In honor of Valentine's Day, Dan has made a playlist with dinners for two in mind. Even if you don't believe in Valentine's Day, surely you have room in your cold, cold heart for Elvis, Prince, and David Byrne. -Lisa
Lisa has given me another guest post assignment, this time to come up with a playlist for a Valentine’s Day dinner. My first question was, does dinner for two really constitute a dinner party? [Ed: Yes.] That was also my last question. When your lovely wife asks you to select the mood music for a romantic evening, you just do it and hope you are the other invitee.
For the last playlist, I basically compiled all the Christmas music I knew. This one was both easier and more difficult. According to the latest estimates, 97.99 percent of all songs are love songs, so I had a lot to choose from. But how to choose? The mix tape as love letter is a well-covered subject, but creating a soundtrack for a dinner party and the, um, after-party is a different matter. I wanted this mix to be lively, but I decided not to worry too much about setting a unified mood.
Instead I just tried not to be too sappy or too predictable. When expressing how you feel about your sweetheart in words, I think it’s best to be as simple and direct as possible. Music is an opportunity to be more creative. The Beatles, Motown, Tin Pan Alley—they’re all great, but after years of service, they’re now the musical equivalent of a Hallmark card.
So I gravitated towards the unexpected while trying to steer clear of the absurd. I think most of these songs would work for both a significant other of long standing or that special someone with whom you’re trying to get to the next level. I’d probably advise against using this playlist on a first date. But if you’re having a first date on Valentine’s Day, what’s wrong with you anyway? Are you gunning for another restraining order?
I also tried to include a few gender-neutral selections, but according to my calculations, 99.75 percent of all love songs are by a man addressing a woman. As Brother James used to say, “This is a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing (nothing!) without a woman or a girl.”
1. Luna—Malibu Love Nest, available on Rendezvous
“Honey bunny, come on/It’s time to put the diamonds on…” A suave start to a night on the town or a quiet rendezvous in your own love nest.
2. Os Mutantes—Baby, available on Everything Is Possible: The Best of Os Mutantes
“Look here/Read what I wrote on my shirt/Baby, baby/I love you…” Write on your shirt if you must, but in most cases the song will suffice.
3. XTC—Mayor of Simpleton, available on Oranges and Lemons
“When all logic grows cold and all thinking is done/You’ll be warm in the arms of the Mayor of Simpleton.” Love ain’t rocket science. In fact, it can make a rocket scientist feel like a dunce.
4. Graham Parker—My Love’s Strong, available on Human Soul
“When the world’s asleep/There’s no one in your arms/Raindrops hit the window/Like distant alarms/You don’t have to worry/Hey, girl, don’t you cry/My love beats adversity, baby/Eats it alive.” Not only one of the most underrated singer-songwriters around, Parker is also one of the only rockers who’s been married to the same woman for decades. He’s written plenty of songs for her over the years. This one has glossy ’80s production and a dodgy bridge with the word “bondage” in it, but you can’t keep a good man down. And if you’ve been looking for a subtle way to introduce the word “bondage” into your relationship, you’re welcome.
5. Richard Thompson—Cooksferry Queen, available on Mock Tudor
“Well, my name, it is Mulvaney/And I’m known quite famously/People speak my name in whispers/What higher praise can there be/But I’d trade my fine mohair/For tied-dyes and faded jeans/If she wanted me some other way/She’s my Cooksferry Queen.” A London gangster goes hippie for his true love. Would you?
6. Elvis Costello—Flutter and Wow, available on Momofuku
As in, “You make the motor in me/Flutter and wow.” I never thought Mr. Revenge and Guilt could write such a straightforward swooner. Enter Diana Krall. Yowsa.
7. Prince—Sexy M.F., available on That Love Symbol Album
Enough Anglo sophistication. I seriously considered the more recent “Mr. Goodnight,” which features the immortal lines, “I got a mind full of good intentions/And a mouthful of Raisinets,” but sometimes it pays to be more direct. No quotation necessary.
8. Cracker—Guarded By Monkeys, available on Forever
As in, “You are so beautiful/You should be guarded by monkeys.” What did I say about steering clear of the absurd? Trust me, this song is hot.
9. Lyle Lovett—Here I Am, available on Lyle Lovett and His Large Band
“If Ford is to Chevrolet/What Dodge is to Chrysler/What Corn Flakes are to Post Toasties/What the clear blue sky is to the deep blue sea/What Hank Williams is to Neil Armstrong/Can you doubt we were made for each other?” His logic, like his hair, is impeccable.
10. Nat King Cole—Orange-Colored Sky, available on Unforgettable and a kajillion other comps
“I was walking along, minding my business/When out of an orange-colored sky/Flash! Bam! Alakazam!/Wonderful you came by.” OK, one standard couldn’t hurt. Especially when it’s as loopy as this one.
11. Tom Petty—In the Dark of the Sun, available on Into the Great Wide Open
“Hey yeah yeah/In the dark of the sun/We will stand together/Yeah, we will stand as one.” You love Tom Petty. Your girl (or boy) loves Tom Petty. It’s just a big ol’ love fest. Hey yeah yeah.
12. Peter Gabriel—Sledgehammer, available on So
“I kicked the habit/Shed my skin/This is the new stuff/I go dancing in/Won’t you show for me/I will show for you…” We all remember the groove and the dancing chickens, but how about those awesome lyrics? Dig how “show for me” sounds like “chauffer me”—both things we ask from the ones we love on occasion.
13. Elvis Presley—Wear My Ring Around Your Neck, available on 2nd to None
“Won’t you wear my ring around your neck/To tell the world, I’m yours by heck.” The King at his most love-drunk.
14. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds—Babe, You Turn Me On, available on Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus
“Now the nightingale sings to you/And raises up the ante/I put one hand on your round ripe heart/And the other down your panties.” Sounds more romantic as crooned by St. Nick. And hey, it’s getting late. Just about time to make your move.
15. Talking Heads—This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody), available on Speaking in Tongues
“Home is where I want to be/But I guess I'm already there/I come home—she lifted up her wings/Guess that this must be the place.” This has long been my favorite love song, but I never really knew what it meant…until I met Lisa. [Ed: Aww!]
Bonus Track: Flight of the Conchords—Business Time, available on Flight of the Conchords
“You know when I’m down to my socks what time it is…”