the onion a.v. club's definitive mixlist
Just in time for Valentine's Day, The Onion A.V. Club presents this definitive mixlist of love songs...
Just in time for after Valentine's Day, The Onion A.V. Club presents this definitive mixlist of songs about what happens when love goes awry, from the apologies to the recriminations to the eventual acceptance that love is gone and it's probably not coming back. Please remember that, as always, this list represents the end product of extensive test-marketing, the input of highly respected outside consultants, and some non-invasive research using lab animals. (Thanks for listening, Kirby! Hope you like the bananas.)
1. "I'm Sorry," Brenda Lee (available on Anthology: 1956-1980 and other collections)
Oops. The title says it all, and as Lee moans and oh-oh-oh–oh-oh-ohs against an unforgiving string section, she seems to realize just how deep the trouble goes, and how much work it's going to take to dig herself out from under it.
2. "I'm Sorry," Red House Painters (available on Take Me Home: A Tribute To John Denver)
Whether he's covering Paul McCartney or AC/DC, no one digs into the melancholy of classic pop songs quite like Mark Kozelek. On this track, he slows down a second-tier John Denver hit to find the profundity in the throwaway line, "More than anything else, I'm sorry for myself."
3. "What Have I Said Now?", The Wedding Present (available on Bizarro and Singles 1989-1991)
In a discography filled with songs of accusation and regret, this punchy bit of romantic defensiveness stands as The Wedding Present's most openly desperate song, and the defining moment of bandleader David Gedge. Over a grinding, rhythmic guitar track, Gedge carries out one side of an argument, saying that if he screwed up, well, it's nothing that she didn't do first.
4. "The Fall," Beat Happening (available on 1983-85 and Beat Happening)
Terribly played and horribly sung, "The Fall" finds the quintessential no-fi indie band Beat Happening slipping and giggling through a song that's both sad and sweet. Lilting guitar chords sound mournful when they aren't totally botched, and Calvin Johnson's voice nails a quivering low-point when he remembers an ex saying "Calvin, you're a guy with incredible blue eyes, but I've got to live my own life."
5. "Baby Come Back," Player (available on Baby Come Back: The Best Of Player)
Few musical genres encourage men to express their sensitive sides like '70s soft-rock did, and this 1978 No. 1 hit from the L.A. group Player is a masterpiece of weepiness. Singer Peter Beckett sounds about ready to burst into tears as he abjectly grovels over past sins: "You can blame it all on me / I was wrong, and I just can't live without you." (Note: In spite of the similar title, Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" is not about the same topic at all.)
6. "If I Ever Recover," Basement Jaxx (available on Kish Kash)
Slowing frantic dance clack down to melancholic speed, Basement Jaxx's Felix Buxton sounds like he can hardly imagine the hypothetical healing held out here. "I hope she don't remind me of anything to do with you," he sings. "I left it all behind me, and I'm aching, baby, to be through with you." Sad strings and synths suggest otherwise.
7. "Mr. Pitiful," Otis Redding (available on The Very Best Of Otis Redding and other compilations)
They still call him Mr. Pitiful, and not for nothing: Otis Redding sounds manic and devastated in this namesake song, trying to explain his devotion to an ex who dropped him... for what? Being too soulful? Controlling a Memphis soul groove that could make a bull shudder? The mind reels.
8. "I Get Along Without You Very Well," Rosemary Clooney (available on Rosie Solves The Swingin' Riddle!)
Rosemary Clooney professes to being over her former lover–except for almost all of the time. Her feigned fortitude meets its match in a catalog of instances that make her miserable, culminating in a waved white flag: "What a fool am I to think my breaking heart could kid the moon?" Bonus points for killer strings arranged by Nelson Riddle, with whom Clooney was having a secret affair at the time.
9. "I Miss You," Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (available on If You Don't Know Me By Now: The Best Of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and other compilations)
Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes had bigger hits than "I Miss You," but none plunged quite so deeply into the pain of being alone. Avoid compilations with the abbreviated single, and hold out for the full 8:37 cut, in which Teddy Pendergrass sings his heart out as he splits time with a spoken-word phone call home to a woman who's not "hip to the hip talk" and doesn't sound swayed by her ex's promises to change (or even his lottery win). His happiness depends on her, and the song fades out without an answer.
10. "The Hurtin's All Over," Connie Smith (available on The Essential Connie Smith)
Then again, having a definitive answer doesn't always help. Connie Smith has been alone for a year at the outset of the deceptively jaunty "The Hurtin's All Over," and the recovery process has yet to kick in. The hurting's all over, all right, which sounds good until she completes the pun with "all over me."
11. "Ms. Jackson," OutKast (available on Stankonia)
When romantic relationships go kaput, the ripple effect extends far beyond the ex-lovers. OutKast's emotionally messy, deeply apologetic (in the ubiquitous hook, Andre 3000 repeatedly professes to apologize no less than a trillion times) mega-hit "Ms. Jackson" heart-wrenchingly examines the collateral damage that breakups create, especially when children and gold-digging baby-mamas' mamas get involved.
12. "Sorry Somehow," Hüsker Dü (available on Candy Apple Grey)
Grant Hart's acerbic lyrics put this number next to The Byrds' "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better" and Bob Dylan's "Most Likely You Go Your Way" in the pantheon of songs about crawling from the wreckage of a relationship, feeling simultaneous anger and relief. Though Hart's regret is clear, "sorry" here is not just the hardest word, it's a lethal one: "You want me to beg forgiveness, tender an apology / It's not my fault, and you're not getting one from me."
13. "Can We Still Be Friends?", Todd Rundgren (available on Hermit Of Mink Hollow)
One of Todd Rundgren's simplest, prettiest melodies tethers the quintessential let-'em-down-gently breakup song. After each bruising line–"We can't play this game any more," "Let's admit we made a mistake," and so on–Rundgren quickly repeats the title phrase, hoping his soon-to-be-ex will focus on the future, not the past. Only the plaintive start-stop and distant "la-la-la"s of the instrumental bridge indicates that anything important has been lost.
14. "I'm Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)," Marshall Crenshaw (available on Downtown and This Is Easy: The Best Of Marshall Crenshaw)
And in the end, a kind of hard-eyed clarity sets in. Sure, Marshall Crenshaw is sorry about how he and his ex never got to that world of "blue skies and endless sweet love songs" that they talked about, but what does being sorry get him? Same thing it got poor Brenda Lee: a lot of nothing. Sometimes it's time to move on and hope for a better life (or at least a better valentine) somewhere down the line.