This Valentine’s Day Mixtape is dedicated to all my secret crushes. HIT THIS Spotify link AND TRY NOT TO LET ANYONE SEE YOU gushING over all these love notes.
tHE mAGNETIC fIELDS, “sTRANGE pOWERS”
The Magnetic Fields are known for their love songs (their 1999 release 69 Love Songs gets more action this time of year than almost anything), and my favorite one of all comes from the band’s 1994 LP called Holiday. “Strange Powers” has a very cinematic quality (reminiscent in a way of the great Scott Walker, if you ask me), putting you right in the middle of a summertime date at a county fair (or in this song’s case, Coney Island). The image of riding a ferris wheel and eating cotton candy evokes the kind of excitement that only comes with the beginning of a fun, new relationship. That feeling is amplified with the lines, “Our hair in the air/Our lips blue from cotton candy/When we kiss, it feels/Like a flying saucer landing,” which very well may be my all-time favorite set of love song lyrics.
sONIC YOUTH, “100%”
We all thought Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s love would never die, but unfortunately even the King and Queen of Noise aren’t immune to irreconcilable differences. Even though they split in 2013, the pair left behind a history of being probably the coolest couple to ever have been in the music industry (can you tell I’m a bit biased toward Sonic Youth?). “100%” is one of those songs that always stuck with me as a great alternative love song; it begins with an uncomfortable screech before it goes into a dirty groove, and ends just as abruptly as it begins (maybe this is a metaphor). Plus, the lyric “I stick a knife in my head/Thinking about your eyes” makes me swoon in the weirdest way.
lUSH, “fOR lOVE”
“For Love” comes from Lush’s 1992 album Spooky, produced by former Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie (and boy, can you tell!). In their early career, Lush always teetered between experimental and shoegaze, but this sweet-sounding little song about a girl who loses herself in love exists in a very soothingly dreamlike state. “I look in your eyes and see myself” drives it all home.
SKY FERREIRA, “BOYS”
Sky Ferreira has made a name for herself as a singer/songwriter and an actor, not only popping up in an albeit small, but coveted role as one of the Twin Peaks townfolk in the show’s Season 3, but touring with the likes of Blondie and Garbage. Her music could be described as strange millennial pop, and “Boys” is my favorite song off her 2013 debut record Night Time, My Time. “You put my faith back in boys,” she sings — honestly, a pretty powerful message to send your crush.
TALKING HEADS, “GIRLFRIEND IS BETTER”
Talking Heads are no strangers to the subject of weird love songs, often with David Byrne expressing complex ideals about relationships, interjecting worry with pleasantness at almost every break. I chose “Girlfriend Is Better” for this mix rather than the more cited “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” simply because it is the less obvious choice. But they both capture the same thematic elements: the adoration of another person is countered with uncertainty. Byrne happily describes the girlfriend in this song as having “smoke in (her) eyes” and “going right through (his) heart,” but then we see where the worry comes in: “And nothing is better than that (is it?)” The “is it?” acts as the icing on our cake, the butterflies in our stomachs; sometimes the only way we can know we’re in love is when we think that maybe we’re unsure we’re in love…. Right? (*shifts eyes*)
DAZZ BAND, “LET IT WHIP”
I’ve heard from people that “Let It Whip” might be the first majorly charting single thought to celebrate BDSM. Although the lyrics could easily be made to fit the motif (“Wanna see you with it/Sho’ would treat you right”), I’m not exactly sure this is the case. Still, it’s fun to think about. And this is a fun song to dance to, regardless! (Note: although not majorly charting, maybe the first BDSM song is the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs”? Anyone wanna fight over that?)
PULP, “SOMETHING CHANGED”
Jarvis Cocker definitely writes a ton of love songs, and even though I’m not a “theater kid,” I do appreciate his flair for theatrics. There are plenty of songs I could have included here that are sultry to an almost extreme degree (“This Is Hardcore” alone puts me in a definite mood), I chose “Something Changed” for it’s sweetness and wonder — now, that’s not “wonder” like “boyish wonder,” it’s a literal kind of wonder. The whole song is about wondering if the events leading up to meeting someone special had been any different at all, would you still have met that person? It brings up the question of fate and serendipity and all that other rom-com garbage, but Jarvis is cool, so I let that all slide.
THE LEMONHEADS, “INTO YOUR ARMS”
“Into Your Arms” is an especially poppy earworm of a song from The Lemonheads, a cut from their 1993 record Come On Feel The Lemonheads. I think it was virtually impossible not to have a crush on Evan Dando in the ’90s; the combination of brilliance and sensitivity with his House of Style good looks kept all us alterna-girls (and boys!) swooning. “I know a place that’s safe and warm from the crowd/Into your arms, into your arms I can go,” evokes such a sense of security that I smile just thinking about it.
MICACHU & THE SHAPES, “CURLY TEETH”
Film soundtrack buffs might recognize the name Mica Levi especially as the composer for the 2014 weirdo indie sci-fi film, Under The Skin. But Levi’s other projects include her work under the stage name Micachu, and with her band Micachu & The Shapes. “Curly Teeth” is from the 2009 album Jewellery, and contains the line “When she smiled at me, I got a nose bleed,” which is so bizarre it’s perfect.
THE CARS, “JUST WHAT I NEEDED”
Sometimes when I listen to Sirius XM’s classic alternative station 1st Wave I want to pull my hair out because of the same overplayed songs continually seated in the rotation. I guess that’s the nature of radio, though, playing the hits ad nauseum, but specifically when that rotation includes some of my favorite classic alternative acts…well, it’s disappointing and frustrating to say the least. However, I caught “Just What I Needed” during morning drive time this week, and this listen struck me with how simple and sincere the song is. I mean, who wouldn’t want lyrics like “I don’t mind you coming here and wasting all my time” and “When you’re standing oh so near/I kinda lose my mind,” sung to them?
THE DANDY WARHOLS, “BOHEMIAN LIKE YOU”
“Bohemian Like You” always feels tongue-in-cheek, but I kinda get that feeling from The Dandy Warhols in general. I like this song a lot because the driving nature of it, plus it’s got a purposeful flippancy that can easily be read as mocking in tone. Like, I hear this song and think, “oh yeah, this band is totally from Portland.” Anyway, this is one of my actual favorite songs for any time of the year (not just Valentine’s), and I think more people should take it and The Dandies seriously (is that irony, I don’t know).
LE TIGRE, “EAU D’ BEDROOM DANCING”
“Eau D’ Bedroom Dancing” is a great track from Le Tigre that celebrates a very common dichotomy we experience: wanting to be alone, but appreciating those in our lives who care about us. Hiding out in our bedrooms can be therapeutic (“no one to criticize me,” Kathleen Hanna sings), but there’s also the therapy of confiding in others (“the world’s a mess and yr my only cure”). And sometimes that dichotomy is really important.
THE BLAKE BABIES, “GIRL IN A BOX”
The Blake Babies were one of the last great college rock bands, existing in a time when “alternative rock” actually meant something. The band is notable for their blend of folkish punk, a creation that only really seems possible in 1990. “Girl In A Box” is definitely an unconventional love song — the words “dirty little whore” and “slut” are used, but mostly because it’s about a man who either does keep or wants to keep a titular girl in a box under his bed (we’re not sure as to the reliability of this narrator). He’s married, but his wife doesn’t mind, so that’s cool. He’ll just bring his box girl out whenever, and have her keep him company. This song is full of funny scenarios, but my favorite is “And I hope I die in the nighttime/With my TV on and a beer in my hand and you by my side.” Hey, maybe let’s add this song to our BDSM list.
FONTELLA BASS, “THIS WOULD MAKE ME HAPPY”
“This Would Make Me Happy” is the B-side to the 1964 song Fontella Bass recorded with Tina Turner called “Poor Little Fool.” This song is about devotion, something that, in this era of everything being about “us” and not “them,” may seem a little hard to come by. The message is basically, “it would make me happy if you loved me, and by the way, you’ll see that you’ll be happy about it, too.” Which I guess could be read as a bit creepy, but it was 1964; there were much creepier songs out there.
BUILT TO SPILL, “DYSTOPIAN DREAM GIRL”
It’s time for Built To Spill! On the surface, “Dystopian Dream Girl” has a kind of “Manic Pixie” ring to it, and with songwriter Doug Martsch’s mentions of stepdads, David Bowie, and comfort zones, it just may fall into that category. It’s okay, though, because apparently there’s some philosophy present in this song, talking about existence, and the perception and meaning of existence (“Without me, there’s nothing/I’m the only thing that dies”), and that’s smart! Really, though, this song is kind of sweet: “If it came down to your life or mine/I would do the stupid thing/And let you keep on living.” That’s really nice of you, Doug.
CARLY RAE JEPSEN, “EVERYTHING HE NEEDS”
When it comes to pop, there’s a lot out there I think is total garbarge, but Carly Rae Jepsen took me (and I think, the world) by surprise. Her music seems big, and I don’t just mean popular, but big in scale. Carly Rae taps into a type of songwriting appeal that seems limitless. In “Everything He Needs,” the chorus melody and lyrics are borrowed from the song Shelley Duvall sings in Robert Altman’s Popeye movie, but the song itself is so much bigger than that. It combines an American starlet with a sort of Japanese City Pop feel, and it really makes me wonder what the future is going to be like. For real, the entire soundtrack to Blade Runner 2049 should have been Carly Rae Jepsen (P.S., “I know it’s tough/Baby, keep both eyes on the road” might be the best secret allusion to road head in any pop song in history.).
X, “TRUE LOVE”
“True Love is the Devil’s crowbar” is the anchoring lyric to this song by punk band X, off their 1983 album More Fun in the New World. That phrase may seem like it’s knocking love, but the read I get from this song is that love’s flame is intense and therefore devilish, burning bright and hard in a Mickey and Mallory Knox sort of way. “Loneliness is never the same again,” indeed.
THE DAMNED, “SEE HER TONITE”
While we’re at it with the punks, The Damned don’t have a huge reputation for crushy songs, but they do have a few out there (the appropriately titled “Love Song” is one of them). “See Her Tonite” is a cool take on what having a crush on a girl and the excitement that comes with knowing you’ll see her when you go out that night.
KING TUFF, “I LOVE YOU UGLY”
“I Love You Ugly” is pretty self-explanatory. King Tuff’s 2014 album Black Moon Spell is full of surf-y, garage-y, punk-y, whatever you want to call it-y songs, and “I Love You Ugly” is a little ditty with a big sense of humor. “I don’t care that you smell like rats,” the song starts, and I could only hope that I would have a lover who would be so understanding.
GRAHAM COXON, “SPECTACULAR”
Graham Coxon has had a slew of solo albums in the time since Blur has both disbanded and kind of re-jointed, and in 2004 he put out Happiness in Magazines, the album from which “Spectacular” is cut. I like to think it’s a track about discovering an incredibly cute mutual friend on early social media (MySpace, mayhaps?) and being absolutely smitten. The opening lines, “Saw you in my computer/Never seen no one cuter” make me giddy, but then again, I did meet my husband on the internet.
PEGGY MARCH, “JOHNNY COOL”
“Johnny Cool” is a teenage love song, sung by “Little” Peggy March, whom you may remember more for her mildly creepy golden oldie “I Will Follow Him” (jeez, 1960s and the creep factor). I like this song because it reminds me of “He’s A Rebel” by The Crystals, only…nicer. Actually, if you pit those two songs against each other, it’s like a fight between Amy Locane’s goody two shoes Allison and Ricki Lake’s wild child Pepper in Cry-Baby. Definitely wanna see that cat fight.
THE gO! teAM, “rEADY TO GO STEADY”
The Go! Team have perfected what I like to call “cheerleader rap,” and even though this particular track doesn’t feature a lot of that, it’s pretty fun nonetheless. Again, it’s all about that special feeling when you’re first falling for someone (“I know we’re only at our second date/But this time something tells me that I cannot wait”).
THE REPLACEMENTS, “kISS ME ON THE bUS”
The final track here is from the group that lives in my heart the most, The Replacements. It’s a little difficult to find Paul Westerberg writing about love in a positive way (the ratio of love lyrics to heartbreak lyrics in The Replacements’ discography is disparate at best), but “Kiss Me On The Bus” is a standout in that category. The lines “Ooh if you knew how I felt now/You wouldn’t act so adult now/Hurry, hurry, here comes my stop!” present such an urgency from the narrator that not only do I feel like I would indeed kiss him on the bus, I would kiss him hard on the mouth.
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