This is certainly not the playlist you expected upon first clicking in. It’s not the soundtrack to Sleepless in Seattle 2 or the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, but rather love-themed songs from unexpected sources from my past months’ worth of listening. So I guess that makes this clickbait in a way ¯_(ツ)_/¯. There are some older acts I’ve dug deep into for the first time, as well as some newer acts I’m excited to hear more from. So without further ado, a love-themed playlist that’s not too sacharine.
Harry Nilsson – “Love Story (You and Me)”
Everybody’s talking Ryan Adams covers album of Taylor Swift’s 1989. Well I just found an album of one of my favorite underrated musicians, Harry Nilsson, covering another much underrated musician, Randy “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” Newman, with tremendous success on Nilsson Sings Newman. “Love Story (You and Me)” is maybe the finest moment on all the covers album with Nilsson’s golden pipes take Newman’s nervy, intelligent piano ballad to new heights.
Royal Headaches – “Love Her If I Tried”
This is nothing fancy but great nonetheless. Australian rockers Royal Headache are sort of warm and affectionate punk music, if there was ever such a thing. The lead singer – who just goes by the name Shogun – has sort of an early Beatles-like innocence to him, even as the guitars soar and swell around him.
The Modern Lovers – “Pablo Picasso”
This may be cheating since “Love” is in the band name instead of song name, but The Modern Lovers remain one of the most influential but least known bands around, especially upon today’s indie rock scene. One of my very favorite bands today, Parquet Courts, are essentially a modern retread of the Modern Lovers. “Pablo Picasso” shows the humor, edge, and rawness that makes Jonathan Richman so great, and it was also fun to revisit after just getting a heavy dose of Picasso on my recent trip to Spain.
Rhiannon Giddens – “O Love Is Teasin”
Rhiannon Giddens, lead singer, violinist, and banjo extraordinaire for the bluegrass trio Carolina Chocolate Drops, stepped out on her own earlier this year with her first solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, and it’s pretty much perfect Americana music: beautiful unadulterated melodies and harmonies, brilliant string-playing, and bare-bones percussion to move things along and provide texture. “O Love Is Teasin’” captures the intense drama and grace that Giddens’ voice and music embodies.
John Grant – “Why Don’t You Love Me Anymore”
Speaking of drama, John Grant’s music is dripping with it, plus an surprising dose of humor. Instead of a heirloom piano or a beloved six-string, the now Iceland-based singer/songwriter chooses propulsive, sci-fi synths as his backdrop for his confessionals. “Why Don’t You Love Me Anymore” could be sung beautifully with almost any arrangement, but it’s distinct and haunting coming from Grant.