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.

Best albums of 1987: #5 The Cure “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me”

I was probably in 9th grade (around the time this album was released) when I first heard tell of The Cure. A friend of mine on the street, who I had played with growing up and those days, simply “hung out” with, told me one day that he was going to see them in concert, that very night, and he had gotten the band’s name shaved into the back of his head for the occasion. His older sister was bringing him and, now that I look back, it was probably a pre-requisite for her parents allowing her to go all the way to Toronto to see them with her friends. He rhymed off names of songs, none of which rung a bell. I didn’t have an older sister (or older brother for that matter) to introduce me to their music. Nope. I was, in fact, that older sibling that probably influenced the tastes of my younger brethren when I got into music in a big way a few years later.

I didn’t actually hear The Cure (in a conscious way) until a few years later when another of my neighbour friends played them for me and then, recorded sections, if not copies in full, of this album, “Staring at the sea”, and “Disintegration” on cassette for me. In this way, his favourite songs influenced my own, his tastes tending toward the more maudlin of their music, but later, when I caught and recorded a “spotlight” on them on MuchMusic, I started to find my own way in The Cure’s world.

“Kiss me kiss me kiss me” is the band’s seventh album and as double LPs go, it’s big, it’s got a lot of songs, and it’s quite eclectic. In my mind, it bridges the gap between the dark, “gothic” rock of “Faith” and “Pornography” and the pop sensibilities of “The head on the door”. It’s been widely publicized how hard those darker albums were on frontman Robert Smith and how much he hated the “goth” label. It’s no wonder he wanted to write lighter pop songs in the mid-80s and did so successfully. The songs on “Kiss me kiss me kiss me” are a good mix of the dark and plodding and the light and bouncy and the rest lie somewhere in between. It resulted in The Cure achieving their highest charting album to date and made them a name in North America.

My three picks for you from this album all fall under the “single” category but one of them is one that you wouldn’t think obvious as a single. Have a look and a listen and let me know if there are others on this great album that you prefer.


”Why can’t I be you?”: This wasn’t one of the ones off the album that would’ve been highlighted to me by my friend John. In fact, I think the first I might have heard of it was the extended remix of it on “Mixed up”, which I purchased on a whim when I was younger. I think it was the last record I ever bought before I started collecting again, five or so years ago. Sadly (but not too sadly because it was quite warped), I have no idea where it is now (have no fear, I picked up the reissue a couple months ago) but I remember not being super impressed with the remix of “Why can’t I be you?” at the time. Over the years, though, it has grown on me, a bouncy and upbeat number that features a barrage of synthesized horns and Robert Smith growling and skitting and trilling and scatting, really making a lot of vocal sounds not typically made in a pop song.

”Catch”: This tune, on the other hand, was one of my friend John’s favourites. He included it on a mixed tape he once made for me and I didn’t understand it at all at the time. It just seemed absurd and weird but then at some point, I made it past all Robert Smith’s “do do do”s and listened to his lyrics. “And I remember she used to fall down a lot. That girl was always falling, again and again, and I used to sometimes try to catch her. But never even caught her name.” Apparently inspired by a line in one of the Rocky movies where the title character is whispering to a comatose Adrian, the words are actually quite lovely. And in this context, the mellow shuffling beat that is given a lazy feel with synthesized strings and the flanged guitar that comes seemingly out of nowhere at the chorus, all seem just right.

”Just like heaven”: This track, the third single released off the album found itself on the top of the list when did my Top five tunes post, showcasing my favourite songs by The Cure, early last year. Yeah. So it’s my favourite tune by this band and one of the big reasons this album became a favourite of mine. I’m not going to go on here and repeat words that you can find in that other post, except to say this: “‘Show me, show me, show me, how you do that trick. The one that makes me scream,’ she said. ‘The one that makes me laugh,’ she said. And threw her arms around my neck.” Those words make me want to get up and dance with wild abandon. Every time.


Check back next Thursday for album #4. In the meantime, 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”

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

Top five tunes: The Cure

Who? The Cure

Years active: 1976-present

Band members (selected):
Robert Smith (vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, six-string bass) 1976-present
Michael Dempsey (bass) 1976-1979
Porl Thompson (lead guitar, keyboards, saxophone, 6 string bass) 1976-1978, 1984-1992, 2005-2010
Lol Tolhurst (drums, keyboards) 1976-1988, 2011
Simon Gallup (bass, keyboards) 1979-1982, 1985-present
Roger O’Donnell (keyboards) 1987-1990, 1995-2005, 2011-present
Peter Bamonte (guitars, keyboards) 1990-1994, 1995-2005
Jason Cooper (drums) 1995-present
Reeves Gabrels (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, six-string bass) 2012-present

Discography:
Three Imaginary Boys (1979)
Seventeen Seconds (1980)
Faith (1981)
Pornography (1982)
The Top (1984)
The Head on the Door (1985)
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)
Disintegration (1989)
Wish (1992)
Wild Mood Swings (1996)
Bloodflowers (2000)
The Cure (2004)
4:13 Dream (2008)

Context:
What can I say about The Cure? They’ve been around forever. They’re iconic. They’re influential. And they’re a damned great live band, especially these days.

I started listening to The Cure in my last couple of years in high school. This was right around the time that Robert Smith was wavering between wanting to be a pop star and hating himself for wanting it. The band had just recently released “Disintegration” and was working on the recordings that would become “Wish”. However, my own introductions came the way of their early singles collection, “Standing on a beach” (or “Staring at the sea”, if you had the CD), copied to cassette tape by one of my friends, John or Tim, I can’t remember which now. I played that tape to ruins, from listening to it on my stereo blasting in my bedroom while playing games on my C64 to cranking loud volumes on my yellow Sony Sport Walkman while strolling the streets of Bowmanville or Oshawa. I became intimate with all the tracks on that compilation well before I moved on to explore their albums proper and really only felt compelled to do so after watching a “Spotlight” on the band on MuchMusic and enjoying the videos for a few tracks I had not had the pleasure of hearing.

I saw The Cure live for the first time in Toronto in 2000 with my little brother Mike. They were touring in support of their latest record, “Bloodflowers”, so the better part of their set focused mostly on the material therein (and also some their more recent tunes) and while it was a fine album, I couldn’t help hoping to hear some of the older tracks that I grew up loving. I saw them for a second time a few years ago, closing the first night of Osheaga in Montreal with my friends Mark and Tim (the same Tim mentioned above) and it was a completely different experience. They played for well over two and a half hours, sampling from the best of their entire catalogue and rocking through a killer encore playlist that read like a greatest hits catalogue. It looked and felt like Robert was having the time of his life and wanted to play all night, finally ending the set only after the festival organizers pulled the plug halfway through “Boys don’t cry”. Even then, the band finished the song all acoustic like. And from what I hear, this is The Cure’s M.O. of late, so if you get the chance, don’t hesitate to see them live.

The Cure has been one of the many bands that soundtracked the latter part of my teen years and into my twenties throughout the 1990s and I still listen to them quite a bit today. They’ve released some great albums over the years and many of these include a ton of standout tunes so it was quite hard to whittle this list down to only five tracks. I briefly thought about doing a series of top fives for The Cure, splitting them up by decade or genre or theme, but in the end decided to just do the one for now and focused on their singles. It was a hard decision and I am sure there are plenty of diehards out there that will look at this list with disdain and completely disagree with my picks, but the truth of the matter is that The Cure was a great pop singles band. Just as they were a great gothic rock or post-punk band. And perhaps one day, I’ll do another one of these lists on The Cure and focus on their darker and more epic tracks but until then, here are my Top Five tracks by The Cure.

The top five:

#5: Friday, I’m in love (from “Wish”, 1992)

“Friday, I’m in love” is the second single off “Wish”, The Cure’s highest charting and most commercially successful record. Both this song and “High” (the first single) charted well but looking back, the latter seemed to fare slightly better where “Friday, I’m in love” lasted longer in our cultural memory. It is probably the song Robert Smith and company are best known for and most likely to be played at a wedding reception. Smith, himself, said of the song upon its release that it’s “a throw your hands in the air, let’s get happy kind of record.” To me, that’s almost an understatement. It’s three minutes and thirty eight seconds of pure joy. It’s a celebration, all jangle and pep and handclaps, a burst of music that sways and swirls on the dance floor with confetti tossed all about. It is as engaging as the first thrills of love, where nothing else seems to matter, no dark clouds or bills to pay. Then, just as quickly, it ends and there’s nothing to do but press Replay.


#4: Boy’s don’t cry (from “Boy’s don’t cry”, 1979)

Before all the big, teased hair and the lipstick, The Cure was a post-punk band, following in the footsteps of Elvis Costello or the Buzzcocks. A tour supporting Siouxsie and the Banshees (in which Smith often had to play double duty on guitars with both bands) changed everything. “Boys don’t cry” is a non-album single that was released just before said tour and shows off their angular guitar chops in a quick, two and a half minute tune. It was their second ever single and so was the second track on the aforementioned singles collection, “Standing on a beach”, which as I’ve already made clear, I played to death. The track made an indelible impression on me with its instantaneously recognizable three chord guitar strum intro that leaps into that irresistible guitar and bass line that gently climbs up before sliding back down your spine, getting into every one of your bones along the way. How can you avoid dancing to this track as Smith prattles on about forcing laughter to cover his broken heart at the loss of a girl? You can’t. It’s a fact as plain as the one that says boys don’t cry.


#3: Lovesong (from “Disintegration”, 1989)

I said a few moments ago that “Friday, I’m in love” is the Cure song most likely to be played at a wedding reception but I know a few cool couples that selected “Lovesong” to be their first dance song. It is, of course, as its title suggests, a love song. In fact, it was written by Smith as a wedding present for his wife, Mary Poole. The third single off “Disintegration”, the album considered by many to be the band’s crowning achievement, “Lovesong” is like an untouched rose in a murk of bramble and gloom. It was a huge hit in the states, climbing high in the singles charts, beaten out for the number one spot by Janet Jackson’s “Miss you much”. The song is quite lovely with its lazy organ sounds and bursts of jangle guitar and Smith’s breathy and breathless vocals, all underpinned by that bass line. Oh, that bass line. It’s one that I’ll always remember for the time just before I moved from home and my younger brother Mike learned and played it incessantly at varying speeds whenever he picked up his guitar. But above all, I am forever touched at the beauty and honesty in the lyrics: “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.” Gorgeous.


#2: Close to me (from “The head on the door”, 1985)

“Close to me” is another track that I fell in love with off “Standing on a beach”. It was the final single released off The Cure’s sixth album, “The head on the door”, whose title is taken from this very track’s lyrics. It is a total pop gem, replete with jaunty drum rhythm and handclaps, staccato high notes on the keys juxtaposed with the sustained organ chords, and all topped off with Smith’s breathy gasps and vocals. The song is an exercise in construction, each of these pieces added in layers through its three and a half minute length, until it just abruptly ends. It evokes building nervousness and a sense of longing and waiting and hoping, perhaps without real hope. And the video, directed by frequent collaborator, Tim Pope, only adds to the delirium. It shows the band members miming out the performance of the song within some Alice in Wonderland dreamt wardrobe at the edge of a cliff. By the end, the chaos brought about by Smith’s voodoo puppetry ministrations rocks the precariously placed wardrobe off the cliff and into the English Channel below. If you’ve never watched the video, I’d definitely recommend giving it a spin.


#1: Just like heaven (from “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me”, 1987)

“”Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick, the one that makes me scream” she said. “The one that makes me laugh” she said, and threw her arms around my neck.” Those opening lines, they always make me want to dance. This is more than likely because I have danced to this song countless times. When I was living in the residences at York University in the mid-90s, my haunt of choice on Thursday night pub nights was the main campus pub, The Underground. This was because it was hosted by DJ Steven Rigby, who spun a wide range of alternative rock that kept the dance floor packed. I think “Just like heaven” might also have been his favourite Cure track because it was the one he played most often on those Thursday nights. And every time, I was there in the middle of the floor with a beer in hand, jumping and shuffling to that snappy, immediate drumming, that tumbling guitar riff that chimes beautifully between the verses and the misty synth washes, shrouding the proceedings like dry ice. It is yet another of Smith’s composition where the instruments are introduced in stages, each one showcased in its delicate beauty while he sings and reminisces about a trip to the south of England that he took with Mary Poole. The track glistens and sparkles with nostalgia and makes one wish they could live forever wrapped up in its dream-like pastoral melodies. Dancing, once again to well after last call.

Disagree? Think I’ve missed a track? Share your own top 5 The Cure tracks in the comments section below. I’d love to compare notes.


For other top five lists in this series, click here.