Valentine’s Day was yesterday, but The A.V. Club is still in the holiday spirit, so we’re asking:
What is a love song you love, despite its creepiness?
The Beatles have always held a special place in my heart. My dad even got an album of The Looney Tunes singing Beatles songs for Christmas one year. (Yes, Bugs & Friends Sing The Beatles actually exists.) While I totally respect their drug-induced creations, I’m most fond of The Beatles’ earlier, poppier offerings. Encapsulating the band’s transition from the latter to the former is 1965’s Rubber Soul, which ends with “Run For Your Life.” At first listen, the song sounds like a pleasant follow-up to “I Saw Her Standing There (She Was Just Seventeen),” but as I grew older I realized the song seems more like it should be sung by You’s controlling protagonist, Joe, than bowl-cut Brits wearing skinny black ties. “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man,” Lennon starts off brightly, as though this should be taken as a compliment. “Baby, I’m determined; and I’d rather see you dead.” A request to hold hands, it is not. But it still has a place on my Beatles playlist.
The Decemberists’ “We Both Go Down Together” is a touching tale about star-crossed lovers who choose to kill themselves rather than be separated, except it’s not. The lyrics don’t try too hard to obfuscate it (“You wept but your soul was willing”), but frontman Colin Meloy has made it clear in recent years that the protagonist of the song is “an asshole and a sociopath” who murders a woman who rejected him. But that “oh, my love, my love” chorus is so sweet! Liking a song about a joint suicide is one thing, but it’s much weirder to like a song about what this is actually about.
Hey, the band’s name is Death Cab For Cutie, so it’s not surprising that they would pen something like “I’ll Follow You Into The Dark,” a love song about being so besotted that you would accompany your beloved straight into an eternal abyss: “No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white / Just our hands clasped so tight, waiting for the hint of a spark.” What makes the song even creepier is how sweet and hypnotic the melody is; also, as a fellow Catholic school survivor, I appreciate the complete dismissal of the church in the second verse. Maybe what really gets me about this song is that my husband used to sing it to our kids when they were little: a devoted yet disturbing lullaby. Guess we shouldn’t be surprised if they become goths by the end of middle school.
Every time I’ve seen John Darnielle in concert, he has openly mocked fans—and there have been many—who’ve asked him, over the years, to play “No Children” at their weddings. It takes a certain naïveté about just how ugly relationships can get to find something charming in The Mountain Goats’ story of a couple finding the pinnacle in self-and-other destruction, begging their partner to leave—or better yet, die—before the whole awful situation can implode. And yet! And yet, there’s something about hearing a whole theater of lovesick fools crooning about drowning “hand in unlovable hand” that gives my battered heartstrings a tug.
When I was tasked with choosing the song for my wife and I’s wedding dance, my running joke was that it’s an impossible task since the only good love songs are about death and/or despair. We eventually landed on a good one (New Buffalo’s “I’ve Got You And You’ve Got Me”), but not before I pitched Majical Cloudz’s “Silver Car Chase,” a swooning and ecstatic ballad that includes the lyrics “I want to kiss you / Inside a car that’s crashing / And we will both die laughing / ’Cause there is nothing left to do.” Morbid, yes, and it was quickly shot down, but the song’s vision of human connection remains pure and earnest enough to make me misty, even after years of spinning it into oblivion.
Girl group music of the 1960s is, in general, fueled by melodrama and adolescent angst: Alongside your usual first loves and breakups, their lyrics are rife with suicide, homicide, car crashes, surfing tragedies, and fiery motorcycle accidents. But the most perverse of all the girl-group songs, and a song I actually feel conflicted about liking, is “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” by The Crystals, a creepy song made creepier by the fact that it was produced by notorious domestic abuser Phil Spector. The song’s deeply twisted premise is that the lead singer’s emotionally stunted abusive boyfriend hits her when she tells him she’s leaving him for somebody else, and with that act of violence expresses all the emotions he can’t put into words. Really the only way to enjoy the song is ironically, while trying not to think of its true inspiration: a remark made by “The Locomotion” singer Little Eva to songwriter Carole King that the bruises her boyfriend (and soon-to-be husband) left on her cheek were proof that “he really loves me.”
When it comes to unhealthy love, it does not get any more concerning and brilliant than Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Committing to a tumultuous relationship and obliterating any sense of standards is definitely not ideal, but damn, Gaga really understood how to fashion untamed desperation into art. The pop power behind “Bad Romance” has an odd way of both bolstering the creepiness with its boisterous chorus and dulling any hesitance to fully indulge by injecting so much theater and fun into its orchestration. If it’s playing in a post office, I’m gonna sing it. If there’s a dance floor, my monster paws are present and accounted for. Will I ever be so drawn to another human being that I will request their “drama,” “horror,” or “all [their] lover’s revenge?” I can’t imagine I will, and I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to devote themselves to me in such a way. But it’s a classic.
Shame is “Across The Sea”’s driving force: The words “I think it would be wrong” are right there in the chorus. But shame didn’t prevent Rivers Cuomo from riding a persistent social media request to the top of Billboard’s alternative chart in 2019, and it sure as hell didn’t keep him from articulating inappropriate thoughts about a faraway fan more than half a decade his junior in 1996. “Across The Sea” is gross, fetishistic, and patronizing toward its subject’s age, nationality, and grasp of the English language. It also totally rips, especially in the surge toward its final chorus, when Cuomo proves he really had the compositional chops to hang with the Harvard kids (though his insecurity about that was another crucial factor in the creation of Pinkerton), and Patrick Wilson pulls out his splashiest drum fills. It’s musical catharsis of the highest order, though I’ve always felt awful singing along with it. But if I didn’t feel awful, why was I even listening to Weezer in the first place?