This piece originally appeared ten years ago in an early issue of a zine called The Dirty Snake. This version has been slightly updated, mainly because we don’t want you to think we’ve spent the last decade living in a cave. And because we wanted to include an Adventure Time video.
Love is great – this we all know. Granted it’ll probably cause 95% of all the pain, confusion, regret, repressed violence, self-loathing and eating disorders in your life, but would the dizzying highs of ‘true’ or even ‘true-ish’ love be as blissfully, inexplicably silly and good if it weren’t for those all-too-serious lows? The genius of love is the bittersweet taste it leaves in your mouth after all these wildly contrasting feelings have been blended into some over-flowing heartbreak milkshake that you know is going to be bad for you but, fuck it, you’ll guzzle it down and order three more anyway.
As such, love has been the muse for lots of incredibly life-affirming pieces of music. So why is it that when I take down the latest ‘Steve Wright’s Love Songs’ CD from the shelf of my local Generic Shite Megastore I’m confronted by the most god-awful atrocities of human creation since Richard Littlejohn’s dad manage to squeeze a particularly bigoted sperm out of his sour scortum. If the girl you fancy has a fondness for sporting the colour red does that mean your desire should be backed by the satanic warbling of Chris De Burgh? Surely a real compilation of love songs should encompass bitterness and bile as well as beauty and booty.
I mean, if we want to explore the deep mysteries of love then are we really going to appoint the twin Barry’s of musical evil, White and Manilow, as detectives? Could you ever love, really love a girl who formed her romantic ideals from the works of Celine Dion, or a bloke who thinks ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ is Stevie Wonder’s greatest achievement? If yes, and you’re unwilling to change, then kindly bugger off back to the airbrushed world of Magic FM. Still here? Then cast away the fascist dictates of Steve Wright and those like him and, er, subscribe to mine instead.
First, a revelation: ‘All You Need Is Love’ by The Beatles is a complete lie. It’s not their fault – they were off their collective bonce on disorientating hallucinogens – but if you subscribe to the lyrics of possibly their most lamentable moment then I suggest you and your loved one lock yourself in a room with no food or water and ‘Sgt. Peppers’ on repeat and see how long you last.
Lesson two: love accommodates all perversions, particularly paedophilia, incest and bestiality. How else to explain the enduring popularity of songs like the aforementioned Manilow’s ‘Young Girl’, Air’s ‘Playground Love’, The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster’s ‘Celebrate Your Mother’ or AC/DC’s tender opus ‘Giving The Dog A Bone’ (not to mention ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’, the advertising slogan for Angus Young’s brothel ‘Hells Belles’). People like these songs because they make their own perversions seem normal. How many S&M sessions have been initiated by the immortal words ‘Come on, it’s not that bad, Barry Manilow fucks children and you like him’. All of them, probably.
Ideally, every love song should follow the Ice King’s formula from Adventure Time (as demonstrated above) – begin with joyful rapture, end on a note of soul-crushing misery (lasers optional but encouraged). Admittedly it’s pretty difficult to manage that shift in a single song, but there are a few bands around at the moment who at least manage it over an album – the new Metronomy record should prove them masters of the heart once again, while No Bra’s ‘Candy’ LP, released this week, includes plenty of choice material, from songs about coming on to construction workers to a crap chat-up attempt from Satan himself. In fact, if I’d heard ‘Magic Cocksucking Fairy’ in 2010 I’d have declared myself an independent nation, chosen it as my national anthem, then spent the next four years mastering the luge just so that the Russians were forced to play it when I triumphed at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
I leave you with the following 32 lessons, brought to you in the Mainstream Media Approved list medium (sorry sorry sorry, but it’s 4am and I’m starting to hallucinate). They encapsulate the whole breadth of the romantic spectrum, and there’s even an accompanying Spotify playlist containing a further glut of love-soaked sonnets to soothe your bruised heart with. Me? I’m off to write fake Valentine cards for single people in the handwriting of people they told me they fancy in moments of foolish confidence.
Kier Wiater Carnihan
1. Bill Withers – Who Is He And What Is He To You
The most overriding emotion in a relationship isn’t love, it’s paranoia. In the eyes of your partner, casting a glance at any person (or even animal) of the opposite sex basically amounts to merging your genitals with them in messy, violent congress. Bill Withers is obviously a very jealous man; his girl looks at another bloke and he throws a hissy fit and storms off to write a funky, groove-laden classic about it.
See also: ‘Check Your Bucket’ by Eddie Bo, ‘Watch The Dog That Brings The Bone’ by Inez Foxx, and ‘Two faced World’ by Millie Jackson.
2. Queens Of The Stone Age – Gonna Leave You
If your partner starts playing this whenever you enter the room then you might want to consider the possibility that they’ve seen all of you they want to and think they can do much, much better.
See also: ‘Cheating On You’ by Franz Ferdinand, ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ by The 13th Floor Elevators, ‘Kim, You Bore Me To Death’ by Grandaddy.
3. Dooley-O – I Don’t Wanna Lose You
An old-school throwback dedicated to ‘all those over-possessive relationships’, in which our hero is seduced by a alluring vixen only to find out she’s a suicidal, homicidal psychopath who tries to slice and dice him when he attempts to dump her, and ends up braining him with an iron. If only all relationships were as simple.
See also: ‘Psycho’ by The Sonics, ‘The Gift’ by The Velvet Underground.
4. April March – Chick Habit
Men, eh? Ain’t we a bunch of stinkers? Well, not so much those of us who couldn’t get laid even if we wrapped ourselves up in a roll of linoleum, but the sleazy sods who think they can charm their way into any bed they choose. Well, April March isn’t having it. “You’re gonna need a heap of glue, when they all catch up with you, and they cut you up in two,” she insists. Leave it April, they’d probably only enjoy it, the perverts.
See also: ‘Ladykillers’ by Lush, ‘Park It Up Your Arse’ by Thee Headcoatees.
5. Eddie Floyd – Stealing Love
Ah, relationships. What a monumental pain in the arse, right? Still, at least you can rely on your friends to provide a welcome source of escapism when… hang on, where are they all? Ah, in bed with your beloved. Cheers guys.
See also: ‘When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman’ by Dr. Hook, ‘My Best Friend’s Going Out With A Girl I Like’ by David Cronenboerg’s Wife.
6. The Raveonettes – Love In A Trashcan
Hell, why not? Although if you insist on shagging amid crisp packets, broken glass and banana peel, a skip might be more comfortable.
See also: ‘Break Up Girls!’ by The Raveonettes, wherein the Danish duo plead for women to leave their abusive boyfriends.
7. The Only Ones – Another Girl, Another Planet
If punk taught us anything, it’s that the best love songs are actually about heroin.
See also: ‘Golden Brown’ by The Stranglers, ‘Tiny Dancer’ by Elton John, ‘Brown Sugar’ by D’Angelo.
8. Dead Kennedys ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’
The perfect soundtrack to that moment when your joy at having somehow reached the verge of scoring is cruelly destroyed when you realise you’ve just vomited all over your flaccid penis.
See also: ‘Soft’ by Kings of Leon, ‘Stutter’ by Elastica, ‘Rusted Guns of Milan’ by Art Brut.
9. Outkast feat. Kelis – Dracula’s Wedding
Being able to perfectly summarise the feeling of desperately wanting to be with someone, but simultaneously too nervous to actually be within a hundred metres of them, is pretty impressive. Being able to do it from the perspective of Count Dracula himself is fucking genius.
See also: ‘Soul Dracula’ by Hot Blood, ‘Slept So Long’ by Jay Gordon, ‘Bloodletting’ by Concrete Blonde.
10. Kraftwerk – Computer Love
Let’s face it: as soon as they invent USB genitals no one’s ever leaving the house again, and as proven by the current cinematic blockbuster Her, we’re fast approaching the point where man and machine are forever romantically twinned in android union. As usual, Kraftwerk were ahead of the game.
See also: ‘Welcome to Love’ by Space Art, ‘Don’t Unplug Me’ by ALL CAPS, ‘Technology’ by Jessie J.
11. Benny Spellman – Fortune Teller
A fortune teller who predicts you’re going to fall in love… with them. Yeah, you might get your fortune told for free now you’re married to her Benny Spellman, but you’ve been done like a kipper.
See also: ‘Love Potion No. 9’ by The Clovers.
12. WhoMadeWho – Every Minute Alone
An uncharacteristically morose number from these party-friendly Danes documents those tragic, endless periods spent sitting by the telephone, wondering whether you should call them while knowing, deep down, that you shouldn’t. However, I’m mainly including this as an excuse to post the video below, which is basically just a series of men crying and is absolutely brilliant.
See also: ‘Hanging on the Telephone’ by Blondie, ‘My Girl’ by Madness, ‘Love on the Telephone’ by Foreigner.
13. Holly Golightly – I Can’t Be Trusted
One of my all time favourite anti-love songs sees Holly Golightly savagely lobbing truth bombs at the poor sap who fancies her: “I can’t be trusted / I won’t be true / ‘Cos I don’t care about anyone / Anyone will tell you”. The worst thing is she sounds so damn sexy singing it that you know he’s going to end up pursuing her anyway, the lovesick idiot.
See also: ‘You Know I’m No Good’ by Amy Winehouse.
14. The Cure – The Lovecats
This isn’t a metaphor. Robert Smith actually stitched a sack of living cats together into a bed after removing their claws and teeth to improve his sex life. He says there’s nothing better than deflowering a new conquest on a warm bed of squirming, purring felines. And you know what, he’s right.
15. Koko Taylor & Willie Dixon – Wang Dang Doodle
Because it’s the funniest, most censor-aware euphemism for ‘orgy’ ever.
16. The Supremes – Stoned Love
The road that’s lined with copious amounts of wisdom cabbage is less likely to lead to abrupt sexual failure as the Booze Bypass – smoking takes the scenic route to impotence.
See also: ‘Take A Whiff On Me’ by Leadbelly and ‘Superlungs My Supergirl’ by Terry Reid. Although I’m not sure if either actually have anything to do with ganja, or indeed love.
17. Bongwater – What If?
There comes a point in many relationships when the more insecure partner starts testing their lover’s commitment. It rarely ends well at the best of times, but few can be as sadistic as Bongwater’s Ann Magnuson. “What if I pushed you off a ledge?,” she questions. “What if I scratched all your Sister Sledge? What if I laughed when you cried? Then said it was all just a lie? Would you still love me?”. Well, er, probably not to be honest.
18. Archie Bronson Outfit – Modern Lovers
Sixties love was all about pleasing postmen, eighties love was apparently ‘The Drug’ (and a Tainted one at that), but what of today’s lovebirds? Well it seems ‘we meet and we fuck and we don’t hear eachother’ if this little ditty is anything to go by. ‘We have no love / No love and no dancing’ it continues. Ah well, I was never much of a dancer anyway.
19. Jona Lewie – You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties
Kitchens are where all the unloveable dross of a party ends up when the attractive attendees are all busy enjoying each other’s company. A better bet is the bathroom, where even if you don’t manage to have rampant underwater bath-sex, you might at least catch a glimpse of someone’s willy when they take a piss. When you’re unloveable dross you have to take what you can get.
20. Half Man Half Biscuit – Paintball’s Coming Home
If Valentine’s Day is about one thing, it’s getting incredibly irritated by the smug couples who suddenly crawl out of every crevice. It’s even worse if the couples are as insufferably dull as the pair in this song. “If I’d have known they were coming,” gripes Nigel Blackwell, “I’d have slashed me wrists”.
21. Christina Aguilera – Elastic Love
The ‘elastic’ in the title is actually supposed to represent Aguilera’s back-and-forth relationship, but just in case that goes over your head she helpfully spells it out in the second verse: “A rubber band was an analogy / You could even say it’s a metaphor”. Well yes you could, as that’s exactly what it is. Less easily decoded is her use of “spastic love” as a rhyme in the chorus. Someone once told me the word doesn’t have quite the same meaning in the States, but I prefer to think that Christina is simply an equal opportunities employer when interviewing potential suitors.
22. Ani DiFranco – Origami
Here DiFranco speculates, pretty accurately, that all men want from women is for them to say ‘I’ll be your never ending vending machine’ and unfurl them like origami composed entirely of repressed emotion. The gist of the song is that DiFranco can’t be bothered doing so any more, and to be honest who can blame her? Women, stay away from men. We’re all wankers.
See also: ‘Your Woman’ by White Town, which an ex-girlfriend once told me summed up our entire relationship. A pretty awful thing to hear, but such is my love for the song that a tiny, terrible part of me was also secretly pleased. Again, we’re all wankers.
23. Dan Sartain – Replacement Man
All men may be wankers but then again women aren’t much better, as Dan Sartain succinctly points out here, by documenting the familiar story of a woman who sleeps with our replacement man protagonist just to get back at her boyfriend.
See also: ‘Young Girls’ by Dan Sartain, in which he complains: ‘Young girls are stupid and they’re cruel / But I still want them, what am I to do?’. Go gay is the obvious answer.
24. The Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)
AKA the soundtrack to my own formative years of rejection. And all the years since, as it happens.
See also: ‘Love Is Lies’ by The Buzzcocks. A great title but an unusually rubbish song from Steve Diggle and his fellow ‘cocks, featuring the risible rhyming couplet: ‘Love is lies, love is ice / Love is everything that’s nice’. Deep.
25. Kočani Orkestar – Siki Siki Baba
There are obviously millions of songs that could have been on this list, but for the fact that they’re sung in languages I don’t understand in the slightest. This song, taken from the Macedonian band’s ‘Alone At My Wedding’ album, is extra complicated as it has several different versions depending on where in the Balkans you are. As far as I can work out, it’s either about a strict father who tries to stop his daughter’s wedding, or a funky father who tears up the dancefloor at the reception. I like to think it’s about both of them, at the same wedding.
See also: ‘Je Pense A Toi’ by Amadou & Mariam, ‘O My Love’ by Nahid Akhtar & M. Ashraf, ‘La Javanaise’ by Serge Gainsbourg.
26. Cannibal Ox – The F Word
Which in this case stands for ‘friendship’. Which is the last word you want the object of your desire to use when you ask them what they want from you. The moral of the story – don’t have hot friends. Or if you already do, write a really good rap about how they won’t let you sleep with them.
See also: ‘Passing Me By’ by The Pharcyde.
27. Pulp – The Night That Minnie Timperly Died
Jarvis Cocker’s responsible for some of the most sordid, twisted love songs of his generation, but this takes the biscuit. To have your young protagonist raped and murdered is one thing, but to have the justification, ‘He only did what he did / Because you looked like one of his kids’ is just plain wrong. Jesus, Jarv.
28. The Special AKA with Rhoda Dakar – The Boiler
And if you thought that was bad… I actually thought twice about including this in a largely facetious list, but it’s just too important a song to leave out. Dakar’s ska-backed, spoken word story is based on a real life event, and for me is the most upsetting depiction of rape I’ve ever come across, in any art form; I actually cried the first time I heard it. A genuinely difficult song to listen to, but one that everyone should. The fact that it actually reached the Top 40 in 1981 is testament to the band’s bravery in releasing it as the follow-up to their number one hit, ‘Ghost Town’.
29. Jeffrey Lewis – The East River
You probably need some light relief after that, so here’s a song about throwing yourself into a river. Luckily it’s by Jeffrey Lewis. Love is a battle, and the trick is to know when you’re beat; unfortunately some people, like Mr. Lewis, are beat from the start. Knowing that any girl he meets will just leave him for someone more talented and better looking, he resolves to chuck himself into the East River. A bit drastic you might think, but there’s always the chance a girl might do the same thing, and they can ‘decompose as the river flows and become one scum forever’. How romantic.
30. Thom Yorke – Black Swan
This song is about diving headlong into a “fucked up” romantic situation and it going horribly, painfully wrong for all concerned. Well, either that or Thom Yorke has been interfering with water fowl.
31. The Modern Lovers – I’m Straight
Don’t worry, this isn’t a militant heterosexual anthem, but one of the most pathetically brilliant love songs ever, written by the king of pathetically brilliant love songs, Jonathan Richman. Here, sounding like he’s suffering from the world’s worst cold, he explains how unfair it is that his nemesis, Hippy Johnny, manages to get the girl he loves just by having lots of weed.
32. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Tears Of A Clown
In fact, just about any Motown love song, all of which keep to the simple, honest message: ‘love is great… then it’s shit’ within the boundaries of a catchy, soulful environment. Timeless.
See also: ‘Reach Out (I’ll Be There)’ by The Four Tops, ‘Heard It Through the Grapevine’ by Marvin Gaye, ‘Put Yourself In My Place’ by The Elgins… fuck it, just listen to the lot and you’re guaranteed a happy Valentine’s Day whatever your situation. Enjoy.
Words: Kier Wiater Carnihan
Image: Tove Jansson. Used without permission, but I spent 15 quid on overpriced tat at the Moomin shop in Covent Garden at Christmas, so I think we’re even.
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