• Old 'Stache

69 Reasons to Fall in ‘Love’

written by: on May 8, 2012

The Magnetic Fields are not only a band that reliably produce great singles. The reason for this is clear: removing the Magnetic Fields from context is like removing a fish from water. The Magnetic Fields, and Merritt in particular, are an enormous pop-culture prism, splintering cliches and other people’s song ideas and examining them from every possible angle. In their best work, style becomes their ultimate tool. Like the theater revue the Magnetic Fields costume themselves up in one style after another: The Charm Of The Highway Strip was predominantly The Magnetic Fields as a Country band, Distortion was The Magnetic Fields as The Jesus and Mary Chain. 69 Love Songs? That’s the Magnetic Fields as damn near everybody.

For the uninitiated, 69 Love Songs is exactly what it sounds like, and in certain circles it’s such a well known achievement that we take it for granted. Three discs (or six vinyl records). 69 Songs. How many bands could sustain a sound for that long? Plenty of bands that produce great songs can barely sustain the listeners attention for a measly 12 tracks. As for the filler? The number of skippable tracks on 69 Love Songs is close to none, and more than a decade after publication it still forms a good portion of the band’s live repertoire. (And with good reason.)

The story goes that Stephen Merritt, whose musical tastes are notably eclectic, had wanted to branch off into writing musicals. Setting himself with the goal of writing 100 songs, the project was meant as a way for Merritt to introduce himself to the theater community. The plan? To have the project performed as a drag queen revue. Several drafts later, the project had blossomed into a 69-track album–a monster in scope that evoked jazz pastiches one moment, archaically-styled showtunes another and finally, punk. Were it to come from almost any other artist, the abrasiveness of a song such as “Punk Rock Love” (consisting of nothing but the title shouted atonally) contrasting with the sweetness of sugary pop gem “Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side” would be an exercise in satire. But this is Merritt we’re dealing with here. Even when the Mangetic Fields are being genuinely ridiculous, there’s a sense of respect–genre specificity occurs only in hopes of deconstructing the notion of the love song itself.

The number of skippable tracks on 69 Love Songs is close to none, and more than a decade after publication it still forms a good portion of the band’s live repertoire.

There’s a pop-music ecology that’s grown up with the most tried-and-true of song topics, and the Magnetic Fields are able to articulate it clearly. Examples of this range from the indulgent breakup ballad (“I Don’t Want to Get Over You”) to the reverie of twitterpatter jingles (“When My Boy Walks Down the Street”).  And of course, grand, sweeping declarations of monogamy and committment (“Promises of Eternity”). Experimentation also lends itself thematically in certain instances–for instance, genre (and in this instance, gender) bending. The dark humor and confessional sexuality of “Papa Was a Rodeo” have made the song a staple in live performances.

It’s difficult to overstate the stamina, range, and charm of this album. The legacy of Love far exceeds its intimidatingly lengthy tracklist. It’s telling that the Magnetic Fields discography after 1999 have been marked not by expansion rather than restriction: IRealism and Distortion for a “no-synth” trilogy marked by the Magnetic Fields giving up the electronic contraptions that made them stand out so much in the indie scene of the early ’90s, and their most recent Love At The Bottom of the Sea is very much deliberately an album of small, borderline trivial songs. Perhaps after you craft three volumes of near-perfect, phenomenally clever anthropology, the idea of trying to go “bigger” is just no longer much of a challenge.

The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs tracklist:

Volume One

  1.  “Absolutely Cuckoo”

  2. “I Don’t Believe in the Sun”

  3. “All My Little Words”

  4. ‘A Chicken with Its Head Cut Off”

  5. “Reno Dakota”

  6. “I Don’t Want to Get Over You”

  7. “Come Back from San Francisco”

  8. “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side”

  9. “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits”

  10. “The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be”

  11. “I Think I Need a New Heart”

  12. “The Book of Love”

  13. “Fido, Your Leash Is Too Long”

  14. “How Fucking Romantic”

  15. “The One You Really Love”

  16. “Punk Love”

  17. “Parades Go By”

  18. “Boa Constrictor”

  19. “A Pretty Girl Is Like…”

  20. “My Sentimental Melody”

  21. “Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing”

  22. “Sweet-Lovin’ Man”

  23. “The Things We Did and Didn’t Do”

Volume Two

  1. “Roses”

  2. “Love Is Like Jazz”

  3. “When My Boy Walks Down the Street”

  4. “Time Enough for Rocking When We’re Old”

  5. “Very Funny”

  6. “Grand Canyon”

  7. “No One Will Ever Love You”

  8. “If You Don’t Cry”

  9. “You’re My Only Home”

  10. “(Crazy for You But) Not That Crazy”

  11. “My Only Friend”

  12. “Promises of Eternity”

  13. “World Love”

  14. “Washington, D.C.”

  15. “Long-Forgotten Fairytale”

  16. “Kiss Me Like You Mean It”

  17. “Papa Was a Rodeo”

  18. “Epitaph for My Heart”

  19. “Asleep and Dreaming”

  20. “The Sun Goes Down and the World Goes Dancing”

  21. “The Way You Say Good-Night”

  22. “Abigail, Belle of Kilronan”

  23. “I Shatter”

Volume Three

  1. “Underwear”

  2. “It’s a Crime”

  3. “Busby Berkeley”

  4. “I’m Sorry I Love You”

  5. “Acoustic Guitar”

  6. “The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure”

  7. “Love in the Shadows”

  8. “Bitter Tears”

  9. “Wi’ Nae Wee Bairn Ye’ll Me Beget”

  10. “Yeah! Oh, Yeah!”

  11. “Experimental Music Love”

  12. “Meaningless”

  13. “Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin”

  14. “Queen of the Savages”

  15. “Blue You”

  16. “I Can’t Touch You Anymore”

  17. “Two Kinds of People”

  18. “How to Say Goodbye”

  19. “The Night You Can’t Remember”

  20. “For We Are the King of the Boudoir”

  21. “Strange Eyes”

  22. “Xylophone Track

  23. “Zebra”