Well here we go again – time for three more of my sixty-nine favourite ‘songs about love’. This week’s songs are not only seguing nicely, but they’re just about in tune with the last instalments (all will become clear in week #23 when the playlist is re-organised chronologically). Anywho, here they are:
1. Nat King Cole – Unforgettable
Unforgettable is the oldest song on this list. It comes from a time where songwriters were paid suits with desks in the Brill building, furiously scribbling away at sheet music under swathes of cigarette smoke, with waxen hair and shiny shoes – an image as romanticised now as the songs of its time. Directed at a lover, the song’s sentimental centrepiece is an omnipresent thought in the mind of their counterpart, their loveliness exacerbated by the cordially requited nature of their ‘incredible’ love. It’s a very simple idea, one that’s executed by beautifully simple words, and accompanied by a luscious, orchestral arrangement. Cole’s cosy baritone glows and it feels like Christmas in the heart. It’s a lovely song, yes, but lovelier still are the historical connotations it brings to mind: the concept of the love-song as a finely tuned, crafted work; the rich warmth of real, orchestral instrumentation. It’s neither glamorous nor proper, but I was introduced to this song by the opening scene of the Watchmen film. Zack Synder’s brilliant juxtaposition of extreme comic-book violence with the warm croon of Nat King Cole was unlike anything I’d seen (or have since seen, in fact). “It’s a joke…it’s all a big joke”, the Comedian laughs before his super-powered assailant throws him from the high-rise window to his death on the pavement below. The eclectic mix of soft ‘50s pop and graphic CG action is actually a very interesting precursor to the film’s other, darker ruminations on love; for all its unabashed bloodshed, Watchmen is one of the most emotionally charged superhero films about…
2. Dire Straits – Tunnel of Love
Coming as they do, from the arse-end of ‘70s rock music, Dire Straits have garnered an unfair reputation for ‘cheesy’ tunes. Such is the incredible, technical skill of lead guitarist frontman Mark Knopfler that his big, lick-filled arrangements have come to sit shoulder to shoulder with progressive rock tunes as somewhat inaccessible or perhaps even bland. On closer inspection however, Knopfler’s songs are heavily inspired by the pop music of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and, unlike anything produced by Mike Oldfield for example, they can still be fun to dance or sing along with. In my opinion, the crystalline production is to blame; even Dire Straits’ live records (the best place to really enjoy that buoyancy in their music) are better produced than most punk and post-punk of the time. Make no mistake though – Dire Straits were great. Tunnel of Love opens their excellent 1980 album Making Movies, and for the entirety of its pantomime-scale eight minute runtime, it’s a boldly romantic and slickly performed slice of good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. The lyrics describe falling in love at a fairground (albeit more glamorously than Morrissey would on Rusholme Rufians, four years later) and the imagery, whilst no marker of genius, is cutesy to say the least. Knopfler’s distinctive finger-picked Stratocaster rules the roost here, rollicking round the corners of every verse and exploding beautifully into an exceptionally busy coda; elsewhere, springy piano arpeggios, a sample of the titular waltz from Rogers & Hammerstein’s Carousel and catchy vocal melodies make for a brilliant pop song. Maybe it’s not as tortured as the spoken word poetry of Henry Rollins, or the suicidal melancholia of Nick Drake – but damnnit, Tunnel of Love is a pop-song and a half. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.
3. Paramore – Still Into You
It will come as no surprise that Paramore (pictured) shed a significant portion of their fan-base over this single and its subsequent album. Major-key pop bangers with synthesiser underlay are not what the angsty fans of Riot! wanted to hear. On Still Into You, Hayley Williams and co. are particularly upbeat, even for them. I’ll be honest, it’s what attracted me to the song; I’m not the world’s biggest Paramore fan, but I love this song. The whole arrangement is relentlessly playful – almost as if it’s worried you might forget how to enjoy yourself. It opens with a climbing, portamento synth haze, topped off by a glacé cherry triangle ping. Then, as the verses explode into view, a choppy lead guitar takes staccato stabs at Williams’ vocal melody before a bouncy chorus and a bounding middle-eight, complete with electronic clicks and snaps straight out of Hot Butter’s Popcorn. It’s just such a refreshingly honest pop-song, this – the exact kind of thing the Beatles might’ve done (albeit, probably better) on one of their first albums; the kind of thing then, haunting Stephin Merritt during his construction of the Magnetic Fields 69 Love-Songs. It’s not just love it’s honest about though; in their brash and unashamedly colourful state, Paramore are honest about having fun as a pop-punk band, underlying the fact – you don’t have to be anarchical 24⁄7 to enjoy yourself. In that sense, I guess Cyndi Lauper comes to mind – I don’t know, it’s almost a nonsense analysing this one. Take it for what it is: catchy as heck and daubed in aural neon from start to finish.