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Issue #30:  The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs

Issue #30: The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs

Released:  September 9th, 1999

Recorded:  April 1999

Genre:  Indie Rock, Baroque Pop

Record Label:  Merge

Duration:  172:35

Producer:  Stephin Merritt

Personnel

(Regular band members in bold.)

  • Stephin Merrit – vocals, Digitech vocalist, Roland harmonizer, vocoder, ukulele, baritone ukulele, Kaholas ukulele, Admira classical, acoustic-electric 12-string guitar, lap steel, fado guitar, bass guitar, mandolin, autoharp, Marxophone, ukelin, tremoloa, violin-uke, sitar, zither, violin, musical saw, keyboards, synclavier, Moog Satellite, piano, harmonium, Wurlitzer electronic piano, organ, rhythm units, recorder, ocarina, pennywhistle, Meastro wind synthesizer, Hohner melodica, Paul Revere jug, rumba box, xylophone, kalimbas, Radio Shake 75-in-One Project Kit, drum kit, cymbals, rain stick, chimera, maracas, conga, bongos, triangle, bells, tambourine, washboard, steel drum, Chicken Shakers, finger cymbals, springs and Slinky guitar, pipes, bamboo harp, spirit chaser, sleighbells, fingersnaps, thunder sheet, cabasas, cowbells, gong, production, engineering
  • Sam Davol – cello, flute
  • Claudia Gonson – piano, drums, percussion, lead vocals (“Reno Dakota,” “Sweet-Lovin’ Man,” “If You Don’t Cry,” “Washington, D.C.,” “Acoustic Guitar,” “Zerbra”), other backing vocals, duet with Merritt and guitar (“Yeah!  Oh, Yeah!”), arrangement (“Very Funny,” “World Love,” “Busby Berkeley Dreams”), whistling (“Blue You”), engineering
  • John Woo – banjo, lead guitar, mandolin, bass (“Time Enough for Rocking When We’re Old”)
  • LD Beghtol – harmonium (“Xylophone Track”), lead vocals (“All My Little Words,” “My Sentimental Melody,” “Roses,” “The Way You Say Good-Night,” “Bitter Tears,” “For We are the King of the Boudoir”), duet with Merritt (“The One You Really Love”), other backing vocals, graphic design
  • Chris Ewen – backing tracks and arrangements (“Promises of Eternity,” “It’s a Crime”), theremin (“Blue You”), engineering
  • Daniel Handler – (as “Lemony Snicket”) – accordion, keyboards, arrangement (“Asleep and Dreaming”)
  • Dudley Klute – lead vocals (“The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side,” “How Fucking Romantic,” “My Sentimental Melody,” “Very Funny,” “Long-Forgotten Fairytale,” “It’s a Crime,” “Blue You”), duet with Merritt (“Underwear”), other backing vocals
  • Ida Pearle – violin (“The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side”)
  • Shirley Simms – duet with Merritt (“Papa Was a Rodeo”), vocals (“Come Back from San Francisco,” “Boa Constrictor,” “No One Will Ever Love You,” “Kiss Me Like You Mean It,” “I’m Sorry I Love You,” “Strange Eyes”), other backing vocals
  • Jon Berman – engineering
  • Jeff Lipton – mastering
  • Eric Masunaga – engineering
  • Charles Newman – engineering 

Track Listing

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 Dreams
  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 Barin 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 Kings of the Boudoir
  21. Strange Eyes
  22. Xylophone Track
  23. Zebra

Singles

None. 

Why 69 Love Songs is One of My Favorites

Most of us probably have a double album or two laying around, be in Pink Floyd’s The Wall, the Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, or Pac’s All Eyez on Me.  Most of us probably have a boxset or two, like Alice in Chains’ Music Bank or Metallica’s Live Shit: Binge and Purge.  But what about the elusive triple album?  Aside from some anthologies and greatest hits collections (which don’t really count as a triple album), there aren’t that many out there.  Well, in honor of my 30th issue, I decided to cover what might be the only triple album I’ll ever sit through (ok, I might give The Clash’s Sandinista! a go one day) – the magnum opus from The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs.

The Magnetic Fields have been around for a while; if you were indie rock before indie rock became the de facto standard of popular rock music, you might know who they are.  I remember having a track or two from these guys way back (I think I heard them in the TV show The Adventures of Pete and Pete), but I wasn’t even aware of 69 Love Songs until a couple of years ago.  I’ve heard most of their work by now, and this triple album is easily my favorite.  A quick look at the “Personnel” section above will demonstrate just how much went into this album: no less than 3 lead vocalists, a slew of guest musicians, and instruments ranging from violins and cellos, to more exotic items like the theremin, zither, and ocarina, to everyday objects like “fingersnaps” and sleighbells.

As the title would suggest, these songs are about love, though one must interpret “love” in the broadest of senses to connect each and every song back to a single word.  Stephin Merritt, the man behind most of these songs and who developed the concept, obviously has a funny attitude towards “love.”  Most of the seemingly straightforward songs are laced with subtext.  Merritt is often cynical and attempts to rebuff notions of sentimentality.  But what’s so fascinating about 69 Love Songs is that he ends up being sentimental in spite of all his efforts.  It’s himself that he’s trying to convince, not the audience.  This isn’t evident after just a song or two, but as the record progresses, it’s a theme that begins to form.  Does he really hate the “mushy stuff”?  Or does he just hate that he can’t manage to hate the “mushy stuff”?

Even though this record plays with a number of different styles, it doesn’t necessarily branch out into wildly different genres.  There’s a lot of variety but also an underlying consistency, mostly due to its soft, jangly nature.  In previous issues I’ve had a difficult time expressing sweeping generalizations of some albums; to do so with 69 Love Songs would all but ignore the fact that there are 69 tracks on the album.  However, if I went over all the tracks, then I’d be discussing 69 individual songs, and that’d be a little crazy too.  So instead, I’ll hit some of the highlights.

“Absolutely Cuckoo” starts of the album with some simple ukulele strumming while Merritt’s voice overlaps itself; a light and quirky intro to the things to come.  “A Chicken with Its Head Cut Off” leans a little towards country western as the narrator relates his inadequacy in relationships to a chicken flailing around sans head.  “Reno Dakota” centers around the banjo and Gonson’s clean female vocals as she forms all sorts of rhymes that start out clever and end much less so – a deliberate act aimed at humor I believe.  “The Book of Love” is one of my favorites.  Merritt’s baritone voice gently croons a supremely sweet song about how silly being sweet is.  With one of the best melodies and some of the best lyrics of all 69 songs, it’s no wonder folks like Peter Gabriel and The Airborne Toxic Event have chosen to cover it.

Moving on, “Fido, Your Leash is Too Long” is Merritt’s attempt to curse without cursing by musing about his dog.  By using careful timing and clever phrases, he turns “shit” into “shih-tzu” and “fuck” into “foxhounds.”  Klute takes over vocal duties for my other favorite of the album, “Long-Forgotten Fairytale.”  It’s a beautiful blend of electronics and guitar with a divine little pop melody.  There’s a very 80’s nu-wave sounding beat backing the track, and the guitar lick that dances up and down during the chorus is magnificent.  The lyrics are about seeing an old love again, and at once being swept away with the notion of continuing a “long forgotten fairytale.”  “It’s a Crime” again features Klute, and establishes a relaxed reggae sound with bright, uplifting synth tones.

“Busby Berkeley Dreams” is one of the album’s saddest moments.  Merritt pines for the love of a someone long lost, describing the two dancing in his ongoing “Busby Berkeley dreams.”  The mournful piano and violin really take it over the top, making it a great example of just how inescapable Merritt’s own sentimentality is.  “Wi’ Nae Wee Bairn Ye’ll Me Beget” is the band’s take on a Scottish folk song, applying an old concept of “I’ll turn into a …” to more modern concepts for comedic effect, such as a hydrogen bomb.  “Meaningless” takes on a bit of a stripped down post-punk feel, with Merritt devising myriad of rhymes for the word “meaningless” as well as dozens of adverbs to stick before “meaningless.”  “Love is Like a Bottle of Gin” demonstrates more of Merritt’s cynicism with comparisons like “it costs a lot more than its worth,” “there’s no substitute,” and “you just get out what they put in / and they never put in enough,” though he ultimately ends the song with the endearing conclusion that “but a bottle of gin / is not / like / love.”  He just can’t quite bring himself to hate it.

And that isn’t even one sixth of the album!  All at once 69 Love Songs is morose, hopeful, bitter, nostalgic, silly, profound, pastiche, and authentic.  It’s a whole new way of looking at “the love song” and though it can seem a little busy and disjointed at first, it’s worth sticking with long enough to see the pieces fall into place.  Music hounds will have long since sniffed out this rare triple album, but it’ll always be just under the surface of mainstream tastes.

Just in case anyone out there is interested in discovering a little more about this album, the lyrics plus extensive notes have been gathered at amazing site: 69 Love Songs.

Written by The Cubist

Back to The Cubist’s 90’s Albums

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist


Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

Email me anytime, about anything: thecubist@nerdbacon.com

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