A Sonic Recipe For Love
What is love without music? Years after your current love is gone (OK, I’m fatalistic), you’ll be replaying those love scenes in the cinema of your cerebrum — with its own score, of course. And everyone has a soundtrack in their mind they’d like to forget — along with an accompanying former lover. Personally, I’ve been sporadically plagued by Hall and Oates for eighteen years. Therefore, I feel that if you’re going to be haunted by someone for an undeterminable amount of time, you might as well be saddled with some good music as well. So, in the spirit of St. Valentine’s Day — a florist and confectioner’s bonanza, at best — I’m offering sixteen sonic ingredients for an evening of romance, in no particular order. Download these mood-enhancing nuggets from somewhere, add some dim lighting, soft pillows, and… well, you should know rest by now.
“In Dreams” by Roy Orbison, from In Dreams (Columbia Records).
At the turn of the ’60s, this man tapped into a magic formula that others have been trying to duplicate ever since. Though much of Orbison’s material is meant for lonely, bottle-nursing nights, this particular masterpiece — arguably the best rock ballad ever written — is sure to transport you and your lover into another dimension as it climbs to an incredible crescendo. “In Dreams” gives me goosebumps just by humming it.
“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by Frank Sinatra, from Sinatra and Sextet Live in Paris (Reprise).
I’ve got to admit, I pulled this one out of the Sinatra catalogue blind — I could have picked dozens of others. What can I say about Sinatra that hasn’t been said before? After his Capitol and Columbia years, after Ava Gardner, Sinatra was battered — but unbroken — by love. No one has sung about love with more passion on a particular night than the Chairman did on June 5, 1962, the date of this marvelous live recording.
“Into You Like a Train” by The Psychedelic Furs, from Talk Talk Talk (CBS Records).
Though considerably meatier than most of its companions on this list, “Into You Like a Train” — apart from the title’s physical connotations — possesses the beauty of simplicity. On this thundering track, Richard Butler is explaining to someone that he doesn’t have the slightest intention of making any promises, or even engaging in foreplay — verbal or otherwise. Sometimes honesty is the best approach.
“A Walk Across the Rooftops” by The Blue Nile, from A Walk Across the Rooftops (Virgin/Linn).
With its oddly mesmerizing string arrangement and frontman Paul Buchanan’s plaintive, off-kilter voice, this title track from The Blue Nile’s 1983 debut remains their finest recording moment. Apart from Annie Lennox’s cover of “The Downtown Lights,” The Blue Nile’s compositions are virtually unknown outside their native United Kingdom; it’s a shame, for few of their peers can match this band’s atmosphere-creating ability. This one will have your lover fumbling for the “repeat” button.
“Love Comes Tumbling” by U2, from Unforgettable Fire EP (Island Records).
On this fairly obscure B-side, Bono the Pretentious takes a turn as Bono the Brooding Romantic — and the result is hauntingly beautiful. A subdued rhythm and The Edge’s hypnotic noodling back some truly remarkable lyrics, sung by a frontman whose passion was still unbridled and uncontrived.
“(You Can Put Your) Shoes Under My Bed” by Paul Kelly and the Messengers, from Comedy (Doctor Dream Records).
Down Under legend Paul Kelly’s specialty is the loss-of-love song — other tracks on this fantastic CD include “Leaving Her For the Last Time” and “I Won’t Be Your Dog Anymore.” However, this ballad is a tender, earnest nudge in the opposite direction. If you’ve never heard Kelly’s songs, this album will be a pleasant surprise — Kelly is sometimes referred to as “the Bob Dylan of Australia.”
“A Strange Kind of Love” by Peter Murphy, from Deep.
If you and your would-be lover are Gothically-inclined, this disc is already in the player. For the uninitiated, “A Strange Kind of Love” is a blood-warm taste of the Dark Prince’s overwhelming method of seduction. Few voices in rock have Murphy’s ability to soften inhibition, and this exquisitely beautiful number will have him or her melting in your arms from verse one.
“My Funny Valentine” by Chet Baker, from My Funny Valentine (Blue Note).
Many, many artists have covered this song — but nobody sang it quite like Chet Baker. When this record was cut in 1954, young trumpeter Baker was a superbly-photogenic ambassador of “California Cool.” Baker’s voice, simultaneously somber and naive, was also curiously flat — yet there was a strange emotional depth lurking under the surface. The jazz legend, whose records could provide the backdrop for a lifetime of romancing, spent most of his life in a heroin abyss — from which he would occasionally surface, only to descend again into a private hell. Sit nose-to-nose with Baker’s “Valentine” quietly murmuring about, and you’ll achieve a state of nirvana in no time.
“Slave To Love” by Bryan Ferry, from Boys And Girls (EG Records).
When I was in college, there was a saying: “The ugliest man in the world could bed a goddess — with a little help from Bryan Ferry.” Certainly, the ever-suave icon’s Boys And Girls — or his previous efforts with Roxy Music, 1982’s Avalon and 1980’s Flesh And Blood — still stand as the ultimate accompaniment for lovemaking. Marrying an indescribably erotic arrangement with Ferry’s ultra-smooth crooning, “Slave To Love” is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and compelling songs of the past two decades.
“You’re the Best Thing” by The Style Council, from My Ever Changing Moods (Polydor).
Far removed from The Righteous Brothers’ sap, former Jam frontman Paul Weller and fellow Mod Mick Talbot’s brand of blue-eyed soul had a sleek, cosmopolitan feel to it. Penned by Weller, the breezy “You’re the Best Thing” could as well have been written by Sam Cooke; this is music for slow dancing and whispers in one’s ear.
“Love to Love You Baby” by Donna Summer, from Love to Love You Baby (Casablanca).
This groundbreaking disco single is almost 17 minutes of pure, unadulterated sex. Not the delicate, deliberate sex of romance-novel covers — from the opening moan of “Oooh, love to love you, baby,” you know that this is the soundtrack for a slow, sweaty, wall-to-wall grind. If this description arouses you, just think of how the thump-thump-thump of Georgio Moroder’s percussion is going to elevate your lover’s heart rate.
“I Put a Spell On You” by Nina Simone, from I Put a Spell On You (Philips).
Like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone has the twist-of-the-knife ability to fully explore the depths of despair and pain. However, Simone’s voice has a Lady Day-surpassing power and sensuality that sears much of her work — and her 1965 version of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell On You” is Nina at her seductive best. The elusive singer’s church-meets-the-roadhouse wail envelops you in a smoky haze; when the song’s over, you feel slightly disoriented and longing for more. Chances are, your special someone will be yearning as well.
“Corcovado (Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars)” by Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, from Getz/Gilberto (Verve).
Bossa nova and a night of romance go hand-in-hand, and Getz & Gilberto’s version of this Jobim classic will soon have you and your partner samba-ing in one way or another. Joao and Astrud Gilberto’s exotically accented murmurs lull you towards lovemaking and the subsequent trip to dreamland; Stan’s horn leads the way.
“Out Of Season” by The Icicle Works, from Icicle Works (Beggars Banquet).
The Icicle Works’ “Whisper to a Scream” single was just a hint of this UK band’s creative talents; unfortunately, few listeners on this side of the Atlantic were exposed to the rest of what they had to offer. “Out Of Season,” with its hypnotic percussion supporting frontman Ian McNabb’s quiet-to-crescendo narration and swirling, chiming guitar, is a jewel waiting to be unearthed.
“The Power of Love” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, from Welcome to the Pleasuredome (ZTT).
Most people associate Frankie Goes to Hollywood with their T-shirt slogan singles, but there was much more to that epic record than a couple of dance hits. The grandeur-rich “The Power of Love” is balladeering at its best; Holly Johnson stretches his range to its considerable limit, singing remarkably tender lyrics (compared to “Relax”) in characteristically grand fashion. Trevor Horn’s studio magic was never more glorious — or romantic.
“Have I Told You Lately” by Van Morrison, from Avalon Sunset (Mercury).
Is a relationship-crisis threatening to sweep a black cloud over your St. Valentine’s plan for romance? Let a master say those simple words for you — “Have I Told You Lately” is a gorgeously-decorated sonic Band-Aid; nobody pours oil over troubled waters like Van Morrison.