A Very Elegant Valentine’s Day
I’m not a lyricist or a singer. I was a terrible guitar player for about 2 seconds in my 20s and a barely competent pianist as a kid. Those aren’t my gifts to share.
But this is. A mixtape for you.
Today’s picks unabashedly celebrate love. These are the classics. I’m chuckling — the classics through my quirky Bonnie lens, that is.
Truthfully, love is just the backdrop. Valentine’s Day and all that.
I knew I wanted a Nat King Cole song to anchor the mixtape but didn’t have any other preconceived notions. I knew the right picks would call to me. And as always, the direction would become clear.
The true inspiration at the core of this mixtape is something that you and Nat King Cole (and Gregory Peck, among others) share.
Confession: I’ve told you that you are the most elegant man I’ve met in real life. As I watched the first video featured today, I thought of you. Nat King Cole in his chic, understated suit. His wide, inviting smile.
You and he share a love of music. And you share a presence, an elegance.
Nat King Cole. Gregory Peck. Christopher Plummer. Pierce Brosnan. Sam Cooke. Montgomery Clift. Robert Redford. Classic, timeless men.
And you, August. Happy Valentine’s Day.
I can’t believe I lucked into this live performance of “When I Fall in Love.” This might be the gold standard of love songs.
I had the box set (yes, I am old) of Nat King Cole when I was in college. To say I’m a fan is an understatement.
His voice has such clarity and depth. His phrasing is always perfect. He knows exactly how to let a note, a lyric, a syllable linger.
Nat King Cole emotes the various sides of love unlike anyone else. Loss is tinged with regret rather than bitterness. And love never sounds purer.
This obscure duo gives Mr. Cole a run for his money. Laura & Anton enchant us with their delicate, tender live performance of the French classic, “La Vie En Rose,” made famous by Edith Piaf.
J’adore every detail of this! The lighting. Her quirky short haircut and chic black eyeliner. His tailored suit.
Anton’s sparse playing is the perfect backdrop for Laura’s dreamy delivery. She’s the star! Such a beautiful voice but there’s a subtle undercurrent of sadness that pushes it over the edge. No schmaltz here, just beauty.
A hushed, unhurried interpretation that captures both a hazy, swoony late afternoon or a sultry midnight rendezvous.
Every day is Christmas
Every night is New Year’s Eve
Aren’t those two lines just fantastic?
Sade may be of the 80s and 90s, but she defies a particular decade. History will be exceptionally kind to her, I have no doubt. Her breezy, effortless, jazz-adjacent adult pop will be heard by future generations.
She’s so mysterious. An enigma. Celebrities so rarely maintain their privacy these days and it only adds to her mystique.
This live performance of “The Sweetest Taboo” from her 2011 tour is a unique blend of relaxed sultriness and confident talent (by all the band). Her voice floats. She’s effervescent. The audience is engaged and infectious.
When crafting my mixtapes, it’s not uncommon for me to know I’m missing one song that will create the cohesiveness I crave. Sometimes I find it quickly and sometimes patience is required. This is the last song I found for this mixtape but I’ve slid it into its proper slot.
I adore Karen Carpenter so much that I had my favorite Carpenters’ song as a placeholder for today’s mixtape. But that song never felt right.
On a whim, I went down a very different path and unearthed this version of “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by forgotten soul crooner Jerry Butler. He’s accompanied by Brenda Lee Eager, who I had never heard of before today. Their chemistry is sweet and easy.
This bluesy, groovy interpretation with its tumbling piano completely caught me off guard. My heart just about burst by the halfway point. I actually had to wipe away a couple of tears after listening to this performance.
Brenda Lee Eager has a bashfulness to her. In fact, when she lets loose, it’s jarring. In the best possible way because it’s so unexpected. She commands our attention.
Meanwhile, Jerry Butler brings gravitas to this version that even Karen Carpenter can’t match.
A heartfelt, earnest interpretation.
Is it possible to create a mixtape about classic love songs and leave off Elvis? I think not.
I was staying open-minded, though, about what that might look like. When I stumbled upon this acoustic duet featuring Stan Taylor, I knew this was the direction I wanted to go.
An unassuming interpretation of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” with some lovely, almost soulful moments.
You and I ended up listening to this song a few weeks ago. I didn’t tell you that I had already started this mixtape or that this song was on it.
Glen Hansard performs this solo, but I strongly prefer “Falling Slowly” as it was originally envisioned: as a duet with Marketa Irglova. She’s the quiet passion to his stormy intensity.
While I appreciate both of them individually, together they create magic.
Oh, my stars! How charming is this stripped-down version of early alt 80s love anthem, “Only You?”
The piano. The strings. That one-of-a-kind voice.
As soon as Alison Moyet started singing “Buh-buhda, buh-buhda,” I was won over completely!
I was a little late in discovering Richard Hawley, but I’m utterly smitten by him now. This obscure cut of the uber swoony “Open Up Your Door” is the definitive version.
Richard Hawley always sounds fantastic, but I’m not sure he’s ever sounded better than singing these lyrics while holding that guitar.
As for the lyrics, I wouldn’t have appreciated them half as much 20 years ago. These words aren’t for the young. These are for the been-around-the-block-a-few-times. The loved and lost…and lost again.
The strings add a romantic layer while the guitar vacillates between dreaminess and groundedness. But it’s the vocal that pushes all the chips into the middle of the table. This is a sweeping, soaring, gorgeous vocal that culminates in a dramatic urgency.
Richard Hawley pleads his case.
Love is so hard to find
And even harder to define
Oh, open up your door
And I’ve never been so sure
Oh, open up your door
Open up your door
Who could say no?
Until her 40’s, Bonnie’s worst nightmare included writing and sharing personal stories publicly. At her friends’ suggestion, she bemusedly started Bonnie’s Mixed Tape on Medium in 2017. She remains shocked that anyone reads her stories and that P.S. I Love You, Assemblage, the Writing Cooperative, and the Ascent have published her work.
Bonnie loves all types of music, but really, really, really loves the 80s.
Thank you for reading this story
I know you are busy and have lots of ways you could be spending your time. you using your time to read my work means the world to me — my sincerest thanks!