Top 10 Songs by the Magnetic Fields

Maybe you’ve heard the Magnetic Fields, and maybe you haven’t. If you haven’t yet, maybe you should. You might love them. Then again, maybe you shouldn’t. You might hate them. I’m not going to say that everyone should listen to the Magnetic Fields, that everyone will love them, etc. etc. They are definitely not for everybody. But those that they are for, they’re really for. I guess it’s a you-love-’em-or-hate-’em type of thing. So for those of you not yet familiar with the Magnetic Fields, let me give you an overview:

The Magnetic Fields are a New York based band consisting of three men and one woman. You might recognize their main guy, Stephin Merritt, from other bands, including the 6ths. Though women sometimes sing, it’s mostly Stephin, whose deep voice has been compared to Johnny Cash. The Magnetic Fields are known for their clever, creative, and ironic lyrics and their poppy, sometimes smarmy, tongue-in-cheek Tin Pan Alley sound. Of course, they’re more ecclectic than that, really, and their sound varies in interesting ways. This list I’ve compiled consists soley of songs off of 69 Love Songs, a smart and diverse three CD set of songs about (what else?) love. The beautiful thing about this, really, is that many (perhaps even all) of these songs are funny and witty; however, despite the giddy irony and glib jokes, some of the songs really are beautiful love songs. It’s the best of both worlds. So if you’re still interested, check out the following songs:

1) The Book of Love:
Ah, The Book of Love. This song captures the feeling of love for those who are not so sentimental as to take love too seriously. Mixed among jokes and silliness, and enmeshed in a simple melody sung slowly in a deep voice, there are beautiful lyrics. “The book of love is long and boring, no one can lift the damn thing. It’s full of charts and facts and figures, and instructions for dancing. But I love it when you read to me, and you can read me anything.”

2) Papa Was a Rodeo:
This one is probably my favorite. Sung slowly and deeply (much like Book of Love), this song is a quirky, cute love story about a person who lives an unusual life that is not conducive to romantic endeavors (“I could play guitar and rope a steer before I learned to stand. Home was anywhere with diesel gas, love was a trucker’s hand. Never stuck around long enough for a one night stand…”). In trying to explain this dilemma to the person he has met, he comes to find that this person has had the same type of life. Ah, happy endings! (“What are we doing in this dive bar? How can you live in a place like this? Why don’t we just get into my car, and I’ll take you away, I’ll take that kiss now.”)

3) Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side:
This one is upbeat, fun, and funny. It has a great, catchy melody and lyrics that conjure up images of cruising around town on a warm, sunny spring afternoon. The main gist of it is that the singer is ugly (“I’m the ugliest guy on the Lower East Side”) but because he has a car, he can get the girl every man covets. “I know you’d never give me a second chance, but when the weather is nice all the other guys don’t stand a chance…I’m the luckiest guy on the Lower East Side, ’cause I’ve got wheels and you want to go for a ride.”

4) All My Little Words:
This one is a sad one. Not a breakup song, but a pre-breakup song. A realization of the futility of the relationship song. Though the lyrics are sad and helpless, the tone is overdone and self-effacing. So it’s sad, but it’s not too sad. “You are a splendid butterfly, it is your wings that make you beautiful. And I could make you fly away, but I could never make you stay.”

5) Death of Ferdinand de Saussure:
This one is great. Witty, interesting, quirky, and sincere at points, too. In it, the singer meets Ferdinand de Saussure (a famous Swiss linguist) and overcome with anger at Saussure’s insistence that “we don’t know anything about love,” shoots him. (“I’m just a great composer, and not a violent man, but I lost my composure and I shot Ferdinand.”) Especially clever is the lyric where the singer justifies his actions, saying, “It’s all well and kosher to say you don’t understand, but this is for Holland Dozier Holland…” (Holland Dozier Holland being a team of songwriters who wrote during the Motown era). “You can’t use a bulldozer to study orchids…”

6) You’re My Only Home:
This is one of the few I can think of that is a “true” love song: intense, sweet, and sung without irony (as far as I can tell). Even the tone of this one is appropriately pensive and serious. “I will stay if you let me stay, and I’ll go if you let go, but I won’t go far away, because you’re my only home. And I’ll hide what you want hidden, and I’ll roam if you say roam. But I’d just as soon you didn’t, because you’re my only home.”

7) Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing:
There are quite a few songs about dancing on 69 Love Songs, and they’re all good, so it was hard to pick one. But this one, a sweet, playful song, is my favorite of the dancing songs. Slow and deliberate, it has an old fashioned, overdone sound but still manages to convey the earnest feeling of being with someone in a way that makes everything else around just disappear. “Dance with me, my old friend, once before we go. Let’s pretend the song won’t end and we’ll never have to go home…”

8) I Think I Need a New Heart:
This one is pretty funny. Not really sentimental, or even a love song, really. More like an anti-love song. It might even be kind of sad if it weren’t for the upbeat sound and amusing lines. “Because I always say I love you when I mean turn out the light, and I say let’s run away when I just mean spend the night.”

9) A Pretty Girl is Like:
This one is a smarmy, silly little love song. “A pretty girl is like a violent crime…” Find out why.

10) Underwear:
This one is sexy and simple, with an electronic sound to it. Good for either sex/sexual preference, this song extols the virtues of both pretty girls and pretty boys in their underwear. Oh yeah, and they sing in French. Sweet! “If there’s anything better in this world, who cares?”

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