Ahh, June … the month when spring stretches into summer, the sun yawns later each evening, marigolds blossom, and troubadours pen odes to their sweethearts. But for all the picnics and poetry, sometimes musicians profess their love in less, um, healthy ways — like slick-talking them into staying for another drink, or spying from the bushes as they come home. Thus, we present 12 songs for the angry, threatening, calculating, or desperate romantic in all of us. (Well, some of us.)
And don’t forget to listen along! Check out this whole mix for a limited time at the Wordsworth Muxtape.
1. Death Cab for Cutie – “I Will Possess Your Heart”
For all its 8 minutes of stalker glory, this single off Death Cab’s new Narrow Stairs is sparse on words — but then again too much singing will get you discovered if you’re peering through a night-lit window at a would-be lover.
2. The Decemberists – “We Both Go Down Together”
Colin Meloy’s tale of prince-and-peasant romance isn’t quite the star-crossed situation we first expect. Though the couple is sneaking around behind hubby’s aristocratic parents, he has his “tattooed tramp” almost incarcerated in the relationship. As they consummate: “I laid you down on the grass of a clearing / You wept but your soul was willing.” These descriptions (plus the bonus of working “veranda” into a rhyme) remind us that it’s not all Romeos and Juliets in Verona.
3. The Old Ceremony – “God Said I Could Have You”
The wordplay of The Old Ceremony’s Django Haskins can at times straddle Colin Meloy’s time-traveling narratives and Tom Waits’ decrepit characters. “God Said I Could Have You” doesn’t dance around the issue much, but Haskins really gets down to business toward the end with this nice couplet:
If you come for answers, you’ll have to wait in line
But if you come for earthly things, I’ll show you a good time
4. Fiona Apple – “Fast as You Can”
Apple fires one hell of a warning shot for potential suitors: “My pretty mouth will frame the phrases that will disprove your faith in man.” The song is full of similar portents, but the best part is that all this advice has just one purpose: to make her hunt more exciting.
5. Etta James – “Seven Day Fool”
A rarity on this list of aggressors, Etta James plays the victim on this one. She’s literally on her knees, scrubbing floors and doing the laundry to please her man. All we have to say is, Etta, you really didn’t have to.
6. Four Tops – “Bernadette”
More than any other Motown group, the Four Tops reveled in minor keys. “Bernadette” joins singles like “Standing in the Shadows of Love” and “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” offering some ballast for all that “sugar pie, honey bun” candy. And when Levi Stubbs finally screams, “I need you to live!” it’s pretty damn believable.
7. Elvis Costello – “Hand in Hand”
In the second verse of this hate letter (just one of dozens in Costello’s catalog), the singer poses as a kind of thug who has his henchmen out “changing someone’s facial design.” So when he tells his girl, “you can’t show me any kind of hell that I don’t know already,” he’s steeling himself for taking the both of them down in flames.
8. Radiohead – “All I Need”
Arguably the centerpiece of In Rainbows, Thom Yorke imagines himself as a helpless animal, even a pest. He’s a dog trapped in a hot car; he’s a moth hovering close for warmth. Meanwhile the anticipation and imminence of the line, “I am the next act waiting in the wings,” makes it one of Radiohead’s sexiest songs.
9. The Mountain Goats – “Distant Stations”
I waited for you, but I never told you where I was
John Darnielle is so absorbed in being alone, waiting for a lover to discover him, he spends nearly half the song describing a rock he found outside his motel room. He waits everywhere, praying, watching the scenery, and singing “songs from nowhere.” In the end, when he’s at his love’s door and a car pulls up, it scares him into the bushes — and we’re left to wonder if he was expecting an empty house.
10. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – “I Put a Spell on You”
“I don’t care if you don’t want me / I’m yours right now,” Hawkins sings in perhaps the quintessential creepy love song. It’s believed that this track gave the blues singer his title “Screamin’,” and we’re hard-pressed to disagree.
11. Dean Martin – “Baby It’s Cold Outside”
Another classic, this two-minute conversation is practically an exercise in sleaziness. Sweet-talking Dean Martin lays line after line, trying to get his lady friend to stay just a bit longer (or more). And while he’s no doubt smiling, Martin’s almost using scare tactics, warning about nasty weather and even pneumonia. But the highlight, almost covered by the orchestra, is the girl’s line, “Say, what’s in this drink?” Did Dean just slip her a Mickey?
12. The White Stripes – “Take, Take, Take”
Rag-and-bone bluesman Jack White sees 1940s sex symbol Rita Hayworth in a bar, and soon enough a friendly hello turns into asking for an autograph, a photo, a kiss on the cheek, and even a lock of hair. White’s lyrics are best when they’re short, tight, and structured, in songs like “Little Room” and “Effect and Cause,” and here his words are tailor-fitted to the song’s blues format. And even though it sounds like he’s halfway to making a voodoo doll, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for the flabbergasted fanatic when he sings, “It’s almost as if she could not appreciate how cool I was being!”