"Roses are red, violets are blue,
I'm 'romantically-challenged', how about you?"
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Yes, the horrendous trial-by-greetings card that is the 14th of February has reared its ugly little head, and half the world seems swathed in pink and red. Sales of helium-filled balloon hearts, nauseatingly-cutesy teddy bears, anatomically-suggestive chocolates and (environmentally damaging? a couple of reports on supplies from Colombia and India) roses have had their annual peak, and, thanks also to that amazing invention, 'booze', some people (who on any other day stood no chance whatsoever) will tonight actually achieve their lifelong (so far) ambition of a "pity shag" from the otherwise entirely unobtainable object of their affections.
I always hated St. Valentine's Day when I was a teenager - when everyone around me would enquire "how many did you get?", while clutching an improbably large stack of envelopes, to which I'd (truthfully, but with sinking self-esteem) answer "Well, I got one"...but all the time I'd know, secretly, that it had been posted by my mum...and I've never really changed my mind about the whole concept. (For anyone wishing to recreate this 'hormones-and-acne' feeling for themselves by way of an experiment, I recommend listening to the "Dark Side of the Moon", for a general air of melancholy, while reading something like "A History of the Indians of the United States", by Angie Debo, for intermittent troughs of deeper gloom. But always keep a Billy Connolly cd at the ready, in case you take it just a little too far...).
So, in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, I thought I'd compile yet another song list, this time of tunes which are steadfastly opposed to the plastic schmaltz we're being bombarded with. What follows are ten of my (entirely personal) favourite "Dear retail outlet marketing department, yes, I'm a bit of a sad loser, kindly stop rubbing my face in it" tracks, ranging from 'mild yearning' through to 'downright scary', hopefully with a small stop-off at 'slightly wistful' along the way.
[Disclaimer: The author does not, at any time, claim that this is a 'definitive' list, or that these songs are, in any way,shape or form, somehow 'better' than alternative songs the reader may prefer (however lacking in musical taste the reader thusly may appear to be). He also denies any responsibility for the faint odour of 'cheese' that might surround one (or more) of his selections. He has a blocked-up nose, and anyway, was on holiday at the time when it didn't happen, so it must be all your fault instead. Glad we could clear that up so easily..]
1. WHY - Annie Lennox
Beautiful voice, beautiful song (co-written by ex-Jethro Tull keyboard player, Peter-John Vitesse in case anyone cared), wonderful words, and all very sad. A perfect start!
2. FOOL FOR YOUR LOVING - Whitesnake
Complete shuddering change of genre for this 1980 hit (it got to no.13) for David Coverdale's half-ex-Deep Purple, heavy-blues-rockers. Twin guitars, and Jon Lord's organ to boot - a rifftastic declaration of personal growth!
3. GUTE NACHT (video) - from 'Winterreise' (translation) by Franz Schubert
Ah, the cold!, the snow! - our poor hero has been cast out of his girlfriend's house, and is left to wander the icy paths in the darkness, wondering what the feck went wrong. Or something like that, anyway - maybe a trifle more nuanced, perhaps? This was my party piece (in days of yore), and I always loved that it had an opera's worth of emotion packed into less than 6 minutes. I still annoy the kids with a (now very poor) rendition from time to time...
4. I WANT YOU - Elvis Costello
This song seems quite pleasant at first, but slowly drags you into a deranged world of obsession and violent desire. The appropriately off-kilter (and out-of-tune) guitar solo perfectly fits the mood. Visceral and more than a little disturbing.
5. ANGELINE - John Martyn
A gentler tone here, the singer pleading with (mysterious? manipulative? plain annoying?) Angeline, imploring that whatever she chooses to do in the immediate future, "it really won't matter" as long as he can spend some precious time with her now. No matter the outcome, you just know it's going to end messily...
6. LOVE ON THE ROCKS WITH NO ICE - The Darkness
Forget the body-hugging spandex catsuits, make the effort to look beyond the double-entendres and jokiness of many of his songs, and you'll find that Justin Hawkins has a very fine (if quirky - and what's wrong with that?) way with lyrics. Here, he combines depressingly honest domestic detail with old-school rock- a damn hard trick to pull off, but one he manages with aplomb.
7. WE'RE GOING WRONG - Cream
The title pretty much says it all for this one! Not a great deal going-on lyrically, but Ginger Baker's slightly ominous, muted tom rolls build the musical tension expertly. Brilliantly claustrophobic.
8. HALLELUJAH JORDAN - Hothouse Flowers
A bouncy, rollicking, dance-yer-arse-off Irish-soul-band rendition of that age-old story: boy meets girl, girl decides to go off with flash git, boy drinks himself to death.
9. ONE OF MY TURNS - Pink Floyd
Now this was a tough choice. Soooo many Pink Floyd songs to choose from that could have made it into the list...but this (well, the first half, anyway, before it gets loud & psychotic) is probably Roger Waters at his bleakest. "Day after day, love turns grey, Like the skin of a dying man". Yep...if it's miserable you're after, that'll pretty much do it every time.
10. WASHING OF THE WATER - PETER GABRIEL
There are very few songs which have ever moved me to tears. This continues to be one of them. (YouTube video here)
Well. That's probably enough jollity and romantification to be getting-on with until next February 14th. Not that I've got anything against all the folk who are happily paired (or tripled? quadrupled? I'm not judging) off, and adore the whole "hearts 'n' flowers" thing. Oh no. It's a wonderful country to be in...I just seem to have left my passport in the pocket of my other jacket...
p.s. 10 'muso' points to anyone who recognises the source for this post's title without using Google!
p.p.s. In the spirit of 'always wanting to go back and tinker some more with the effects settings' that I'm hopelessly prone to, I've been picking-over this list for the last couple of days. Trouble is, there are so many great 'love going wrong', 'love gone wrong', and 'love gone wrong, come back again and man, was that a mistake!' songs that I couldn't help wondering whether these were properly representative of...umm...me, I suppose. Here, then, are a few alternative takes, any one of which might have made its way onto the album:
11. PIBROCH (CAP IN HAND) - Jethro Tull
One of Ian Anderson's many fine stories where, to quote the man himself, "he never quite gets the girl". In this instance, our simple hero, having finally summoned-up the courage to declare his hand, tragically discovers that he's too late...
12. SHE'S LEAVING ME BECAUSE SHE REALLY WANTS TO - Lyle Lovett
Again, a very hard choice to make. It could have been the cool cynicism of "M-O-N-E-Y", or something sad, yet hard, like "Black and Blue"...but in the end, it just had to be this one. This guy (who is, to my over-tired and malfunctioning mind, anyway, the country equivalent of Elvis Costello) always writes cleverly, elegantly, and honestly.
13. WATER OF LOVE - Dire Straits
Forget the world-straddling stadium tours, the hordes of 'Princess Di'-lookalike fans, the mounds of discarded sweatbands - when they first emerged, blinking, into the cold light of the UK music scene, Dire Straits played stripped-down, 'who cares if it's cool?' guitar music with what might be termed 'mild case of urban depression' lyrics. Although quite what the lines "Took a stone from my soul, when I was lame, Just so you could make me tame" (in 'Six-Blade Knife') mean, I haven't a bleedin' clue. If anyone out there can shed some light on this...please?? anyone??
14. HERE'S A QUARTER (CALL SOMEONE WHO CARES) - Travis Tritt
We all have different ways of responding when a relationship falls apart....
15. CHICKS DIG JERKS - Marblehead Johnson (aka the late, great, Bill Hicks)
Just thought I'd finish off with something to make us blokes feel better...sort of. (You can listen to this track here.) For anyone unfortunate enough not to be aware of the brilliance of Bill Hicks, this is a good place to start. Enjoy!