Playlist: Be my valentine

Okay. So here’s something that’s never been done before, at least not on this blog, or really, during any of my years of blogging. It’s true. I have never done a post observing this somewhat suspect ‘holiday’, a day that has been over-commercialized and become more about selling chocolates and flowers and overpriced dinners than spending time with the one you love. Still, as I’ve alluded to in previous posts, I do have a sappy side, a side that gets totally wrapped up in rom-coms and even the odd Hallmark Christmas film. And yeah, my wife and I typically do observe February 14th, usually in our own quiet way, but the odd time we have gone out for a nice dinner and paid exorbitant prices for roses.

It just so happened a few weeks ago that I realized I was due for a new playlist and the idea occurred to me to create one of ‘love songs’. Then, I quelled the idea, remembering the struggle Victoria and I had looking for appropriate songs in my collection that we could dance to on our wedding day. “Do none of your bands write songs about love?” she asked, frustrated and tired at one point during our search. Apparently not, was the answer, at least not in the conventional sense, the sense in which hair bands managed it in the 80s and out of which some R&B singers have made a career. Often the alternative and indie bands to whom I listen wrote beautiful lyrics that touched on love but did so looking at it not as a pure thing but one to be feared and revered, a bringer of both pain and joy. In short, not your typical love songs.

In the end, we found a handful to use, of which a few of them can be found in the playlist below. Of course, I had Victoria in mind while putting this one together, though I know she wouldn’t appreciate many of the tracks, still, there’s a little something for everyone. I’ve got some iconic tunes by influential alt-rock bands like The Cure and The Smiths, lesser known acts from the 90s like The Lowest of the Low and My Drug Hell, and of course, highlights from the indie kids of this new century, like Bloc Party and The Decemberists. I’ve got the whole list below, in case the Spotify doesn’t work for you, and included a lyrical gem from each song, just to give a glimpse of what you can be listening for as you peruse the list.

1. The Cure “Lovesong”
“Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again. Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am whole again.”

2. Elbow “An audience with the pope”
“I have an audience with the Pope, and I’m saving the world at eight, but if she says she needs me, she says she needs me, everybody’s gonna have to wait.”

3. Blur “To the end”
“You and I collapsed in love. And it looks like we might have made it.”

4. The Rural Alberta Advantage “In the summertime”
“Once in a while, I know our hearts beat out of time. And once in a while, I know they’ll fall back in line.”

5. Teenage Fanclub “What you do to me”
“There’s something about you, got me down on my knees.”

6. The Cranberries “Dreams”
“Now I tell you openly, you have my heart so don’t hurt me. You’re what I couldn’t find, totally amazing mind, so understanding and so kind, you’re everything to me.”

7. The Postal Service “Such great heights”
“I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images, and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned.”

8. Coldplay “Yellow”
“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you.”

9. Depeche Mode “One caress”
“Just one caress from you and I’m blessed.”

10. James “Just like Fred Astaire”
“Meteors may strike the earth. Nations live and die. I’m the boy who got the girl who showed me how to fly.”

11. The Beautiful South “Song for whoever”
“I love you from the bottom of my pencil case. I love you in the songs I write and sing.”

12. Death Cab For Cutie “I will follow you into the dark”
“Love of mine, someday you will die, but I’ll be close behind, and I’ll follow you into the dark. No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white, just our hands clasped so tight, waiting for the hint of a spark.”

13. Oasis “Wonderwall”
“I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now.”

14. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Do you love me?”
“I knew from that moment on that I’d love her till the day that I died.”

15. The Lowest of the Low “Subversives”
“There’s something subversive about you and me, ’cause there’s a market-value on love and we’re getting something for free.”

16. The Smiths “There is a light that never goes out”
“And if a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.”

17. The Lemonheads “Alison’s starting to happen”
“I never looked at her this way before, but now she’s all I see.”

18. Bloc Party “This modern love”
“Do you want to come over and kill some time? Throw your arms around me.”

19. The Verve “Sonnet”
“Yes, there’s love if you want it, don’t sound like no sonnet, my lord.”

20. Chairlift “Bruises”
“I tried to do handstands for you, but every time I fell for you. I’m permanently black and blue, permanently blue for you.”

21. The Decemberists “We both go down together”
“And my parents will never consent to this love. But I hold your hand.”

22. Black Box Recorder “Andrew Ridgley”
“I came alive to the smouldering fire in your eyes. I love you now and I will ’til the day that I die.”

23. The Stone Roses “Ten storey love song”
“When your heart is black and broken and you need a helping hand. When you’re so much in love, you don’t know just how much you can stand.”

24. First Aid Kit “Emmylou”
“I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June, if you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too. No, I’m not asking much of you, just sing little darling, sing with me.”

25. Björk “Violently happy”
“Since I met you, this small town hasn’t got room for my big feelings. Violently happy, ’cause I love you.”

26. Longpigs “On and on”
“All the songs that I’ve sung you, more often than you know. You’re the love that I’ve clung to more often than I’ve let it show.”

27. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros “Home”
“Ah, home, let me come home, home is wherever I’m with you.”

28. My Drug Hell “Girl at the bus stop”
“Girl at the bus stop, I wished for once that the bus would never come. She sat downstairs, I sat behind I couldn’t get her off my mind.”

29. Pulp “Babies”
“Oh I want to take you home. I want to give you children. You might be my girlfriend, yeah.”

30. Nine Inch Nails “Closer”
“I want to f*ck you. I want to taste you. I want to feel you.”

Enjoy. Happy (Saint) Valentine’s Day.

And of course, I’d be up for hearing what your own favourite ‘love’ songs are from the alternative and indie rock realms.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the other playlists I’ve created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them here.

Playlist: Synth-Pop is for Saturday Nights

The first ‘synthesizers’ were invented early on in the 20th century but didn’t truly find their way into popular music until the 1960s and 1970s. Then, a handful of punk followers took the ethos further and started making music with these ‘synthesizers’, all but completely dispensing with the tried and true rock music instruments. A lot of terms were and still are thrown about to describe the style of music that grew out of these first pioneers’ efforts and it’s often hard to differentiate between and or even define them.

‘Synth-Pop’, the genre that is the subject of today’s playlist, might be the easiest to define, being the most apt description for these acts that put ‘synthesizers’ and drum machines at the forefront of their sound. It was, in fact, a sub-genre of ‘New Wave’, as was the ‘New Romantic’ movement. Both of these are terms that are more difficult for this particular blogger to define, though I may make an attempt with a future playlist, more likely with the former than the latter. The term ‘New Wave’ especially, was misused, even more so where it was seen as a synonym for ‘Synth-Pop’ and ascribed to popular artists that came after the original explosion.

This twenty song playlist is a tale in two halves. The first ten tracks span the years from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, from the years where ‘Synth-Pop’ first appeared to the years that saw intense backlash and we saw the return of guitar rock prominence. The last ten tracks start things off with The Postal Service’s single from 2003, “Such great heights”, and flows on from there, through a sampling of the side of the 21st century indie explosion that was enthused with reviving the ‘Synth-Pop’ sounds.

Besides the just mentioned collaboration between Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, other highlights include:

  • “Cars”, Gary Numan’s debut single released under his own name, save for the bass, drums, and a tambourine, it’s all synths
  • “Don’t you want me”, the best known single by The Human League, originally released as an afterthought off 1981’s “Dare”
  • A trio of tracks written or co-written by Vince Clarke: Depeche Mode’s “Just can’t get enough”, Yazoo’s “Don’t go”, and Erasure’s “A little respect”
  • “Seventeen”, the first single off Ladytron’s sophomore album, 2002’s “Light & magic”
  • “Lose it”, my favourite track off Canadian synth-pop act Austra’s 2011 debut “Feel it break”, an album written mostly in minor key, just like the best of Depeche Mode
  • “New balance point”, the brand new single off Lust for Youth’s self-titled fifth album

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist:

1. Gary Numan “Cars”
2. The Buggles “Video killed the radio star”
3. The Human League “Don’t you want me”
4. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark “Enola gay”
5. Soft Cell “Tainted love”
6. Depeche Mode “Just can’t get enough”
7. Men Without Hats “Safety dance”
8. Yazoo “Don’t go”
9. Pet Shop Boys “West end girls”
10. Erasure “A little respect”
11. The Postal Service “Such great heights”
12. Ladytron “Seventeen”
13. The Bravery “An honest mistake”
14. Chairlift “Evident utensil”
15. M83 “Kim & Jessie”
16. Cut Copy “Feel the love”
17. MGMT “Kids”
18. Austra “Lose it”
19. Purity Ring “Fineshrine”
20. Lust For Youth “New balance point”

But why is Synth-Pop made for Saturday nights? Eh, I guess it can work just as well on Fridays, or even Sundays, when indeed all Retro 80s nights seem to be scheduled at the clubs. I went with Saturday for the alliteration effect, really, and for the party vibe that many of these tracks elicit. So get out there on your dancefloor, wherever you might be.

For those of you who are on Spotify, feel free to look me up. My user name is “jprobichaud911”.

Best albums of 1987: #1 Depeche Mode “Music for the masses”

On June 18th, 1988, Depeche Mode played the 101st and final concert of its “Music for the masses” tour, selling over 60,000 tickets to Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium, an astounding feat, even for a rock band, which Depeche Mode was decidedly not. (But more on that on a bit.) The show, and tour leading up to it, was immortalized in an excellent documentary and an accompanying double live album, both titled, of course, “101”.

This live album was my real introduction to the band, a couple of years after its release. I had, of course, heard “People are people” at high school dances and “Personal Jesus” had just been released as a single and was being played all over the place. I had told my friend John I really liked the latter of these two and he made me a copy of “101”, a cassette tape that spent a lot of time in my bedroom stereo and opened my eyes and ears to a whole different world of music. It wasn’t very long at all before I was purchasing all of their albums on cassette tape and compact disc.

“Music for the masses” is Depeche Mode’s sixth album and it was made at a time when new wave and synthpop was on the wane. The title is the band being ironic about the fact that their music was unpopular and not commercial in an increasingly hair metal and rock environment. Interesting, then, that this was the album that was their most successful to date and finally broke them in the US. It was daring in that they changed producers for the first time and reduced their use of samples in exchange for more experimentation with synths, but they did not give in to pressure to pick up rock guitars or to make pop music. It is austere and dark. It is love and sex, often of the deviant kind. And interestingly, it is a road record, not just in its lyrical references, but the sound, production, and pacing makes for great night driving.

For me, “Music for the masses” is an iconic band at the top of their game (whether or not it’s their true apex is debatable). It is full of nostalgia for me and never really sounds dated, as some of their earlier material does. Have a listen to my three picks for you below and tell me if you disagree.


“Little 15”: Our first song is one that was never meant to be a single but a French label wanted to release it as such and so it became the fourth one off the album. Because it barely even made the album, it wasn’t one that appeared on “101” so I first heard it in context with the rest of the album. I liked it immediately but originally thought “little 15” was the girl. I’ve since realized that it refers to a teenaged boy in love with an older woman and there is an innocence here that is betrayed by the something sinister in the synthesized strings. The way they jump and cavort always reminded me of a mad scientist, villain type character from the Bugs Bunny cartoons, playing the harpsichord in an off kilter and crumbling castle while creaky bats flit about around him. Sounds quite the contrast with my perceived content of the song, I know, but is it, really?

“The things you said”: Heavy low-end thumping, creating a waft of negative and empty space, space filled by sad and plodding notes, sounds emulating saxophones and xylophones, and Martin Gore’s deeply disappointed and tear-soaked vocals. It’s a song for night time and candle lit bedrooms. It’s a song for teen angst, though I suppose this scenario could occur at any stage of life. One would hope these mistakes, that of ending relationships due to betrayal and the spreading of poisoned words, could only occur during the foolishness of youth. I remember singing along to this one quite a bit when I was feeling sorry for myself, you know those moments, when your own teen-aged drama feels like it’s the most important thing happening. “I get so carried away. You brought me down to earth. I thought we had something precious. Now I know what it’s worth.” Indeed, songs like this were why some of my friends called them “depressed mode” but I still love it.

“Behind the wheel”:  My third pick for you is the third single released off the album and is the most obvious of the “road songs” I referenced above. Indeed, the extended remix of the song incorporates a cover of Bobby Troup’s “Route 66”, another great driving song, and samples of cars roaring by. “My little girl, drive anywhere. Do what you want. I don’t care… tonight.” It all begins with a sort of rattling sound, presumably a hubcap that has loosed itself from a speeding car and left to skid and rest on a dusty deserted highway. Then, the song’s driving beat beams us back into the car, where the driver is determined. We don’t know where she is going or when she needs to get there, but it seems to be soon. It is really just enough for us to be in the passenger seat, letting someone else drive and enjoy the ride. It is dark, sexy, and sleek, inferring speed and a hint of danger. Great tune to dance to and obviously, for driving.


In case you missed them, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Dead Can Dance “Within the realm of the dying sun”
9. Spaceman 3 “The perfect prescription”
8. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Darklands”
7. Jane’s Addiction “Jane’s Addiction”
6. The Sisters of Mercy “Floodland”
5. The Cure “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me”
4. U2 “The joshua tree”
3. The Smiths “Strangeways, here we come”
2. R.E.M. “Document”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.