Love and romance have been inspiring musicians ever since there were musicians around to be inspired. They are subjects that have fascinated artists since the very beginnings of the art form – the Greek lyric poet Sappho (arguably the world’s first ever singer-songwriter) wrote about little else, and that same obsession has continued from classical antiquity right into the modern day.
Now they hold a standing not unlike that of salt and pepper – just as those ever reliable seasonings hold mastery over the world of condiments, love and romance still dominate the content of much of our music. Picking just five tracks from this impossibly rich seam is a task of Herculean proportions – but this is Venue, and we were determined to give it a go.
First up on the list is the glorious ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’. Even if its legacy was nearly wrecked by an atrocious Diana Ross cover (that spoken word section…) the original Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell version is well deserving of its place on any list of great love songs. With that unmistakeable intro (from legendary Motown session band The Funk Brothers) leading into Gaye and Terrell’s now iconic duet, it’s a track that has endured the passing of nearly 50 years without losing even a touch of its infectious appeal. If you can listen to that chorus without singing along, then you probably aren’t human.
Staying firmly in that soul vein, our next nomination is Ben E. King’s sublime ‘Stand By Me’. Even if this number boasts less of the glitter and glamour of the previous star-studded composition, this is indisputably another masterpiece from the golden age of soul. While it’s not quite the omnipresent musical touchstone that Gaye and Terrell’s offering has now become, the groove and thrum of that double bass intro is still instantly recognisable. King’s vocals, at times elated, at others pained and choked, are the highlight moment of one of the most evocative voices of the 60s.
When Dolly Parton released ‘Jolene’ as the lead single and title track of her 1973 LP it was met with near universal praise – even making it onto Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’. That’s not the version that’s made it onto our list though – we’ve gone with its darker, scarier cousin, the cover penned by The White Stripes. The reason? Because for all its catchy rhythm, Parton’s jaunty version just doesn’t sound pained enough – not considering the lyrical content. When you hear those same lyrics fed through White’s fraught and fragile windpipe, it’s an emotion you can believe in.
Our next nomination takes us across the channel for the first time – to Will Ozanne’s wet and rainy London, specifically. Released under his Gang Colours moniker, the beautiful ‘Why Didn’t You Call?’ is a much underrated gem. Telling the story of a fruitless exchange of phone numbers, Ozanne paints a heartrending scene with lines full of subtle, evocative suggestion, laid over his trademark scatter of drumbeats and plaintive piano melodies. It’s the lyrics, though – always a touch vague – that showcase Ozanne’s genius – there’s an ambiguity that allows the listener to involve themselves with the track, filling in the gaps with details of their own invention.
This list has fluctuated wildly from joyous celebration one second, to desperate angst the moment after – and we finally complete this downward trajectory into melancholy dejection with Yeah Yeah Yeahs 2003 track ‘Maps’ . This song (titled as an acronym for ‘My Angus Please Stay’) narrates the breakup of lead singer Karen O with her then boyfriend, and is one of the most touching songs of recent years. Karen O despairingly laments that “they don’t love you like I love you,” but her repeated exhortations are ultimately doomed. Such a track is far removed from Gaye and Terrel’s happy-go-lucky number, but this track is remarkable for the tangible emotion layered upon every word – watch the video online, and you’ll see Karen O shed real, unlplanned tears during filming.
Any list of just five tracks could never dream to make everyone happy – we hope that this one has something for everyone.