According to John Lennon, it was all you need, yet for Everly Brothers, it hurt. For the Seahorses, it was the law, for Roxy music it was the drug, for Soft Cell it was tainted, and for Foreigner, well they didn’t even know what it was. Love has been many things to many musicians, and ahead of New Note’s Valentine LOVEFEST on 14 Feb, we’re looking at some of popular music’s strangest love songs.
“Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get – only with what you are expecting to give, which is everything”
– Kathrine Hepburn
It wouldn’t be controversial to say that there have been more popular songs written about love than any other subject and it is easy to understand why. Love is a universal emotion relatable to everyone, and can also be a source of inspiration for many songwriters as it evokes strong feelings and experiences that can be translated into meaningful and emotive lyrics.
But of course, not all ballads are written equally. Whilst it’s easy to turn on a soft rock radio station and hear someone singing cliches about their desires, they are plenty of examples of songs with an interesting take on love.
These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)
Written in 1935 by Holt Marvel (a pseudonym of Eric Maschwitz) and Jack Strachey “These Foolish Things (Reminds Me of You)” has been hit throughout the decades, recorded by the like of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, The Five Satins and Bryan Ferry. The song is essentially a list of everyday things that remind the narrator of a loved one. Lipstick on a cigarette, daffodils and the sound of a bell in a park. Yet beyond the list, there lies a deeper meaning – the narrator mourns the loss of love, with the object of their affections no longer a tangible presence but a ghost channeled by the ordinary. Not so much a love song, as a reminder that love does not die with the end of a relationship, and the past echoes in everyday things and places.
Leader of the Pack
“Is she really going out with him?
“Well, there she is, let’s ask her”
“Betty, is that Jimmy’s ring you’re wearing?”
And so begins one of the most iconic songs of the 1960s.
The 1965 Shangri-Las hit, written by Ellie Greenwich, George “Shadow” Morton and Jeff Barry, starts off as an archetypal boy meets girl story. Yet it quickly turns into a story of star-crossed lovers turning to tragedy when the leader of the motorcycle gang is killed in a crash. Sonically, the song makes use of motorbike sounds, lush production, dramatic call-and-response vocals and spoken word. The song’s tragic narrative, innovative arrangement and wall-of-sound production make it stand out from many of the bubblegum pop songs of the era. “leADE has had a lasting impact on pop music, often covered and parodied. It even became the title song of a jukebox 1985 musical, and “Bat out of Hell”, the 1979 hit for Meatloaf, tells the same story, from the rider’s point of view.
Me and Mrs Jones
The 1970s was a golden age for the R’n’B ballad, especially with the growth of Philadelphia Soul, which took the funk grooves of the late 1960s, slowed them down and added lush orchestrations. One of the stand-out tracks, by one of the era’s stand-out singers, is “Me and Mrs Jones” by Billy Paul. There had been songs about extra-marital affairs before, such as Heard it On the Grapevine and there have been many since. The subject is often surrounded by bitterness and heartache. With “Me and Mrs Jones” Songwriters Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Cary Gilbert however took a different approach, emphasising the romance between the two lovers with lyrics like “Holding hands, making all kinds of plans, While the jukebox plays our favorite songs“, yet still highlighting the internal conflict between this affair and the obligations stemming from their marriages.
Love Will tear Us Apart
The inscription on Ian Curtis’s grave marker situated in an unassuming corner of a church cemetery in Macclesfield reads “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Though it was Joy Division’s only real chart hit, reaching 13 in the UK in 1980, the song is a cornerstone of alternative music. Its bitter honesty about the true nature of an everyday relationship slowly breaking down through inertia became a strong influence on the socially realistic songwriting of post-punk and new-wave acts.
Curtis’s tragic suicide, spurned on by depression exasperated by epilepsy, happened while he and his wife, Deborah, were discussing divorce, bringing a dark poignancy to the lyrics. Over sparse instrumentation, with a strong driving rhythm section, Curtis explored the difficulty of letting go, emotional turmoil and his own epilepsy. And with the chorus he proclaims the most startling truth of all, it was love itself that was doing the damage.
This is Not a Love Song
Just like the song says, the 1983 hit from Public Image Ltd is not actually a love song. The title and lyrics were inspired after John Lyndon, (formally Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols), was asked by the band’s record company to write a nice marketable love song, and “This is Not a Love Song” was Lydon’s characteristically acerbic reply.
The song takes a swipe at business, corporate life and wealth disparity with lyrics like Happy to have, not to have not, Big business is very wise, I’m crossing over into, Enter-prize. It peaked at number 5 in 1983 and has been a staple of alternative music discos ever since. Lydon, one of the most famous punks, eventually did write a love song, Hawaii, which was released earlier this year as a contender to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song contest. It wasn’t chosen.
True Love Will Find You In The End
Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In The End”, released in 1990, is based on a poem that Johnston wrote as a teenager and then went on to become one of his most successful and beloved songs. Through his rudimentary guitar playing, lo-fi recording, and strong but vulnerable vocals, Johnston explores themes of perseverance, patience, and hope in finding lasting love.
Born in 1961, Johnston was a true outsider artist. He started his career recording his own music at home and handing it out as cassettes while he was working in fast food restaurants. Throughout his life, he struggled with mental illness and spent time in mental healthcare institutions. Yet his heartfelt lyrics and melodies have stuck a chord with many people across the world. “True Love Will Find You In The End”, has become an anthem of sorts for those seeking romantic fulfillment with their soul mate. Its message of unconditional acceptance is an uplifting reminder that true love will eventually find us all.
LOVEFEST with New Note
This year New Note wants to be with our loved ones, THAT’S YOU.
LOVE FEST is a celebration of love and life, bringing people together from all over Brighton and Hove to support the Mayor’s Charities. Celebrate St Valentine’s with friends or loved ones.
The show will be opened by Clir Lizzie Deane, Mayor of Brighton and Hove and compered by King Sammy Silver. We will be joined by singing sensation Scarlett Chapman followed by the award-winning New Note Orchestra. The Martlets Choir and Bright Soul Choir will be singing popular songs and there will also be delicious cakes, refreshments and a superb raffle.
Where: All Saints Church, The Drive, Hove BN3 3QE
When: 14th February 2023. Show starts at 7-9pm. Doors open at 6.15pm
Tickets: £7.50 from Brighton Fringe.