For the former, Valentine's coincides with all the sappy feelings and optimism a new relationship entails; for the latter, it can be the longest day of your life.
One V-Day tradition is the mix tape, that special blend of songs that simultaneously says "I love you" and "check out my great taste." But why shouldn't the forlorn have their own mix tape, something to pop in the player as they contemplate their lonely fate? So we thought we'd assemble one of each, just a starter's kit, really, relying on some less obvious choices...
Johnny Hartman & John Coltrane/"My One and Only Love" — Every song of their collaboration could make either one of our lists, as wistfulness attends the entire affair. But their gentle interpretation of this classic standard is as pure a musical testament to love as there is. With a two-minute opening solo from Coltrane that ranks among his most touching, this should tell that special someone that they are just as unique and special as this version — which is high praise indeed.
Pansy Division/"Valentine's Day" — Queercore masters Pansy Division always brought it to you, er, straight, even as they proudly flaunted their gayness. One of the band's all-time classics is a cupid-baiter of the first order. Sample lines: "Shiny heart-shaped balloons/Are sentimental, tacky and crude/I don't want flowers anyway/I just want a guy who'll stay/When you're a failure at the chase/No prize for the second runner-up/I want to drink champagne from the winner's cup."
Chet Baker/"My Funny Valentine" — There's a shitload of great versions of this song by Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Costello, to name but a very few. But for this mix CD we decided to go with the classic Chet Baker vocal version. Baker was at the height of his popularity when this song was recorded in the early 50s. Laid to tape before the ravages of drug abuse and hard living turned him into a shell of the man (not to mention trumpeter) he was, his honest and high-pitched voice seemingly suggests that he could care less about it all, even as you also got the hint that behind that façade of cool that he was hiding something that burned very, very hot.
Elliot Smith/"Say Yes" — You don't want too many saccharine offerings on a CD that's hopefully going to be saved for posterity. Few songwriters of our era were better at the sort of balanced honesty one received from the late Elliott Smith. Consider: "I'm in love with the world through the eyes of a girl/Who's still around the morning after/We broke up a month ago and I grew up/I didn't know I'd be around the morning after." As the song draws to a close, Smith makes a last-ditch plea to his lady, and probably himself: "I'll probably be the last to know/No one says until it shows/And you see how it is/They want you or they don't/Say yes." Who could say no?
Al Green/"Tired of Being Alone" — Al Green is one of those rare artists than can vocalize his lovesickness in such a way that it heals — not only himself but the listener as well. Green lays it on the line here, telling his would-be gal that he's had enough of the single life, and won't she be so kind as to reconsider, if only for a night? Who hasn't felt such a sentiment? No one. And that's the exact number of people that could make it sound as beautiful as Green does here.
The Soft Boys/"I Wanna Destroy You" — The Soft Boys classic cut is a rant against, well, pretty much everything, but as a metaphor for the dark side of relationships, you can't top it. With Robyn Hitchock's and Kimberly Rew's twin guitar attack, and a sing-along chorus that demands participation, this one may not bring your loved one back or destroy them, but it'll make you feel great about rock & roll again, the first step on the path to recovery.
Sleater-Kinney/"One More Hour" — Ostensibly the requiem for a relationship between founding members Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, "One More Hour" is not only a musical crusher of the first order, it's also a heart-crusher: "If you could talk/What would you say/For you things were/Just night and day/Take off the dress/Take off the face/I'll hold you close/Before I leave." By the time Tucker closes the song with a tortured and defiant "Don't say another word/About the other girl," you're lucky if you're not crying for one more hour.
Richard Buckner/"Since" — The title track from Buckner's 1999 recording is a weary weeper with an equally weepy pedal steel interlude, and it's sung from the vantage point of a lonely lovelorn barfly (you in other words). "Sometimes I still answer to the gone ghosts/That only suckers make," sings Buckner, perfectly summing up your one-track frame of mind on this day that will never, ever end. Go ahead, have another. Why the hell not?
My Bloody Valentine/"Blown A Wish" — How can you make a Valentine's mix CD and not put My Bloody Valentine on there? And if you're going to put a MBV song on there, why not one from the band's magnum opus, Loveless? All the songs here are pretty much relationship-centric, but none is more weirdly haunting than "Blown A Wish": a love song until the end, it unravels (both musically and lyrically) into what is, depending on your take, the most romantic sentiment possible or possible grounds for a stalker arrest: "Fall apart my bleeding heart/Nothing left to do/Once in love/I'll be the death of you."
Richard Hawley/"The Nights Are Cold" — "Beauty is a dark cloud when you're alone," sings Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley in his loneliest baritone, and if that doesn't get ya, the equivalent reverb of a dozen empty arenas on his wonderful full-length debut, Late Night Final, should give you a good case of existential angst regardless.