Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Stephin Merritt Playlist

Now that Distortion, the new Magnetic Fields record, is finally in stores, I thought it might be fun to include, much like I did for Bob Dylan, the Stephin Merritt playlist that I have been assembling and improving ever since I got my ipod.

The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs remains my all-time favorite record, and thus my playlist is heavily built around it. In addition, there is a lot of stuff from The 6th's Hyacinths and Thistles on here as well. Hyacinths and Thistles, a criminally underrated record, has a very similar musical sensibility as 69 Love Songs and also features "You you you you you," my favorite Stephin Merritt track. The one quibble I can see is arising is with my only having one track from Charm of the Highway Strip. I'm not sure why it is, but playing this record always seems to make me depressed. It starts off sad with "Lonely Highway" and just goes downhill from there.

Anyway, here are the tracks (with selected commentary). Somehow I decided that 40 was a good, solid number for this mix, which is probably a little dumb considering that I've made it just about impossible to put on a cd for someone. Regardless, 40 it is. Give me an email if you think I've made some sort of egregious error, whether it be one of inclusion or track listing (all songs are by The Magnetic Fields unless listed otherwise):

1. Absolutely Cuckoo (69 Love Songs, Vol. 1) I knew that this record was meant for me as soon as I heard the hilarious fatalism in the first verse of the first track (Don't Fall in Love With Me Yet/We've Only Recently Met/True I'm in Love With You, But/You Might Decide I'm a Nut/Give me a Week or Two to/Go Absolutely Cuckoo). This is kind of a litmus test song for The Magnetic Fields. If you hear this song and think it's funny or true or what have you, you'll probably love this band. Conversely, if you're put off by the sentiment and darkness of this song, this probably won't be your kind of band. (mp3)

2. Strange Powers (Holiday) Funny, with great lyrics and a upbeat and catchy sound. An ideal "take it up a notch" song for a playlist. (mp3)
3. You you you you you [The 6ths] (Hyacinths and Thistles) As I said above, this is probably my favorite Merritt-penned song. The lyrics are about as happy as he ever gets and the song is backed by an incredibly pleasing harp-sounding instrument (ok, fine, so I don't actually know what the instrument is). (mp3)
4. Busby Berkeley Dreams (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3) An extremely affecting look at the way in which we romanticize our past, especially when it comes to old relationships. The opening lines ("I should have forgotten you long ago/But you're in every song I know") still sting me when I hear them.
5. Ukulele Me! [Stephin Merritt] (Showtunes)

6. I Die (I)
Even though Merritt's voice is about as deep as you'll hear in pop music, there are times, especially on this song, where I really think he succeeds at sounding kind of tender. The lyrics, however, easily undercut anything sweet you might have expected to go along with that tenderness.
7. A Pretty Girl Is Like ... (69 Love Songs, Vol. 1)

8. Wi' Nae Wee Bairn Ye'll Me Beget (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3) A classic example of the very, very funny side of Stephin
Merritt's songwriting. If there's a better parody of Irish folk songs, I'd love to hear it.
9. He Didn't [The 6ths] (Hyacinths and Thistles) Bob Mould's singing on this track, especially on the line "I'll make only sunny weather for you"
is a perfect example of how good Merritt is at matching the right singer to the right song.
10. I Don't Believe You (I) "So you quote 'love' unquote me
" is such an amazing opening line. It's not only funny, it instantly hooks the listener into the song's story as well.
11. Please Stop Dancing (Distortion) My favorite song off of Distortion (so far).
I almost feel like I'm cheating because this one has as little "distortion" on it as any other track on the album.
12. Epitaph For My Heart (69 Love Songs, Vol. 2)

13. It's A Crime (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3)

14. When You're Old And Lonely (Get Lost) This is just the kind of bitter song I couldn't get enough of in college. Does it matter that I was too young to know what it meant to be bitter?
15. The Death Of Ferdinand De Saussure (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3) EVERYBODY ON THE PLANET loves the handclaps that come after "I'm just a great composer
" line on this track.
16. Lonely Highway (The Charm of the Highway Strip)

17. Shall We Sing a Duet? [Stephin Merritt] (Showtunes) I don't go back to the Showtunes album very often, but it has a lot of nice songs like this that come and go in less than a minute and slip really well onto playlists
18. Meaningless (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3)

19. I Wish I Had An Evil Twin (I)

20. Yeah! Oh, Yeah! (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3) My favorite Claudia Gonson song, without a doubt. The (very dark) lyrics were acted out by Merritt and Gonson
when I saw them, with predictably hilarious results. (mp3)
21. Too Drunk To Dream (Distortion)
22. For We Are The King Of The Boudoir (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3) Another very funny track, this time working in the style of, it appears, a Renaissance song. It appears there is no better style in which to hide some phenomenally arrogant lyrics ( "One kiss from me and you'll be overjoyed and overawed/One kiss from me and you'll see God"
23. All I Want To Know (Pieces of April)

24. I Think I Need A New Heart (69 Love Songs, Vol. 1) One of the classic "upbeat melody/depressing lyrics" songs and a great song about miscommunication
in relationships and the fear of saying what you really want to say.
25. Desert Island (Holiday)

26. Three-Way (Distortion)

27. The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side (69 Love Songs, Vol. 1) An absolutely perfect song (how's that for analysis!). The peak near the end (when Dudley Klute sings the "Want to go for a riiiiiiide
" line for the last time and holds the note for about 20 seconds) never ceases to amaze.
28. Heather Heather (Pieces of April)
The Pieces of April soundtrack doesn't have a lot of new stuff on it, but the new tracks that appear on there, three of which are on this list, are almost all gems.
29. As You Turn to Go (Hyacinths and Thistles)

30. We Are The Gothic Archies [The Gothic Archies] (A Tragic Treasury: Songs From A Series Of Unfortunate Events)

31. Dreams Anymore (Pieces of April)

32. A Chicken With It's Head Cut Off (69 Love Songs, Vol. 2)
This song was the one that made me check out the Magnetic Fields when I was in college, after I had been told that the lyrics of this song basically described be to a "t." Not altogether flattering, and not altogether wrong.
33. The One You Really Love (69 Love Songs, Vol. 1)
34. If There's Such A Thing As Love (I)
Another upbeat Magnetic Fields song. They tend to come around so rarely on their records that when they do they seem wildly, disproportionately upbeat.
35. 100000 Fireflies (The Wayward Bus / Distant Plastic Trees)

36. Abigail, Belle Of Kilronan (69 Love Songs, Vol. 2) Of the many "war songs" on 69 Love Songs, this is my favorite. It manages to be funny, heartfelt, and even kind of patriotic at the same time!
37. With Whom To Dance? (Get Lost)

38. Torn Green Velvet Eyes (Holiday)

39. Asleep And Dreaming (69 Love Songs, Vol. 2)
My friends Tim and Christine danced to this at their wedding; if you can find someone that thinks this is the kind of song to dance to a wedding, you've probably found the right someone.
40. Waltzing Me All the Way Home [The 6ths] (Hyacinths and Thistles)
Oh, Odetta. She always sounds, even on her early stuff, like she's 120 years old. Her beautiful and deep voice gives this song the perfect gravity for a playlist closer.


Todd said...

Josh, stop whatever it is you're doing, and go buy The 6th's Wasp's Nests right now. Order it from Amazon, download it off iTunes, dig it out of your local record store used bin. It's easily Stephin Merritt's best non-Magnetic Fields effort (better than a few MF albums, even). Standout tracks include "San Diego Zoo," "Falling out of Love (With You)" (sung by Galaxie 500/Luna's Dead Wareham), "In the City in the Rain" (sung by Sebadoh's Lou Barlow), "Heaven in a Black Leather Jacket," and at least three others. You'll thank me later.

Great list, by the way. While I feel some of my favorite albums are underrepresented, he's written so many songs in so many styles that there's bound to be startling divisions among Stephin Merritt fans.

agingsnob said...

I second the WASP'S NEST purchase suggestion/order. And you can then give it to me.

Also, "Lovers from the Moon" and "Smoke and Mirrors" and "Why I Cry" should be on here, but I guess that would make it my list and not yours. Get Lost and Wayward Bus are underrepresented, but again, it's YOUR list, not mine, so I guess that's ok. Oh and I really like "California Girls" from Distortion too.

Josh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josh said...

What am I missing about "California Girls"? It doesn't do anything for me for some reason. Plus, Sasha Frere-Jones likes it, which makes me especially wary.

I'll pick up Wasp's Nests, though, for sure.

Rosemary said...

No "Give Me Back My Dreams"? No "Book of Love"? Hmph.