Monday, September 7, 2009
10 Years Ago Today: The Magnetic Fields release "69 Love Songs"...
'69 Love Songs' is a three-volume concept album by The Magnetic Fields released in 1999. As its title indicates, the album is composed of 69 love songs, all written by Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt. The album was originally conceived as a music revue. Stephin Merritt was sitting in a gay piano bar in Manhattan, listening to the pianist's interpretations of Stephen Sondheim songs, when he decided he ought to get into theatre music because he felt he had an aptitude for it. "I decided I'd write one hundred love songs as a way of introducing myself to the world. Then I realized how long that would be. So I settled on sixty-nine. I'd have a theatrical revue with four drag queens. And whoever the audience liked best at the end of the night would get paid."
On seven occasions (five in the United States and two in London over four consecutive nights) The Magnetic Fields performed all 69 love songs, in order, over two nights. Several of the lavish orchestrations are more simply arranged when performed live, due to limited performers and/or equipment.
The variety of 69 Love Songs also derives from the many song genres that Merritt raids and filters through his own sensibility. Merritt has said "69 Love Songs is not remotely an album about love. It's an album about love songs, which are very far away from anything to do with love". Some of the genres are obvious, as in the songs "Punk Love", "Love Is Like Jazz", "World Love" and "Wi' Nae Wee Bairn Ye'll Me Beget". Other songs indirectly reference some of Merritt's favorite artists, including Fleetwood Mac ("No One Will Ever Love You"), Cole Porter ("Zebra"), Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark ("Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits"), The Jesus and Mary Chain ("When My Boy Walks Down the Street"), Billie Holiday ("My Only Friend"), and Irving Berlin ("A Pretty Girl is Like...").
Another way of understanding 69 Love Songs is through Merritt's praise of an artist (Laurie Anderson) who "write[s] heartbreaking melodies with words that make fun of heartbreaking melodies." Consider "Yeah! Oh, Yeah!" where Stephin and Claudia, playing jilted lovers modeled closely on Sonny & Cher, sing their complaints to one another, overplaying and overstating their grievances such that their words become garish declarations of woe ("what a dark and dreary life / are you reaching for a knife?") to which the other character isn't really capable of responding but must still follow in tone ("yeah, oh yeah"). The lack of a firm distinction between content (what is sung) and form (the way it is sung) implies that this couple lives and dies by virtue of how persuasively they can sing to one another, and illustrates the persistent Magnetic Fields songwriting device of trapping a character within the conventions or formalities of a genre.
Several of the songs bend genders as well as genres. For example: a man sings "He's going to be my wife" ("When My Boy Walks Down the Street") and "the princess there is me" (Long-Forgotten Fairytale"). Other common themes include place names (e.g. Washington, DC; Lower East Side; North Carolina; Paris; Venice), animals (e.g. bear, goldfish, jellyfish, rabbit, bat, dog, boa constrictor, cockroach), as well as themes common throughout Merritt's work (e.g. the moon, dancing, rain, and eyes).
at 5:58 AM