| September 7, 1999|
7 September 1999
The Magnetic Fields
| April 1999 at Polar West, Mother West, Polar Mother, and Sonics|
Indie pop, Indie rock, Baroque pop
The Magnetic Fields albums, Indie pop albums
69 Love Songs is the sixth studio album by American indie pop band The Magnetic Fields, released on September 7, 1999 by Merge Records. As its title indicates, 69 Love Songs is a three-volume concept album composed of 69 love songs, all written by Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt.
The album was originally conceived as a music revue. Stephin Merritt was sitting in a gay piano bar in Manhattan, listening to the pianist's interpretations of Stephen Sondheim songs, when he decided he ought to get into theatre music because he felt he had an aptitude for it. "I decided I'd write one hundred love songs as a way of introducing myself to the world. Then I realized how long that would be. So I settled on sixty-nine. I'd have a theatrical revue with four drag queens. And whoever the audience liked best at the end of the night would get paid." He also found inspiration in Charles Ives's 114 Songs, about which he had read earlier in the day: "songs of all kinds, and what a monument it was, and I thought, well, I could do something like that."
Band member Claudia Gonson has claimed that Merrit wrote most of the songs hanging around in bars in New York City.
On seven occasions (five in the United States and two in London over four consecutive nights) the Magnetic Fields performed all 69 love songs, in order, over two nights. Several of the lavish orchestrations are more simply arranged when performed live, due to limited performers and/or equipment.
Merritt has said "69 Love Songs is not remotely an album about love. It's an album about love songs, which are very far away from anything to do with love." The album features songs in many different genres, including country, synth pop, free jazz and mournful love ballads. All the songs deal with love in one form or another, but often in an ironic or off-beat fashion, such as "Yeah! Oh, Yeah!" that tells the story of a husband murdering his wife. The songs of 69 Love Songs features songwriting with both heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual points of view, such as "When My Boy Walks Down The Street" or "Underwear".
69 Love Songs received widespread acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 88, indicating "universal acclaim". Betty Clarke of The Guardian hailed it as "an album of such tenderness, humour and bloody-minded diversity, it'll have you throwing away your preconceptions and wondering how you ever survived a broken heart without it." Douglas Wolk of Spin called the album Stephin Merritt's "masterwork" and stated that "pop hasn't seen a lyricist of Merritt's kind and caliber since Cole Porter", praising his unique takes on standard love song clichés. Nick Mirov of Pitchfork Media wrote that Merritt "has proven himself as an exceptional songwriter, making quantum leaps in quality as well as quantity on 69 Love Songs." Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, stated that despite his personal dislike of cynicism and reluctance to "link it to creative exuberance", the album's "cavalcade of witty ditties—one-dimensional by design, intellectual when it feels like it, addicted to cheap rhymes, cheaper tunes, and token arrangements, sung by nonentities whose vocal disabilities keep their fondness for pop theoretical—upends my preconceptions the way high art's sposed to."
69 Love Songs was voted second place in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics' poll for 1999, behind Moby's Play. The poll's creator Robert Christgau ranked it as the best album of the year on his "Dean's List". In 2012, it was ranked at number 465 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The following year, NME placed it at number 213 on their own list of all-time greatest albums. The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
All tracks written by Stephin Merritt.The Magnetic Fields
Stephin Merritt – vocals, Digitech vocalist, Roland harmonizer, vocoder, ukulele, baritone ukulele, Kaholas ukulele, Admira classical, acoustic-electric 12-string guitar, lap steel, fado guitar, bass, 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, Maestro wind synthesizer, Hohner melodica, Paul Revere jug, rumba box, xylophone, kalimbas, Radio Shack 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
Sam Davol – cello, flute
Claudia Gonson – piano; drums; percussion; lead vocals on "Reno Dakota", "Sweet-Lovin' Man", "If You Don't Cry", "Washington, D.C.", "Acoustic Guitar", and "Zebra"; other backing vocals; duet with Merritt and guitar on "Yeah! Oh, Yeah!"; arrangement on "Very Funny", "World Love", and "Busby Berkeley Dreams"; whistling on "Blue You"
John Woo – banjo, lead guitar, mandolin, bass on "Time Enough for Rocking When We're Old"
LD Beghtol – harmonium on "Xylophone Track", lead vocals on "All My Little Words", "My Sentimental Melody", "Roses", "The Way You Say Good-Night", "Bitter Tears", and "For We Are the King of the Boudoir;" duet with Merritt on "The One You Really Love"; other backing vocals; graphic design of box and book
Chris Ewen – backing tracks and arrangement on "Promises of Eternity" and "It's a Crime", theremin on "Blue You"
Daniel Handler – accordion, keyboards, arrangement on "Asleep and Dreaming"
Dudley Klute – lead vocals on "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side", "How Fucking Romantic", "Very Funny", "Long-Forgotten Fairytale", "It's a Crime", and "Blue You;" duet with Merritt on "Underwear;" other backing vocals
Ida Pearle – violin on "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side"
Shirley Simms – duet with Merritt on "Papa Was a Rodeo", vocals on "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", and "Strange Eyes;" other backing vocals
Jon Berman – engineering
Chris Ewen – engineering
Claudia Gonson – engineering
Jeff Lipton – mastering
Eric Masunaga – engineering
Stephin Merritt – production, engineering
Charles Newman – engineering
The album was initially released in the United States by Merge on September 7, 1999, as a box set with Merritt interview booklet, and as three separate individual volumes—catalogue numbers MRG166 (Vol. 1), MRG167 (Vol. 2), MRG168 (Vol. 3), and MRG169 (box set). On May 29, 2000, the album was released by Circus (CIR CD003) in Europe and Australia without the booklet insert. It was reissued in the United Kingdom through Domino as REWIGCD18.
On April 20, 2010 Merge released a limited edition 6x10" vinyl version limited to 1000 copies.
LD Beghtol's explication of 69 Love Songs (ISBN 0-8264-1925-9) was released on December 15, 2006 by Continuum International Publishing Group as part of their 33⅓ series of books on influential pop/rock albums.
The book includes studio anecdotes, an extensive annotated lexicon of words and phrases culled from the album's lyrics, performance notes from the band, fans and friends, full-album shows in New York, Boston, and London, rare and unpublished images by chickfactor editor/photographress Gail O'Hara, and other items such as a crossword puzzle created by TMF/Flare associate Jon DeRosa and a scathing list of academic cant words not otherwise used in Beghtol's book.
Also featured is a candid interview with the songwriter, styled as a surrealist radio play, in which Stephin Merritt answers questions about his Chihuahua Irving Berlin Merritt, his sex life, studio practices, and other esoterica.
Tracey Thorn has recorded two songs from 69 Love Songs. "The Book of Love" appears on the B side of her single Raise the Roof and on the compilation Solo: Songs and Collaborations 1982 - 2015. She also duetted with Jens Lekman on "Yeah! Oh Yeah!" for the 2009 compilation album commemorating twenty years of Merge Records, Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers!.
"The Book of Love" was covered by Peter Gabriel; this cover version was featured in Scrubs during the final episode, "My Finale", the 2004 movie, Shall We Dance?, and the South Park episode "Tweek x Craig". It was also covered by Croatian musicians 2Cellos on their album In2ition, translated into Italian as Il Libro Dell 'Amore.
The Art of Time Ensemble featuring Steven Page (former Barenaked Ladies singer) recorded "For We Are The King of The Boudoir" for their 2010 album A Singer Must Die.
With the approval of The Magnetic Fields, 69 separate Minnesota-based or born musicians, including Grammy award winner Dan Wilson, covered all 69 of the love songs. The work is titled Absolutely Cuckoo: Minnesota covers the 69 Love Songs.
"Papa Was a Rodeo" was covered by Bright Eyes for the album SCORE! 20 Years of Merge Records: THE COVERS!
1Absolutely Cuckoo1:3569 Love Songs Wikipedia
2I Don't Believe in the Sun4:17
3All My Little Words2:46