Left of the Dial: Valentine’s Day “Songs For Swingin’ Lovers”
Written by Chris-R on February 20, 2018
Steer clear of Cupid’s arrows on this installment of Left of the Dial where we explore songs that revolve around the most universal emotion found in songwriting: LOVE. Whether it be from a positive or other outlook, anything goes on this playlist which attempts to not only explore every angle of the emotion itself but also examines the art of “the love song” itself, a tradition of song that may as well be old as music itself! Searching for the soft spot between schmaltz and genuine sincerity, feel free to grab your loved one and/or overpriced chocolates from a heart shaped box and venture down this Tunnel of Love! Seeing as how both this timeslot, run time, and subject matter are different from the Left of the Dial norm, this week’s segment is fairly free-form hopefully to your enjoyment.
I’m joined by my co-host “Dizzy” this week, in an obviously off-the-cuff session that should hopefully be as fun to listen to as it was for us to record. If you missed this weeks REGULAR episode of Left of the Dial, you can listen to it in the link below.
All I Want -Joni Mitchell
Kicking off the session is the leading track from Joni Mitchell’s seminal album Blue which does a startingly apt job of cappturing all the craziness and glamour of a love gone off the rails, leaving it vague enough to interpret however seen best fit.
How Deep Is Your Love? -The Bee Gees
Remember when I talked about finding the fine line between schmaltz and sincerity? This track leans just on the line where it is very reasonable to define it as either/or, and I’m personally leaning towards the latter.
Crazy Love -Van Morrison
Trading in his usual yelp for a stunned hush, Van Morrison really sells this performance in it’s unflinching stillness. The backing singers add a great layer to the song as well, really driving home the emotion of the track.
When a Man Loves a Woman -Percy Sledge
Poor Percy Sledge only seems to be remembered when Valentine’s Day comes around. This may seem like a detriment at first glance but it is only because he wrote what may be the most quintessential V-Day song of all time which is exactly as overblown and lovey-dovey as anyone could hope for.
Me and Mrs. Jones -Billy Paul
What a stunner of a tune that is absolutely sold by crooner Billy Paul. Rec0rded in the midst Billy’s fourties, his age shows through in his learned empassioned vocals as you can quite literally hear his heart rip into two. Keep in mind, the title is about a Mrs. Jones which can obviously prove problematic for our singer here who semi-successfully courts her over.
Our Hearts Are Wrong -Jessica Lea Mayfield
A newer addition to the “forbidden love” style of songwriting, Jessica Lea Mayfield somewhat apathetically mourns a love gone wrong before even properly taking off. The sparse melodies in the instrumental give just enough shading to paint this picture, evoking a unique feel and a genuine emotional response.
I Only Have Eyes For You -The Flamingos
An already excellent barbershop piece is further driven into masterpiece territory with the wonderful addition of those background echochamber vocals. Apparently the bathroom echo vocals came to lead songwriter through a dream which explains the sweet dreamlike atmosphere of the track.
Is This Love? -Whitesnake
Hair Metal gets a bad rap these days, but it is not hard to see why. But hopefully it is agreeable to point out that the genres crowning achievement is that of the Power Ballad which was tweaked and tuned into it’s final form. Whitesnake in particular gets unfairly forgotten in roundtable discussions, but listen to this track and find that it’s hard to deny that there is some defnite artistry going on behind the scenes.
Lover, You Should’ve Come Over –Jeff Buckley
Jeff Buckley’s heart wrenching Lover, You Should’ve Come Over is dripping in sorrow all over, but not in a way of regretting time lost but instead in a reminiscance of times had in the past. Pleading the question of whether he is just too young to keep good love from going wrong, the song reaches its height in the climax which is helmed by Buckley’s astonishingly inhuman vocal performance which is sure to leave you reeling.
In Rainbows is the perfect namesake for music of this variety, Radiohead really pushes themselves into new grand territories, even if key elements harken to their past. Originally written a full decade prior to it’s In Rainbows release, the band had waited for the perfect time to strike and it clearly was the correct thing to do. Sporting a wonderfully lush instrumental of both synthetic and warm natural instruments, Nude is a beautifully imersive song.
(They Long to Be) Close to You -The Carpenters
Sometimes the cliches exist for a reason, they can be remarkably effective if used in the right context. Karen Carpenter finds an inherent knack for turning a doey-eyed approach into something transcendent in a sense, and an obvious staple to any wedding or high school prom. And yes, this is Homer & Marge Simpsons’ wedding song which still manages to make this rendition into a potential tearjerker.
Still In Love With You -Live -Thin Lizzy
Removing their usual machismo attitude for a newfound vulnerability, Still In Love With You operates on a level that few other ballads can snuff up to. It is amazing how a phrase simple as “I’m still in love with you” holds so much waterweight when put in a song, and the guitar playing is some of the most emotive that can be heard. The E-flat tuning also adds ambiguity in the mix and is only further propelled by the lead soloing, all culminating in a cataclysm of sound.
Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) –The Buzzcocks
Hats off to [The] Buzzcocks for telling it like it is with this songs narrative. No funny games to be had here, but humour ever is ever present in asking the title question. But there is no time to feel beat down by the song as it is a rompous joy within itself and perhaps surprisingly acts as a spiritual predecessor to the 90’s Pop-Punk movement.
Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime -Beck
Originally written by 70’s band The Korgis, this track is given an expansive reimagining by avant-popstar Beck, to be featured the emotionally tugging film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” which is now often regarded as one of the best films of the 21st century. “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” is place on a couple’s romance mix-tape which plays on the long drive home after a nasty breakup between Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet respectively. Sobbing behind the wheel, Joel ejects the tape and tosses it out the window onto the rainy road, a fitting place for this song.
Crazy –Patsy Cline
A lovey-dovey serenade from a classic songstress, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” is full of pain and passion and is a wonderful song for this occasion.
Redbone -Childish Gambino
A more recent addition to the Lover’s canon, “Redbone” has a youthful exuberance and a steamy vocal performance elevate this song into a new life for an intruiging generation of music listeners.
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out -The Smiths
How’s about this for an off-center love song? The Smiths are no stranger in downplaying this emotion on several other tracks, but this may be the closest that penman Morrissey has come to addressing the topic. The closest he can conjure to Lover’s Lane is a tale of getting demolished by a double decker bus with a loved one by your side. Harrowing, but it is the delivery than sells it as a genuine notion which is further accentuated by Johnny Marr’s synthetic string section.
This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) -Talking Heads
Perhaps since it is such an overarchingly grand emotion that makes love songs that are set on smaller scale. Set on only three chords, this track sets the groundwork lightly and leaves room for lyricist David Byrne to throw his unusual two cents into the ring. Usually only singing about “little things”, the universal subject of Love is new territory for him, being described through individual lines that garner a strong emotional response. Seperately these lines have little meaning, but when strung together form a cohesive whole which is magical in its own right. “There was a time/Before we were born/If someone asks, this is where I’ll be.”
Pale Blue Eyes -The Velvet Underground
One of my actual favorite songs of all time, “Pale Blue Eyes” is an amazingly whole-hearted song with an achingly light instrumental. Presented in the “Closet mix” of this song, a cozy sound of comfort takes precedent on the song as all worries hopefully slip away without needing to linger on.
So In Love -Curtis Mayfield
Usually known as a Funketeer, Curtis Mayfield is also not afraid to show his romantic side which shows sweet and plain on “So In Love”. The song evokes a feeling of punch-drunk love in a sense, between it’s warm organ tones and fanfare from horn ensemble, the real beauty of musicality lies inside.
I’m Not In Love -10cc
Always one to give a nudge and a wink, 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” can be the groups most endearing love song depending on how you look at it, as the protagonist is clearly lying to himself about not being in love despite obvious signs to the contrary. It is the production of the song that makes it shine however, the warm sounding background is actually entirely recorded with human voices which provides an incredibly human sound to the song as it features 576 vocal tracks. Recorded entirely on analog too, it is a marvel that such a song can even exist, let alone work so wonderfully well.
Street Lights -Kanye West
Following his mother’s passing and a searing break up, Kanye West’s album resulting from the tumultuous aftermath took form as 808’s & Heartbreak, a record misunderstood upon release but is now viewed as a seminal step towards modern music and prompted the shift in modern rappers being able to show vulnerability and still stand strong. No rapping is seen from West on the album, as he decides to work with melody to get his point across perhaps most interestingly in “Street Lights”, a waltz timed ethereal track that is cut with icy vocals. An obviously huge career risk for Mr. West, it only proved to be in his favor years later and is now regarded as one of the all-time break up albums.
When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You -Marvin Gaye
Whoever said that artists had to be tasteful? In a particularly rough patch in Marvin Gaye’s life and career, his wife of many years divorced Marvin and the judge ordered that he pay all the earnings from his next record. In a drunken stupor, he recorded a gigantic middle-finger of an album to his ex, a double record simply called Here, My Dear. Unabashadly catty and flat out cruel at times, it is an incredibly captivating listen to hear a man charistmatic as Gaye at the end of his rope and having what is essentially a mental breakdown while the tapes are rolling, it gives a great insight to the human condition and what makes Marvin tick in general, even if it is an uncomfortable one.
The Nurse Who Loved Me -Failure
Sometimes all you need to make a song work is just an odd concept to work off of in an inventive way, which is what Failure does so well. Spacey guitarwork and incredible dynamic changes help drive the song into quasi-masterpiece territory, which would later catch the ear of Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan who would perform a lofty strings-led rendition on Thirteenth Step from side band A Perfect Circle which detailed the 12 steps of AA, which this song took a new prominence in.
Chapel of Love -The Ronettes
Phil Spector led girl-group The Ronettes were glitzy and bubblegum to the max, and they always had the proper instruments or arrangements to make their sound as happy and cheery as humanly possible. Their sole album closes with this wonderful rendition of the classic “Chapel of Love”, being performed by Ronnie Ronette in a wide-eyed schoolgirl approach which can’t help but charm anyone in its vicinity.
To Know Him Is To Love Him -The Teddy Bears
Even the greats like Phil Spector had to get their start somewhere. Before he had a dispensable artilary of pop megastars to choose from, Phil had to start off by writing, playing, and performing his own songs, which garnered his first hit with The Teddy Bears. The songwriting on this one is wonderful, evoking a certain teenage fantasy feeling and has an all-time best bridge section which is divine, simply put. It is also worth mentioning the wonderful rendition done by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris , the gals really knew just what makes the original song work so well.
Love, Reign O’er Me -The Who
I figure it is only sensible to end tonight’s session with what is without a shadow of doubt in my mind my favorite song of all time. At the end of the rock opera Quadrophenia, our hero Jimmy is left all alone atop a rock in the middle of nowhere after cutting all the ties he had made from his days as a Mod Rocker. It is here on this rock he puts all his past troubles behind him; no more mixing pills and gin, no more zoot suit riots, and the end of his teenage angst. Without another option in his world, he sits amidst the rain and simply lets his pent up and suppressed love to reign over him, and he will begin anew. The composition itself is just brilliant, but it is Roger Daltrey’s unforgettable vocal delivery that takes this song into perfection. His screams soar from his microphone and into an infinite echo among the void he had laid before himself.
And it is with this that I end tonight’s special one-off episode of Left of the Dial. I hope you all enjoyed this experiment of an episode and I hope to do more themed episodes in the future given the opportunity. If you missed the REGULAR edition of Left of the Dial this week, you can check it out at the link below so check it out. Otherwise, I’ll see all of you at Wednesday at 7:00.