valentine’s day in our house is a lot like new year’s eve: sometimes we feel like celebrating, sometimes we don’t. when we do, it’s usually because we’ve recently realised that we missed our anniversary (which falls just before new year’s eve…), and we should do something… k* and i feel that rather than blowing the bank on one day of the year, we actually try to show each other love through our everyday actions. so this valentine’s day, since we did miss our anniversary again, we’ll celebrate by opening a good bottle of red wine, making a charcuterie plate, and watching the first few episodes of season two of Treme, which we haven’t got around to watching yet. most likely in our comfy pj’s with a cozy blanket. no biggie.
for me,valentine’s day serves as a reminder to appreciate k*, rather that a obligation to spend money and put on a big to-do. so when i started to see posts about the best love songs for valentine’s day, this is the list that came to my mind as a kind of anti-valentine’s list… i can’t help it, i’ve got a pretty dark sense of humour… plus, they’re all really great songs.
Little Miss Higgins :: Frankie
i found six recordings of “Frankie” (also known as “Frankie and Albert” or “Frankie and Johnny/Johnnie”) on my hard drive including versions by Mississippi John Hurt, Mance Lipscomb, Bob Dylan, and Charlie Patton. the song is said to be rooted in a real life story, though there is disagreement on which it is based on…little-known Miss Higgins has a great big voice that goes oh so well with her vintage guitar tone and old-school style.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy :: Molly Bawn
as with many other traditional songs, “Molly Bawn” has several different name variations, such as “Polly Bawn”, “Molly Brown”, and “Molly Vaughan”. there have been 88 different versions of the song documented. it was originally a traditional gaelic song. here, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy performs it live in Edinburgh with Harem Scarem and Alex Neilson.
Townes Van Zandt :: Marie
if you haven’t heard “Marie” before, i guess i’ve given away the plot twist by putting it on this list… this was one of Townes Van Zandt’s later songs, showing that the well sure didn’t run dry. depressing as hell, but he tells a vivid story. images run through my head with each verse like the song had an accompanying movie. one of the best storytellers ever.
Mark Lanegan :: Little Sadie
i’m a sucker for a deep voice, which is probably why i picked this version for the list. Dylan’s also got a great recording of this song, but i like Lanegan’s emphatic guitar on this one.
Bob Dylan :: Barbara Allen
“Barbara Allen” isn’t just a song, it’s a three century-long story. Bob’s version is still the best i’ve heard, though i’ve heard many versions of this song… Bob Dylan has also recorded “Pretty Polly”, “Little Sadie”, and “Frankie and Albert”. the man knows a good (murder) ballad.
Uncle Sinner :: Pretty Polly
i have two favourite versions of “Pretty Polly”. Dock Boggs did a fantastic rendition of it in the 1960s for the Folkways Recordings. Uncle Sinner’s recording is very similar, but i love the new century feel. the deep vocals and the stomp add to the darkness of the song’s content, but is balanced well with the lovely mandolin.
Frank Fairfield :: Ruthie
this song sounds like it could be one of the oldest of the bunch, but “Ruthie” was indeed written in the 21st century. Frank Fairfield’s talent and passion for old American music is commendable. he has a way of transmitting that passion through his performance in even the quietest, gentlest of songs. like this one.
any dead lover songs you would add to the list? let me know! leave a comment below…
- Album Preview: Mark Lanegan Band’s Blues Funeral (kexp.org)
- Frank Fairfield (mllr.wordpress.com)
- Bonny Barbara’s Ballad (lizziebeth94.wordpress.com)