Photo: Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music
Avast, shipmates! I return once more, with a further three of my 69 favourite songs about love. Not just love-songs however – no, siree. We do break-ups, make-ups and bust-ups here too. I’ve tried to arrange the playlist so that each instalments three songs are in the same key and flow whilst listening (I know, I’m simply too kind). Anywho, kick back and listen…and read too, of course…
1. Over You – Roxy Music
Overcoming a break-up is one of the love-song’s oldest and most laboured tropes. On this dazzling 1980 single however, Bryan Ferry manages to nail the bullseye with a song as simple as it is true. Comprising a no-surprises chord progression, post-glam guitars, synth strings and a superbly theatrical vocal, Over You is hopelessly catchy and brilliantly melodic. The lyric, equally sparse, is also quite playful; the narrator, trying desperately to move on, ruminates on the ways in which the titular preposition might be interpreted (Pulp’s After You employ some similarly tongue-in-cheek wordplay). Overall, there’s something sadly romantic about this song; with its touches of glam, but an air of melancholy On a personal note, I really love the way that Ferry will subtly change the modulation of the vocal melody during the first two lines of each verse; each repetition becomes different, an unexpected element that compliments the simplicity of the music very nicely (in my ears anyway…)
2. Grow Old With Me – John Lennon
This song is, paradoxically, as beautiful as it is mournful. John Lennon wrote Grow Old With Me after Yoko Ono telephoned him with a love-song of her own. It has about it a hymnal quality; the chords are satisfyingly uncomplicated and its vocal melody is very memorable – it’s not difficult to see how he had envisaged it as a wedding standard of the future. For its adoring sentimentality however, the lyric is tremendously sad, projecting a question in the present onto the certainty of death after a lifetime in love; it’s a song about the journey toward life’s end, a dark coincidence perhaps in the wake Lennon’s murder on December 8 1980. As a result of his untimely death, the only recording of the song by its author is a low fidelity demo (Grow Old With Me was written in 1980). There is an interesting version with strings overdubbed by the late Beatles producer George Martin, but in all honesty, it’s the crackle of the original that sounds truest. To me, the most harrowing aspect of this song is the potential it foreshadowed – who knows what Lennon might have written next? It’s almost impossible to consider that we’ll never know.
3. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel
I feel almost dirty, choosing a Neutral Milk Hotel song for this list (from that album, as well). But the fact of the matter is this: the record is adored by as many genuine admirers as it is superficial hipsters. For some, it’s all about the retro flavours of the eclectic instruments and the cover art, which features a wheel of Brie in place of a woman’s head. I however, love Neutral Milk Hotel for their left-field melancholia and for In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’s aesthetic marriage of wartime Europe and the darkly absurd (as if they were really that different…) To these ends, the album’s title track is about the most normal moment on the LP – for all intents and purposes, we’re dealing with a straight-up love-song here. But, as per the entire album’s regulations (or lack of), the song strays into the strange; bugles fart over wonky acoustic guitars and Jeff Magnum’s bemoaned vocal is both convicted and inane, floating between agony and ambivalence. There’s definitely something very teenage about its conflicted behaviour; perhaps the weird quasi-sexual elements (‘I’d push my fingers through your mouth’) qualify this? In all honesty, I can’t claim to have an authoritative word to say on this song. Have a listen yourself. It’s really crazy stuff, but sure as the sky is yellow, it’s heartfelt.
Listen to the PearShaped 69 Love Songs playlist below.