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A Question of Love

PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 10:47 pm
by howard male
A Question of Love

Most songs are love songs, and the few that aren't are hate songs. No really! I'm not just trying to get the attention of the Sweeping Statement Police who prowl the virtual corridors of this place.

I have several reasons for putting forward this idea.

Firstly, the primary impulse that drives a human being to music, is love of music, so how could it be any other way?

Secondly, on a cruder level, another impulse that drives musicians to music is that they want to get laid. Music is the food of love, and love is the raw material of music. You've only got to look down any pop chart of the last 50 years and count the number of songs with 'love' in the title, and they'll just be the tip of the Titanic My-Heart-Will-Go-On iceberg.

Thirdly, music is the mating call of the human being. It's a curious fact that the first 'sophisticated' musical instrument was made to imitate bird song rather than make music. And as any anthropologist knows, the pretty song of the nightingale that sang in Berkeley Square is either saying "come join me in this delightful little corner of West London." Or, "Bugger off out of it - this is my square!" It's either a mating call or a assertion of territory call. So even though 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square' is a love song, and the couple in the song were dancing cheek to cheek, that nightingale probably just wanted them to get the hell out of there.

Fourthly, after singing, the next musical noise humans probably made was to hit something. Our nearest primate ancestors just pounded their chests to proclaim dominance or show off - banging something certainly attracts attention. But then one day, some clever Neanderthal started banging something in regular intervals, rhythmically, which must have seemed pretty clever and even quite seductive. So people danced. And of course the dance has for centuries been the main arena where people meet sexual partners. And of course sex can lead to love, or sometimes the other way around.

So, bottom line: Any digression from the song either as mating call or warning, is rare. And songs which aren't in some way about love rarely make people's top tens.

Even Billy Bragg concedes that his songs of political protest lacked a certain something until he discovered that political folk music had to be passionate. It was not enough to weigh a song down with ideological rhetoric and clever sloganising, the song had to be more specific: it had to stem from the love of a place, its people, and/or it's peoples beliefs. It had to be a love song.

Off the top of my head, here are some songs which aren't ostensibly love songs, which are love songs:

'Free Nelson Mandela' is about the love for Nelson Mandela and the love for South Africa.

Military marches are about the love of ones country

Any number of Costello hate songs are, of course, love songs.

'Every Breath you Take' was taken to be a love song but a more careful study of the lyrics reveals it to be a stalking song, which - in its own warped way - is still an obsessional love song.

And gospel songs are of course about the love of the hypothetical guy up stairs. And so on.

So, let's have your favourite love songs. Or if you feel like a more demanding challenge: some songs that aren't about love (or hate).

PostPosted: Thu Mar 09, 2006 1:05 am
by Tom McPhillips
I hate to disagree with you Howard, but you're talking complete twaddle... Many songs are love songs, true... and some songs are hate songs, that's true too... But there are many songs which aren't either, but are about many more experiences and subjects than love or hate. I think the Sweeping Generalization Police are definitely going to come calling... So be careful who you answer your door to! I'd to see you get carried away about anything:-)

Leonard Cohen, Peter Blegvad, Dylan, The Beatles oh, the list is so endless it's not even worth making one...

Good night and Good luck!

PostPosted: Thu Mar 09, 2006 12:09 pm
by howard male
I think what I was trying to get at, Tom, is the idea that the love song is music's most natural manifestation - what it's happiest being.

It's interesting that when it strays too far from that path, the lyrics often have a surreal, and therefore emotionally detached, slant - as with some of the artists you mention.

PostPosted: Thu Mar 09, 2006 12:43 pm
by Con Murphy
I think if you widened it out to talk about music and emotion, you'd be getting closer to what appeals to me. Love, lust, tenderness, joy, hate, envy, anger, vengeance, bitterness and spite (and that's just Alison by Elvis Costello, a song that always finds a place in my Top Ten).

OK, I got a bit carried away on the negatives there. I tend to prefer the uplifting side of things, but I don't think that love always covers it.

Nelson Mandela by The Special AKA doesn't sound like a song of love to me, more one of brilliantly articulated anger. Are you so blind that you cannot see? Are you so deaf that you cannot hear? Are you so dumb that you cannot speak? - that's accusatory in tone, isn't it? Channelled superbly through their love of a great tune, I grant you, but that's as far as it goes.

PostPosted: Thu Mar 09, 2006 3:28 pm
by howard male
Alison is indeed a perfect song, Con - it's also a perfect love song!

My interpretation is that when Elvis (or the character he is inhabiting) sings the line, "I know this world is killing you." , he is trying to demonstrate to the two-timing, self loathing Alison that he truly understands her, and that he'd would forgive all her self-destructive liaisons with other guys, if only she would see that his "aim was true."

Maybe you see the "my aim is true" line as a veiled threat of a sniper-style execution? If he didn't sing the line so tenderly, I might agree, but whilst there is a lot of anger in many early and middle period Costello, I really only see defeat and a last attempt for reconciliation, in Alison.

PostPosted: Thu Mar 09, 2006 5:28 pm
by Tom McPhillips
Here's the thing... and it's why I object to the generalization.

You could say that all art is "display", we're all doing our own bower bird kind of thing, it proves what perfect specimens we are to the opposite sex as in "Look not only can I do all the usual useful stuff, but I can do all this really useless stuff (Art, Culture, Politics or Whatever) with one hand held behind my back, so choose me as the parent of your child!"

Now that may be the base of all culture, so yes, every song is a love song, every work of art is a mating display opportunity, BUT, and hopefully it's a really big but, it doesn't mean that everything humans do or experience has to have a reproductive basis. Hopefully we can go beyond that - and that while love songs are great, important and enjoyable, there's no rule that we can't extend our creativity beyond our genetic preoccupation. And, furthermore there's a fine body of work out there that proves it's possible!

So I disagree simply because I hope that I and others can do something that might have a use and meaning beyond display!

PostPosted: Thu Mar 09, 2006 7:40 pm
by Con Murphy
howard male wrote:whilst there is a lot of anger in many early and middle period Costello, I really only see defeat and a last attempt for reconciliation, in Alison.


Howard, I think my best reply to that is to point out that two songs that Elvis likes to bleed into his live versions of Alison are Hank Williams' You Win Again and John Hiatt's Living a Little, Laughing a Little ("Laugh everyone at the clown/He's the best one in town")

In other words, I agree with you.

PostPosted: Thu Mar 09, 2006 11:18 pm
by Ted
howard male wrote:[
he is trying to demonstrate to the two-timing, self loathing Alison that he truly understands her, and that he'd would forgive all her self-destructive liaisons with other guys, if only


That may be his intention, but he comes off as a deluded near-stalker, a close relation to the the bloke in "I Want You".

Alison must have been glad to be rid of him and probably a bit wary of answering the phone.

TW

PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 10:13 am
by Sir Mix-a-Lot
Tom McPhillips wrote:hopefully it's a really big but


A-men to that!

PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 11:50 am
by howard male
Yes, Ted, I think by the time of 'I Want You', Elvis had stepped up the stalker side of things, but Alison still remains to me a tender, if somewhat skewed, love song.

I understand what you're saying Tom but it's not just a question of 'display'. I still feel there is a big difference between music and the other arts - music yearns, music emotes - and for emote, read emotion. Most of the other arts seem to be able to branch out more successfully into other areas, but music is by nature the language of love, just as the novel or film are the natural mediums for conveying narrative and information, and modern art is the natural medium for conveying ideas.

Lets just reverse the question for a moment. Fact: there are more songs about love than any other subject. Question: why? There must be a reason there aren't more songs about boats or windows or dogs or rocks or fish or firemen. And I think it's partly for the reasons I've already suggested.

How about widening this out a bit - what are your favourite skewed love songs?

PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 12:33 pm
by Tom McPhillips
Ah, but you could say that most novels, plays, movies etc are love stories or have a "love interest"- it's the human obsession... If at root the human organism (like all other organisms) is hard wired to above all reproduce, it's not surprising that "lurve" is the major subject of so much of our culture. Indeed songs are a manifestation of that - and since like speech it's direct communication, it's a great, if not the greatest medium for getting your love message across - but does that mean every song (however skewed) has to be a love song just because it's a song?

PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 1:15 pm
by NormanD
howard male wrote:How about widening this out a bit - what are your favourite skewed love songs?
It just has to be Take Your Love And Shove It, Shove It Up Your Big Fat Ass by Joe Pesci. Danny Baker has played this frequently.

Or, perhaps, You're The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly by Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty. This is one of those answer-duo country songs with fairly tender lyrics, despite the title.

Norman

PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 2:05 pm
by howard male
Tom wrote -

Ah, but you could say that most novels, plays, movies etc are love stories or have a "love interest"- it's the human obsession


Yes, but the difference is, those things tend to be about love, rather than being a direct expression of it.

PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 3:44 pm
by Guest
howard male wrote:
Yes, but the difference is, those things tend to be about love, rather than being a direct expression of it.


Yes, you have me there - OK guv'nor it's a fair cop... (as the SS police lead me handcuffed away)

I just heard Stuart Murdoch (from Belle and Sebastian) interviewed on the radio here, he said things definitely improved after he realized that songwriting consisted mainly of making bad poetry sound good with the addition of music...

In terms of making your love pitch - a song is a definite upgrade, since not so many of us are capable of great poetry!

PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 3:58 pm
by howard male
Tom (I think) wrote -

I just heard Stuart Murdoch (from Belle and Sebastian) interviewed on the radio here, he said things definitely improved after he realized that songwriting consisted mainly of making bad poetry sound good with the addition of music...


And the perfect example of this is almost every R & B and soul song ever written, and most mainstream MOR balladry too. It's as if the words in a love song are just a necessary evil - it is the melody, chord sequence and amazing vocalists (in the soul and R & B stuff anyway) who carry all the yearnings and outpourings of sexual and spiritual longing.

One of my favourite 80's love songs was 'Sweet Love' by Anita Baker. Lyrically banal beyond imagining, but all that sweet love is conveyed nonetheless.