Making a mixtape (or CD, or Spotify playlist—whatever) is one of the great contemporary romantic clichés, and for good reason. You can employ a mix to send a covert message to your crush, share something special with someone who's special to you, or even just throw one together to flex your music knowledge. Or, for your own good reasons, maybe you're not in the mood for the upcoming Valentine's Day festivities. Either way, we've got you covered with some off-the-beaten-path selections to help you make the most of your music for the occasion.
SWEET & SAPPY
There are, of course, plenty of blockbuster love songs that you could dispatch to your sweetheart, but why be so impersonal? Great though they may be, "Let's Get It On," "I Will Always Love You," and most of Prince's hits are rookie material.
If you and your person share nerdy affinities, look to Outkast's "Dracula's Wedding" or The Wyrms' "I Only Date Wizards." Both offer fantasy-heavy looks at love—Outkast's André 3000 does it with squeaky synths and lines like "You're all I've ever wanted, but I'm terrified of you," while the local Wyrms bewitch you with fuzzy, chugging guitar riffs and rippling vocals. More literally, Ludacris's "What's Your Fantasy" is a filthy litmus test as to how good your date's sense of humor is.
To slow it down a little, consider Janelle Monáe's "PrimeTime," a smooth R&B duet with Miguel. On a more jazz-inclined tip, Dizzy Gillespie's "Something in Your Smile" is essential, with a gorgeous, warm horn section that blooms around Gillespie's voice, or Ella Fitzgerald's version of George Gershwin's "Isn't It a Pity," in which she wonders why it took so long to find her love.
In the realms of pop and rock, songs like The Shoe Ins' "I Pledge Allegiance to Your Body" and Blake Mills's "Hey Lover" are clever, slightly breathless odes to affection. Both share an anxious but excited undercurrent about romantic prospects. Mills delights in the idea of looking toward the future with a woman, having kids and making the first letters of their first names match; The Shoe Ins, on the other hand, promise electrifying, patriotic-themed devotion. Deerhoof's "There's That Grin" is coy and quirky, while Lady Lamb's "Heretic," like Father John Misty's "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)" celebrates shared passions, such as a mutual affinity for conspiracy theories or simply hating all the same stuff.
If you're really trying to lay it on thick and want to add some unadulterated sweetness to the mix, Paramore's "Still Into You" is so saccharine (and fun) that you can almost feel the enamel melting off your teeth in real time. Kristen Andreassen's folksy "Crayola Doesn't Make a Color for Your Eyes" is also super-sweet as Andreassen works her way through a long list of colors to try to perfectly replicate the shade of a loved one's eyes. In general, it's a good idea not to trust anyone who doesn't appreciate the pure, glimmering joy of Abba, so consider throwing "Take a Chance on Me" in there to test the waters.
Lastly, if you don't need words to express your affection, Akira Kosemura's "Her" is a brief but stunning little piano tune—gender be damned, as Kosemura balances open space within the piece to beautiful ends.
SAD & SOUR
So maybe you're not feeling lovey-dovey and would instead prefer to self-indulge with some music that doesn't feel like salt on a wound. Whether you've been single a day or a decade—or hell, even happily partnered for a long time—you can't deny the power of a great sad song. Of these, it's impossible to beat Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me." Take the time to lie in the floor and commiserate with Raitt's beautifully heartbroken ballad that's unmatched in its raw vulnerability. Chase it with Gillian Welch's "Dark Turn of Mind." The wry twist with which Welch closes the song might just help lift your spirits.
If you're still a bit down and out, look to Matthew E. White's wounded "Will You Love Me." There, White croons about the burden of loneliness in a manner that's modest but sincere. But if your mood is more down and done, see Adia Victoria's biting "Out of Love" or The Tender Fruit's "The Truth Is." Joan Shelley's tender "Stay on My Shore" is a meek plea for a lover not to leave, while Angel Olsen's "Hi-Five" is a little more defiant, with lines like "Are you lonely too? High five, so am I."
And hear me out on this one: The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is one of the best sadsack songs ever written. Its cheery, upbeat arrangement obscures the fact that the song has no optimistic aspirations. "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is about yearning for things from someone who will never give them to you, and that's not really so nice at all. Future Islands' "Tin Man" is a bit less of a contradiction, but its pulsing beats and dancey synths can also distract you from the lyrics, wherein Sam Herring compares himself to the loveless character from The Wizard of Oz.
Perhaps you've come around from feeling blue to being outright angry. For that, the first half of Beyoncé's Lemonade could suffice, but if you need more, Ben Folds Five's "Song for the Dumped" is unsubtle in its subject matter. And, of course, you also can't go wrong with the Mountain Goats' "No Children," an irresistible anthem about mutually assured destruction. Flatbush Zombies' "Bliss" is a touch nihilistic, but it can be cathartic to shout along with the song's one hundred thirty-three instances of the word "fuck."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Songs of Mixed-Up Hearts."