So Donna-mo sends off this e-mail.
"Most Romantic Song. Bring it on, Suckah."
That's how she is: provocative. But provocative in the real sense of the word. (Many people today think that "provocative" means "sexually explicit." Only when the blessed day comes and dictionaries rain down from above upon all who so blithely and routinely desecrate Our Holy English Language will they truly receive their comeuppance. Until then, we must content ourselves with impotent screed.)
Where was I?
Oh, yes, Donna-mo, the provocative record store girl. In this case, she was provoking thought. So I let myself be provoked.
But before simply taking a garden walk through the vast discography in my head, I thought a few ground rules were in order. We should examine what exactly constitutes a "romantic song."
Most people make the mistake of thinking that a romantic song is the one associated with some maudlin kissy kissy moment in their lives. Were I to make the same mistake, the so-called "most romantic song" would be Madonna's Crazy for You, which happened to be playing the first time a female who was not my mother held me close on the dance floor. It was a momentous thrill. But even if I can still feel her lithe frame moving rhythmically with mine, even if I can still feel her sweet breath upon my neck, and even if the song replayed itself in my head two weeks later when she became the first person to put her tongue in my mouth--a moment which left me breathless and jumping for joy on a street corner at midnight--I am still bound to admit that Crazy for You is a cheap, even tawdry excuse for a love song. (It is, in fact, so bereft of actual romance that if it's on your list, you should excuse yourself from the room now. If you even considered this song, or any of it's nefarious ilk, this discussion is beyond you.)
No, the most romantic song cannot rely on association. It must be romantic per se, (which is, for those of you who were just asked to leave but kept reading anyway, a Latin phrase meaning "in and of itself.") The first step, then, is to quickly set some parameters.
We'll assume that by romantic we do not mean "Romantic." With appropriate deference to Liszt, Delacroix, and Shelly, I don't think Donna-mo intended to initiate discussion of the powerful music, literature, and art of the 1800's. She meant romantic in the pejorative, which is, (with thanks to dictionary.com)
3. imbued with or dominated by idealism, a desire for adventure, chivalry, etc.
4. characterized by a preoccupation with love or by the idealizing of love or one's beloved.
5. displaying or expressing love or strong affection.
6. ardent; passionate; fervent.
We add to this the insight of Wilde, when he proposed that Romance (like ignorance) is a "delicate, exotic fruit. Touch it, and the bloom is gone." Think on it for a moment and you'll agree. A romantic song must be rife with yearning. But that yearning must to some degree remain unfulfilled. Because to satisfy it entirely would be to kill it. And there must be something eternal if one is to fill this cup to its brim (or drink it to the dregs, whichever you prefer).
I think there should also be a reckless element. Some kind of abandon. Romance has to throw caution to the wind.
With these concepts in mind, we can make a list that avoids the merely lovey-dovey, the simply sweet, the oversimplified, and any and all make-out songs.
And the list is short. It has only one song. I believe this ardently, passionately and fervently. There can be, in truth, "no debate." The title of Most Romantic Song goes unequivocally to THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT, by the Smiths.
Head and shoulders above anything else that could be mentioned. From the opening line, the idea of just wanting to go out with someone and not caring where crystallizes the aforementioned necessary sense of abandon. This is seasoned by the sense of longing and sadness (also requisite to romance) in the lines about not having a home anymore.
Notice the exquisite sense of non-fulfillment in the verse that recalls "the darkened underpass" under which we thought "oh God, my chance has come at last." But then a strange fear gripped us and we just couldn't ask.
Then comes the legendary chorus, which I only write it here for the privilege of repeating it:
"And if a double decker bus crashes into us: To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.
And if a ten ton truck kills the both of us: To die by your side, well the pleasure and the privilege is mine . . ."
If anyone can beat that, I haven't heard it. And all of it is punctuated by one of the most haunting string arrangements of all time, fading out to the titular line, full of that mix of longing, loss, eternal devotion and unnameable bittersweetness that is quintessentially romantic.
And with that, I honestly believe the debate to be over. Because everyone else is just blowing hot air about how much they love somebody. Which is sweet, but not romantic.
"Just Like Heaven"--the cure,
"Do What You Have To Do"--sarah mcglaughlin
"Canon" by Johan Pachabel. (The "Grand Finale" from Edward Scissorhands should also receive consideration.)
Candidates for very distant third:
"You Are My Radio"--squirrel nut zippers
"The Sensual World"--kate bush (just for the sex of it)
"Driving Your Girlfriend Home" --morrissey
"To Me You Are a Work of Art"--morrissey
"Nothing Matters When We're Dancing"--magnetic fields
"Love Song"--the cure
"Always On My Mind"--willy nelson
"Dreaming My Dreams"--the cranberries
"Can't Help Falling in Love With You"--Elvis presley
"If You Leave Me" --ray charles (which might actually be called "What Would I do?"--I can't remember)
Go ahead and add to the list of seconds and thirds. But you will NOT persuade me that There Is a Light That Never Goes Out doesn't stand alone.