Twelve years ago today, the Magnetic Fields released 69 Love Songs. Initially conceived as a theatrical revue performed by drag queens, 69 Love Songs took a different status entirely as a beloved pillar of indie pop. Though hardly a best-seller then or now, it retains a certain mystique as an album one could devote years to (witness this book or this project documenting each song in graphic form). Everything Stephin Merritt had been building with the Magnetic Fields over the previous six albums came to fruition here and then some.
Sprawling even by Merritt’s standards, 69 Love Songs covers a mind-boggling array of genres. So, in honor of its anniversary, we’ve selected a set of 12 covers that do the same. Some songs will make you dance; others will make you weep. It’s a barely-coherent smorgasbord of sounds, sources, and interpretations. Given the source material, that seems appropriate.
The Antlers – Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing (The Magnetic Fields cover)
Back before everyone and your mom loved the Antlers, they released a three-song EP called New York Hospitals. It included this ambitious, ethereal cover that showed these guys were dreaming big.
Bodies of Water – I Don’t Believe in the Sun (The Magnetic Fields cover)
Bodies of Water’s “I Don’t Believe in the Sun” didn’t make our Best Covers of 2010, but it was absolutely a contender. This quiet ballad wrings every ounce of beauty from one of Merritt’s most utterly, despairingly heartbreaking songs.
Kelly Hogan & the Pine Valley Cosmonauts – Papa Was a Rodeo (The Magnetic Fields cover)
Though originally sung by a man, “Papa Was a Rodeo” is a hard gal’s song that deserves a hard gal’s voice. Kelly Hogan’s alt-country delivery makes a claim to be the definitive version of this song and one of the all-time great Magnetic Fields covers.
Robin Pecknold – The Book of Love (The Magnetic Fields cover)
Peter Gabriel delivered a lavish orchestral version of this one last year. In this 2009 concert performance, Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold goes the other way, stripping it back to a simple guitar line and his inimitable voice.
Cherry Cherry Boom Boom – Come Back from San Francisco (The Magnetic Fields cover)
One of the strangest of the bunch, Cherry Cherry Boom Boom’s “Come Back from San Francisco” puts a thumping four-on-the-floor beat behind the narrator’s plea. It’s startling at first, but what do you expect – the guy did produce Lady Gaga after all.
Woodpigeon – You’re My Only Home (The Magnetic Fields cover)
Calgary folk-rock collective Woodpigeon features eight members, but it sounds like only two or three are playing on this intimate cover. Also worth tracking down: their version of “Asleep and Dreaming.” Speaking of which…
Erik Haugen – Asleep and Dreaming (The Magnetic Fields cover)
This acoustic ballad hails from CokeMachineGlow’s recent covers podcast. The original lullaby-pop vibe is gone in favor of a dark acoustic ballad.
Evripidis And His Tragedies – Time Enough for Rocking When We’re Old (The Magnetic Fields cover)
This one comes off the free 21 Love Songs tribute album which we spotlighted back in May. If we were crazy enough to attempt a Full Albums post – don’t count on it – this set would be a good place to start.
A Candlelight Vigil – All My Little Words (The Magnetic Fields cover)
“All My Little Words” appeared in an episode of acclaimed police serial The Shield, which seems as incongruous a place to find delicate gay Baroque pop as any. If you watch the clip, featuring sweaty weight-lifting and bloody bodies, it seems even stranger.
Tracey Thorn & Jens Lekman – Yeah! Oh Yeah! (The Magnetic Fields cover)
In 2009, Merge Records celebrated their 20th birthday with, among other things, an album of covers. Merge artists now covered Merge artists then, and two chose to tackle Magnetic Fields songs (both from 69 Love Songs). Bright Eyes did a solid “Papa Was a Rodeo,” but Tracey Thorn and Jens Lekman upstaged them with this beautifully ambivalent duet.
Kites Overhead – Grand Canyon (The Magnetic Fields cover)
The thudding drums on this sound like they were recorded in the Grand Canyon itself, excavating a song you don’t hear much about.
Thick Shakes – Underwear (The Magnetic Fields cover)
If the garage is rocking, don’t come a knocking. This lo-fi blast distorts this uncharacteristically silly song to hell and back. Makes you wonder what this Boston quartet could do with “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”