THE BLOG
02/14/2008 12:40 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

No Roses: Love Songs From Punk to Pashtun

It's Valentine's Day again. I can't grow flowers or weave baskets, but I can make a pretty fair music playlist. I wooed my wife with mixtapes -- a classic Nick Hornby move before anyone had even heard of Nick Hornby. (It was a long-distance romance.) Hint to aspiring suitors with a good music collection and CD's to burn: Be eclectic, but don't force it. I've got a list of suggestions below, culled from my "greatest hits" from years gone by. Here are some highlights:

"Punk Rock Girl," by the Dead Milkmen: How can you resist a punk love song with accordion accompaniment? When boy meets girl, it's love at first sight: "We got into her car, away we started rollin'/I asked 'how much you pay for this,' she said 'nothin', man, it's stolen.'"

"Ze Darna Dubaï la Zama," Zarsanga. They call her "the voice of the Pashtu." Zarsanga was born into a shepherd family in Afghanistan and was "discovered" singing at a traditional wedding by a producer for Afghan radio. Since then, her folk and love songs have been dear to Pashtun hearts. In this video you can hear her sing a different kind of love song, for her country, together with singer Dauf Hanif. "Why don't you return to the homeland," they sing. "Away from home, even a king is a beggar." (Make your own political comment about our mismanagement of the war here -- I've taken the day off.)

It's hard to keep love alive in dangerous times. They banned red roses in Saudi Arabia. Even that wasn't enough, so they've forbidden gift shop owners to sell anything scarlet-colored. They don't want to encourage romance, which might in turn encourage "immoral" behavior.

And these are our allies.

As for Zarsanga, her album "Songs of the Pashtu" is much more traditional in sound and lyrical content than that patriotic video. It may be too rough for a lot of people, but her voice brings out a lot of emotion in me. It has a grainy, soulful quality that reminds me of Ronnie Spector. Speaking of which ...

"Walking in the Rain," the Ronettes -- "I want him, I need him, and someday I'll meet him." Does it get any sweeter and more innocent than that?

And here are few more songs for that mixtape:

  1. "I'm In Love," Wilson Pickett: Only a tough man like the Wicked Mr. Pickett can sing lyrics this tender and get away with it. Reggie Young and Bobby Womack (who cowrote the tune) use their guitars to carry him away on angel's wings.
  2. "One," George Jones & Tammy Wynette - Hell, they could sing anything and it would sound good. But it's a good song, too.
  3. "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby (Something Is Wrong With Me)", Sam & Dave - A beautiful love song. Also the theme song for Al-Anon members and co-dependents everywhere.
  4. "Cover Me", written by Eddie Hinton, sung by Hinton and in its better-known version by Percy Sledge. "Find me, find me/kiss every little tear that blinds me." If the song fits, play it.
  5. "Oh My Love," John Lennon: Years from now the anti-Yoko sentiments of Beatle fans everywhere will be forgotten, and theirs will be a legendary love story. The melody to this tune is beautiful and simple, with that slightly Asian scale Lennon could throw into a melodic line to make it unique. And the words are sweet and tender.
  6. "Walk Through This World With Me," George Jones: The second line, "go where I go," could make it slightly sexist. It's beautiful anyway -- especially if she puts it on a mixtape for him.
  7. "These Arms of Mine," "Try a Little Tenderness," "Glory of Love," Otis Redding: A trifecta from the King.
  8. "God Only Knows/Don't Worry Baby" -- Beach Boys. I'm one of those guys who thinks that Van Dyke Parks' lyrics were too wordy for the purity of Brian Wilson's heart and soul. Mike Love and Peter Asher were better partners, in my book, and these songs are love incarnate.
  9. "To Make You Feel My Love," Bob Dylan: The bigger they are, they harder they fall. The lion in winter is tender. "When the rain is blowing in your face/and the whole world is on your case/I could offer you a warm embrace," says Mr. Once-Upon-a-Time-You- Looked-So-Fine. When he says "you ain't seen nothing like me yet," I believe him.
  10. "Amanda," Don Williams: The soft-voiced country singer performs a tune of regret at his loved one's hard life, written by the great songwriter Bob Dill. "There's a measure of people who don't understand/the pleasures of life in a hillbilly band," he says drily.
  11. "Since I Met You Baby," Ivory Joe Hunter: Back then they knew how to keep it simple. Melody, lyrics, delivery, piano triplets -- all designed to deliver one simple message, when it absolutely positively had to be there tonight. I'll sign for it right here.
  12. "Would You Lay With Me (in a Field of Stone)," David Allan Coe: Coe may be a badass, but he sure wrote a beautiful love song -- crucifixion imagery and all. "Would you wipe the blood from my dying hand/if I gave myself to you?"
  13. "That's Where It's At," Sam Cooke/Simms Twins: "Lights turned way down low/soft music on the radio/with someone you love so/that's where it's at." The song has a stepchild, too, the Jules Shear-penned "Slow Dancing," covered by both Johnny Rivers and the sexy (if occasionally silly) Conway Twitty.
  14. "Love Vibration," Ann Peebles: A song of regret, not fulfillment, but too erotic and romantic too pass up.

I've left off the obvious Barry White and Pachelbel Canon-type choices, but they're great too. Like they say: Whatever works.

Happy Valentine's Day!

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