The late, great Barry White would certainly agree: Music is the
language of love. In addition to communicating sentiments too
grandiose for the spoken word, voluptuous vocals and sultry
saxophones have been known to inspire many a rousing rendezvous.
Unfortunately, the charms of yesterday’s troubadours extend
only as far as the Baby Boomer generation; few people born
post-1975 pop in a Kenny G. album to get the romance rolling.
Today’s generation renounces the tunes that make our mothers
swoon — we want our love songs served up with a lot less
cheese.

Thanks to Hollywood’s endless promotion of
sappy-soundtracked romantic comedies (i.e.
“Serendipity” and “What Women Want”), many
of us are in the dark as to what constitutes a proper love song,
much less a whole album-full of them.

If you’re making a mix for your special someone this
Valentine’s Day, read ahead before you commit musical suicide
and download that Celine Dion song from Titanic. Though putting a
bunch of songs on a CD sounds simple, a set of complex rules
governs the sacred mix-making process. Heed the following and
you’ll present your Valentine with a soundtrack guaranteed to
inspire some serious pitter-patter.

First, decide on your medium. If you don’t enjoy manually
rewinding the spool that always falls out of the tape, make your
mix on CD. Tapes, while having a flavor of authenticity, have a
sub-par sound quality and require a lot of patience. To save
frustration and time, invest in a 99-cent-per-song iTunes
membership, or just engage in some good old-fashioned Internet
piracy on Kazaa.

Once you capitulate to the CD and abandon all hope of using the
mysterious “dub” function on your tape recorder, the
thinking part of the process begins. List all the songs that hold
special meaning for you and your partner. What was playing, either
in the background or in your head, the first time you kissed? Is
there a particular melody that gets you in the mood? Every song
need not be memorable; if you’re partial to Springsteen, for
example, throw on “Atlantic City” for the hell of it.
As long as the songs on the mix fall into one of four categories
— sentimental, romantic, bump-and-grind-inspiring or your
all-time Top 10 — you’re golden.

True to its name, a mix must have variety. Include songs from
different genres to avoid monotony. There’s no shortage of
love songs in most categories, save for gangsta rap and polka
(unless you find either phrases beginning with “bitch”
or accordion music arousing). Venture away from the vanilla and
look beyond pop culture into the under-appreciated genres of soul,
blues, and jazz. Otis Redding’s “These Arms of
Mine,” a pleading, heartfelt ballad, and Santana’s
“Contigo,” an instrumental explosion of fiery guitar,
are songs that will make you want to waltz your partner across the
kitchen floor, even if you have no clue how to waltz.

Another overlooked genre is classic rock, which boasts a bevy of
romantic masterpieces, including two of music’s most romantic
creations. “Something,” by the Beatles, is George
Harrison’s love poem to an anonymous someone. Eric
Clapton’s “Layla,” an ode to friend
Harrison’s then-wife, ends with a breathtaking guitar solo.
Other lesser known gems are “Here, There, and
Everywhere,” a Beatles tune so beautiful that you’ll
want to dance to it at your wedding, and Bob Seger’s
“Night Moves,” a sweet recollection of young lust.

After the song selection has been finalized, it’s time to
arrange. Personal preference should dictate the sequence of the
songs. They can be ordered randomly or according to tempo, with the
faster ones sandwiched in between the ballads. If the mix’s
purpose is to provide music accompaniment to a make-out session,
don’t break up the sensual grooves such as
D’Angelo’s “How Does It Feel” and
“That’s the Way Love Goes,” by the notorious
nipple bearer Janet Jackson with more upbeat numbers. But beware of
making your partner drowsy with too many slow jams in a row; the
point isn’t to induce pillow talk of the mumbling
variety.

The most important factor to consider when arranging songs is
the song’s message. Adhering to the paramount principle,
which is to avoid anything your mom loves, the desired result is to
be sexy without being corny. Sure, Marvin is suave, but do you
really want him calling you “baby” and telling you to
“stop beating ‘round the bush” when you’re
trying to focus? Cringe-worthy innuendo is also ill-advised.
Numbers such as R. Kelly’s “Ignition,”
“Pony” by Ginuwine, and anything by Michael Bolton are
surefire mood-ruiners. Rule of thumb: leave off songs by any artist
who dabbles in kiddie porn, advocates bestiality, or sports a
mullet.

Lastly, have fun with it. There are so many perfect songs to
choose from to express what you want to say. A mix is a gift that
conveys thoughtfulness and appreciation of your shared memories.
Keep the aforementioned guidelines in mind and your mix will be a
personalized musical love-letter that you deliver (with some
chocolate kisses, of course) to your Valentine this February 14th.
If your finger is still itching to download that damn Celine Dion
song, you haven’t learned anything.

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