Friday, February 21, 2020

Valentines: Valentine

Old 97’s: Valentine

We’ve had a tough time getting this theme started, maybe because it began after Valentine’s Day. So, before we get to a weekend without any new SMM posts, I thought I’d see what I could come up with.

A song called “Valentine,” by Old 97’s, a band that I really like, and which I have written about, at length, a few other times.

But there are a couple of things that set this song apart. First, it is not sung by Rhett Miller, but by Murry Hammond, the band’s bass player, who usually sings a couple of songs on each album. Hammond’s songs often display a sense of humor, although to be fair, lots of Old 97’s songs are funny. He’d have been a good candidate to have been the subject of a post when we did the “Other Guy” theme back in 2013 (one of my faves, by the way).

Another thing that distinguishes “Valentine” is that it is not a love song. It is, in fact, a lost love song, written not to a current "valentine,” but to one who turned out to be "wrong," and about the heartbreak and despair that comes from a broken relationship, but also the relief that something that wasn’t working ended. Back in 2015 Paste did a “12 Best Old 97’s Songs” feature, and placed “Valentine” third (a ranking that I’d quibble with—I’m not even sure it’s the third best song on Fight Songs). They quoted Hammond as saying: “It was a toxic relationship and, predictably, not a good breakup. But after all the pain and emotion of tearing it apart, I felt a simple moment of compassion and empathy for both of us. I felt a kindness toward her and tried to put that into words. She was a valuable and great human being, but one I would never know again. The girl who’s moving on."

So, maybe it really is fitting for a Valentines theme that takes place wholly after the holiday.

For the most part, Fight Songs, the album that “Valentine” appears on, is filled with more upbeat, poppy songs, for which it is sometimes criticized, but it was my introduction to the band, and I loved it then and now. But ending such an album with a mellower, more introspective song really works. Of course, that assumes that the listener would actually be listening to the entire CD, in order, an assumption that was more likely to be accurate back in 1999 than today (unless you are my wife).

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