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My New Book!

Saturday, February 17, 2024

February 17-18, 2024: AmericanStudying Love Songs: Five New Classics

[I know it might not be very 2024 of me to say, but love is in the air, and not just because it’s Valentine’s week. If you’re feeling it too, or maybe if you need a little help getting into the V-Day spirit, this week I’ve quickly highlighted the AmericanStudies stories behind a handful of our great past love songs, leading to this special post on recent ones that have hit my heart. Add your Valentine’s tunes in comments, please!]

1)      Prizefighter” (2012): I’ve written about my favorite 21st century rock band The Killers once before in this space, focusing there (as you would expect) on their most AmericanStudying song. The Killers don’t tend to do unironic love songs—they’re more a fan of the ironic variety, a la their biggest hit “Mr. Brightside”—but this one, a bonus track on their best album Battle Born (2012), delivers a high-octane burst of pure adoration that should be on any Valentine’s Day playlist.

2)      Dead Sea” (2012): For a long time, I knew The Lumineers through their one huge hit, “Ho Hey” (also, like this track, from 2012’s self-titled debut album). That’s more of a breakup song than a love song, if a particularly catchy and uniquely written one to be sure. But as I’ve taken a much deeper dive into the band over the last few years, I’ve learned that they can express the full gamut of human emotions through equally striking songwriting, including one of the purest expressions of love as partnership I know, “Dead Sea.”

3)      Fire and the Flood” (2015): I don’t have as much personal history with the next two songs; I just think they’re great 21st century love songs that belong on any V-Day list! My favorite thing about Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy’s “Fire and the Flood” is the way he gives the floor to the speaker’s significant other for the first part of a call-and-response, climactic bridge: “‘Now listen here,’ she said/‘Boy when you know, you’ll know’/And I know.” What else do I need to say?

4)      Roller Coaster” (2016): When I teach poetry I talk a lot with students about metaphor, and more exactly about the concept of an extended metaphor, one that drives an entire poem or text through its symbolic meanings. I’m not sure there’s a better one in 21st century love songs than Bon Jovi’s “Roller Coaster,” as exemplified by the song’s chorus: “Hold on tight, slide a little closer/Up so high, stars on our shoulders/Time flies by, don’t close your eyes/Kiss by kiss love is like a thrill ride/What goes up might take us upside down/Life ain’t a merry-go-round/It’s a roller coaster.” Well said, JBJ and company—and well modeled for all those students of poetry!

5)      Before You” (2022): I said everything I need to say about Benson Boone, this beautiful love song, and my connection to him through my sons in that post from last year’s Valentine’s week series. Check it out, and much love, all!

Anti-favorites series starts Monday,


PS. What do you think? Other love songs, present or past, you’d AmericanStudy?

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