Ten Love Songs I Love, Valentine’s Day 2017

Billie Holiday knew about love. Real love. Hard as life love. Love that happens and is steadfast no matter what. Love that is unconditional. All my favorite love songs in some way take their cue from Billie’s “Don’t Explain”. The story goes she wrote it after her husband, Jimmy Monroe, came home with lipstick on his collar. Listen to Billie affirm

“I’m glad your back, don’t explain…
Quiet, don’t explain,
what is there to gain,
skip that lipstick, don’t explain”

and later

“You’re my joy and my pain…”

This, for me, is what it’s all about. It puts the rubber to the road of love. Billie Holiday Live in 1958 “Don’t Explain” (Complete with French subtitles–this was recorded live in 1958, a year before she died.)

Ani DiFranco brings her biting wit to three of my other favorite love songs. “As Is”, well, I’m not even sure if this was intended as a “love song” per se, but to me this evokes the same commitment to that real, hard as life love.

“…cause you lie in my face of all places,
but I’ve got no problem with that really…
And I’ve got no illusions about you,
and guess what?
I never did,
and when I said, when I said I’d take it,
I meant, I meant as is…”

and I love

“…just give up and admit you’re an asshole…
you’d be in some good company,
I think you’d find that your friends would forgive you,
or maybe I’m just speaking for me…”

Well, check her out live in New York: Ani DiFranco Live in New York “As Is”.

“Smiling Underneath” is another side of what constitutes true love. Here she runs through a progression of the things that can just annoy us, irritate us, even derail us, but if we share these experiences with someone we love…well:

“I don’t mind the traffic cops or the TSA,
Long as I’m with you I’m having a good day,
long as I’m with you…
We could be stuck in traffic for over a week,
With a car full of quintuplets who are all cutting teeth,
And around my neck could be a flaming Christmas wreath,
And I’d be smiling under, smiling underneath…”

Again, better just to see her live in New York: Ani DiFranco Live in New York “Smiling Underneath”.

“Hearse” is probably her sweetest love song. She expresses the give and take of love:

“There is nothing like dancing,
A dance of give and take,
One step forward, One step sideways,
A helpless feeling,
When the earth shakes.”

And the everlastingness (if that is a real word) of love:

“I will always be your lover,
Even after our atoms are dispersed,
We’ll be pushing up daisies,
And my crush will just be getting worse,
I will follow you into the next life,
Like a dog chasing after a hearse.”

No wonder it was NPR’s “Song of the Day” May 9, 2012 where Shervin Lainez writes:

“Ani DiFranco…no-bull folksinger who champions the downtrodden, rails against privileged excess and offers messages of empowerment and solidarity…Yet DiFranco also has a soft, romantic side, which she captures with simple elegance in “Hearse.” …when DiFranco sings them sweetly — without any sense of pain or longing, but merely as statements of fact — the depth of her love is fully evident and undeniable…” NPR’s Song of the Day, Ani DiFranco “Hearse”. Ani live performing “Hearse”: Ani DiFranco Live: “Hearse”

Let me turn to “Another side” of poet laureate Bob Dylan’s work. “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”:

“Flowers on the hillside, bloomin’ crazy
Crickets talkin’ back and forth in rhyme
Blue river runnin’ slow and lazy
I could stay with you forever and never realize the time
Situations have ended sad
Relationships have all been bad
Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud
But there’s no way I can compare
All them scenes to this affair
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go”

I love this love song. The pure love of knowing she would go and he’d be lonesome, but still there is enough love to sing a celebration and a humor to how this love makes him feel, how good it is right now.

I can’t not mention Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain”. Not fitting strictly into my theme here, but bright and humorous with:

“Everything about you is bringing me misery”

again, a celebration of love:

“Buckets of rain
Buckets of tears
Got all them buckets comin’ out of my ears
Buckets of moonbeams in my hand,
You got all the love, honey baby,
I can stand…
Like your smile And your fingertips
Like the way that you move your hips,
I like the cool way you look at me,
Everything about you is bringing me Misery…
Life is sad
Life is a bust
All ya can do is do what you must
You do what you must do and ya do it well
I’ll do it for you, honey baby, Can’t you tell?”

Then there is Mr. John Hiatt, well yes he has several, but this one, to my mind, tells the story that it isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it.

“…From the first kiss in the schoolyard
Til the last heart broke in two,
I didn’t know it would be so hard,
Learning how to love you
There was a life that I was living
In some cracked rearview
Where no future was given
To a heart untrue…

I might have never realized
The courage in your kiss
And the sweet forgiveness in your eyes
Babe I know you’ve walked a mile
In someone else’s shoes
Maybe you’ve left some faces smiling
Walking off your blues…

And I don’t pretend to know how
You ever saw it through
‘Cause I only got to where I am now
Learning how to love you”

John Hiatt and the Goners singing his “Learning How to Love You”: John Hiatt and the Goners Live “Learning How To Love You”.

Steve Earle, in “If You Fall”, warns his friend that if he falls in love, he’ll never be the same. I love the line “throw your heart down like a glove”:

“I saw you lookin’ at that girl like that,
I saw her too boy I know right where you’re at,
But you better be careful
‘Cause she ain’t the kind you’re gonna forget,
How much you wanna bet…
If you fall in love,
Nothin’s gonna be the same,
You walk around callin’ out her name,
Throw your heart down like a glove,
Push comes to shove,
You only end up lonely and blue,
Whenever she’s away from you
If you fall in love”

Here is one from Rodgers and Hart called “Glad to be Unhappy” where a lover has left, and yet the person left behind, is heartbroken, but at the same time happy to have had the relationship and to still be in love. There is loyalty in maintaining this love “for someone you adore”:

“…Fools rush in, so here I am,
Very glad to be unhappy,
I can’t win, but here I am
More than glad to be unhappy
Unrequited love’s a bore,
And I’ve got it pretty bad,
But for someone you adore,
It’s a pleasure to be sad…”

I associate this with Frank Sinatra, because it was an integral part of his concept album “In the Wee Small Hours” and once you hear Sinatra sing it, well…I was unable to find a live version of this, but take a listen: Frank Sinatra “Glad To Be Unhappy” recording

Finally, here is a thoughtful sweet song by Ryan Adams expressing the uncertainty, sadness and loss of maybe falling out of love…but it is a question, it is poignant and palpable: “Dear Chicago”:

“I think I’m falling out of love,
I think, I’m falling out of love,
with you”

but you must hear this. Watch him perform…in Chicago: Ryan Adams “Dear Chicago” live in Chicago

Song citations
Billie Holiday: “Don’t Explain”, Billie Holiday, lyrics, Arthur Herzog, Jr., music, 1946, Decca.

Ani DiFranco (all lyrics/music)
“As Is”, 1998 on Little Plastic Castles, Righteous Babe.
“Smiling Underneath”, 2008 on Red Letter Year, Righteous Babe.
“Hearse”, 2012 on ¿Which Side Are You On?, Righteous Babe.

Bob Dylan (all lyrics/music)
“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”, 1975 on Blood On the Tracks, Columbia.
“Buckets of Rain”, 1975 on Blood On the Tracks, Columbia.

John Hiatt: “Learning How to Love You”, John Hiatt lyrics/music, 1987 on Bring the Family, A&M

Steve Earle: “If You Fall”, Steve Earle lyrics/music, 1997 on El Corazón, Warner Music.

Frank Sinatra: “Glad To Be Unhappy”, Rodgers & Hart music & lyrics, 1955 on In the Wee Small Hours, Capitol.

Ryan Adams: “Dear Chicago”, Ryan Adams lyrics/music, 2001 on Demolition, Lost Highway Records.

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