Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs

This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.

October 1, New York: There are exactly 69 love songs in the aptly titled 69 Love Songs and they are a mix of the poppy, the top-tapping, the cute, and the strange. In late college and the years that followed, it seemed everyone I knew had this three disc set hanging out somewhere on their CD rack, and many of these songs were ubiquitous in the cars of friends. Listening this week, it was funny how patchy my familiarity with them is— some of these songs I know completely by heart: “Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side”, “Busby Berkeley Dreams”, “Time Enough for Rocking When We’re Old”. And then there are the ones that are completely foreign (and odd): “Fido, Your Leash is Too Long” or “Love is Like Jazz”. Partly I wonder if this a change in media; when I listened to these it was on three CDs and you made a conscious choice which CD you’d put in. Or if it’s a reflection of the age of the playlist; all of these songs cry out to be removed from their context and wrapped up into a mix CD with some other sweet indie rock tunes for your crush.

At its core, 69 Love Songs is an experiment, a concept album. Wikipedia tells me (which I never knew) that Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields originally conceived of this as a live orchestral revue. And much of the time, it feels like an experiment. Despite “Love is Like Jazz” or “Punk Love”, though, there are some absolutely perfect little pop love songs scattered across these sixty-nine. It’s the great shame of our time that these are not being covered like crazy by teeny crooners the world over.

The most enjoyable part of this listen was stumbling across the songs I just love, the ones that made me grin ear to ear when they came on. “Washington, DC” with its cheerleader bridge— oh how I love to clap along. Or “Reno Dakota” (“you make me blue / Pantone two ninety two”). And possibly the sweetest song on the album to my ears: “Papa Was a Rodeo” (“Home was anywhere with diesel gas / love was a trucker’s hand.”) I can’t remember is anyone danced to this song at their wedding, but I’ve been to a few where they should have.

Buy this album and relive your early aughts with Stephen Merritt and his ragtag band of lovers.

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