69 Love Songs

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69 Love Songs
The Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs.jpg
Studio album by The Magnetic Fields
ReleasedSeptember 7, 1999
RecordedApril 1999 at Polar West, Mother West, Polar Mother, and Sonics
GenreIndie rock, indie pop, lo-fi, baroque pop
ProducerStephin Merritt
The Magnetic Fields chronology
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69 Love Songs

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.

Conception and live performance[edit]

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."[1] He also found inspiration in Charles Ives' 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." [2]

Band member Claudia Gonson has claimed that Merrit wrote most of the songs hanging around in bars in New York City.[3]

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.

Genres and themes[edit]

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."[4] 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".

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[6]
Entertainment WeeklyA[7]
The Guardian5/5 stars[8]
Mojo5/5 stars[9]
Rolling Stone3/5 stars[12]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[13]
The Village VoiceA+[15]

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".[5] 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."[8] 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.[14] Nick Mirov of Pitchfork wrote that Merritt "has proven himself as an exceptional songwriter, making quantum leaps in quality as well as quantity on 69 Love Songs."[11] 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."[15]

69 Love Songs was voted second place in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics' poll for 1999, behind Moby's Play.[16] The poll's creator Robert Christgau ranked it as the best album of the year on his "Dean's List".[17] In 2012, it was ranked at number 465 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[18] The following year, NME placed it at number 213 on their own list of all-time greatest albums.[19] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[20]

As of 2015 according to Nielsen SoundScan., the three-volume boxed set has sold 83,000, with an additional 58,000 for volume one, 34,000 for volume two, and 29,000 for volume three.[21]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Stephin Merritt.

Volume one
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Absolutely Cuckoo"Stephin Merritt1:34
2."I Don't Believe in the Sun"Merritt4:16
3."All My Little Words"LD Beghtol2:46
4."A Chicken with Its Head Cut Off"Merritt2:41
5."Reno Dakota"Claudia Gonson1:05
6."I Don't Want to Get Over You"Merritt2:22
7."Come Back from San Francisco"Shirley Simms2:48
8."The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side"Dudley Klute3:43
9."Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits"Merritt2:25
10."The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be"Merritt1:11
11."I Think I Need a New Heart"Merritt2:32
12."The Book of Love"Merritt2:42
13."Fido, Your Leash Is Too Long"Merritt2:33
14."How Fucking Romantic"Klute0:58
15."The One You Really Love"Merritt, Beghtol2:53
16."Punk Love"Merritt0:58
17."Parades Go By"Merritt2:56
18."Boa Constrictor"Simms0:58
19."A Pretty Girl Is Like..."Merritt1:50
20."My Sentimental Melody"Beghtol3:07
21."Nothing Matters When We're Dancing"Merritt2:27
22."Sweet-Lovin' Man"Gonson4:59
23."The Things We Did and Didn't Do"Merritt2:11
Total length:55:57
Volume two
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
2."Love Is Like Jazz"Merritt2:56
3."When My Boy Walks Down the Street"Merritt2:38
4."Time Enough for Rocking When We're Old"Merritt2:03
5."Very Funny"Klute1:26
6."Grand Canyon"Merritt2:28
7."No One Will Ever Love You"Simms3:14
8."If You Don't Cry"Gonson3:06
9."You're My Only Home"Merritt2:17
10."(Crazy for You But) Not That Crazy"Merritt2:18
11."My Only Friend"Merritt2:01
12."Promises of Eternity"Merritt3:46
13."World Love"Merritt3:07
14."Washington, D.C."Gonson1:53
15."Long-Forgotten Fairytale"Klute3:37
16."Kiss Me Like You Mean It"Simms2:00
17."Papa Was a Rodeo"Merritt, Simms5:01
18."Epitaph for My Heart"Merritt2:50
19."Asleep and Dreaming"Merritt1:53
20."The Sun Goes Down and the World Goes Dancing"Merritt2:46
21."The Way You Say Good-Night"Beghtol2:44
22."Abigail, Belle of Kilronan"Merritt2:00
23."I Shatter"Merritt3:09
Total length:59:43
Volume three
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Underwear"Merritt, Klute2:49
2."It's a Crime"Klute3:54
3."Busby Berkeley Dreams"Merritt3:36
4."I'm Sorry I Love You"Simms3:06
5."Acoustic Guitar"Gonson2:37
6."The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure"Merritt3:10
7."Love in the Shadows"Merritt2:54
8."Bitter Tears"Beghtol2:51
9."Wi' Nae Wee Bairn Ye'll Me Beget"Merritt1:55
10."Yeah! Oh, Yeah!"Merritt, Gonson2:19
11."Experimental Music Love"Merritt0:29
13."Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin"Merritt1:46
14."Queen of the Savages"Merritt2:12
15."Blue You"Klute3:03
16."I Can't Touch You Anymore"Merritt3:05
17."Two Kinds of People"Merritt1:10
18."How to Say Goodbye"Merritt2:48
19."The Night You Can't Remember"Merritt2:17
20."For We Are the King of the Boudoir"Beghtol1:14
21."Strange Eyes"Simms2:01
22."Xylophone Track"Merritt2:47
Total length:56:26


The Magnetic Fields
Additional musicians
  • 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

Release history[edit]

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.[22]

69 Love Songs, A Field Guide[edit]

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.[23]

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.

Cover versions[edit]

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!

Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard is known to play "I Don't Want To Get Over You" at his live shows.


  1. ^ [1] in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, 1 September 1999
  2. ^ Merritt, Stephin; Handler, Daniel (1999). 69 Love Songs (booklet). The Magnetic Fields. Merge Records. p. 1.
  3. ^ "Geiger.dk :: The Love Affair as a Work of Art". www.geiger.dk. Retrieved 2016-01-06.
  4. ^ Interview Archived 2008-08-30 at the Wayback Machine. in The Independent, 14 April 2000
  5. ^ a b "Reviews for 69 Love Songs by Magnetic Fields". Metacritic. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
  6. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "69 Love Songs – Magnetic Fields". AllMusic. Retrieved June 30, 2011.
  7. ^ Hermes, Will (November 19, 1999). "69 Love Songs". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. Retrieved June 30, 2011.
  8. ^ a b Clarke, Betty (June 2, 2000). "Let me count the ways". The Guardian. Retrieved June 30, 2011.
  9. ^ Chick, Stevie (January 2017). "The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs". Mojo (278): 112.
  10. ^ "69 Love Songs". NME. June 9, 2000. Archived from the original on June 5, 2011. Retrieved June 30, 2011.
  11. ^ a b Mirov, Nick (September 7, 1999). "The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs". Pitchfork. Retrieved June 30, 2011.
  12. ^ Himmelsbach, Erik (October 14, 1999). "69 Love Songs". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on May 9, 2006. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  13. ^ Randall, Mac (2004). "The Magnetic Fields". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian. The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 509–10. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  14. ^ a b Wolk, Douglas (October 1999). "The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs". Spin. 15 (10): 154. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  15. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (October 26, 1999). "Consumer Guide: Easy Money". The Village Voice. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  16. ^ "The 1999 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. February 20, 2000. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
  17. ^ Christgau, Robert (February 22, 2000). "Pazz & Jop 1999: Dean's List". The Village Voice. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  18. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time (465. The Magnetic Fields, '69 Love Songs')". Rolling Stone. May 31, 2012. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
  19. ^ "The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time: 300–201". NME. October 24, 2013. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
  20. ^ Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (23 March 2010). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 978-0-7893-2074-2.
  21. ^ http://www.magnetmagazine.com/2015/10/27/magnet-classics-the-magnetic-fields-69-love-songs/
  22. ^ "Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs Released as Deluxe Vinyl Box Set | News". Pitchfork. 2010-02-01. Retrieved 2013-09-23.
  23. ^ abalk2 (2007-01-02). "TODO: '69 Love Songs'". Gawker.com. Archived from the original on 2008-06-27. Retrieved 2011-08-19.

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