how someone else loves you. It has the possibility of
being too cheesy, but Jeff pulled it off, on the spot, when someone requested
this Phil Spector song during the infamous Jittery Joe's recording. So sticky
sweet you can't help but grin and think of the one you love. –katiedid
2. Red House Painters – "Shock Me" (Kiss cover)
This cover is what would happen if you took Kiss and submerged them in a
swimming pool while they were performing the song (assuming that somehow none of
them got electrocuted, or, ha, shocked). That is to say, everything is slowed
down to an underwater pace, and Mark Kozelek's voice does that echo-y thing that
it does, and suddenly you find that Kiss lyrics are making you shiver and want
to cry. Under Kozelek's direction, the song shimmers rather than swaggers, the
guitars (one electric, one acoustic) are slow and epic, and "Shock me/ Put on
your black leather" really sounds like it means something. The lyrics are
absurdly mushy by Kiss standards. I'm sort of amazed that Ace Frehley had the
ovaries to write a song that starts: "Your light is all I need, my satisfaction
grows/ You make me feel at ease, you even make me glow." By the way, the regular
old Kiss version is an incredible love song in its own right. Plus it has better
guitar solos than Kozelek's cover and I guarantee it won't make your
girlfriend/boyfriend cry. So, if you have the balls, go ahead and use Mr.
Frehley's original. Alternately, if you have the neurotic indecisiveness, go
ahead and obsess about it for twenty minutes or so and then ultimately decide to
include both versions (that's what I did). –rice dream girl
3. Otis Redding - "I Love You More Than Words Can Say"
There's a pretty well known bit from "In Living Color" where a
young Jim (then-James) Carrey is cruising in his car completely butchering
Aretha Franklin's "Respect." Carrey gets interrupted by David Alan Grier, who
informs him that he just plain can't sing. This Otis Redding classic turns me
into that same clichéd karaoke-ing person every time. Luckily I tend to do so in
the comfort of a locked room so I don't get caught at the red light. – d.j.
4. The Lucksmiths - "Adolescent Song Of Mindless
This song is the song that goes off in your head when you meet
somebody and are immediately enamored, and then continue to be enamored. It's
about puppy love and affection, loyalty, what you would do for them.
5. The Snuggle-Ups - "Like a Heart"
Take the best parts of the 90s and make an origami heart with
them. Then, wrap that heart in cotton candy and stick pretty flowers into that
cotton candy heart. Next, put that flowery, cotton candy heart in a field and
watch the bees pollenate all the other flowers while the sun slowly sets.
Finally, wait until next season to see how all the flowers have changed into
those plastic, dancing flowers with the sunglasses. Now, picture holding onto
your sweetie in a field of those dancing flowers and you'll be somewhere near
the romance of "Like a Heart." –cockle
Morrison - "Sweet Thing"
I actually went to the source for this choice and asked my girlfriend exactly
what song it was that she would call "ours." I had courted her with a couple
mixtapes (as well as the Rushmore soundtrack) but it was this song that
absolutely nailed the idea of the two of us being together in more than a
"friendly" way. It's a beautiful song and I never get tired of listening to it,
or her. –paulb
7. Bob Dylan - "Nobody 'Cept You"
Leave it to Bob Dylan to write a perfect love song and
then wait nearly 30 years to put it out. Originally recorded in 1973 for the
Planet Waves LP, "Nobody 'Cept You" remained unreleased until the Bootleg
Series, Vols. 1-3 appeared in 1991. It is an exuberant profession of love, to be
sure, but not an uncomplicated one. Among other things, it eloquently observes
the ironic relationship between love and mortality. "I used to run in the
cemetery…when I was a child," Dylan sings, "and it never seemed strange." But
having fallen in love, he continues, "I just pass mournfully by that place where
the bones of life are piled / I know somethin' has changed." Is it only through
love that we can truly appreciate the gravity of death? Perhaps, but with
"Nobody 'Cept You," Dylan has given the loveless a song to live for, and that's
a whole lot better than nothing. –jim david
8. The Mountain Goats- "Going to Georgia"
"The most remarkable thing about you standing in the
doorway / Is that it's you, and that you're standing in the doorway." That says
it all. -nicolemc99
1. DJ Wally -
There really isn't
anything particularly hateful or even melancholic about this reasonably obscure
2001 trip-hop song. It's just... so evil. It makes me want to do things. I'm not
sure what exactly...but I know they're bad. Man, that's creepy! Who new Bill
Haley without his Comets slowed down a touch with some reverb could make the
mid-fifties jam "(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock" seem disturbingly
sinister? I could see myself sitting real vengeful-like in an Archie Bunker
chair just listening to this track with one of those Calvin & Hobbes cartoon
hurricane squiggles over my head to represent frustration. Sometimes Valentine's
Day sucks in a real bad way. –fillmore mescalito holmes
A Girl Called Eddy - "People Used To Dream
About the Future"
A Girl Called Eddy's self-titled debut record is one of the most depressing
records you'll ever hear. It's also one of the most beautiful, with gorgeous
string arrangements and deeply hurt lyrics and just dynamically beautiful
singing from Erin Moran. Her style is pop, but it's utterly depressing; her
singing is melancholy and broken-hearted, but it's so warm and loving. If you
ever get dumped- and you will be-and if you're ever depressed from your failures
in love- and you will be- this record will soothe your broken heart. I've
attempted to write an essay about this record, but I couldn't do it, because my
feelings for this record are private, and I choose to be discreet about the love
affair I've had with it. This song is the best of the lot, with a Carol
Kaye-style bass line sitting nicely beside a Wall of Sound string arrangement
and Bacharach-style piano playing. It's all about feeling feelings of feelings
for those you felt feelings for but for whom you feel no more; the song quietly
builds up and up and up, with her remembering happier times, with the orchestra
growing louder and louder and Moran's voice growing louder and louder,
overpowering even the loudest of symphonies, until she lets it all go with a
simple "I never gave up on you, no, I never gave up on you," and the big-band
and the torch song singing dance a beautiful dance that will simply leave you in
tears. I love this song more than I've loved some women.... –misterjoseph
3. Ariel Pink and the Haunted Graffiti 2 - "Haunted
I sincerely size="1">
believe that everybody in this world has at least one song that makes them cry.
A lot of people have whole albums, and if you're a person who doesn't even have
one song, I guarantee you just haven't found it yet. I found mine in "Haunted
Graffiti," a track I just can't listen to without feeling like I'm staring into
the void of every romantic doubt I've ever had. Oh god, just thinking about
Pink's muddy echo makes my fingernails crawl back into my knuckles.
Unlike almost every other Ariel Pink song, this one is actually
enhanced by the ridiculous lengths he goes to mask his bubbling AM radio
melodies and paranoia/nostalgia/canyoutellthedifference? lyrics. Because this
song is a secret. I don't think Pink really wants to let the meaning out, but he
has to. His listener is waiting for her to come back, and Pink has to be the one
to tell him she won't. He tries to sprinkle cooing harmonies, jangly guitars and
a psychedelic-trash-metaphor chorus ("You're writing on haunted graffiti / With
your permanent marker") and all seems right as the requisite Ariel Pink wanky
breakdown happens. But then, out of the hissing jumble, comes a shimmering and
fucked electric guitar that forces Pink to drop his fuckin' clown act and cut to
the chase: "You know she's never coming back / Now, this is the end / You know
she's never coming back / Like never before / This ain't no game that you can
cheat on / She's playing you / She's never coming back / You're writing with /
Haunted Graffiti / Oh, haunted graffiti / She's playing you." And that's when I
always break down. She's not coming back. This isn't a game. Live with it.
Haunted graffiti actually means something. And even Ariel Pink--that Animal
Collective-coddled, I-love-my-own-mystique, maybe-brilliant burnout--knows it.
Good God, how could I have not seen it before? Time to cry. –matt weir
size="1">4. The Magnetic Fields- "All My Little Words"
No big surprise that a Magnetic Fields song would make
both our Valentine's Day mixtapes- when you've got a triple album of
love-related songs, its sort of expected. In this one, though, Stephen Merritt
uses the word "unboyfriendable" to describe the object of his unrequited love.
What a fuckin' great word. -nicolemc99
5. TV on the Radio - "Blind"
In these expansive seven minutes and fifteen seconds, you might get lost in the
whispered subtleties, the distant heat, and the deliberate pace of this track.
You might forget your physical space in the world and fall into a transcendental
dimension ruled solely by sound. As you passively submit to the overwhelming,
soothing hold of "Blind," you might even begin to hear the ghost of your past
love lost. How detached you have become from the present ... the enthralling,
intricate images of your beautiful but distant ex-lover drawing you in. A medium
for your lost love, "Blind" renders you contentedly detached from the world. And
you love it for that. When the love is a memory or the song is recorded, you do
not have to fear the end of the track because you can put the song on repeat.
You can live lovingly out of the world through sound and memory. Maybe you
already do (but this might not be a healthy thing).
these seven minutes and fifteen seconds could repeat eternally and
sustain your life in the physical world. –sponge
6. Grant Lee Buffalo - "Drag"
The mere mention of Van Morrison should be enough to make a drunk
man weep. But throw in heartbreak and the aching vocals of Grant Lee Phillips,
and there's enough despair to cause a person to rip their own heart into
thousands of bloody pieces. While John Cusack is holding up boomboxes and
blasting "In Your Eyes," real people with real heartache find the nearest
watering hole with the jukebox overflowin' w/ Hank Williams, Kris Kristofferson,
Jerry Jeff Walker and Leonard Cohen. They saddle up to the other lonely souls at
the bar and howl with each shot. "Drag" may not match wits with Hank or Cohen,
but there's plenty of heart on its sleeve. –jspicer
1. Cat Power - "Good Woman"
Absolutely devastating. This song still sends ice shooting through my veins. The
actual content of the song isn't terribly depressing, but Ms. Marshall's use of
double-tracking her vocals and her terribly frightening moan lend the song an
air of menace and sorrow that isn't easily shaken. -paulb
2. The Crush – "Fuck You in the Heart"
"Fuck You in the Heart" sounds like a harsh, mean, hating type of song, right?
And the intro and outro are really satisfying to say when going through a
break-up: "She asked if we could still be friends... I said I've got enough
fuckin' friends." But in listening to what's being said between the words, in
this case quite literally, the true story is told. The story about how all you
really want is for the other person to be happy, even though you're hurt and sad
and pissed off and wishing they would call and make up but knowing they won't. –katiedid
Elliott Smith - "Somebody That I Used To Know"
Elliott Smith summed up all of the emotions and irrationalities of post-break up
syndrome in just a little over two minutes. For all its acoustic simplicity, it
could not have been written more poignantly. If you're angry, bitter, sad,
lonely or nostalgic, this is what you'll be listening to on V-Day. Thanks,
4. Bob Dylan - "Dirge"
From "Idiot Wind" to "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met),"
Dylan has written a great number of great songs that speak to a certain facet of
relationships gone sour; singing to the moment when you start to hate what you
once loved. "Dirge", from Dylan's Planet Waves, opens with the line, "I
hate myself for lovin' you / and the weakness that it showed," which has got to
be just about one of the gosh-darndest lines ever. –yoursciencefictiontwin
5. Fred LeBlanc – "Irene Wilde" (Mott the Hoople cover)
Fred is the
Tabasco-for-blood drummer of New Orleans party rockers Cowboy Mouth. He wears
Saints jerseys and b-ball shorts to concerts, and he sweats completely through
both by about the third song. Not just a rambunctious percussionist, he also
releases nakedly sentimental home recordings every few years, and this cover is
the very best Torn-from-a-teenage-notebook expression of an unrequited crush I
have ever heard. This is the song that makes you realize if they didn't want
you, they didn't deserve you. "I'm gonna be somebody someday." Fuck yeah,
Freddy. Fuck you, Valentine's. –split foster
Sebadoh - "Soul and Fire"
It takes an honest
sense of despair to pull off a great breakup song. Unlike a lot of these
"sensitive" kids today, Sebadoh truly crafted tunes of visceral heartbreak a
listener could believe, and this song is a consumate example. Lou Barlow's
lachrymose lyrics drift along a current of downtuned bass and guitar,
intermittently being dragged into the viscous, buzzy churn of their sour grapes
choruses with lines like, "As you walk away, think of all the joy we shared/If
you decide you need me, I'll be wondering if I care."
and Fire" is the musical equivalent of eating an entire box of laudanum filled
chocolate hearts after being rejected by the object of your affection; despite
the bitter subject matter, numbly wallowing in one's inadequacies has never
tasted quite so sweet. -kern
7. Liz Phair - "Divorce Song"
Welcome to Guyville, let me show you around. This place? Oh, this is the dark
alley behind the dive bar where you can find the most scary, vulnerable 14
seconds on this album. No, no, don't turn around. Just let me explain very
quickly in a short blurb! Basically, it's terrifying to hear Liz break her
stride. She's gnarling along through a verse per usual, right? She's singing:
"And the license said/ You had to stick around/ Until I was dead." And then the
next stanza starts: "But if you're tired/ Of looking at my face"— and right here
poor girl breaks down and can't even stick with her ABA rhyme scheme and just
gives up and whimpers: "I guess I already am." Liz Phair whimpers. The
devastated admission of "I guess I already am" will destroy you. You'll be like,
"Liz! You should've said 'Then you are a very mean liar'! Because liar at least
almost rhymes with tired! Don't give up the rhyme scheme, Liz. Don't lose hope!"
Okay. But don't get sad, because then, literally one second after she's finished
saying "am" (welcome to the scariest second of the album), the drums kick in
again, and oh! There's the bass, and the tambourine, and Liz is chillin'. Don't
even worry about it. And then, at the very end, for no reason that I can fathom
(except that it was the '90s and I feel like there were a lot of harmonica jams
on the radio), a harmonica comes out of nowhere and joins the party. So yeah:
this song is amazing because it is the voices you have in your head after
a bad breakup, except they're singing in transcendent harmony and yet somehow
still just as schizophrenic as they sound in your head when you're deleting
every photo of him ever. You've got bitterness, sarcasm, regret, fear, courage,
anger (a lot of that) and even that weird impulse to pick up a self-help book
("Just take a deep breath/ And count back from ten/ And maybe it'll be all
right"). And this album is amazing because it's basically a utilitarian,
travel-size 69 Love Songs for the ladies with a bonus awesome blow-job
song thrown in there. Babygirl, this is all you need - you are armed for any relationship. You wanna break up with me? Bring that shit on. Oh! Hey, you're still here. This was not a short blurb, and I'm sorry. What are you still doing in this alley? –rice dream girl