In computing, there are things known as “background jobs,” which are applications or programs that run in the background, with no visible windows to indicate that they are using up your computer’s processing power. One of my brain’s background jobs is listening for songs, usually love songs, that will sound good together.
Back in the days of vinyl records and cassette tapes, I was a mix tape freak. Once a friend of mine was studying to become an EMT, and studying a lot of anatomy, so I made her a mix tape called “Body Parts,” and found as many songs as I could that mentioned different body parts. A good mix tape sometimes took me weeks to put together, because of the vicissitudes of picking just the right songs from records that were available to me, getting the segues between songs just right, dropping the needle in the right places, synchronizing the tape player with the record player, getting the volume levels just right so a soft song wouldn’t be followed by a really loud song, etc.
I’ve moved on to CD mixes now, but somehow the process can still take weeks of listening for just the right songs, and just the right sequence and flow of music, which is just as important to me as the music itself. My musical sources are infinitely broader now, and that whole “if you liked songs by this artist, you might like songs by this other artist” feature on the Internet makes it much easier to find songs by people I had never heard of just minutes before. That’s the main reason CD mixes take me so long nowadays, because there’s so much more music to sift through.
To my delight, yesterday I received a request from my friend Jeff to suggest some “not too mainstream” music for the unity candle lighting part of a wedding that he is working on with a couple. I don’t know if Jeff knew about the Love Song Background Job that is always running in my brain, or about the thrill my brain experiences when the Love Song Background Job gets to step forward and run out in the open. So thank you, Jeff, for giving me an excuse to sit and listen to love songs.
What follows below, in no particular order, is an incomplete sampling of a wide variety love songs that I’ve used on mix tapes and CDs, or that are waiting to be used on an as yet unmade mix CD. I couldn’t find videos for a few of the songs, but I couldn’t leave them off the list either, so you’ll have to use the music player feature to hear them.
If you’ve been following along this website for awhile, you know that I’m a huge fan of Kris Delmhorst, and it has nothing to do with the fact that she and I attended the same college (about a decade apart.) You could do a whole mix CD of Love using her music. “Made of Time” is one of my favorites.
Catherine MacLellan’s “The Long Way Home” is gorgeous. It takes a long time, appropriately, to really hit its groove, but it’s a beautiful groove.
Cyndi Lauper and Sarah McLachlan – “Time After Time” from Lauper’s album “The Body Acoustic.” While this song is quite well known, the message is timeless, and this acoustic duet, with Lauper on the dulcimer, takes the song to a whole new dimension.
An old chestnut. Bruce Springsteen – “If I Should Fall Behind” from “Lucky Town” or his MTV Unplugged album. The lines “So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see/and I’ll wait for you and should I fall behind, wait for me” is as good a description as any of what it takes to make a marriage work.
One of my new favorites. Elbow – “Mirrorball” from “The Seldom Seen Kid.” This one might be a little too intimate; the line “We kissed like we invented it” is lovely, though. The shimmery layers of this song give me goosebumps every time. I also love how he draws out the syllables at the end of phrases. He always stretches them longer than I think he’s going to. More goosebumps.
Vienna Teng’s song “City Hall” could easily be THE anthem for queer couples. The line “If they take it away again some day, this beautiful thing won’t change,” is particularly poignant in the aftermath of Proposition 8, which overturned equal marriage in California.
Patty Larkin – “Tango.” This was on the “Body Parts” mix tape I made almost 20 years ago, and has long been a favorite of mine. I prefer the version from the 1991 album “Tango,” as opposed to the newer version on her latest record “25,” but they’re both great, so that’s a matter of personal preference.
Gillian Welch (with David Rawlings) – “Dear Someone,” from the album “Time (The Revelator.)” Like many great love songs, this is also a wonderful lullaby.
Shawn Colvin’s cover of maybe the sweetest song that David Byrne and the Talking Heads’ ever wrote – “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” from her album of cover tunes, “Cover Girl.” I adore the line “You got a face with a view.”
Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson’s “Once in a While” is an unconventional love song. It might not be appropriate for a wedding, depending on how scratched and dented the couple is. If they haven’t been scuffed up by life’s hairpin turns, they might not appreciate it.
Despite some appalling grammar, Shania Twain’s “Still the One” is a great anthem for love surviving against overwhelming odds. I prefer the version she recorded with Alison Krauss and Union Station, which I have only found on iTunes, my least favorite place to buy music.
No list like this would be complete without The Indigo Girls – “Power of Two.” Great line for a wedding: “The closer I’m bound in love to you, the closer I am to free.” This was originally on “Swamp Ophelia.”
Blame Sally – “Long Time with You,” from their album “Severland.”
I like Barenaked Ladies cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in Dangerous Time” better than Cockburn’s version. I’m a sucker for an accordion and an upright bass.
No worries. Bruce Cockburn’s song “Anything, Anytime, Anywhere” is its own kind of perfection. I especially love the growly bass voice that anchors the whole song.
Ray Lamontagne wrote his own take on the theme of “Let it Be Me.” His song “You Are the Best Thing” is also a great love song, but it’s big and brassy, so that might not work if you’re looking for a softer sound.
Cowboy Junkies have two great ones with similar titles. “Hold On To Me” and “Take Me.”
“Take Me” is from their very difficult to find album “Whites Off Earth Now.”
Donna the Buffalo’s “No Place Like the Right Time” has both an accordion and an organ that sounds like the old Lowry Genie. I particularly love the line “I never expected to be loved by you.”
The Duhks have a simple and lovely song called “I See You.”
I don’t know if Mark Knopfler was thinking of Emmylou Harris when he wrote “Why Worry” but this song feels like it was meant for them to sing as a duet.
Sally Ellyson, of the band Hem, has a gorgeous voice. And in this song that was made famous in, of all things, a Liberty Mutual commercial, the guy who harmonizes with her does a lovely job of weaving his voice around hers.
Iron and Wine’s “Love and Some Verses” has that great line “May I be weaved in your hair.”
Keb’ Mo’s “Every Morning” is so sweet.
Greg Brown’s song “Hey Baby Hey” perfectly and beautifully describes how love can render us speechless.
Iris Dement’s song “This Kind of Happy With You” is beautiful. Some people I know have never cottoned to her voice, but I liked it immediately.
I like Willie Nelson’s version of “That’s the Way Love Goes” best, but I couldn’t find a video of him singing it, so here’s a Shawn Colvin/Mary Chapin Carpenter duet of it. What a consolation prize!
Steve Earle has two great ones from his album “Washington Square Serenade.” “Sparkle and Shine” and this one, “Days Aren’t Long Enough.”
Emmylou Harris’ duet with Don Williams is my favorite version of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You,” although Lyle Lovett’s version is a close second.
I have grown to adore The Magnetic Fields’ original version of “The Book of Love,” which feels like an almost sheepish, sideways look at love and at being loved. Peter Gabriel is probably the one who put the song on the map with his soaring, anthemic version of it. For my 5th anniversary last year, I made a video of the Peter Gabriel version, which is the second video below.