14 Best Valentine’s Day Songs for Wherever You Find Yourself
From day 1, my incredibly independent mother raised me to believe that Valentine’s Day was just some silly consumerist holiday that we shouldn’t have to feel obligated to give a shit about. Love should be a thing that permeates our every day, and giving any one particular day more credence than others is just initiating a whole lotta ‘merican money-grubbing.
And I mean like, as I’ve gotten older, I both agree and couldn’t care less. Silly holidays like these are ultimately what you make them, sociocultural pressure be damned. I’ve “celebrated” Vally Day with partners, friends, and my own damn self, and ultimately, it doesn’t make any difference beyond how good or bad of a day I have.
So, in the spirit of celebrating love and not giving a damn about the labels you may or may not find yourself currently occupying, here are some songs I think you should play on rotation this coming February 14. Live your life, do your thing, do whoever consents with enthusiasm.
1. “Fall in Love,” Slum Village
I wanted to lead with this song, because the feelings evoked by the beat and the vocals are kind of separate things. The beat is produced by J Dilla, one of the most evocative mixers of our time, and he really pulls through with this song in recreating how falling in love feels, with the beat alone—that molasses-like feeling, in particular.
The lyrics, though, speak to a larger scope than simply falling in love with a new person. They speak to a general love with the life you lead, warts and all. The chorus is thus:
To fall in love
With the things you do
Don’t sell yourself
To fall in love
With those things you do
2. “Cocoon,” Björk
There’s been a lot of good songs about sex out there, but this one, I think, takes the cake. “Cocoon” is a highly sensual song both in tone and production, with the sticky, electric sounds raising the hairs on your neck, and Björk’s breathy singing evoking a very specific state of being.
At its core though, this is just a gorgeous song about discovering the joys of intimacy with someone new. It’s cozy and comfortable, while also carrying an electricity to it. And the lyrics? Oh, lord, the poetry that comes from this woman.
3. “uuu,” Field Medic
Those averse to sickly-sweet songs might want to skirt around this one, but for everyone else, get on in here like flies to a honey trap. Field Medic is one of my absolute favorite modern folk artists, and this song makes my teeth hurt from how achingly doting it is.
Sometimes people stray away from how they really feel when they meet someone new, but Field Medic completely leans into it here without getting too saccharine. The little giggle he makes near the end is the cherry on top. Give me some of that kinda love, please.
4. “Everything Disappears When You Come Around,” Of Montreal
As probably the most esoteric choice on this list, I will be completely honest, I am just including this with personal bias in mind. That’s my Valentine’s treat to myself, sue me.
This entire album makes me think of being eighteen in the summer and meeting all kinds of new people to love, friends or otherwise. And this song, as the first song on the album, sets the tone beautifully. I sometimes sing it to my dog while she’s falling asleep, if you want an idea of the kind of song it is. Kinda retro, kinda not, it just does what it’s meant to do so well.
5. “Excuses,” The Morning Benders
If the name of this band sounds familiar, it’s because they had a brief spot on the Twilight soundtrack, and not to sound like a 2010s hipster, but as someone who knew of them before all that, I really and truly wish that being on the soundtrack helped them blow up more. Ah, well. Alas.
This is a song about getting to know someone physically once you start seeing them, and all the sweet yet awkward fumbles that come along with it. Normally, the song isn’t backed up with a full orchestra like here, but this recording is just so special that I felt like I had to include it. Like with “Fall in Love,” the specific sounds of this song really work to recreate that feeling in you.
6. “Everybody Wants To Love You,” Japanese Breakfast
Y’all already know I’m on my J Brekkie bullshit until the day I die. This song will always occupy a Top 3 spot for me. It’s light, energetic, and just so utterly exciting, carrying with it the spirit of being so goddamn into someone and wanting everyone to love them, too.
Plus, contextually there’s just so much to love about this song and music video. From the traditional Korean garb to the fact that this song was written about a queer relationship, there’s a lot going on with this song that makes it truly special.
7. “You Go to My Head,” Billie Holiday
This song was originally written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, but as a jazz standard, I believe Billie has done it the most honors. Her rendition of this song is soulful and down to Earth, and it makes me remember those light-headed feelings you get when you’re really starting to feel for someone else.
In particular, I want to shout out the source where I first heard this song: episode 7, season 1 of Mozart in the Jungle. That whole episode is full of love, for strangers, for friends, and for finding one’s passion. The show itself is fantastic, but if you find yourself with nothing to do in the near future, I highly recommend that episode on its own.
8. “Sweet Thing,” Chaka Khan
I mean I have no “deep insight” here. Chaka Khan is Chaka Khan (<3), and this song makes me wanna get up and dance, with or without anyone around. Sometimes the best love we can feel is the sort that comes easily, and with a great deal of fun. That’s “Sweet Thing,” baby.
9. “Anyone Else but You,” The Moldy Peaches
Remember being in your teens and having that innocent kind of affection for someone that might not even go anywhere, but you still share moments where you snuggle late at night after getting comfortably high and you share music and you look at them and think Wow, how lucky am I that you’re in my life?
That’s this song. Moldy Peaches 4ever.
10. “Heartbeats,” Jose Gonzalez
Again, this is a cover, and it’s a pretty soft touch compared to the original version by Swedish band The Knife. But the best covers serve to elevate the source material and give it new meaning altogether, and that’s what Jose Gonzalez has done with “Heartbeats.”
If someone sent me this song, I might just keel over and evaporate on the spot. It’s at once an incredibly soft and tender song, and a viscerally passionate one. At the very least, if listing it here gets at least one more person to become a Jose Gonzalez fan, then my mission in love will be complete.
11. “Harvest Moon,” Neil Young
Duh, of course “Harvest Moon” is here. This song has been the standard to which I hold all other love songs ever since I was a kid. If you can’t match Neil Young’s writing and emotion here, then what are you even trying to do?
12. “True Love Will Find You in the End,” Daniel Johnston
This one’s for the yearners. I will admit, I never went through a proper Daniel Johnston “phase,” but I still think this song deserves a place on this list. It might be one of the purest love songs out there, with such earnest vulnerability put on full display, both lyrically and vocally.
It’s also telling that, despite coming out long after the American folk heydey, this song has still become something of a folk standard. All kinds of people have covered this song, including the likes of Beck and Wilco. Johnston had that kind of magic to him.
13. “A Case of You,” Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell will always hold a special place in my heart, and even without that bias, I consider her to be one of the best American lyricists of all time. While the album “Blue” has many other beautiful love songs on it, “A Case of You” is the clear winner, by far.
It’s a representation of that kind of grounded, longstanding love, the sort that maintains even as the relationship ebbs and flows. Whatever that love represents, whoever it’s for, it’s “in my blood like holy wine.”
14. “My Funny Valentine,” Chet Baker
Although these songs aren’t ranked, I saved this one for last, because while heteronormative standards for dating aren’t necessarily my thing … I’ve gotta say, this is the one I’d play at my hypothetical wedding. Not only is Chet Baker such a beautiful person with a beautiful musical mind, but he elevates this song to the degree that this cover is often regarded as his signature song.
Everything about it is laced with beauty and affection. This entire album is listenable for hours and hours, yet it’s always “My Funny Valentine” that gets my attention the most.
What song does that for you? Be a dear and share in the comments, if you so please.
(featured image: Yellow K Records/Dead Oceans)
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