It’s Valentine’s Day morning, and months deep into the throes of cuffing season, you’re ready for a day of complete romantic indulgence with your significant other. Or maybe it’s later in the evening, and you need some jams for the car ride to dinner. Or perhaps it’s 11:30 p.m., Feb. 13, and you’re scrambling to make your boyfriend that Spotify mixtape thing that you kind of, sort of hinted that you might make for him and now the only things he’s been talking about are his favorite love songs so you know he’s probably making one for you and you don’t want to be caught with your pants down when you were the one who suggested the thing in the first place.
Or maybe you’re doing none of that and are just planning on sitting in your bed all day and maybe/maybe not crying.
Cool. We’ve got you covered.
Allow us to introduce the first annual Wheel Valentine’s Day playlist, curated by our own board of editors for your approval. Regardless of whether you’re in love, out of love or making it, there’s something on this playlist for you.
“Accidentally in Love,” by Counting Crows, from “Shrek 2: Motion Picture Soundtrack”
If you think that it’s any coincidence that this playlist begins with the same song that started “Shrek 2,” then I’m not sure what to say. Whether it’s frontman Adam Duritz’s vocals, which seem to sound exactly like our nostalgia for the mid-2000s feels, or the way those tangy, ever so slightly rough-around-the-edges guitar tones blend with the absolutely dulcet tones of the backing vocalist, “Accidentally in Love” is as sugary as sugar can be, as lovely as a picture of love could be. But it’s the youthful and fun lyrics that stand out the most. They’re perfectly crafted to be screamed at the top of your lungs, each image of an accidental love more and more smile-stealing than the next.
“Thinkin Bout You,” by Frank Ocean, from “Channel Orange”
Frank Ocean’s relatively minimal, spaced-out production throughout “Channel Orange” is an absolute treat, but nowhere does it turn more saccharine than on “Thinkin Bout You.” From the violin solo that opens the track to the warbling synths that play over rounded kicks and snares echoing into the distance, this thing screams “longing.” Ocean’s falsetto vocals on the chorus are perfectly impassioned — “or do you not think so far ahead?” never stops being heartbreaking — as the slow, even swaying of the beat has a magnetism that pulls you in. A masterful pop cut, and this barely scratches the surface of Ocean’s discography.
“True Love Waits (Live in Oslo),” by Radiohead, from “I Might Be Wrong”
Just to be clear, we’re talking about the acoustic version that was only available as a live cut until its studio reimagining on 2016’s “A Moon Shaped Pool.” Both have their own power, but listening to frontman Thom Yorke sing this song completely alone except for a guitar is soul-searingly raw and miserable. It’s not a hard song to describe — but classic description betrays it. Talking about how strangely hopeful and bright the chord progression is or how every small lilt in the pitch of Yorke’s voice sounds like it’s stopping just short of snapping your heartstrings doesn’t do it justice. Only, maybe, reading the entirety of the chorus does: “Just don’t leave.”
“Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing,” by the Magnetic Fields, from “69 Love Songs”
An instructive quote by Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt: “[This album] 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.” That’s definitely an assessment that works with a lot of the clues hidden throughout the dense two hours and 52 minutes of pop genius that is “69 Love Songs,” but it’s hard to reconcile that idea with the experience of listening to “Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing.” The instrumentation, a sole ukulele, is spare, tender and slow, and the lyrics are evocative of every theme you could ever find in a love song (“you’ve never been more beautiful, your eyes like two full moons”). But it works, damn it, just as much as any love song without the same self-consciousness. We’ve been in that “old dance hall” before, if only because we feel the desire for that perfectly packaged narrative in our lives. Love songs are not love — but there’s something about the experience of love that wouldn’t be the same without them.
Check out the playlist here.