It’s time for an annual tradition: the Valentine’s Day mixtape. Last year’s was well-received, so now it’s an annual thing. This ancient rite dates back to the 1980s, when it was the height of romance to give a mixtape to that special someone. Also, it was free. (Minus, of course, the price of a good tape. Maxell was my choice.) Here, then, is my 2016 Mixtape for You. Although I have linked the songs here to their YouTube versions, seek out these songs and listen on a good stereo or some great headphones.
- “Happy Days” (Squeeze) A fantastic return to form for the band that will always make my mixtapes. This is off their new album, “Cradle to the Grave,” which came out this year – Squeeze’s first album of original songs this century. “Happy Days” is a simple ode to packing the car and having a great weekend trip. I read a great piece this past year on how the band’s ‘80s greatest hits collection “Singles, 45s and Under” is possibly the world’s most addictive album. Damn right. This would fit in perfectly.
- “For Once In My Life” (Stevie Wonder) It’s Valentine’s Day, after all, and this is Stevie at his Wondermost. A little guitar riff at the top and then right into it. Try not to smile when you think he’s singing this right to you. How this isn’t a top wedding song, I’ll never know.
- “Two of Us” (Aimee Mann and Michael Penn cover The Beatles): This is such a perfect, compact treat. Rarely do covers of Beatles songs match or exceed the source material. But I like that spouses Aimee Mann and Michael Penn duet on this – having real life sweethearts sing this one makes it, I dare say, better than the original. Plus, come on, Aimee Mann and Michael Penn. Top that.
- “Life On Mars?” (Played as an elegy to David Bowie) Bowie’s dead, and that sucks. It led to one of the greatest spontaneous tributes I’ve ever heard. After Bowie’s death The organist at St Alban’s Cathedral outside London played Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” likely unaware it was being recorded. It is a perfect elegy. Try not to tear up.
- “Two Hearts” (Phil Collins) OK, it’s Phil, and don’t give me crap about it. Phil announced he’s going to make a comeback album, and the Internet exploded with hate. Revisionist nonsense. Phil Collins is great. He’s a fantastic songwriter and legendary drummer. Phil wrote it with Lamont Dozier, part of the legendary Motown team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. It’s peppy, very Motown and it avoids Phil’s tendency toward cloying writing in love songs. Listen, dance, repeat. Side one is over.
- “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” (The Tufts Beelzebubs cover Bob Dylan) The bad breakup. The bitter end. The desire to lash out. The sarcasm. All of that is in Dylan’s original song. But the ‘Bubs take it somewhere else. In this slow, deliberate, harmonious cover, they turn it into a song of regret and longing. I love when artists take a song and turn it on its head. The a cappella is wondrous. How did they arrange this? Valentine’s Day can suck. Let Dylan and the ‘Bubs help you through it.
- “Smile” (Nat King Cole) This has just terrible, awful advice. “Smile, though your heart is aching. Smile, even though it’s breaking… You’ll see that life is still worthwhile if you just smile.” Are you kidding me? “Just smile?” And yet, what a song. Did you know Charlie Chaplin wrote it? So what if it is the least empathetic advice you could give to someone. It’s still touching and damn if you won’t tear up.
- “The Boys Are Back in Town” (Thin Lizzy) Huh? What’s this doing here? OK, mixtape maker’s privilege here. I had a mix to listen to when I was getting chemo. This led it. It was my “get psyched – here come the poisons for your body” song. Coping mechanisms are weird things. You have your treadmill mix, I had my chemo mix.
- “Layla” (Derek and the Dominos) Eric Clapton wrote this to steal George Harrison’s wife. There’s no way around it. It worked. Patti Boyd divorced Harrison and married Clapton. But, this being the ‘60s (and early ‘70s) things were cool. Harrison and Clapton remained friends, and Harrison even went to the wedding. Patti Boyd must have been something. She inspired at least 11 songs including “Something,” “Wonderful Tonight” and “I Need You.” But “Layla” is the best and most scandalous of the bunch.
- “Moonlight Serenade” (Glenn Miller Orchestra) As I noted last year, this has to be the last song. Nothing comes after “Moonlight Serenade.” Back from the war, you’re boozy and tired, your last Lucky Strike about to burn your lips. What was her name? Do eyes really come in amethyst? She was, what, a nurse? You shared a dance with her, anyway. “Hattie,” was it? Maybe she was USO. Her phone number… MAyfair6-31… Oh, Hell. Someone has poured you into a cab, and your last recollection of the evening is that the band, oh, what a band, played “Moonlight Serenade” as you danced with… Christ… “Maddy?”