Sarah Recommends “Crystal,” by New Order

We’re like crystal
we break easy…

In his kill-your-idols book Substance: Inside New Order , Peter Hook calls “Crystal” a “tour-de-force,” and he’s right. I chose the longer version because the intro has a lilt, but doesn’t announce what it becomes right away. It turns into an exhilarating monster of a song, with all of the instruments charging together, slamming each other, pulling apart, and fusing into this perfect thing. I’ve heard it performed live twice (without Hook on bass, unfortunately), but it’s a song that catches you. You can’t refuse it, and why would you want to ? It demands that you dance to it, to feel the frenzy it creates. It’s perfect.

(Song recommendation by Sarah Nichols)

Hawa Recommends: “Someday We’ll Be Together” by the Supremes

I have given myself the gift of singing lessons and my instructor has told me, to my surprise, that I artificially lower my speaking voice — a hazard she said was particular to women who work in male-dominated fields. Until hearing this, I didn’t know that I had prided myself on the slight husk of my voice, which I was being told was not organic but socially constructed.

I balked when she further informed me that the true tone and color of my voice approximated that of Diana Ross — a warm, feathery light soprano. Diana Ross’ voice is, yes, iconic. It is soft and smooth and so . . . feminine. I sat with my displeasure and came to a realization: in working to actualize my feminist ideals, I was, ironically, shunting my femininity.

This is all to say that I have of late been retrieving my “true” voice by singing songs by the Supremes. “Someday We’ll Be Together” is my favorite from the all-female Motown trio. As my vocal cords tighten and slacken and I lift the song out of my throat to let it ring throughout my head, I embody the dual resonance of the lyrics.

Typical of pop love songs, there is a longing for a love that has been lost. Yet — filtered through the honey-sweet sound of Ross’ voice — the song also expresses delight and sultry anticipation. Ross exults in divine faith, a deep knowing that — by singing this very song — she is conjuring her lost love.

You’re far away

From me my love

And just as sure my, my baby

As there are stars above

I wanna say, I wanna say, I wanna say

Someday we’ll be together

Yes we will, yes we will

I have found myself singing this song not only at lessons (and in the shower), but also on sidewalks and subways, in supermarket and drugstore aisles. And as I do so, I delight in summoning a voice that I know is already mine but that had nonetheless gone missing.

(Song recommendation by Hawa Allan)

Jon Recommends “La Boheme” by Charles Aznavour

On était jeunes, on était fous

There is something universal here. Watch his hands. Listen to what he isn’t saying in those calling tones.

Even if you don’t follow french much, You can get the gist of what he is trying to muster up. And we’ve all been there. Standing in front of the playground slide that used to be so huge. Looking through love letters that once shone like diamonds but now look more like sandpaper.

Maybe, like the singer, you stood in front of the door to a once-familiar place and found only unfamiliar cracks and chipped paint. Memories of a time now gone rushing through you, you laughed at how silly it was to think it would last.

“We were young. We were foolish.”

Maybe this time in our lives is a meme. Maybe our efforts towards self-discovery are just the phases our glassy-eyed parents said they were, and in the end we will suit up and slack off 40 hours a week until that pension sends us off to a golden retirement.

But goddamnit I hope that doesn’t happen to you.

So listen to a man say goodbye. To her. To Montmartre. To days spent trading paintings for food and hovering over stoves for warmth. To a piece of himself —  poor, exhausted, starving, happy.

And decide for yourself if it was worth it.

(Song recommendation by Jon Johnson)

Cory Recommends: “I’ve Been Thinking About You” by Londonbeat

When I was growing up, my Dad would listen to the Oldies station in the car. For context, we are taking about the mid 80’s and listening to 50s/early 60s rock. He would occasionally comment on a song I had never heard of by saying “There are a lot of songs I remember that they just don’t play on the radio anymore”. You know what? He was right. I know this because the song I’m recommending to you is from 1990.

But enough of my being Old Man Funk now. This cut was a #1 hit on the Billboard pop chart that year. Propelled by a ridiculously catchy guitar riff, insistent rhythm throughout, and a simple lyric, this track is a perfect snapshot of the pop sound of the moment.

That, however, isn’t the main reason I’m recommending this song. The editors of this fine publication put out a call for love songs, and that is what I’m really here to talk about: Why this is a love song that matters to me.

I don’t know how many physical mixes I’ve made and sent to people over the years. A conservative estimate would be in the hundreds. This has an interesting side effect that very few people have ever given me mixes in return. I can count them on a single hand and have room left over. I suppose it’s a bit like going to someone’s house and thinking you can compete with them at their own video games. Discretion is the better part of valor.

In college I had a friend who made me a couple mixes. She and I had grown quite close and while there was certainly something electric in the air between us, we knew it wouldn’t work but neither wanted to say it. One day between classes she handed me a tape that started with this song. It was the only love song on the mix and I think our being in tune paid off right there. We had a near romance and a sort of break up without fallout or shrapnel. What could we do? We were thinking about each other and that’s how it would be.

(Song recommendation by Cory Funk)

Sam Recommends: “These Eyes” by The Guess Who

Nearly a decade ago, when I was in closer proximity to the bitter burn of a heart betrayed and broken by an ex-lover, this song was my go-to karaoke track.

When I sang the lyrics, I felt them deep down in my soul. And even though I’m not the best singer, my performance usually garnered positive reviews from other drunk people at the dive bar. I even got a few free drinks out of it.

I tried to sing it again a few years later, when I was already a few years in to a happier, healthier relationship.

It just wasn’t the same. I didn’t feel the lyrics deep down in my soul anymore, and my performance suffered.

That’s okay with me. And while I’ll always love this song, I hope my best karaoke performances of it are behind me forever.

(Song recommendation by Samantha Lamph/Len)

Jessie Recommends: “Sweet Avenue” by Jets to Brazil

“Sweet Avenue” made me nostalgic the first time I heard it, before I had any memories of my own to attach it to. It’s that kind of song.

This is what it sounds like: lazy, comfortably melancholy. It’s just Blake Schwarzenbach’s voice and acoustic guitar for the first 1:22, and even when the full band comes in with that melodic bass line and the soft ting of the cymbal it’s still so deliciously lackadaisical. The lyrics mention most of the things that tug on the strings of my emo heart: rain and trains, moons and cigarettes. It’s sorta sexy, too. The very first line is tasting you and rain. Hella swoon, right? And Blake’s voice, ragged and earnest…he is maybe the only person in the world who could sing I go ‘oh wow’ without it sounding super cheesy. I love everything about this song, including the instrumental bit that starts at 3:49 and lasts until the end, the guitar-and-tambourine jangle.

But this is what it really sounds like: waking up with a lover and not wanting to wake them, so you slip out of their arms, leave them a note, grab your jacket. The rain is chilly, but gentle when it gets under your collar and onto your skin, and the whole city smells clean. Everything kind of hurts to look at — you’re so happy but also sad because all intense emotions twine together, and you see every street sign and sewer grate with new clarity. You get home, crack the window, put a record on. The needle’s dusty so there’s this pop-hiss mixed with the music and from outside comes the plink of rain on fire escape, and you light a cigarette and sigh and everything is soft and sweet.

It’s the kind of song that fills you with longing for a thousand moments and a thousand lovers, real and imagined. It’s the soundtrack to every personal anniversary that ever bloomed out of a love affair, even if the love affair didn’t last much longer than the duration of this song.

(Song recommendation by Jessie Lynn McMains)