Updated: Mar 4, 2020
Playlist curator Jojo Sommer takes us through a musical journey of love and loss, from Chet Baker to Soccer Mommy to the Roots.
I’ve never understood how music, and, largely, art, is so solely focused on romantic love. The neglect of family, chosen family, and close friends as a subject matter is puzzling because they are often the most lasting and formative in one’s life. Regardless, love and sex sell, even if from a song written by a middle-aged man for a 16-year-old pop star about falling head over heels for the football captain, or something as unfortunate as The Crystals' “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss).”
I would like to think our culture is continuously progressing in messages of what love should and shouldn’t look like, but that's not to say it's always been harmful. In fact, the sentiments of love songs remain predominantly the same, for the universal feeling hasn’t changed— only the form it has been weaved into. Below are five songs that span over half a century that all look through love’s lens at slightly different angles: lingering love post-breakup; attachment bordering on codependency; a first fling; long-distance relationships; and fragile intimacy.
“I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)”- Chet Baker (1956)
My dad makes fun of me for utterly adoring this song on the account that it’s “music his parents liked.” I could describe every single note in graphic detail (but I will refrain) because it’s the simplicity of the track that makes this song so immaculate. Something about both the incredibly masculine yet delicate quality Baker’s voice has is what really solidifies its emotional attachment; it symbolizes mourning and regret without shame, much like the title.
The theme of this song is incredibly similar to Bob Dylan’s “Most of the Time,” where the speaker also realizes in empty moments that he finds himself lingering on his lover’s absence. In this case, Baker speaks through a pretend confidence that he is over his partner’s departure, weaving in and out of aching remembrances and false reassurance in a mental tug-of-war. It rains and he thinks of his lover, or he hears a laugh similar to hers and still can’t move on. The song ends: “But I should never think of spring / For that would surely break my heart in two,” and my heart breaks alongside Baker’s.
“I’d Rather Go Blind”- Etta James (1967)
This probably shouldn’t be considered a love song, since the narrative implies the speaker has just been cheated on, but through the way James sings the chorus, the love she feels is tangible. When she belts, “I was just sitting here thinking / Of your kiss and your warm embrace,” she repeats “I was” several times as if to emphasize the immediacy of this transition of love to loss. Even though the chorus of the song— “I’d rather go blind / Than to see you walk away from me”— can be seen as an issue of codependency, it’s also plainly a complete devotion to the one you love, which can be comforting to admit in the privacy of an R&B song.
I always picture this track as sung by Beyoncé in “Cadillac Records,” a biopic on the origin of Chicago record label Chess Records. This song plays out in a heartbreaking scene; Beyoncé translates the duality of this song in her beautiful performance— co-existing anguish and adoration that cannot find a resolution.
“Silly Girl”- Descendents (1985)
I find it so sweet to hear male punk singers chanting “I’m so in love with you my silly girl,” as the general depictions of women in punk aren’t so favorable. This song doesn’t last long at all, not even two and a half minutes, pushed forward by power chords and the fleetingness of young love. “Silly Girl” is very much one of those stories where a boy first learns the opposite sex is actually a three-dimensional being, but still cannot fully commit on the account of being “...too scared to love you, even though I really cared.” Though that may be the equivalent to Berger’s Post-it note in “Sex and the City,” the majority of the song is endearing, with a certain sweetness only childhood romance can possess.
“You Got Me”- The Roots ft. Erykah Badu and Eve (1999)
This duet is the most wholesome track on this list, as the pain from it is only caused by distance, rather than emotional conflict or absence. It’s sometimes hard to remember this song isn’t autobiographical since the verses rapped by Black Thought and Eve have such an immersive narrative it’s like observing a couple in privacy. Written by fellow Philadelphia-based artist Jill Scott, “You Got Me” depicts a relationship between a rapper and a grad student that met at a show in Paris and coincidentally used to live in the same building. The problems arise when the male speaker is constantly on tour and the woman starts to feel the lonely implications of his career. The back and forth between the two is incredibly mature and healthy, creating an articulate discourse that can most effectively be translated through rap.
Erykah Badu sings the chorus from the female perspective in her own sultry, lucid way, acting as the subconscious of the relationship by repeating reassurances so often that they have become background noise. It’s the collaboration of all these artistic forces that make this song truly special. Like love, music can become a form of attachment that one can depend on, as Thought raps in the first verse: “Now she in my world like hip-hop.” Two of life’s greatest thrills as one.
“Wildflowers”- Soccer Mommy (2018)
The closer to Soccer Mommy’s debut studio album “Clean,” “Wildflowers” is a three-minute track that comes across as a sophisticated lullaby, revealing Sophie Alison at her most tender. The song doesn’t overstay its three verses, and word is put to waste as Alison fashions images of love, intimacy, and self-reflection through traditional tropes of lyric poetry. She begins the second verse, “I found God on Sunday / Morning, layin’ next to you / My arms stretched out like Jesus / White sheets nail me down to the bed,” a beautiful portrait of how profound the trance of love can be, making one holy.
The song starts with Alison’s voice glossily singing over a simple acoustic strumming pattern, before the instrumentation continuously builds. As the ascension to a full sound makes the music swell like a heartbeat, the listener finally knows what Alison’s talking about.
For the rest of this playlist, check out HALOSCOPE on Spotify.
Johanna Sommer is a young music appreciator and obsessive fan from Buffalo, NY. Currently, she attends Purchase College as a freshman journalism major. Johanna loves nothing more than to write about music’s universal capacity, and how it can unite people of all backgrounds.