The alert consumer of mindless advertising will have noticed that the marketing industry has officially declared February the month of love by dint of Valentine’s Day falling smack bang in the middle of it. So, this month we’ll run through the emotions produced by love (as we did last year), including the joys of being happily in love but much more the utter torment of not being happily in love. Let’s kick things off with just how horrible love is.
Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
I know, I included Love Hurts in last year’s series, and more recently in The Originals. It is the finest recording of one of the finest songs ever written. Gram has been burnt by love (which, as he tells it, is like a hot stove) and now it’s payback time. Love, he accuses, “is just a lie, made to make you blue”, which evokes the notion of an elaborate conspiracy theory involving The Man and the Illuminati reptiles hatching devious plans to break hearts worldwide. Gram has no time for the idiots who buy into the myth of love. “Some fools think of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness. Some fools fool themselves I guess, but they’re not fooling me. I know it isn’t true.” And yet, we suspect that it is Gram who’s fooling himself: just listen to the way Gram and Emmylou sing the word “togetherness” with such hopeful yearning.
J. Geils Band – Love Stinks.mp3
Gram and Em have had their emotions bulldozed, yet their cynicism is diluted by the tenderness with which they try to paper over the cracks in their hearts. J Geils and friends, on the other hand, give up on love altogether, with bullish defiantly and utter immaturity, as the title immediately suggests. They sound a clarion warning: love’s a devious bastard (as you might have suspected once you learnt aboiut the Illuminatis involvement). “Love’s gonna find you… You’ll hear it call, your heart will fall, then love will fly. It’s gonna soar. I don’t care for any Casanova thing; all I can say is LOVE STINKS.” To which they might add: nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah! (Which might take us to the chorus of Centrefold.)
John Prine – All The Best.mp3
Passive-aggressive is a pretty good response to being hurt by someone – at least in song. John Prine provides a template for how it’s done: “I wish you love and happiness, I guess I wish you all the best,” which is very magnanimous indeed. Oh, but here comes the sting: “I wish you don’t do like I do, and ever fall in love with someone like you.” We’ll dispense with the awkward rhyme that follows before we arrive at the smackdown: “But kids…can only guess how hard it is to wish you happiness.” Isn’t that bitter? Prine isn’t quite as self-pitying as Gram or cynical as Geils, but he is abundantly resentful of love nonetheless: “I guess that love is like a Christmas card. You decorate a tree, you throw it in the yard. It decays and dies and the snowmen melt. Well, I once knew love, I knew how love felt.”
Velvet Underground – Who Loves The Sun.mp3
After Prine’s Christmas metaphor, we join the Velvet Underground jaunty weather centre of broken hearts: “Who loves the sun? Who cares that it makes plants grow? Who cares what it does — since you broke my heart?” They follow that with similar riffs on wind and rain. Says it all, really. Ba-ba-ba-ba indeed.
Skeeter Davis – The End Of The World.mp3
This series will visit the home for break-up songs a couple of times, but few of those that will feature pack as much pain in one song as Skeeter’s lamentation for a love lost. Best of all, this 1961 country hit has a spoken bit. Skeeter tries to make sense of a world unchanged despite the seismic transformation in her life after her boyfriend or husband left her (she sounds like a 16-year-old, but was 31 when this song, remarkably a top 10 hit on the R&B charts, was recorded). “Why do the birds go on singing? Why do the stars glow above? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? It ended when I lost your love.” Those who have experienced real heartbreak — not a crushed crush, but the whole damn gig — may empathise with the repeated verse: “Why does my heart go on beating? Why do these eyes of mine cry? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world. It ended when you said goodbye.”
Bob Dylan – If You See Her, Say Hello.mp3
Bob is rebounding from a break-up – or so he tries to pretend as he tells his friend to send his regards to the ex. “Say for me that I’m all right, though things get kind of slow. She might think that I’ve forgotten her, don’t tell her it isn’t so.” Oh, but he hasn’t forgotten her at all, “she still lives inside of me”. At social gatherings he still hears her name and it’s all he can do to block the pain. He suffers unhappy love’s equivalent of Chinese water torture: “I replay the past. I know every scene by heart, they all went by so fast.” And then there remains that cancerous glimmer of hope which won’t let you bury the painful love as Bob asks his pal: “If she’s passin’ back this way, I’m not that hard to find. Tell her she can look me up if she’s got the time.” Way to get over her, dude.
Angie Stone – No More Rain (In This Cloud).mp3
Smokey Robinson asked the girl to look at his face to see just how broken his heart is. Thirty-odd years on, retro soul singer Angie Stone namechecks Tracks Of My Tears in 1999’s gorgeous No More Rain as she explains: “There’s no hiding place when someone has hurt you. It’s written on your face, and it reads: ‘Broken spirit, lost and confused. Empty, scared, used and abused, a fool’.” She goes on to berate her tormentor, but the song isn’t really about him; it’s about the process of healing from the pain he inflicted. Angie still feels pain, but it’s really a song of comfort and hope. After all the emotional turmoil, at some point the tears will dry up. “My sunshine has come, and I’m all cried out. And there’s no more rain in this cloud.” Take note, Gram and Geils, there is life after love.
The Delgados – All You Need Is Hate.mp3
If Angie’s zen recovery doesn’t work for you, some anger might. Here, Scottish exponents of Indie pop The Delgados are your friend as they subvert several musical clichés about love. And it’s not just romantic love they don’t need. All love is dead, all you need is a heart of stone — or not, because hate is really a very visceral emotion. So the song should really say: All you need is indifference, and you shouldn’t care about that either. But it doesn’t. “Charity, a joke that friendly cities think that we believe … Everlasting hate, feel it in the people where it’s warm and great … Hate is all around, find it in your heart in every waking sound; on your way to school, work or church you’ll find that it’s the only rule” and so on. Obviously they’re taking the piss. “Come on hate yourself; everyone here does, so just enjoy yourself.” Poor Gram Parsons would probably agree with that.