Thursday, March 8, 2012

Love Songs for the Romantically Impaired

One of the most pleasantly surprising things I noticed about Bangkok when I returned after two months in Melbourne, was how little everything had changed.

And what a welcome, um, change that was! During my four and a half years living in Buenos Aires, I'd become accustomed to radical, rapid, constant change. It was the way of the world over there -- or down there (depending on where you are as you read this, if you're reading this). Leave town for one week, and when you returned, everything had gone up up up: the price of ensalada de fruta, new buildings, the number of streets under construction.

Bangkok, though, for the most part, was just as I'd left it. Same personnel to greet me at the Anantara Bangkok Sathorn (once again my home away from home, wherever that is), same congested roads, same price for delicious 4-star street food.

One thing, however, would have benefited from some major revamping: the playlist at DJ Station. When I walked in on Saturday night for the first time since New Year's Eve, the first thing I heard was "I love you like a love song, baby." Here we go again -- again: "Love You Like a Love Song" by Selena Gomez.

Wait, wasn't this playing the last time I left, as I walked out the door? Possibly, but it's not only still popular with Thai DJs and my friend David, whom I think about whenever I hear it. Although it's gone no higher than No. 22 on Billboard's Hot 100, it's been on the list for 36 weeks and currently sits at No. 33. I still don't get its appeal, but then I'm extremely picky when it comes to loving love songs, which I tend to prefer with some kind of sexual angle (see "Baby-Making Music"). I'd rather listen to a song about how love stinks, or how it hurts to be in love, than a chaste declaration of what a beautiful thing love is.

That's not to say I don't fall for the occasional "love song." A few of the ones that I love everyone else loved enough to send them into the Top 20 on Billboard's Hot 100: Anne Murray's "A Love Song" (No. 12, 1973), Tesla's "Love Song" (No. 10, 1989), Sara Bareilles's "Love Song" (No. 4, 2007).

The Cure's "Lovesong" (from 1989's Disintegration) might not be my favorite song by my third favorite group of all time (following the Smiths and R.E.M.), but it totally deserved to be the band's biggest hit (No. 2 on the Hot 100). That said, I wish Adele had picked something more challenging and less expected by the band to cover on 21. I'd pay money to download her singing "Close to Me," from the Cure's 1985 Head on the Door album, or 1983's "The Lovecats," one of the Cure's four Top 10 UK singles (a list which, oddly, includes neither of the aforementioned songs). Now who would ever have thought of her -- or anyone -- covering that?

But getting back to love songs, for me, the best ones come with a subversive twist, like  "Love Song" by Madonna and Prince, from her 1989 Like a Prayer album. In it, they insist that it isn't a love song at all, which means that it probably is. Aside from Prince's late '80s/early '90s work on singles and albums by Sheena Easton (particularly "101," from 1988's The Lover in Me) and Kate Bush ("Why Should I Love You?" from 1993's The Red Shoes), it's my favorite of his collaborations with fierce ruling divas of that time.

My all-time favorite "Love Song," though, might be Simple Minds' (from 1981's Sons and Fascination, the Canadian version of which featured "Theme for Great Cities," the song that gave this blog its name) -- partly because it sounds nothing like how we expect a love song to sound. It's brash and urgent, an aural approximation of the burning glow of love, which can be as violent as it is soothing. But mostly I love Simple Minds' "Love Song" because like Sarah Bareilles' great heart-shaped f**k you of a "Love Song," it's anything but.

And let's face it, as song subjects go, contempt, anger and resentment are so much more interesting than sweet sweet love.

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