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The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia: “Naima” by John Coltrane

John Coltrane on the cover of Giant Steps | photo by Lee Friedlander

Every day leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, The Key is recapping 14 songs that scream “love” just as strongly as they scream “Philly.” The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia continues with “Naima” from John Coltrane’s 1960 album Giant Steps.

Music comes in when words fail, and nobody knew that better than John Coltrane. The iconic saxophonist burned bright across a turbulent life where he struggled with addiction, relationships, spirituality, and the tension between artistic vision and the cold demands of a capitalistic society — all topics that leave those ensnared speechless. Fittingly, two of his most enduring works unpack the complexities of love to the sound of saxophones melodies sweet, somber, and spectral.

John Scheinfeld’s 2016 documentary Chasing Trane places the musician’s creative and personal zenith at the January, 1965 release of A Love Supreme, a euphoric, exaltational song cycle about Coltrane’s relationship with God and, by extension, the spiritual life of humankind writ large. At the point of its recording and release (which happened, amazingly, within one month of one another), Coltrane had been living sober and wholly dedicated to his music for eight years, and was wrapped up in a love affair with his pianist Alice McLeod, who would later become his second wife.

By contrast, the song “Naima” from his 1960 Atlantic Records debut Giant Steps — arguably Coltrane’s first great love song — captures a much more difficult time in his life and the love that emanated from it; a sort of love that’s sad, delicate, fraught with trouble, but no less profound. Continue reading →

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The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia: “I Saw The Light” by Todd Rundgren

Todd Rundgren | still from video

Every day leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, The Key is recapping 14 songs that scream “love” just as strongly as they scream “Philly.” The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia continues with “I Saw The Light” from Todd Rundgren’s 1972 album Something / Anything?.

Leading off his classic double album Something / Anything? is one of Todd Rundgren’s finest pop moments: a straight-from-the-heart, no-holds-barred love song. “I Saw The Light” is two minutes and 55 seconds of pure pop musical loveness – about love. Continue reading →

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The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia: “Everybody Wants to Love You” by Japanese Breakfast

Japanese Breakfast
Japanese Breakfast | photo by Ebru Yildiz | courtesy of the artist

Every day leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, The Key is recapping 14 songs that scream “love” just as strongly as they scream “Philly.” The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia continues with “Everybody Wants to Love You” from Japanese Breakfast’s 2016 album Psychopomp.

Chances are, “Everybody Wants to Love You” was one of the first songs you heard from Japanese Breakfast, the project of Philly’s Michelle Zauner. It was released in early 2016 as a single off Psychopomp, her debut album with the project, but it’s origins are a bit deeper — an early version of the song was written with one of Zauner’s old bands, Birthday Girlz, before she decided to repurpose it for Japanese Breakfast. That turned out to be an excellent idea. “Everybody Wants to Love You” the kind of bright, open song that is the catchiest of catchy; you can sing and dance along to it as much as you want, but it also draws you in so intensely that you’ll immediately want to listen to everything else this artist has ever written.

And if you have taken a dive into Japanese Breakfast’s two albums, 2016’s Psychopomp and 2017’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet, you’re familiar with the kinds of themes Zauner gravitates toward. She’s often open about the real-life subjects of her songs, which include her husband-slash-bandmate, and even more frequently her late mother. She doesn’t shy away from baring pain and heartache, and even songs that betray grief, sadness, anger and frustration are also full of great love. Continue reading →

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The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia: “Act Too (Love Of My Life)” by The Roots

The Roots in the 90s | via Twitter / Tidal

We’re a little obsessed with the idea of love here in Philadelphia, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Maybe it’s iconic status of Robert Indiana’s pop art sculpture on permanent display downtown, maybe it’s embedded in the very DNA of our name. And maybe, just maybe, it’s the amount of pop music we’ve produced over the decades, testifying to eternal devotion in its various forms. Every day leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, The Key is recapping 14 songs that scream “love” just as strongly as they scream “Philly.” The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia begins with “Act Too (The Love of My Life)” from The Roots’ 1999 album Things Fall Apart.

We commonly think of love songs as celebrations of person-to-person love, which is sort of a limiting view. Sure, you could argue that this is the only form of love that can truly be reciprocal, but it is hardly the only form of love that is important. We can love places, we can love ideas, we can love art forms that motivate us and inspire us and push us to be better humans. And that’s the sort of love that comes into play on The Roots’ “Act Too (Love of My Life),” a stand-out song from their breakout album, 1999’s Things Fall Apart.

Over an expanse of five dreamlike minutes — loops of steady trumpet drones, lilting flute melodies, suave wah-wah guitar, and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s dulcet but determined drumming — MC Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter opens the scene from the stage as he’s about to break into a rhyme, a setting lifted and expounded upon a few years later by Eminem in “Lose Yourself.” In that time-frozen moment, Thought stares “with my eyes closed and dove / Into the deep cosmos.” What thoughts are going through his head? Questions of how he got where he got, questions of what helped him along the way; not just helped, what guided him, what made his ascent possible on the most basic level of existance. Continue reading →