Valentine’s Day is the last of the holidays that begin with Halloween: Turkey Day, Christmas, and now Valentine’s Day. “V-Day” is a mixed bag: a celebration of love (if you have it now) or a reminder of past conquests, failures, and mistakes. In the latter case, many will be happy to just see it go away for another year.
With this in mind, and after having done many Valentine’s Day radio shows playing my favorite transcendent love songs, I’ve decided this year to go in the opposite direction: songs of treachery, codependent love, desperation, abuse, unrequited love, masochism, loss and regret. The whole gamut, in other words. After all, love has two sides, and this show is about the darker side.
The inspiration for this through-a-glass-darkly show came from Barry Yourgrau, a writer and longtime friend based in NYC. In 1990 we did a show together, Barry providing the playlist, called The Co-Dependency Hour. A number of the selections here were taken from that show and I’m grateful for the acuity of Barry’s song choices. A big shout out to Barry Yourgrau!
These down-and-out love songs aren’t necessarily depressing; for some they might provide a nice dollop of schadenfreude. And all of us can relate to at least a few of these classics.
We start with a country western classic by Ray Charles that states the downside pretty clearly: “I Love You So Much it Hurts”. After that, Dinah Washington’s classic song about why (oh why?), “A Woman Loves a Heel”. A song of betrayal and murder follows with the 1928 Mississippi John Hurt song “Frankie” (sometimes known as “Frankie & Johnnie”). After this classic Columbia recording, Hurt left the music scene for 30 years and didn’t re-emerge until the folk & blues revival of the 1960’s). Ned Sublette, the coolest and smartest man I know, follows with the adulterous tune “Cheater’s Motel”; check out his Texas accent when he sings in Spanish at the end. Ned produced great Cuban music for his label Qbadisc, and also wrote the definitive books about Cuban and New Orleans culture (Cuba and Its Music, The World that Made New Orleans).
Country artist George Jones is next, followed by Lena Horne and the classic song of sadness and irony by Nina Simone, recorded at New York’s Town Hall in September, 1959, when Nina was still in her 20’s. Frank Sinatra‘s “In the Wee Small Hours” from the album of the same name is next; it’s a window into his tempestuous marriage and subsequent breakup with Ava Gardner. It aches with late night pain.
Memphis soul queen Ann Peebles follows, then a most unusual song by Puerto Rican mambo king Tito Rodriguez, lo mas suave of all tropical performers. In “Llevatela” he’s telling the new guy his ex is involved with what to watch for, which words are fake, and which impending calumnies to be on the alert for. Sarah Vaughan gives us some pre-feminist perspective in “Black Coffee” an early Columbia side, then Van Morrison & Them perform an early song from the 1960s, recorded before he went out on his own.
David Raksin’s immortal ode to an imaginary beauty, “Laura” follows, then a pretty bathetic 1960s song about another Laura, the one Ray Peterson’s character gives his life for. Willie Nelson gives us the original version of “Crazy”, made famous later by Patsy Cline. Billie Holiday follows with a song about physical abuse (“I’d rather my man would hit me…than quit me”, “I swear I won’t call no copper if I’m beat up by my papa”). Jacques Brel follows with his great song of romantic desperation, “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (Don’t Leave Me), and we close with the classic song of romantic irony with Chet Baker singing “I Get Along Without You Very Well”.
So much for Hallmark cards, chocolates, and flowers. This is the darker side of love.
Rhythm Planet Playlist: 2/14/14
- Ray Charles / I Love You So Much It Hurts / Modern Sounds In Country Western Music Vol. 1 & 2 / Concord Records
- Dinah Washington / That’s Why A Woman Loves A Heel / The Jazz Biography / United Audio
- Mississippi John Hurt / Frankie / 1928 Sessions / Columbia
- Ned Sublette / Cheaters Motel / Cowboy Rumba / Palm Pictures
- George Jones / She Thinks I Still Care / She Thinks I Still Care / Bear Family
- Lena Horne / Good For Nothin’ Joe / The Legendary Lena 1941-1958 / Bluebird
- Nina Simone / I Don’t Want Him You Can Have Him / At Town Hall 1958 / Colpix
- Frank Sinatra / In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning / In The Wee Small Hours / Capitol
- Ann Peebles / You Keep Me Hangin’ On / I Can’t Stand The Rain / iTunes
- Tito Rodriguez / Llevatela (Take Her) / En Escensario / West Side Latino
- Sarah Vaughan / Black Coffee / The Divine Sarah Vaughn / Columbia
- Van Morrison / Here Comes The Night / The Best Of Van Morrison / Mercury
- Frank Sinatra / Laura / Classics / CBS
- Ray Peterson / Tell Laura I Love Her / Tell Laura I Love Her / Collectables
- Willie Nelson / Crazy / The Essential Willie Nelson / Columbia-Legacy
- Billie Holiday / T’aint Nobody’s Bizness If I Do / The Best Of Billie Holiday: The Millenium Collection / Hip O Select
- Jacques Brel / Ne Me Quitte Pas / Ne Me Quitte Pas / Barclay
- Chet Baker / I Get Along Without You Very Well / The Best Of Chet Baker Sings / Capitol