Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Fave love and loss songs for the valentine-whipped

Here’s a compilation of love songs brought to you by those nosy neighbors of yours who know romance and all her highs and lows better than most: local musicians and music lovers, to whom I posed the question, “What’s your fave love and/or loss song

My favorite love song of the moment is “Pretty Girls” by the amazing Erik Koskinen Band, and all the dirty real-life ones Lolly Obeda will undoubtedly be spinning on The Sugar Shop Friday from 3 till 6 p.m.

Until then, for your consideration, here’s a compilation mix as brought to you by those nosy neighbors of yours who know romance and all her highs and lows better than most: local musicians and music lovers, to whom I posed the question, “What’s your fave love and/or loss song to sing and/or hear right now?”

Let the pining begin:

David Brusie: ” ‘Queen of the Surface Streets,’ DeVotchKa. This song packs a lot into its five minutes. The version I prefer is from the first in-studio compilation from ‘The Current (Live Current Vol. 1),’ because it’s more intimate than the studio version. It starts with muted guitar and builds as the narrator – a construction worker in a subway tunnel – becomes more passionate about a commuter he watches every day. The story is everything that love should be: illogical, strange, uncomfortable at times, and glorious. The narrator is thinking all these poetic thoughts (my favorite is ‘I would live on the street in a cardboard shack/just to worship your feet and the curve of your back’) that he’d never say to her face, because she’s untouchable. There’s probably a class statement in here too, but the more I think about it, the more I’d rather just listen to it. Great lyrics, great melody, and Nick Urata’s voice is at once epic and understated.”

Dana Thompson: ” ‘I Lost It’ by Lucinda Williams. I love that song so much, and I have to sing along. The ambiguity really drives the point home that no matter who you are, love is a mystery. You might go for a while thinking you’ve got it figured out, and then BLAM! Broken heart. That song is like butterflies appearing out of nowhere and turning to sharp little heart shaped rubies right in front of your eyes. You try to touch them, but they dissolve mid-air.”

Steve Almaas: ” ‘Stardust,’ by Hoagy Carmichael. I first got excited about this song when I heard Willie Nelson’s version, and these days, reminiscing about when ‘love was new’ brings a tear to the eye. A more beautiful melody and lyric I know not. I love Louis Armstrong’s version, too, although he’s downright jaunty about the whole business.”

Jenny Dalton: ” ‘Young Folks’ by Peter Bjorn & John. There are a lot of sharks out here. And then a lovely someone comes around, and it’s all sparkly and nice, and then, ‘Haha! Conquest, sucka! Next.’ It should just be sweet and simple like this song.”

John Munson: “I’m in love with ‘Maps’ by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs right now. It’s mysterious, filled with the essential elements of a great love song: love, of course, loss AND longing. I’ve sung the song for a year now. I only have theories about its meaning, but it appeals to my musician’s sense of wanderlust, the road, and its impact on love relationships.”

Jennifer Markey: “The first country song I learned to play was ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels’ by Kitty Wells. I never get tired of singing that song. Kitty’s voice on the record is so pitifully beautiful.  I try to do the same, but I know I’ll never quite do it justice. 

“I learned it when I was going through a separation, which ended in a divorce. … Sundays I went to the Hex for the Country Jam, Wednesdays I was at Lee’s to see Lazy Ike, etc. I drank a LOT of Grain Belt Premium and I found myself halfway home and way too drunk to drive more times than I care to remember.

“I was experiencing the serious loss of a relationship, and learning that song really helped me through it, knowing that someone else had felt that pain, too. Now when I sing it, I remember those times and how much I don’t want to repeat the mistakes I made.”

Bill DeVille: ” ‘You Are the Best Thing’ by Ray Lamontagne is the love song I keep going back to. It’s a simple love song full of soul and emotion that really need no explanation. Ray sings this one like he means it. Just love how the song harkens back to another time and reminds me of the legendary Otis Redding … a perfect Valentines song!”

Brianna Lane: “Josh Ritter has a song called ‘The Temptation of Adam’ (found on ‘The Historical Consequences of Josh Ritter’) that caught up with me slowly. He weaves war and love together brilliantly as the song takes place between two soldiers stuck underground in a missile silo (‘If this was the Cold War we could keep each other warm/I never had to learn to love her like I learned to love the bomb’). It’s a tragic and beautiful little story that makes me think of the grade-school boy all up in love, starry-eyed, gazing at the unknowing pale-skinned shy girl with the pigtails sitting at the desk in the back of the classroom.

“Aside from the ending (which I won’t tell you here – you’ll have to listen to it yourself), my favorite part of the song is the second verse when the narrator, the boy-soldier, is trying to win the girl’s heart: ‘We passed the time with crosswords that she thought to bring inside/What five letters spell ‘apocalypse’ she asked me/I won her over saying ‘WWIII’/She smiled and we both knew that she’d misjudged me.’ Simple things in tragic times. All is well if you got love.”

Vicky Wallace: “I caught a show at the Living Room in NYC a few months ago and was introduced to a Canadian songwriter named Rose Cousins. Her live show was absolutely stunning and I immediately went home and bought her CD, threw it on my Ipod and have been listening to it regularly ever since. Her simple yet elegant song, ‘Dance If You Want To’ is my new favorite love song at the moment because the message is one I believe in: Be unselfish enough to give the person you love the room to grow as a couple and as an individual.”

Tony Thomas: ” ‘The Glory of True Love’ by John Prine. I love my wife. I love John Prine. This song makes me think of them both, plus St. Paul is in the second verse. What else do you need in a Valentine’s Day song? I’m singing it at a Valentine’s party on Saturday.”

Aby Wolf: “I’d have to go with ‘Computer Love’ by Kraftwerk. I love this song because the melody line is so catchy and cute and simple! It’s fitting for me right now because I have been spending more time than ever on my computer … when I could be making out with my real boyfriend! Also, check the song at roughly three minutes and 20 seconds when the rad beat kicks in. Doesn’t it just make you feel like rollerskating?”

Wain Macfarlane: “Stevie Wonder, ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ It reminds me of a hot afternoon in St. Paul, July 4th, playing with my family and friends. What a great show. Only to learn that that would be the last show for my sister Julitta Faye McFarlane on this earth. We all saw an angel backstage that seemed to disappear in a blink of an eye. And 48 hours later, Julitta was in fact gone. She sang, and we played the best I’d ever heard.”

Haley Bonar
: ” ‘God Only Knows’ (Beach Boys) sung by the Langley School Music Project. It’s a recording from the ’70s of an elementary school concert where the children sang covers of pop songs. This particular version is so haunting and sweet, and I feel like I’m sitting in the room with them, trying not to implode with love for every little thing in the world. The Beach Boys are great, sure, but they ain’t got nothin’ on the big beautiful rise and fall of children’s voices singing one of the greatest pop songs ever written to fall in love with someone to.”

Chris Koza: “At this moment, the first song that comes to mind is Jeff Buckley‘s  ‘Lover, You Should Have Come Over.’ One of the most powerful aspects of Buckley’s music is the fact that once it trickled down, was passed around, and his catalog became pagan worship and his very essence frozen in a perpetual and misunderstood youth, he wasn’t around to illuminate his muses; there was no retrospect. The song is beautiful, languid, and bursting with mind-bending sexual frustration. It’s as if every problem would be immediately solved if this simple, yet impossible act (“you should have come over”) were to occur. Idyllic love is both inspiring and paralyzing, and in Buckley’s case he lost both his lover and the ability to love at all when we lost him.”

Sam Keenan: “I’m not listening to many love songs at the moment, but maybe my fave of all time would be Elvis Costello‘s ‘I Want You’ off of Blood and Chocolate. It’s about love and pain and cheating. Truly beautiful and brilliant. Gets me every time.”

Chuck Tomlinson: “‘The Kiss,’ by Judee Sill (1973) was on a mix CD my wife and I sent out with wedding thank-you cards. And it was just played as part of the latest ‘Cosmic Slop’ podcast. I’m frequently a lyrics-last listener, so I love the melancholy feel matched up with words of such vulnerable bliss.”

Venus DeMars:

Love Song

The needle is collecting dust, muffling the high end.
Now I’m blowing it away, careful not to blow so hard that the needle skips.
The audience wants more dance music, but I choose CASH‘s  cover of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” off  “American IV.”

The audience is complaining that it’s too slow,
    but it’s been too long.
And I haven’t said before;
    but I always think of you at this moment.
And I’m still moved by this song.
And why can’t I write a song like this.
And why, even when I try, I can’t tell you well enough just how much I do, and always, and forever..,

“I love you.”

And now the dance floor is clear.

Christian Erickson: “Definitely ‘Apartment Story,’ by The National. I have a problem with the vast majority of ‘love songs’ because they try to reduce humanity’s most complicated emotion down to some simple metaphors that just don’t seem real to me. For me, the best way to describe love is by describing shared experiences – and this song seems to describe an experience I’ve had many times. At first it reminded me of when my wife and I first met, then I realized it actually describes us pretty well now, too. Only difference is you can’t spend an entire week in bed after you have kids.”

Ashleigh Still: ” ‘Some Love,’ by David Saw. Melancholy and uncomplicated, it’s beautiful and rings so true in my fluid heart. One of my favorite lines is, ‘I never wanted you to go, though I knew I was leaving just the same.’ I harmonize with him in my car every time I hear it and find some sort of healing in reciting the simple truth: ‘Some love sticks like glue; some love falls apart/Some love seems so cruel when it keeps you in the dark/Some love breaks the rules and some love breaks your heart.'”

Cyn Collins: ” ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart,’ by Neil Young, covered by The New Standards.  I love The New Standards and Neil Young, who is one of the best songwriters of our time, who also shares my birthday. So, a great combo reason to love this song, which reminds me of my favorite quote/motto, ‘It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’

“This song takes me back to my wedding on the day of a full Harvest Moon overlooking the St. Croix River when Willie Murphy, Fort Wilson Riot and the Brass Kings played our wedding dance. At midnight, The Brass Kings surprised us by playing ‘Harvest Moon,’ not realizing it is essentially our song – still in love after all these years (after watching each other from afar for about as many years) and dancing under a full harvest moon. People fell in love during that dance, that magical night.”

Michelle Kinney: “This is my loss song: John Prine’s ‘Angel from Montgomery.’ I’ve been listening over and over, thinking about how it must feel to hurt so bad that all you can do is fly away. This is my love song: Antony’s (of Antony and the Johnsons) ‘Hope There’s Someone.’ In addition to being a straight shot of supernatural vibration, this song is a prayer for love, and a wish to not live a ‘paralyzing life,’ and about getting by with a little help from my friends … another good love song.”

Mick Sterling: “Roberta Flack‘s ‘Until It’s Time for You to Go’ is truly one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard. The song is haunting and her vocal performance is heartbreaking, soaring and masterful at the same time.  The lyrics are bittersweet. If you don’t choke up when you hear her sing the final refrain before the cellos come in, you simply have no heart. It’s stunning.”

Jeaneen Gauthier: “One of my favorite love-and-loss songs to sing is ‘The Autumn Leaves’ – the jazz version with English lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Although it’s a hard one to perform because I can’t always get through the last lines without getting all choked up. ‘I Fall in Love Too Fast’ (Chet Baker does a great version) and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Seems So Long Ago, Nancy’ are two others. Sometimes I can cry by just thinking the lines in my head! I need songs like that because after the tears have dried, I feel peaceful and clear and hopeful, like I got my heart back.”

Kari Shaw: ” ‘I Am Ready for Love,’ by India Arie. Her warm, tender voice is soothing. I love the lyrics. Very real and vulnerable. Good stuff.”

Kevin Bowe: “I think my favorite love/loss song lately has been ‘Long Distance Love,’ by Little Feat. I’ve been fascinated by that song and everything Lowell George did for many years, but it just came up on my Ipod the other day and I fell in love with it all over again. The line ‘help wanted, but not enough’ is all it took. A true American treasure. He’s dead and Michael Bolton is still alive; I don’t get it.”

Davina Sowers: ” ‘Trouble,’ by Cat Stevens and ‘Jealous Guy’ sung by Donnie Hathaway. If you would hear them right now you would completely understand. Just soul and feeling in both. I am a sucker for sad songs.”

Patty Peterson: “Okay, I have four: Two for being ridiculously in love and two for breaking it off … OUCH! Shirley Horn’s version of ‘Oh … Do It again.’ If you listen, she milks every emotion of those first few moments with someone new, when you know you probably should not be there … but oh … do it again! Then, ‘The Very Thought of You’ is about the preoccupation you have when you first fall in love with someone; the times when you miss turns on freeways because you are thinking of that person so much. The two break-up songs are Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ and ‘Where Do You Start?’ Once again, Shirley Horn. They speak for themselves.”

Chris Strouth:  “If I had to narrow down the ridiculously long playlists of music that sort of define my wife and I, it would be the Louie Armstrong version of ‘A Kiss to Build A Dream On.’ The song was originally written for the Marx Brothers film ‘A Night at the Opera,’ but sat unused till the ’50s. when Louie picked it up for the movie ‘The Strip.’ It’s a song that’s all about the lyrics ‘Give me a kiss to build a dream on/And my imagination will thrive upon that kiss/Sweetheart, I ask no more than this/A kiss to build a dream on.’ Sure it’s sappy, sure it’s sentimental, but how better to ask for a first kiss, the one that you build a life upon. It always brings us back to the beginning, and that always keeps us centered for the future.”

David Beckey: “Songs like ‘Two Weeks Since You’ve Gone’ and ‘On Your Own Again’ by Scott Walker come to mind, and Frank Sinatra’s ‘One for the Road’ never hurts either. ‘Pretty Little Baby’ by Marvin Gaye is another lovely heartbreaker, as is Elvis’ ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ His speech is classic.”

Tom Cook:  “With out a doubt, ‘867-5309 (Jenny).’ [her real name] is my love/loss that takes up all the real estate in my heart and soul. I was on tour last year with the Magnolias in Spain, and that song came on after a show. I had to go be alone in the dressing room. As “Common Man” Dan Cole always says, ‘Drummer, she ain’t never comin’ back!’ Ha-ha! I’m waiting! Jenny, will you marry me?”

Lizz Winstead:  “I have been listening to the dB’s again and I have to say I keep singing the song, ‘Lonely Is As Lonely Does.’ I think that phrase is where I am at right now.”

Paul Pirner: “The fave of the moment is ‘I Want You Back’ by the Jackson 5. I was just re-convinced to love it again after being so poisoned by Mike’s … issues and burka-wearing freakiness that I couldn’t take anything of his seriously for a while. Now I’m digging the pure, simple genius of it, the timelessness and innocence of the words, plus the groove is just spectacular.

“I can listen to it with my kids and they dance and clap, I can listen to it at a big party and everyone smiles and sways their hips. You can actually get a room full of Minnesotans spontaneously dancing to it, which is saying something. It instantly resonates with so many emotions and flies through them from love to loss to longing and happiness and wraps it in a bit of false bravado, all while feeling very earnest and believable. And it was from before Mike went weird. Remember the times before everything went weird? Yeah. I like that these days.

“Either that, or ‘Gary’s Got a Boner.’

Dan Israel:  “Does it sound lame to say Jackson Browne? Well, if so, then lame I am. I had on a Jackson Browne ‘best of’ in the car this morning and, despite the fact that it was an annoyingly overplayed hit (and the theme song from ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’), these lyrics from ‘Somebody’s Baby’ really hit me for some reason: ‘She’s probably somebody’s only light, gonna shine tonight.’ I mean, that guy knows a good lyric. Then I also got choked up at his almost-comeback-hit from a few years ago, ‘I’m Alive’: ‘I have to block it out sometimes to survive/’cause those dreams are dead, but I’m alive.’ Wow, beautiful stuff.”

Andra Suchy: ” ‘Say It Over And Over Again’ (written by Jimmy McHugh). That has been Andrew (Pierzina)‘s and my song since the very beginning.  I can listen to it over and over!  It somehow expresses it all without even using words.”

Kari Tauring: “I see the word ‘Valentine’ and it’s the saint and his story that springs to mind. I wrote a song about his last hours in prison; kind of dark for a love song.  But he died for the ultimate love – unconditional. His main focus was keeping children out of the Roman army, secretly marrying people who were in the army (they weren’t allowed to marry until after their service was complete – they entered at 10 years old and were released between 35 and 40 years old), and herbal healing.

“I just performed the marriage ceremony of a good friend and we sang ‘This Little Light of Mine”; we let it shine for Love and Bliss and a Wedding Kiss. This song starts as all true love and relationships must start, with the light within. To love ourselves, to let it shine and bring others into our love, that’s my hope, my goal.”