Category Archives: #LoveSongs

#LoveSongs: To Make You Feel My Love

Here we’ve got perhaps one of the most-covered love songs out there. Bob Dylan knows he loves someone, but they aren’t so sure, so he’s gonna show how good at love he is. Let’s see if he succeeds, but we’re gonna listen to Adele sing it because that’s what YouTube gave me.

It’s a good thing I already like this song, ’cause sheesh have we got some sap here. I hope a real person never tries to say anything like this to me because then we will never see each other again. But in a song it’s pretty okay! Songs are for exaggerating.

The first verse is actually exactly what a nice relationship should be about. You’re having some bad times, and someone who loves you wants to give you a hug! That’s super-nice, Bob Dylan, I would like that a lot. You are even willing to hold me for a million years, which is probably longer than anyone needs a hug. But nice follow-through, I guess?

Unfortunately, from that point, our friend Bob starts getting a little over-promising and, frankly, it makes him sound a little desperate. Claiming that you’ll never do wrong by a person is a pretty common early relationship move, but I prefer honesty. People hurt each other, and what I really want to know from a partner is that they’ve got the sensitivity and skills to work on recovering from our inevitable mis-steps. Someone who thinks you can go a whole lifetime (or a million years!) without ever hurting someone close to you has very little experience with real relationships, and that’s a red flag. More importantly, holding up “never hurt each other” as a relationship standard makes it harder for people involved in real, imperfect relationships to know that there’s nothing wrong with sometimes messing up.

Then we go headfirst into more desperation, where Bob promises that he’ll go hungry and get bruised and otherwise come to harm in order to prove his love, which is just impractical, really. Self-harm doesn’t show me that you care, it just shows me that you can’t think of better ways to get my attention.

I’m not totally sure how the winds of change relate to loving someone a whole lot, other than, hey, it’s Bob Dylan. Let’s skip down to that final verse, where we have one of my biggest love song pet peeves. “I can make you happy” is not a reasonable relationship promise. No one can make anyone else happy. I can feel happy when I spend time with certain people, or when I do certain activities, but, ultimately, my mental state is up to a combination of circumstances, brain chemicals and my own choices. I don’t appreciate anyone telling me they can control my emotions, nor do I want to hear that they can “make [my] dreams come true.”

If you really want to make me feel your love, Bob, give me some space, treat me like a real human, and let me make my own damn choices. Emotional support is great, but it starts to turn to emotional manipulation by the end of the song. Give me time to make up my mind and respect my choice, rather than going to greater and greater lengths to try to make me feel a thing. If you love me, I’ll be able to tell.


#LoveSongs: She Moves In Her Own Way

One of my hopes for this project is to lift up the love songs that show really solid, healthy relationships, in hopes that we all start putting them on mix tapes and having more realistic standards. This fantastic effort from the Kooks is just such a song.

I love what’s happening in this song. Our protagonist is the kind of norm-defying rebel that features in most rock and roll songs, and he’s gotten himself an equally non-conforming girlfriend. But he’s not trying to force her into being some flat Manic Pixie Dream Girl, nor does he expect her to sacrifice what she’s doing in favor of his rock and roll dreams.

At the start of the song, the singer reminds the girl that “I was hoping someday you’d be on our way to better things.” Like him, though, she doesn’t care for “paper dreams,” and is happily living in the present, in her “mindset.” She’s able to talk to him about her feelings, and he supports her.

My favorite part is the repeated “you don’t pull my strings ’cause I’m a better man.” Without the chorus that reminds us how much he loves her, I might think this was from a break-up songs (“kiss-offs” as Songza calls them), but instead we have a true rarity in a love song: an acknowledgment of the need for romantic partners to maintain separate identities and motivations! The singer is in control of his own life, as is his lover, and they are both excited to share those lives with one another.

He mentions her make-up and her fashion, but that’s not what he’s in it for: “looks are deceiving” he says, and she’s made him believe it. Maybe he thinks her style’s weird, maybe she’s not the kind of girl he would normally go for. It doesn’t matter, though, because he loves how different she is.

The idea that she comes to his show just to hear about his day fascinates me. Is this the only place she can find out what he’s been up to? Is he better at communicating through music than in just talking to her? Lots of people might hate having a partner who didn’t tell them about their day, but this lady seems pretty down with it; she comes to her boyfriend’s show and learns what she needs to learn. She’s meeting him where he is, and he’s doing the same for her.

This isn’t a song about the perfect relationship that everyone should aspire to. Instead, it’s a song about a relationship that is really great for these two specific people, in their specific circumstance. Sorry, Tolstoy, but sometimes every happiness isn’t the same, and that’s a beautiful thing.

#LoveSongs: It Matters to Me

Sometimes I almost prefer writing about songs where the relationship is failing than those first-blush-of-love ones. For one thing, you’re way less likely to have an assault on your hands when you’re falling out of love. But I think you can really see someone’s relationship skills in how they break down or break up. Perhaps that’s why I like to balance my lovey mixtapes with a few breakup ballads. This one from an early Faith Hill is a favorite of mine.

I’m not sure you could start out more heartbreaking than the image of fighting without saying a word. It’s the opposite of that country classic “When You Say Nothing At All:” instead of love in a touch, we’ve got silent, hostile distance. Faith is reaching for something deeper, but her lover remains just beyond her reach, unaffected.

This song isn’t a bad template at all for expressing that the spark has gone out of your relationship. It’s possible that things aren’t even as bad as Faith fears. In all relationships, one person pursues and the other distances, and a balance must be achieved. Clearly, there’s too much distance here for Faith to feel secure and loved, but letting her partner know that may be enough to salvage things.

What permeates this song more than anything else is a lack of knowledge arising from a lack of communication. Faith doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know if her partner even cares about the state of things. She’s out of ideas, but, fortunately, she is not yet alone. Naming the pain the distance brings her may snap her partner out of his fog and bring back the talking, touching, and loving that Faith needs.

And if not, if he’s perfectly content with the situation as it stands and refuses to do more, we can already see Faith accepting that and preparing to move on. In the second verse, she asks how far the distance is, and how her lover can cope, and then acknowledges that she isn’t sure she can. She’s not entirely giving up, but she isn’t willing to stay in a situation that hurts her this much.

One of the best things about this song is that it has no protests that she’ll die for this love, or attempts at emotional blackmail. In far too many songs, the protagonist gives all the power in their emotional life over to their lover. There’s none of that here, just a matter-of-fact statement about Faith’s feelings and needs, which her lover can respond to as he will. It hurts and it matters that Faith feels ignored, but this still isn’t her entire life.

Overall, we have here a song that sounds like words real people might say to one another. There’s a time and a place for whatever terrible relationship habits Taylor Swift is cultivating, but when it’s time to actually interact with another person, I’m glad we’ve got Faith Hill to show us the way.

#LoveSongs: Take Me Home Tonight

Today we’ve got Eddie Money’s 1986 hit “Take Me Home Tonight,” which got nominated for a Grammy. As we know, award shows are about the worst on telling us how creepy a song is, so let’s dive in!
Not too shabby, Eddie Money. You see a person, you want to go to their house and cuddle all night long. And so you are asking them to do that, except you aren’t totally sure how questions work! That’s okay, sometimes you spy a super-cutie and grammar gets hard, I understand.
Big points on having no gender markers in this song; all those me and you pronouns mean this song can work on a mixtape for anyone at all, no matter their gender. You sure do emphasize how much you want this person to be your “little baby,” but technically that’s your pal Ronnie Spector who is bad at pet names, so we’ll give you a pass. Plus maybe you’re into that whole adult baby scene, and who am I to judge? That’s between you and your sweetie.
In the first verse, Eddie is really horny, and expresses his sex feelings in hunger language. This person’s sexy, they make Eddie drool, he wants to turn their engine on. With his key, which he needs help finding. If the key is Eddie’s penis, it sounds like he is not super-familiar with his own body. Maybe the key is the thing that Hottie enjoys doing sexually! I’m impressed by Eddie’s focus on his partner’s pleasure.
Wikipedia tells me this song might be about the producer’s obsession with getting the drunkest girl at the bar to take him home, which is definitely Grade-A Creep behavior. Without that back story, though, the lyrics give us no reason to assume that Eddie’s intended partner can’t consent. I’m pretty weirded out by the line “with all the power you’re releasing/it isn’t safe to walk the streets alone,” which sure does sound like some rape culture bullshit about how sexy ladies are asking to be attacked. Fortunately, Eddie doesn’t continue in that vein for long.
The second verse switches from Eddie’s horniness to his nightmares and fears of the darkness. Perhaps this is some 80s pickup artist technique, showing vulnerability to make someone want you more. It’s a little sappy and overblown, sure, but we’ve certainly seen worse. Does it work on his intended? Their heart beats faster, we know, which is either from being turned on or from being afraid and wanting to escape. I hope for everyone’s sake that Eddie is reading the nonverbal signals correctly.
The song asks more questions than it answers. We never do find out if Eddie makes it into someone else’s bed. Is Ronnie a good wingman? Does Eddie keep mentioning Ronnie because he is actually hoping for a threesome? The world may never know.

#LoveSongs: I Will Always Love You

Today we tackle Dolly Parton’s classic breakup ballad, originally written to commemorate her feelings about leaving long-term collaborator Porter Wagoner to focus on her solo career. Dolly’s been a personal hero of mine since early childhood, and Tiny Me knew what she was about. Dolly writes songs that exemplify what we want in a love song. Let’s take a closer look.

People have asked me before how to break up with someone, and Dolly’s template here isn’t a bad place to start. She’s looked over the situation, and describes it in terms of the other person, which is helpful to get them to listen! Sure, that opening line is a little bit patronizing, but it’s also realistic: sometimes a relationship that was previously a place of mutual growth stagnates and prevents us from reaching our potential. Rather than insisting that love requires us to always stay together, in spite of the odds, Dolly acknowledges that sometimes the most loving action is to split, painful though it may be.

I do have to fault Dolly for asking her partner not to cry just because the split is the right choice. It’s perfectly mature to mourn that which is lost, even though the loss is necessary and ultimately for the better. She may be setting a boundary here around emotional support, though, insisting that her former partner find someone new to process the lost with. A great choice!

I am most impressed with the final verse, in which Dolly wishes all the best for her former partner. This is one of the best definitions of love; wanting someone to flourish no matter what. Often, this is one of the hardest lessons to learn: we love people because of what they can do for us, and have trouble coping when their needs conflict with our own. Learning to send someone else on their way and get our needs met elsewhere is an essential and difficult skill.

All in all, we have about the perfect break-up song here. Dolly beautifully encapsulates what it is for a person to let go of someone else without objectifying them. She reminds us that there are forms of love that don’t involve dying in each other’s arms, all while avoiding most platitudes. If I had to complain about anything, it’s the face that the song is rather sappy and doesn’t quite promise us that Dolly herself will go on and find other loves. At the same time, being directed at the one who is lost, it would be cruel of Dolly to remind the other person that she, too, has bigger and better things to do.

In short, I’m very glad that every big-voiced female artist wants to cover this song, because it remains such a solid example of how we should treat one another, and we need to keep those examples on our radio.

#LoveSongs: Baby It’s Cold Outside

There are so many Christmas love songs, but this is probably the most difficult one out there. It sounds so cheery, so flirtatious, so fun, and yet we’re all pretty sure that it’s a model of about the worst consent there is. I’ve gone back and forth a lot on this song; last year, I could barely listen to it, and this year I’m hoping to salvage it for karaoke delightfulness. So let’s dig in and see if this is the original Blurred Lines, yea?

Alright, let’s start from that worst line “say what’s in this drink?” I’m going to have to side with this great blog post and remind the world that this used to be a pretty common idiom, and not a literal description of drugging someone. This, of course, reminds us that we’re working with a song written in 1944, and are going to need to meet the song in its cultural context.

Unfortunately, it’s an awful context. The real theme of the song is that two people want to have sex and spend the night together, and their social context would frown on this behavior. In the original score, the two are identified as “mouse” and “wolf” (which predatory image is definitely uncomfortable), and not by gender. However, most recordings give the mouse part to a woman and the wolf to a man, and the rigid control of women’s sexuality is definitely a key to understanding the song. (I’ve chosen to embed a version that swaps those gender roles, because it’s great.)

Rather than a woman who is struggling to escape a man, we have here a tale of a woman struggling to escape the judgment of those around her. From the beginning, she describes the evening as “so very nice,” and later speaks of being under a spell–“enchanting” is a compliment, so it also seems reasonable to assume she’s enjoying herself. Meanwhile, the objections she raises are about what others around her will think. Her family disapproves of her spending the night with her lover, but she is working up the courage to do so anyway.

The lines that most save the song for me come in the middle, and depend on listening to the man as well as the woman. She starts with “I ought to say no, no, no” (that “ought” is key), and he responds “mind if I move in closer?” Instead of pushing him off or firming up her resistance, she instead drops to “at least I’m gonna say that I tried.” We’ve got a verbal request for consent right there, and the physical closeness of her lover reminds the woman that she does, in fact, want this, in spite of the societal pressures that tell her she should not.

What really sets this song apart from other anthems about rape is that it is a true duet. Each vocal part gets equal time, and the back-and-forth of the two is much of what makes it so much fun. Rather than most songs, where one person reports on the other’s feelings, each person has a chance to say their part. They end in harmony, singing happily of their agreement to stay together. Don’t get me wrong, this song does not model ideal consent. But I think we can salvage it and continue to sing it with our friends and crushes without guilt.

#LoveSongs: Total Eclipse of the Heart

Is there a song more fun to belt with your friends than this one? I’m not sure it gets more 80s than this, but what on earth is this song actually about?

It’s not about fencing, I don’t think. I do think it is about a current relationship, but possibly the worst relationship. I don’t know why Bonnie Tyler is so stuck here, but I really hope she figures out how to escape.

The first few verses tell us how miserable Bonnie is. She gets lonely and her partner never comes around, she’s literally cried so much that she is boring herself, and she’s worried that it will never get better than this. None of these are signs of a good relationship, Bonnie. We’re not even in “something good was here but you’re in a rough patch.” There is no evidence that there is anything worth saving.

But there’s that look in her lover’s eyes! It maybe makes her less terrified, but it’s not clear what the relationship of that look to Bonnie falling apart is. Also “a little bit terrified?” Terror is not a mild emotion, Bonnie.

Now, it’s possible that Bonnie is the crazy one and her partner is very patient and helps calm all of her wild fears. That repeated chorus “once upon a time I was falling in love but now I’m only falling apart” worries me, though. Why would these be connected if Bonnie were experiencing an unrelated craziness? Nope, her love has been replaced by fear and darkness.

“Your love is like a shadow on me all the time” she sings, as if that’s a healthy and exciting thing. Even if her relationship is what’s keeping her grounded, it’s not okay to make your mental health dependent on another person. The long version includes a verse that says Bonnie’s lover will “never be the boy you always wanted to be,” and yet he’s “the only boy who wanted me the way that I am.” Frankly, it sounds like Bonnie’s caught up in an abusive situation, convinced that she is so worthless no one else would have her. That’s never true, and beyond that, she could have a fulfilling and happy life without a partner.

Bonnie seems to know how precarious her situation is- “living in a powder keg and giving off sparks,” but she has no motivation to improve it. She remembers the light, and the happy days, but she is hopeless that they could ever return, and can no longer remember what her identity was before this relationship.

There’s nothing here to really stop us from belting this song with our friends, but any time I actually start to think “wow, Bonnie Tyler really understands what I’m going through,” I’m going to consider that a huge red flag and change that situation as fast as I can.

#LoveSongs: A Thousand Miles

It’s 2003, I’m in the auditorium of an old women’s college-turned-retreat center, surrounded by 200 or so other teens, and a guy on stage with a guitar and too many necklaces is telling us about how we have to fall crazy in love with Jesus, and I’ve never had a boyfriend before, but I’m pretty sure I know what he means. And then we all sing this Vanessa Carlton song together, except it’s Jesus that we all want to fall into the sky with.

Later, after small group Bible study, a boy named Chad, who doesn’t look a thing like Jesus, will pull me into the corner of a stairwell and I’ll have my first very underwhelming kiss. We’ll go on to talk on the phone a few times and he’ll mail me his guitar strap and I’ll never quite be sure if I should tell my friends I’m dating someone. It’s hard for 15-year-old boys to compete with the heady combination of pop melodies and carefully packaged religious experiences.

I’m pretty sure Vanessa Carlton didn’t actually write this song about Jesus, but it’s hard for me to untangle it from all those experiences. An important part of this project, though, is to look at exactly those songs that defined my (and your) young experience and see what weird, terrible ideas about relationships got transmitted through them. So how bad is this one, Jesus or no?

I mean, on actually looking at it, this song is more unclear than anything else. The best I can guess, this song is about a breakup, which makes its use by mid-naughties Christians even weirder. Vanessa’s floating through life because her sweetie is just a “precious memory,” and she sure wishes she could touch and hold this person again. Tonight.

None of those are the worst feelings, I suppose, but they definitely seem one-sided. Vanessa has no idea if Precious ever thinks of her, and her person has probably moved on. I worry for Vanessa, who seems to have lost all sense of independent self. She needs some hobbies, other than whatever drugs are making her forget how gravity works.

The bridge is the worst part here: “I don’t want to let you go, I drown in your memory, I don’t want to let this go.” The pronoun switch shows a literal objectification: “you” turn to “this” over time, as Vanessa’s obsession is not even with a person but with the feeling that person produces for her. It also sounds like a protest, as if someone else in her life is telling her to let go, to move on. No, Vanessa insists, she will choke and die on this unrequited affection.

In the end, this song is kind of sad and pitiful, but not actually all that harmful. It’s a nice outlet for a freshly broken heart, before you decide that, yes, you do want to let this go. Or at least spend some time with someone you can both see and touch.

It’s still a fucking weird choice for a worship band, though.

Introducing #LoveSongs!

I’m so excited to debt this new project, and I hope you’re gonna be into it too!

Here’s the deal: we all know that almost all the songs in the world are about love going well or love gone wrong. We listen to them all the time, from childhood. For years, I’ve wanted to look at the actual ideas about relationships that love songs teach. We all know that some songs are super-rapey (and ignore how creepy other songs are), but we don’t always spotlight the songs that are full of good consent and good boundaries. I’m gonna do both of those things here.

Come back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a brand-new #LoveSongs, and I hope you enjoy the first one! If you’ve got a favorite song you want to see here, leave a request in the comments or shoot me an email.