For the lovers and the lonely: Valentine's Day Special Edition
The day is nigh. Valentine’s day, Saint Valentine’s Day, the Feast of the Valentine, “Valentimes” Day, V-Day — regardless of its many iterations, February 14th is both interpersonally and commercially accepted as the day of love. Unfortunately, love, in the romanticized context of this holiday we’re addressing, seems to carry binary implications — you’re either in it, or you’re out of it. In other words, on this day you could be feeling wholly in love, embracing the pinks and reds and boxes of chocolates, or you could be feeling incredibly alone, torn between your desire for affection and your reasonable distaste for everything Valentine-related. With these possibilities in mind, we’ve curated a list of albums you should listen to if you’re feeling either of these two ways today.
Disclaimer: We realize such a list might inappropriately categorize and glorify varying sentiments regarding love and loneliness — forgive us as we submit to the rigid interpretations of these ideas that Valentine’s Day necessitates.
Mike Watkins — Daily Music Editor
For the lovers:
The Essential Dean Martin — Dean Martin
A Valentine’s Day lineup without mention of Dean Martin and his classic hit, “That’s Amore?”
That would be a crime against love.
Luckily, such a misstep is quickly remedied. So, in the name of “true love,” romance and good taste, this writer humbly suggests Dean Martin’s 2014 album compilation, The Essential Dean Martin, as a necessary addition to any playlist this Valentine’s Day.
And really, who does love better than Dean Martin? He even made pizza synonymous with romance, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie / That’s amore.”
With the unyielding winter blast Ann Arbor has been subjected to of late, Martin’s light-hearted forays through love will put anyone in the mood for romance. With songs like “Tik-A-Tee, Tik-A-Tay,” “That’s Amore,” and “Volare,” Martin reminds the world that romance, and Valentine’s Day, is meant to be fun. Even at his most serious in sappy-ballads like “Everybody Loves Somebody” and “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,” nothing feels heavy or overdone. Every one of Martin’s songs celebrates love — even heartache — without the heaviness of many love songs. Martin’s songs are, at their core, full of hope and lightness.
The Essential Dean Martin album has, as the title implies, some of Martin’s most beloved hits. And now, decades later, Martin’s music still maintains its timeless relevance and beauty.
Valentine’s Day isn’t only about romantic love –– it’s also about the relationships and connections between all kinds of people. It can be a celebration of love as a whole, beyond a mere consumer holiday, if you only let it. And no one captures this sentiment as well as Martin does in song.
As Dean Martin eloquently croons in “Everybody Loves Somebody,”
“Your love made it well worth waiting / For someone, like you.”
Madeleine Virginia Gannon — Daily Arts Writer
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill ― Lauryn Hill
Whatever your opinion of her as a person may be, Lauryn Hill is an undeniable musical genius. Her work with the neo-soul group The Fugees cemented this in the pop sphere, but her 1998 debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was the nail in the coffin that thrust her to true critical acclaim. It is a record that fundamentally understands human nature: the ups and downs of life, sadness and joy, and, of course, the inner workings of the thing we call love. Miseducation shows the possibilities of what love can be, in all of its forms. And for that, I believe that the record is the perfect Valentine’s Day soundtrack.
There is a misunderstanding across the board that truly great love songs are just about romantic relationships. Hill challenges this immediately, singing the praises of her love for her child (“To Zion”), for the city in which she grew up (“Every Ghetto, Every City”), and to the world in general (“Everything is Everything”). These songs are almost more profound than the traditionally sappy proclamations of love that listeners may be used to, but Hill even gives that format new legs on tracks like the classic break-up jam “Ex-Factor” and “Nothing Even Matters,” a duet which features similarly talented artist D’Angelo.
But the thing that really drives the genius of Miseducation home is its interludes. The short vignettes into a classroom setting show listeners love from a child’s perspective, as their teacher asks them questions. These visions into the minds of children show the way that our views of love change throughout our lives, shifting from a feeling to a choice and back again. In their young voices, the listener is able to hear what it’s like to have never been in love, to have never been wronged or confused by it. Their perspectives balance Hill’s in a perfect combination of innocence and understanding, one that brings Miseducation to an emotional peak. In this interplay between the two sides of love, the record proves that it is, at its foundation, anything you want it to be.
Clara Scott — Senior Arts Editor
Coming Home — Leon Bridges
You’re with your boo thang. It’s Valentine’s Day. You dim the lights and crack open a bottle of fine wine, filling the atmosphere with an aura of magnetism and attraction. You’re feeling groovy and so is your boo, but you want to raise the stakes and provide the ambiance of an old-fashioned love. What do you throw on the speaker? Coming Home by Leon Bridges.
Coming Home elicits a yearning for the 1950s, a time when “wyd” wasn’t texted at 2 a.m., but when your honey asked you to take a stroll through town in a tailored pair of slacks. This nostalgia is created with a soulful R&B sound that pushes softly towards the pure tenderness of love, while also incorporating horns, “doo-wops,” and the extensive use of words like baby, honey and sweetie pie. Bridges warps listeners back in time with a voice similar to Marvin Gaye or Sam Cooke, yet the modernity behind his 29-year-old sound offers a fresh perspective on soul. The album infuses an archetypal, 1950s Southern love into the 21st century social-media-based relationship landscape; however, it does so with the tenderness of Christian and Southern values at the forefront, leaving the restrictive facets of those belief systems behind. Bridges puts his significant other on a golden pedestal, adorning his love with a current-version of funky, impassioned soul. He revamps soul, and he will revamp your love life too, if you let him.
During the track “Better Man,” Bridges swears he would “swim the Mississippi River” to get back to his honey’s heart. If you would do the same, slap this album on the speaker and show your sweetie pie that your love is an old time, “take you for a milkshake” type of love.
Samantha Cantie — Daily Arts Writer
Foxy Shazam — Foxy Shazam
Foxy Shazam is an unlikely anthem for the not-lonely.
If you were to read the lyrics and guess what this album sounded like, you think of “dark,” “depressing” or even “lonely.” But just a few minutes into the record and it’s clear those words couldn’t be further from the truth. Foxy Shazam is oozing with excitement, and vocalist Eric Nally delivers his insecure lyrics with unmatched confidence.
There’s a paradox in the social landscape of young people today: We are attracted to confidence, but find comfort in a shared sense of anxiety. We are socialites that constantly over-share our daily lives, but the foundation of our humor is self-deprecation. We feel lonely, but that loneliness brings us together. Foxy Shazam is the musical manifestation of this paradox. It’s a bundle of worry and fear dressed in passion and charisma — a dress that life demands we wear when we feel worried and afraid. Foxy Shazam wears it well, with orchestral flair that might be the musical equivalent to makeup and high heels.
Relatability unites listeners on this album, making it a record best enjoyed with company. “Count Me Out” is lyrically a dreary outlook on love, but the chorus — “If this is what love is all about / You can count me out” — is not meant to be sang alone. Nor is the rebellious chant, “We are unstoppable / No, we can’t be defeated,” on “Unstoppable.” “Wanna-Be Angel” might be the album’s most relatable track, admitting the different faces we put on for others are in fact just masks. The album’s themes strike close to home for many.
There are songs for everyone on Foxy Shazam, and by that I mean this album is literally for everyone. It’s an album for the people, a grandiose celebration of our insecurity. So this Valentine’s Day, whether you and your Tinder date both had self-deprecating jokes in your bios, or you and your single friends just need to jam, do it to the tune of Foxy Shazam.
Dylan Yono — Daily Arts Writer
Modal Soul — Nujabes
If you are lucky enough to not be lonely this Valentine’s Day, you might be looking for some music to soundtrack your experience. If so, Modal Soul, an album of jazz-hop, dreamy dance music, and soulful soundscapes, is for you. Released in 2005 by the late Nujabes, it manages to not sound dated in the slightest after almost 15 years. His ability to make the artificial feel even more real and profound than the natural is matched only by J Dilla: “Reflection Eternal” possesses this quality, fractured but smooth and organic. “Luv Sic Pt. 3” is a nonpareil hip-hop masterpiece, capturing the highs and lows of love in a way that has the genre has yet to match.
Nujabes is the producer, relying upon a collection of guests to deliver verses over the non-instrumental tracks. The guest verses, while varying in quality, feel like a collection of vignettes; they are all the more impactful for their slightly-amateurish feeling.
When you listen to Modal Soul, you cannot help but be reminded of the hidden beauty in our world that is all too easy to overlook. It is an album for appreciating where you are in life — right here, right now. It is profoundly soulful, somehow colored in a way that makes it feel like its own universe. It carries the same feeling of being out-of-place, the feeling that there is nothing that could possibly more important than your current experience, brought by being with someone you care deeply about.
Jonah Mendelson — Daily Arts Writer
I Want You — Marvin Gaye
There are albums about sex and then there’s Marvin Gaye’s I Want You. Ripe with provocation as jazz interludes slowly drip down the back of smoothly upbeat melodies, Gaye’s voice is sticky sweet on top of it all — the album is commonly referred to as the “Janis” record, a testament to all the passion Gaye had for his wife. It is nearly impossible to listen to this album and not feel its heat. “I can’t wait to touch you / Give you that feeling / Eat you up my dear,” he says in “Soon I’ll Be Loving You Again” with an unabashed yearning that burns.
I Want You was the first project recorded in Gaye’s personally designed studio space, and its creation was a largely social affair. Surrounded by important memorabilia and family members who would drop in and out, the recording process became as intimate as the album itself, personability and warmth infusing themselves into the notes. I Want You isn’t meant to be listened to when one feels especially lonely. In order to fully understand the album’s impact, one has to embrace the love manifested in every honeyed croon and in every languid melody. One has to imagine serenading the person they love most as Gaye oftentimes did, turning to sing lyrics directly to Janis, both of them oftentimes running to the apartment complex resting above the studio in order to “express some of the passion [Gaye] was putting down on the record in real time.”
Shima Sadaghiyani — Daily Arts Writer
For the lonely:
Lovely Little Lonely — The Maine
I’m going to be blunt here: The Maine deserve so, so much better. The 1975 are out here writing bullshit pseudo-romantic reflections about the fucking internet netting them headlining positions on festivals, while The Maine, albeit still selling out decent sized rooms, maybe receive half the recognition. It’s infuriating because The Maine released a record in 2017 that is an absolutely (and objectively!) flawless examination of love and loneliness. That record is Lovely Little Lonely, a perfect balancing of the lovely and the lonely in relationships.
On opener “Don’t Come Down,” the band expertly sets the album’s tone with a pre-chorus declaring, “To the lows and every high / The hellos and the goodbyes / In this moment, I could die with you.” The highs are here, intricate portraits of intimacy, but the lows are bitingly universal. “Do You Remember? (The Other Half of 23)” almost sneaks by as one of the highs before you first hear vocalist John O’Callaghan declare, “We said forever / forever ago / Do you remember?” Ouch.
Because this is an album largely focused on nostalgia, I figured Lovely Little Lonely leans a little more into the “lonely” category here, but if anything, it’s an album about love. Love in all of its forms — intimacy, perfect memories, a failure of words to even accurately capture love. Most of all, The Maine have captured the uncertainty of love, constantly questioning our emotions, but always asserting their validity: “To all the dearly depressed and broken hearted / The in-betweens and all the torn ones too / You're not alone in how you're feeling / I wonder why nobody is asking you.”
What a perfectly lovely and perfectly lonely mess we’ve gotten ourselves into by being human.
Dominic Polsinelli — Daily Arts Writer
The Very Best of Patsy Cline — Patsy Cline
When it comes to heartbreak, no genre does it better than classic country. Whenever the opening twangs of the banjo sound, reality melts away. Suddenly, you’re sitting at the end of a lonely bar, a glass of whiskey in hand and a jukebox playing in the night.
What screams heartbreak better than the mournful pang of a guitar? What encompasses the weight of grudging solitude than the lonesome, country warble? And who puts to words the whirlwind of heartache better than the queen of country herself, Patsy Cline?
So this year, to “celebrate” one of Hallmark’s favorite holidays, break out Patsy Cline’s 1963 album The Very Best of Patsy Cline. A compilation of some of Cline’s greatest hits, this is the perfect record for everyone and anyone this Valentine’s day.
Feeling lonely, but don’t want to sit around moping? Patsy Cline has got you covered –– her songs, while largely about lost love, often are characterized by a jaunty, upbeat vibe. Songs like “Heartaches” merely play pretend at being lonesome. One could almost imagine Cline sitting on a beach, margarita in hand, saucily singing of her horrible, oh-so-terrible bad turn of luck.
Want to indulge in some heart-wrenching ballads and satisfying drama? Take a turn with “She’s Got You,” “Crazy,” and “I Fall to Pieces.” Patsy Cline’s tormentingly beautiful ballads could coax a few tears even from the toughest, coldest hearts of stone.
But perhaps the most fitting Valentine’s day song on the entire album is the classic “Walkin’ After Midnight.” The song, while mourning lost love, is anything but pitiful or self-deprecating. Cline’s voice is clear and strong, adding an edge of defiance to her crooning.
Somehow, Cline manages to package the complexity of heartache without feeling sorry for herself. Cline is never anything but herself.
So, if you’re still looking for love, why not fall in love with Patsy Cline this Valentine’s? I promise she won’t stand you up.
Madeleine Virginia Gannon — Daily Arts Writer
Donuts — J Dilla
Hip hop typically isn’t considered a solitary genre. On any given song, a rapper might work with a number of other rappers, producers and engineers. The process takes an entire team to manufacture radio smash-hits and underground classics, so it is unique when artists create entire albums by themselves. J Dilla was one of these unique artists.
J Dilla, the man behind songs like “Runnin” by The Pharcyde and “Stakes is High” by De La Soul, was a prolific producer (and occasional rapper), claimed by many to be the most influential producers of all time. Dilla beats have a certain air about them. It’s almost like they have a soul, like they live and breathe to fit each listener.
In an interview with Amoeba Records, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’s Flea said J Dilla’s Ruff Draft brought tears to his eyes when he listened to the album walking through Big Sur by himself. This is noteworthy because Ruff Draft, typically considered to be buoyant, almost goofy album, affected Flea in such a way that he was reduced to tears. This same sentiment could be applied to any of Dilla’s albums because J Dilla was able to give his music a sound that was uniquely his, a sound that all listeners could appreciate in their own way.
During the creation of Donuts, Dilla was on his deathbed. He was alone in the sense that only he knew the struggles he was enduring. While he was in the hospital, all he had was his sampler, record player and himself. He translated his solitary struggle into an album, something that everyone could understand.
Because the entire album is looped, listeners can begin at any song and have their own experience with Donuts, based on how they prefer to listen to it. By the time the album is complete, they will be right back where they started, having heard the beauty that came from the tragedy of Dilla’s struggle. This is why Donuts, Ruff Draft and all of Dilla’s work should be listened to alone. Without a team, J Dilla had the freedom to put exactly what he envisioned into practice. His songs were crafted by him alone and made for people to listen to alone, so they may experience the same catharsis he did.
Jim Wilson — Daily Arts Writer
Geidi Primes — Grimes
I spent a lot of winter break driving. At the time, my parents had just moved to a small city right off the edge of the freeway. In the gray monochrome of late-December Michigan skies, the unfinished neighborhoods and gnarled, marshy terrain surrounding my new home were sacred and ghostly things. They were unfamiliar to me, and I to them, so I found myself behind the wheel more days than not, alone and letting my mind wander, in order to try to establish some kind of recognition with the streets around me. The only album that seemed appropriate to listen to in those quiet moments of self-reflection in my car, as landmarks I didn’t acknowledge flickered by, was Grimes’s debut album, Geidi Primes.
Armed with warped melodies and spectral falsettos, Geidi Primes exudes an almost otherworldly air of menace. Take opener “Caladan,” piano chords rippling out like an unstoppable flood into the airy manifestation of the lyrics: “We all haunt in the sky at night.” It reads as a premonition for the rest of the album, as stark and transcendental as the surface of the moon.
There is not a single component of Geidi Primes that doesn’t embody some type of loneliness. Guitar chords carefully pick their way through a mist of of disembodied string melodies like long-legged cranes. Synths splay out like stars in the night sky, hundreds upon hundreds of light years away. Vocals are as formless and as distant as the clouds that etch themselves across the sky at sundown. “Where are you my darling?” she asks in “Venus in Fleurs,” voice as solemn as a funeral procession, layered chords rattling bare like tree branches standing with stooped shoulders against roads that will never be familiar enough.
Shima Sadaghiyani — Daily Arts Writer
Blonde — Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean curated Blonde in a hefty bout of self-exile, his response to a public that demanded more following Channel Orange. This is fitting; the album encapsulates a variety of emotions across time, never consistently content or misanthropic, not even in-between. It defies genre classification as a seamless blend of bare instrumentals, wispy techno-touched vocals and fragmented commentary. It finds cohesion in such deconstructive energies. This is down to the very title of the album, Blonde, appearing as “Blond” on the album cover, eschewing any specifications of gender or sexuuality. The helium-infused intro track “Nikes” echoes such a sentiment, Ocean hinting “I got two versions” before the vocals deepen for the outro.
Thematically, this album is about social isolation. It follows heartbreak, set backs, failure and confusion with an inscrutable, shaky lens, never distinctly melancholic or wistful. Blonde is an effortless confusion where one can finally recognize their failed interactions with others. You’re seen “like a UFO,” and feel that “it’s quite alright to hate me now.” During “Nights,” the heart of the album, a beat switch-up at the midpoint of the album’s runtime reinforces the theme of duality; Ocean is notably more melancholic here, more straightforward. He’ll tell people “shut the fuck up I don’t want your conversation” and that he’s unapologetically “so low” and “dancing by myself.” But he’s still confused with aspects of his life — whether he’ll settle into expectations of bisexual erasure as discussed in “Seigfried,” or how the bond between him and a lover will unfold once it’s over in “White Ferrari.”
Blonde soundtracks loneliness in its self-awareness, its ability to dig into the complexity of feeling lonely beyond the desire to connect with others. It tears down the barriers we create for ourselves by delving into a zone of self exploration rather than forcing classifications or blaming anyone or anything.
Diana Yassin — Daily Arts Writer
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — The Beatles
It’s admittedly very difficult to write about what is widely considered the greatest album of all time, but I’m going to attempt to do so anyway. The Beatles’ magnum opus Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is precisely what you’d expect from its title — a strange, carefree adventure orchestrated by a fantastical version of the most popular group of best friends ever. What better cure for loneliness than a great set of friends?
While only three tracks on the album are principley tied to this Lonely Hearts gimmick, the band members still manage to curate a magical landscape through which they grant you a tour: John brings you to an acid-ridden circus act on “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite!” George invites you to embrace introspection and the divine on “Within You Without You” and Paul brings it all back down to earth with the lighthearted “When I’m Sixty-Four.”
The album strikes the perfect balance between goofy, relatable, intellectual and self-aware — characteristics that would make for a group of friends primed to make the lonelies disappear. When the final chord of “A Day In The Life” strikes, a strange feeling of comfort and disbelief settles in, as if you’d just touched down in reality after a magnificent adventure through the other-wordly and magical realm of the Beatles at their most complementary and psychedelic.
Mike Watkins — Daily Music Editor