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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
Stupid Love Songs: 50 Ways to Soundtrack Your Romantic Dysfunction
Like Paul McCartney, I wanna fill the world with silly love songs. But sometimes another kind of love song gets in the way: Let's call it the "stupid love song." Or, more precisely, "the stupid-love song" - 'cause it's not the song that's stupid, it's the love, and the only reason I didn't put the hyphen in the title of this post is I thought it looked lots cooler without.
To be clear, "stupid-love songs" are not the same as breakup songs, although many can be used in either situation. Stupid-love songs are the songs you play when you're like, "OMG, I'm horribly, flailingly, fantastically crazy for this 92 percent emotionally unavailable guy/girl and I know it's a bad scene but sometimes it's epically great and I'm just gonna go with my big dumb feelings despite all better judgment." Now, I know there are some girls/guys who never get themselves into these sorts of predicaments, but given the immense popularity of Bridget Jones' Diary, I'm gonna assume that some of yall out there can kinda relate.
So, here are 50 stupid-love songs I've found useful for dealing with those big dumb feelings in my own past bouts of romantic dysfunction. They come in all kinds: deludedly hopeful, tragic and melancholy, wrathy and ragey, worrisomely determined, etc. ("Songs written by Fiona Apple and Jenny Lewis" even emerged as its own category, and so I hereby crown those two "Queen and Queener of the Stupid-Love Song" - feel honored, girls.) In my experience, wrathy/ragey variety tends to be the most therapeutic, but sometimes a little wallowing in the tragic and melancholy stuff can feel real good too. Oh, and wherever possible, I've posted links to blogs where you can download the mp3, or to the Amazon mp3 download site for that particular track. There are some songs for which neither option was available, so I don't know: Maybe you could try going to an actual record store, or maybe you could call me up and have me sing it to you.
Let the oversharing begin...
THE BIG FIVE
TV on the Radio, "Young Liars"
There used to be some Wayne's World joke about how Fleetwood Mac's Rumours was so ubiquitous in the suburbs in the '70s, it was as if the record got delivered in the mail with sample boxes of Tide. To that end, I'd suggest that "Young Liars" be distributed free to all urban-dwelling twentysomethings (and maybe thirtysomethings) who tend to frequent fashionably scuzzy bars where they drink ironic beer and listen to ironic songs and wear ironic t-shirts played by the ironic DJ. It's real painful, but ultimately it just might heal your troubled unironic soul. (Buy the mp3.)
Bruce Springsteen, "For You"
I grew up with Bruce Springsteen always on the stereo, but somehow I never heard "For You" till just a few years ago. There's not nearly as much drama here as "The River" but I think it's so much sadder and more desperate and maybe even more soul-baring. And if some all-powerful being were ever to tell me, "You can pick 17 lines of song lyrics to claim as your own intellectual property," I'd so pick the last 17 lines of "For You". (Download at Said the Gramaphone.)
Wolf Parade, "I'll Believe in Anything"
This one's powerful shit; one time I was driving up the PCH and, before my brain could even identify the song, I got this bad stabby jab in my stomach, like: "In just a few moments you're going to be feeling way too many feelings at the same time." I don't think I'll ever be able to listen to "I'll Believe in Anything" without getting a little sick in the belly, but in a good kind of way. (Buy the mp3.)
S.F. Seals, "Pulp"
This is an all-out break-up jam, but it's so classic and so tragically unknown that I had to include it here. When Barbara Manning sings, "I don't love you anymore, and I'll keep repeating it till I'm sure," you might die a little bit on the inside, but it'll only make you stronger. (Buy the mp3.)
The Shins, "Turn a Square"
The second time I saw The Shins I made a bet with myself: If they played "Turn a Square," I had to stop liking the person I'd already liked for way too long; if not, I was free to carry on with my terrible infatuation. It was a festival and at the end of their set they announced they had one song left, and when it turned out to be "Not 'Turn a Square,'" I said (in my head): "So: That's it, then. Finito." But those big tricksters sneaked in one more somehow, and of course it was "Turn a Square," and I was so done for. The Shins ruin everything.
PAIN MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL
Giant Drag, "Slayer"
Unforgivably banal late-20s ennui + a nagging suspicion that your crush will never love you as much as California loves you = "Slayer" = me in a few years ago. One time I listened to this song like 9 million times in a row and then wrote a short story for Kiss Machine, and Kiss Machine. rejected it. Whatever, Kiss Machine.
U2, "Fast Cars"
If you're a dreadfully level-headed Capricorn (or maybe a representative of any of the Earth signs), it's likely that getting all swept up in matters of the heart might ultimately make you feel as though you've gone legit-bananas. "Fast Cars" is a really good antidote to that anxiety: First Bono sings like he's feeling your pain, then at the bridge he turns into Uncle Paul and shares this really sage advice and suddenly everything's all better.
Courtney Love, "Almost Golden"
So many Courtney/Hole songs are ideal for when you're suffering that sort of heartache that's predominantly characterized by lots of messy red rage, but "Almost Golden" keeps it kinda restrained and sing-songy - like if you were gonna invite the bad person over for a tea party before tearing his/her head off. (Buy the mp3.)
Silversun Pickups, "Kissing Families"
When you're waiting around LAX at some god-awful hour on a Saturday morning, drinking bad coffee and rehashing some lousy fight you had with some lousy scamp four or five hours ago, nothing really twists the knife even deeper than the bridge to "Kissing Families." (Get the mp3 at Music Slut.)
Lavender Diamond, "You Broke My Heart"
If I told you the story of the first time I heard Becky Stark sing "You Broke My Heart," you'd be all, "Nuh-uh! NUH-UH!!!" and I'd just nod and raise my eyebrows and make my mouth go sideways a little. But the only way that's gonna happen is if you become one of my top ten BFFs, so you'll have to settle for my prattling on and on about how this song is "fucking magical" and "a real heart-slugger of a gem if I've ever heard one," and so on and so forth. It's all true. (Download at Kata Rokkar.)
The Futureheads, "Hounds of Love"
I have a really bittersweet memory of sitting in a car with a dear friend, waiting to go into a party and listening to this song on the radio while pondering the awful question of "Should I follow my heart or head?" The Futureheads' version of "Hounds of Love" is the most perfect soundtrack to such ponderings, and for tricking yourself into believing that the heart-or-head question is of greater consequence than anything else that's ever happened in the history of the universe. And it is, right? (Buy the mp3.)
Dolly Parton, "Here You Come Again"
I guess "Here You Come Again" is a truly perfect pop song in that, depending on your state of mind/heart, it can sound like either a pretty little piece of fluff or the most tragic thing you've ever heard in your life. See also: "Build Me Up, Buttercup" by The Foundations. (Buy the mp3.)
Elliot Smith, "Pitseleh"
This one's so sad, it really should come with some kind of warning label. The only thing that saved me on my last listen was how that "Scottie Doesn't Know" from the Euro Trip soundtrack came up next on my iPod shuffle. That piano part that starts at 1:46 pretty much always destroys me. (Download at Letters Have No Arms.)
The Replacements, "Within Your Reach"
This is "Lloyd Dobler Leaving Home at the end of Say Anything" but it's also "Liz Barker Sitting in an Airport Shuttle in Rush-Hour Downtown Traffic on Christmas Eve Eve and Missing Someone Really Bad." So I guess if you're looking for poignant pre-air-travel music, "Within Your Reach" is your jam. (Download at Popdose.)
Modest Mouse, "Dramamine"
"Dramamine" is driving the 101 freeway through The Valley on a please-kill-me-now-grey Friday morning in July, alternately sipping a wheatgrass smoothie and a bottle of Diet Pepsi in some vain attempt to overcome the fact that I didn't sleep the night before, dying from the stupid Valley heat, and wishing that a lot of things were the exact opposite of how they actually are. I can't listen to it anymore.
Bob Dylan, "One of Us Must Know"
If you ever want to emotionally torment yourself a little, one way is to imagine the maybe-not-completely-evilhearted object of your unrequited love singing this song just for you. However, don't ever try it with "It Ain't Me, Babe" - that's way too painful. (Buy the mp3.)
The Pink Mountaintops, "Tourist in Your Town"
I can't tell if "Tourist in Your Town" would be as mega-depressing if it weren't so damn draggy, but I'd definitely advise against playing it if you're missing someone too much. (In particular, "So now we don't talk" is such a dismal lyrical refrain - good grief.) All that said, for a song so draggy and dismal, it's really quite lovely. (Buy the mp3.)
The Pretenders, "Back on the Chain Gang"
I'd probably heard "Back on the Chain Gang" about 74,000 times before I realized, "Wow, these are the saddest lyrics ever written." And don't even get me started on "2000 Miles," which I sometimes wish would get banned from light-and-easy radio Christmas playlists, on account of its staggering potential to make us lovelorn types end up drowning ourselves in spiked Silk Nog. (Download at The Music Slut.)
Joanna Newsom, "Peach Plum Pear"
I hated Joanna Newsom until I heard "Peach Plum Pear" in the end credits of City Paradise by Gaelle Denis at a film festival a few years back. The next day I read the lyrics and cried big fat crocodile tears because they were all so true, and because I too was BLUE and UNWELL. And now I love Joanna Newsom always and forever, even if she's going out with my dream boyfriend. (Buy the mp3.)
Juliana Hatfield, "Tomorrow Never Comes"
The first time I heard this was when Juliana sang it at the Hollywood Knitting Factory a few years ago: I was smooshed up against the front of the stage and my heart slid right into my throat. It's a cover song by someone whose name I can't remember right now, but I can't imagine anyone singing lines like, "I dreamt that you were telling me you dreamt of me/ But now I'm waking up" any sweeter/sadder than our Juliana.
The Zombies, "The Way I Feel Inside"
Speaking of tearjerkers: Did I ever tell you about the time I went to see The Life Aquatic and basically felt nothing all throughout, and then Owen Wilson's character died and I still felt nothing, and then "The Way I Feel Inside" played during Owen Wilson's character's at-sea funeral, and I ended up sniffling and sniveling so much my tears didn't let up till the credits stopped rolling, which essentially (albeit briefly) deceived me into believing that The Life Aquatic had some hugely powerful emotional impact on me? See, even when Wes Anderson fails, he completely succeeds.What a jerk. (Buy the mp3.)
I GIVE UP, I'M YOURS
We Ragazzi, "I Want You 2 Love Me So Much I Can't Stand Up"
The title says it all, I think. (Buy the mp3.)
Mary Lou Lord, "I Don't Wanna Get Over You"
It's a Magnetic Fields song, but I hate Magnetic Fields. Plus, Mary Lou just makes everything sound more heartachey. When I lived in Boston I used to see her busking in the subway and one time she played this song and the train totally ran over my heart.
Sam Cooke, "Bring it on Home"
I don't know, man: If "Bring it on Home" doesn't get to you, then you must be either the Grinch or someone else born with a heart three sizes too small. (Download at Music is Art.)
Sonic Youth, "I Love You, Golden Blue"
This one can double as makeout music. And when you mix "makeout music" with "stupid love song," only hot and terrible things can happen. (Buy the mp3.)
Rolling Stones, "That's How Strong My Love Is"
And this one can double as morning-after-hot-and-terrible-makeout music. I'd recommend turning it up loud on stereo while you eat a square or two of rose-petal dark chocolate in bed and watch the big loser standing in the center of your room and cutely brushing his teeth with your toothbrush. SO ROMANTIC. (Buy the mp3.)
The Fiery Furnaces, "Police Sweater Blood Vow"
If you want to be ridiculously literal about life, you can pretend the chorus to "Police Sweater Blood Vow" is about some boy calling you way too late and leaving crazy-making messages of your voicemail. It works, it works, it works.
I HATE MYSELF FOR LOVING YOU
The Blood Brothers, "Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck"
Same thing I said about "I Want You to Love Me So Much I Can't Stand Up." R.I.P. Blood Brothers. (Buy the mp3.)
PJ Harvey, "Who the Fuck?" & "Uh Huh Her"
These are kinda the same song to me in a lot of ways, except only "Who the Fuck?" makes me feel bad about my fondness for straightening irons. (Buy the mp3 for "Who the Fuck?")
Seven Year Bitch, "The Scratch"
When I was 21 I went through a brief phase of playing "The Scratch" really loud in my room while burning many candles, jumping around a lot, and hating some dude who didn't really deserve to be hated. D-U-M, but completely effective. (Buy the mp3.)
The Raincoats, "Don't Be Mean"
Usually I hate funny songs (excepting Flood by They Might Be Giants and some random Dead Milkmen stuff), but "Don't Be Mean" hits a perfect balance between funny and heartachy and therefore I will love it forever. The part when Anna screams "I LOVED YOU SO MADLY!!!" (with at least 90 more exclamations points than I just typed) and the Psycho-esque effects at the end are especially genius.
WOW, IT MUST BE REALLY HARD TO BE SUCH A LOSER
Jay-Z, "99 Problems"
When all else fails, it's probably best to pretend you're either Jay-Z or best friends with Jay-Z. (Download at Just Press Play.)
Liz Phair, "Crater Lake"
Right around the middle third of "Crater Lake" - when the beat picks up, and there's that part about throwing your weight around - I start to wish that I'd written this song for a certain boy and somehow worked everything out so that one day the demo would play in his stupid lame presence, and I'd just sit there and swig bottled beer and ignore him and talk to somebody hotter and more exciting. That'd be a really good way to feel tough. (Download at BadmintonStamps.)
Steely Dan, "Reelin' in the Years"
I'm sure "Reelin' in the Years" is really hard to karaoke, and I don't even do karaoke anyway, but I'd so love to dedicate this to someone and totally nail it and just make him want to jump out the window or at least do like 17 shots of Jager in a row while thinking lots of uncomfortable thoughts. (Buy the mp3.)
Kelly Clarkson, "Since U Been Gone"
Oh, everyone knows about this one. (Download at Tastes like Caramel.)
Bob Dylan, "Positively 4th Street"
Maybe the most eerily well-soundtracked moment of my life was the time I had a very "Positively 4th Street"-esque run-in five seconds before "Positively 4th Street" started playing on the bar jukebox. For a long time afterward I madly wished I was the Fonz, just so I could hit the jukebox and make the last four or so lines of "Positively 4th Street" come on whenever I crossed paths with The Bad Person (who, by the way, is not nearly so fetching as Edie Sedgwick, or even Sienna-Miller-as-Edie-Sedgwick). (Download at the Merry Swankster.)
LET'S DANCE OUR BLUES AWAY
Kylie Minogue, "Can't Get You Outta My Head"
This song always makes me feel totally psychotic. (Download at Carry You Away.)
The Strokes, "The End Has No End"
You can pogo, and at the second verse you can bash your head around a lot and reflect upon your paramour's commitment issues. But try not to do it an "angry dancing" kind of way. Angry dancing is stupid! (Download at Real Horrorshow Tunes.)
When The Woods came out I made up a rule that, from then on, whenever I broke up with someone we'd dance around to "Rollercoaster" till the song was over, then cheerfully, cordially shake hands and set out on our separate ways. That's so much more dignified than the way things usually end, but - as it turns out - not so easy to implement. Oh well. (Buy the mp3.)
Madonna, "Hung Up"
One night I was dancing around the house to "Hung Up" and - right at the tick-tocky breakdown thing toward the end - the person to whom I was psychically dedicating it phoned me up, the call lasting right up until the beat comes back. If life were a music video from 1984, our dialogue totally would have overlapped the music and it would be really meaningful and kiss-offy on my part. Instead it was probably something more like, "Cool, I'll meet you at the bar in 20 minutes." Too bad life is not a music video from 1984. (Download at The Music Slut.)
Shakira, "Ciego, Sordamuda"
A really rough day was the time I decided to translate the lyrics to "Ciego, Sordamuda" and discovered that it's not about dancing and wild awesome fun but, rather, unrequitedly loving someone so much that it turns you stupid, blind, deaf, dumb, clumsy, useless, etc., etc. (Of course, there's also a lyric that translates as, "I run out of arguments and principles every time I'm presented with your anatomy," but you know: I can kinda relate to that too.)
SONGS WRITTEN BY FIONA APPLE OR JENNY LEWIS
Fiona Apple, "Parting Gift"
"Parting Gift" is so unbearably sad that, after first hearing it, I hid the song from myself and didn't listen again till years later when it was playing at some cafe where I was eating eggs on a Monday morning. Even now, the chorus and first few lines of the second verse still kinda kill me a little. You know that Jagged Little Pill acapella bonus track where Alanis sings about being so giddily in love with her boyfriend, then finds out he's cheating on her, then drops dead (or something) from crying so much? Yeah, it's EVEN SADDER THAN THAT. (Buy the mp3.)
Fiona Apple, "Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)" + "Red Red Red"
Every song on Extraordinary Machine is so perfect for the romantically devastated, but these two shine brightest in my silly head. The second verse of "Red Red Red" just slays me, so much. (Buy the mp3s.)
Jenny Lewis, "Happy"
Of all the songs that I believe Jenny Lewis to have written after reading my diary from a few years ago, this one's probably in the top three. Sometimes when she sings lyrics like, "You are what you love, and not what loves you back," I roll my eyes a little and go, "Oh, Jenny Lewis, everyone loves you back - you're the prettiest girl in Silver Lake!" But here I believe every word, and the spaces between the words even more. (Buy the mp3.)
Rilo Kiley, "Portions for Foxes"
Okay, so: "Portions for Foxes" pretty much completely encapsulates the entire "Stupid-Love Song" emotional aesthetic, to an unnerving degree. A lot of Jenny/Rilo songs do exactly that, but "Foxes" really knocks it out of the park, especially the last couple of lines ("And you're bad news/ I don't care, I like you"). Whenever it comes on the stereo I go, "Oh, GOD!!" with this big dramatic groan, and then I turn it up as loud as it can go. (Download here.)
I LOVE YOU! I HATE YOU! LET'S MAKE OUT!
Franz Ferdinand, "Dark of the Matinee"
I used to think it was soooo cool how the second verse of this song exactly described a certain dangerous flirtation I had going on at the time. Now I just think it's just slightly to moderately cool, and I'm real grateful to spend way less of my time trying to think of charmingly clever things to say while standing around the smoking patios of stupid boring bars on weeknights. (Download at Disco Ninja.)
Irma Thomas, "Ruler of My Heart"
This one's for when you've got the blues, in a sexy way. It's also used really beautifully in the little-seen but unspeakably lovely movie That Night, starring Juliette Lewis and Eliza Dushku when she was a teeny tiny little girl. (Get the mp3 at I Am Fuel, You Are Friends.)
Courtney Love, "But Julian, I'm a Little Bit Older Than You"
The king of all "I love you! I hate you! Let's make out!" songs in my record collection, so much so that all those words I just enclosed in quotation marks should be spelled out in 1,000-point, extra-bold, scary-red type in some sort of horror-movie-poster font that looks like it's dripping blood all over the page. And that still would seem sorta understated. (Buy the mp3.)
(P.S. Thank you to Laura Jane for making the broken-heart record thing for me!!)
Tags: avuncular rock stars, Bridget Jones' Diary, Bruce Springsteen, Courtney Love, Dolly Parton, Fiona Apple, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I hate The Magnetic Fields, Jay-Z, Jenny Lewis, Juliana Hatfield, Lavender Diamond, Liz Phair, Lloyd Dobler, Madonna, music, obsessively soundtracking my life, obsessively soundtracking your life, PJ Harvey, Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke, stupid love songs, stupid-love songs, the burdens of being Capricorn, The Shins ruin everything, Wes Anderson is a big jerk
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