SONGS FROM THE HEART.
The love song is a many-splendored thing. Chocolates, flowers, jewelry and champagne are useful, but a tender romantic ballad reaches places other gifts don't go.
Even on Valentine's Day, some of us feel timid and shy about expressing love. Maybe it's fear of embarrassing the other person, or ourselves, but it can be heartbreakingly hard to utter the "L" word. That's one of the reasons we try to communicate the idea in poetry, through sweet deeds and song.
But musical expressions of love have changed over the years. For example, Doris Day sang "If I Give My Heart to You" in 1954. At the time, love songs were sugary ditties, full of metaphor and corny rhymes. Many lovers of the era opted for bruised instrumentals such as Miles Davis' timeless reading of "My Funny Valentine" to illustrate their ardor.
Today, the most popular musical expressions of passion can be found, as usual, in the r&b charts. Hip-hop soul thrush Mary J. Blige, for example, has made a career of putting across songs, such as her recent Grammy Award winner "Be Without You," that reflect her own often troubled romantic life -- and millions can relate.
Beyond 'baby, baby'
"The love song has become a lot more conversational," says Beau Dozier, 27, who has penned and produced material for JoJo, Joss Stone, Avant, 'N Sync and others. "In old-school songs, you used to be able to get away with metaphors or a lot of 'baby.' But now, the songs I hear are more like opera, where you're having a conversation and you write like you're actually talking to a person."
Dozier, son of Lamont Dozier of Motown's powerhouse composing trio Holland-Dozier-Holland, points to "Ice Box," a current hit by r&b singer and actor Omarion, as a perfect example of the romantic love song in 2007. It's a far tougher view of love than Anita Bryant's "Till There Was You" or the Beatles' "And I Love Her."
Other young songwriters and performers appreciate past greats, like Donny Hathaway or Marvin Gaye's timeless songs, while forging their own songs and rhythms that reflect their own experience.
R&B-soul singer-songwriter Elle B., 23, of Los Angeles, says when she thinks of a love song, she imagines a ballad, as typified by John Legend's "Ordinary People."
"Even though it's about, 'Can we work it out?' it's still a love song, and it builds the way any love song would," says Elle B., who wrote or co-wrote all the songs on her forthcoming "The Girl Next Door" debut album.
"It's the emotion, the lyrics, the actual music and instrumentation that put the feeling across. There has to be a little bit of magic in it. And love songs that truly touch people have to come from experience."
Notwithstanding the decades-old power of Herman Hupfeld's 1931 unforgettable tear-jerker "As Time Goes By," used in the world's most romantic movie, "Casablanca," musicians say a melancholy instrumental tells the story better than lyrics.
"I look for sincerity in a song, above all," says Christian Scott, 23, the acclaimed Grammy-nominated jazz trumpeter whose quartet is playing a Valentine's Day gig tonight at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. "In pop music now, you hear this concept of love that's really just lust -- and it seems like the music is being written by people who haven't really had a love relationship. It's more like hooking up at a club.
Feeling the pain
"Tunes like 'I Fall in Love Too Easily,' 'Misty' or ' 'Round Midnight' are in-depth looks at the things a person goes through in love. The more honest love songs are lyrical, introspective ballads. When you hear Miles playing a ballad, you can really tell this is a man who's had some experiences that hurt him. It's transcendent."
A quick Valentine's Day survey of pop fans who named their favorite love songs of the past few decades brought up such classics as Prince's "I Would Die 4 U," Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," Elton John's "Your Song," Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," Roberta Flack's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together" and lots more. (As a soundtrack to seduction, everyone agrees nothing beats Al Green.)
Why it touches us
Many of Carey's hits and much of Blige's work is universally effective today because it "comes from so much heartache. These are well-written songs that you can relate to, whatever stage of the relationship you might be in," says Elle B.
Yet, as universally appealing as a good love song may be, today's post-ironic rock bands would rather not get involved.
"It's almost a taboo subject," said Patrick Stump, singer-guitarist of the chart-topping band Fall Out Boy. "You don't want to say the obvious, and there are so many good love songs out there already. It might be the one subject a lot of us don't even want to try to write about."
Fall Out Boy's posture might be OK for the pop-rock crowd, but in r&b, where announcing one's feelings in a pure and honest fashion has a long tradition that goes back to the church, it has to come from personal experience. "That's why we love Mary J. -- she's so dead-on, she makes it hurt," says Dozier, who lives in Encino. "As a performer, she just kills you with it. A really strong love song leaves you saying, 'Oh, my God.' It completely impacts you."
Fred Shuster, (818) 713-3676
(1) Omarion, an r&b singer and actor, has tweaked love songs for a new audience.
(2) The 1942 classic "Casablanca," considered by some to be the quintessential romantic movie, features the love song "As Time Goes By."
Daily News file
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Feb 14, 2007|
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