Photo Credit: theogeo
Welcome to Prix Fixe, a feature for our contributors to neatly assemble and categorize a menu for your delectation—a list exploring the connections between music and pop culture, among artists, within an artist's body of work, or anything else we think might amuse you and start internal or external conversations about music. This edition is an ode to Valentine's Day: songs of love and loss.
Is there a more time-honored tradition than making a mixtape for the object of your affection? We think not. In the spirit of today's pseudo-holiday, our contributors have compiled two mixtapes: an ode to the giddy, breathless process of entering a relationship, and a chronicle of a relationship's gradual collapse, ending in breakup. Consider it Prefix's Valentine's Day gift to you: more functional than a teddy bear, no gross strawberry crème centers like so many heart-shaped chocolates hastily bought at Walgreens.
GETTING TOGETHER: The Love Side
01 A Song For The Just-Met: The Ramones' "Oh Oh I Love Her So"
As far as first dates go, "Oh Oh I Love Her So" is probably one of the simplest and cheapest imaginable. The story is simple: guy meets girl at a Burger King soda machine, they go for a ride in her car, go on a rollercoaster and then they're in love. Its naive youthfulness (has anyone over 17 actually been attracted to another Burger King patron?) is what makes it so charming, and despite its cheapness, who could imagine a more enjoyable date? The Ramones mastered the two-minute pop song, but “Oh Oh I Love Her So” is one of the best examples of their narrative abilities. This song should be playing during the first date montage of every teen movie made in the last 30 years. ~Julian Hattem
02 A Song That Says, "Notice Me!": Wilco's “I’m the Man Who Loves You”
The lyrics of this sprightly number from Wilco’s 2002 opus, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, are the stuff of Lifetime movies and Nicholas Sparks novels. A boy with a secret crush decides that he’s going to reveal his romantic intentions by writing a letter to the one he loves. He sits down in front of a sheet of loose leaf paper with pen in hand, ready to lay it all on the line, but the words don’t come. Will he get the girl? How does he get her attention? ~Craig Jenkins
03 A Song For The Hopeful: Plumtree's "Scott Pilgrim"
In the music video for “Scott Pilgrim,” the women in Plumtree slum it out in their friends’ cars and heavy coats, grinning winsomely at the camera as they repeat the song’s main refrain—“I’ve liked you for a thousand years, a thousand years”—over and over again underneath a crunchy, sunny guitar riff that obviously came out of the ‘90s. The giddy potential at the start of any new relationship, when you can’t stop smiling and wondering what the other person’s thinking—that’s the feeling that Plumtree lets bubble over for three minutes in this sweet, summery pop gem that ended up as the namesake for Bryan O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comic series. ~Jeremy Gordon
04 A Song For The First Kiss: James Blake's "To Care (Like You)"
Blame it on watching way the hell too much My So-Called Life during my formative years, but my pick is geared toward "first kiss as simultaneous tension-breaker/tension-maker." At the risk of hopping on a bandwagon already packed with salivating music supervisors, can anyone convey the mood of this type of first kiss better than James Blake? To me, "To Care (Like You)" is the standout track on his self-titled debut, and its hesitating tone mirrors the should-we-should-we-not awkwardness that accompanies the decision to just go for it, man. Blake's voice is smooth without being too self-assured, and there's a halting quality that apt to the situation. The song hesitates to move forward, voices switch places, then blend together, glitchy beats fade in and out, and the overall effect is passionate and sensual—albeit in a tentative way. Just like a first kiss. ~Susannah Young
05 A Song For The Confused: Badly Drawn Boy's "The Shining"
The opening track to The Hour of Bewilderbeast is probably Damon Gough's finest moment. "The Shining" is a relatively simple love song at its core, accompanied by some gently strummed acoustic guitars and the kind of toeing-the-dirty, red-at-the-neck sentiments that signify the bashfulness of the time when two people just on the verge of a relationship are unsure of how to take the next step. Watching the setting sun together, the song's two characters are "suddenly...in love with everything." A sentimental french horn riff buoys the song's sprits. They may not be together, but it's just a matter of time. ~Chris Bosman
06 A Song For The Bedroom: Literally Any Song By Sade
My high school English teacher used to warn us, “Cliches are cliché for a reason. Don’t use them, or you’ll get a C.” So sorry Mr. White, but I’m about to revel in using a cliche: There’s no better baby-making music than literally any song by Sade. There’s a reason so many love scenes from movies are soundtracked by Sade. No point in fighting it. It’s the McDonalds of bedroom music: always there if you can’t find a Red Robin (or at least an Applebee’s). The ultimate proof: Even if you live in a shithole apartment with rats in the kitchen and bedbugs in the mattress, when you play “Kiss of Life,” you’re suddenly transported to the most posh suite with silk sheets and candles all around you. It’s a cliché because it’s true. ~Andrew Winistorfer
07 A Song For Those In A Relationship: The Foreign Exchange's "Something To Behold"
Many songs attempt to capture the feeling of being in a relationship with someone you truly love, but few of them do it quite as perfectly as the Foreign Exchange's "Something to Behold." The track goes beyond the "ooh baby" of most R&B/soul and hits the core of wanting, not needing, your significant other. That feeling becomes clear when, for example, Darien Brockington croons, “I like the place you take/ A place of love and safety/ Your love's all I wanna know.” But it is no more evident than when Phonte sings, "I want to call you every day/ When I ain't got shit to say." It seems simple, sure, but what's more sincere than just wanting to hear your lover's voice, no matter what? I thought so. ~Andrew Martin
BREAKING UP: The Loss Side
01 A Song That Says "I Need Some Space:" The Ramones' “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You”
The Ramones will go down as the stereotype of the punk band, but it sometimes seems as though they wrote more songs about relationships than any other band of any genre. They hit every point on the relationship arc, but the best song to tell someone you need some space is “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You,” a blustery track that's perfect for that moment when your partner’s every tic is unbearable, and it all comes down to letting them know you no longer want to walk the streets with them. It even asks the rhetorical question, “So why do you wanna walk around with me?," which also captures that moment when you consider your self-worth in a relationship. That’s also usually when you break up. ~Andrew Winistorfer
02 A Song That Says, "It's Not You, It's Me": The Oblivions' "Bad Man"
“Invented” in the mid-1990s by George Costanza, a former assistant to the traveling secretary for the New York Yankees, the “It’s-Not-You-It’s-Me” is a seemingly pain-free method to dissolve a romantic partnership by which the dumper deflects all blame for the failure of the relationship on to him/herself, thereby allowing the dumpee to walk away with dignity fully intact. In reality, an individual’s personal shortcomings, insecurities, and anxieties can create a wretched situation in which to continue a relationship, which, despite whatever love might still exist within it, would be far more painful and cruel than simply ending it.
Few songs capture this toxic brew of conflicting emotions better than the Oblivions’ “Bad Man.” Written by Greg Cartwright and released on the Memphis garage-punk trio’s 1996 full-length Popular Favorites, the song is a furious anthem filled with self-loathing, frustration, and, in the end, triumph. For although the song’s protagonist knows he’s a “bad man” who is “no good” for his girl Suzie, he can take comfort in knowing that despite his faults he is still “too good” for her. A greasy, grimy blast of the naked truth, “Bad Man” has gone on to become a standard of Greg Cartwright’s post-Oblivians live shows with the Reigning Sound and solo. ~Nate Knaebel
03 A Song That Says It's Over: The Dismemberment Plan's “Face of the Earth”
“As kisses go,” The Dismemberment Plan’s Travis Morrison sings in the opening moments of “Face of the Earth,” “it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.” What happens next certainly is: The object of his affection vanishes into thin air. The interplanetary event at the heart of “Face of the Earth” is a brilliant metaphor for the pain and confusion of a quick and unexpected break up. One minute she’s there, and the next, she’s literally blown from the face of the earth, and he's left alone looking for closure. ~Craig Jenkins
04 And One That Says Maybe It Isn't: Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps"
"Maps" is really the end-all be-all of late-relationship yearning. When it came out in 2003, the song immediately catapulted the Yeah Yeah Yeahs into the hearts of every overly earnest teenager who heard it and affirmed the band’s role on major label Interscope’s roster. The song crescendos from and returns to Nick Zinner’s repeated guitar loop, but the centerpiece of this, like many YYYs songs, is Karen O’s delivery. It's hard to think of any lines more affecting that her heartfelt moan of "Wait / They don't love you like I love you." Everyone who has ever loved knows exactly how she feels; it’s always heartbreaking to listen to. ~Julian Hattem
05 And Then We "Accidentally" Hooked Up: Death Cab for Cutie's"Tiny Vessels"
Every great (read: punishing) breakup has a backbreaking moment of infidelity, right? Ben Gibbard's ode to an ill-advised one-night stand while on vacation in Silver Lake isn't set within the framework of an existing relationship, but that seems almost intentional, with the protaganist steadfastly convincing himself that he's not still in a relationship. Read that way, Gibbard's sighing conclusion that "You are beautiful, but you didn't mean a thing to me" becomes even more heartbreaking, and the roaring chorus about "wanting to believe in all the words that I was speaking" begins to seem like a foolish request to move easily from one person to another, paired with the realization that such things just don't happen. ~Chris Bosman
06 No, Fuck That—I'm Moving On: Matthew Wilder's "Break My Stride"
At the end of every relationship, after the back-and-forth of passive aggressive texts and awkward interactions at parties, there comes a point when you’ve got to get self-affirming as all fuck and move on. Don’t get sad—get glad! One-hit wonder Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride” is the perfect cure for a wounded heart—try to feel bad as that chintzy synth pops over the rallying cry of “Never let another girl like you work me over,” and then the massive shoulder-strutting catwalk of the chorus. Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride, nobody’s gonna slow me down. No no. No no. ~Jeremy Gordon