You couldn’t pay me to be an American Idol bigwig right now. The show is about to face its greatest challenge since the 2008 battle of the Davids (Cook and Archuleta).
The producers and the Fox network already have to worry about sagging ratings (the average viewership in season 11 dropped 23 percent to below 20 million for the first time in nine years, and the show fell from No. 1 for the season”to No. 2”for the first time since 2005), not to mention less commercially viable Idols and external competition from The Voice, The X Factor, and pretty much any reality show that promises to make a nobody a star.
Now, the producers have to deal with pleasing Mariah Carey, who has signed on as a judge next season, replacing either Jennifer Lopez or Steven Tyler, both of whom left after two years in order to focus full-time on their music careers (and in the case of Lopez, her “acting” career, too).
I once interviewed Carey for an Us Weekly cover story, and I found her to be warm, intelligent and surprisingly funny, but she’s a diva through and through. (She actually walked into the living room of her New York City hotel suite cradling her miniature dog!) Idol will reportedly pay her a very diva-like sum of between $12 and $17 million a season (a hefty and not altogether worthwhile expense, considering that Carey is well past her pop heyday), and I don’t even want to think about her list of perks and demands.
Meanwhile, there are murmurings that Randy Jackson, the last remaining original judge, currently in contract negotiations, might be moving from the judge’s table into more of a mentoring role, in an attempt to revamp the show for season 12, launching in January of 2013. Sadly, that restructuring doesn’t extend to Ryan Seacrest, the inexplicably still-highly employable host, who has signed up for another two years at a pay rate of $15 million per season. Is it too late to invite ex-judge Ellen DeGeneres back for the job they should have offered her in the first place?
Love is in the air. I’m not just talking about that warm and tingly feeling that fills up the senses every year on February 14”if you’re lucky enough to have your own funny Valentine. I’m also referring to the great 1977 Top 10 hit by John Paul Young, an immortal love song in a decade that was full of them. It’s rhythm and romance at its catchy best.
In honor of V-Day, here are fourteen other great songs in the key of love. I’ve limited the romantic playing field to pop, rock and R&B singles from the last 50 or so years, leaving album tracks, country, jazz, the great American songbook, Beethoven, Liszt and Chopin for another list (maybe next year’s). My favorites are always changing”by the week, by the day, by the hour. But if you’re looking to set the perfect romantic mood on Valentine’s Day, just let the music, this music, play.
“I’m Still in Love With You” Al Green.
The greatest love of all is an everlasting one, and few singer-songwriters have nailed the subject as frequently and brilliantly as Green. This single, which went to No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1972, is as timeless and immortal as the love it celebrates.
“The Air That I Breathe” The Hollies. “Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe, and to love you.” Now that’s crazy in love.
“Poetry Man” Phoebe Snow. It’s hard to fathom that Snow, who also wrote this song, was only 23 years old when the song was a hit in 1975. Imagine any of today’s twentysomething pop stars crafting anything so hauntingly gorgeous and grown up.
“The Man With the Child In His Eyes” Kate Bush.
A girl and her piano. Like the most effective love songs, there’s an overwhelming aura of melancholy in both the production and 20-year-old Bush’s vocals, which are at once delicate and sturdy. After the operatic weirdness of her 1978 debut hit, “Wuthering Heights,” Bush floated back to earth in the most stunning way.
“Close the Door” Teddy Pendergrass. Sometimes it’s all about sex. Incredibly, this 1978 single was the only solo Top 40 hit of the late Pendergrass’s long career.
“Send One Your Love” Stevie Wonder.
Although this one has been more or less overlooked since it was a No. 4 hit in 1979, it’s nearly as magical as “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” an album track from three years earlier. A tip to all hopeless romantics: If you just called to say, “I love you,” and you must do it with a Wonder song, make it one of the two.
“I Love You” Climax Blues Band. Everyone says, “I love you,” but singer Derek Holt didn’t until four minutes into the song”and then it was over. By saving the best for last on its 1980 single, which only went to No. 12 but was one of the biggest hits of the year, Climax Blues Band created a masterpiece of anticipation and romantic build up that goes out in a blaze of glory.
“More Love” Kim Carnes.
The irony! A songwriter as gifted as Carnes found her greatest success drastically reworking other people’s music. Jackie DeShannon’s “Bette Davis Eyes” may be the reinvention for which she’s best remembered, but this cover of a Smokey Robinson oldie, which preceded the aforementioned hit into the Top 10 in 1980, is the one that gets under my skin and stays there.
“Love of a Lifetime” Firehouse. The ultimate hair-metal power ballad, from 1991, a few years after the genre peaked.
“Heartbreaker” Dionne Warwick.
Love is a beautiful thing indeed, sometimes even when it’s in ruins. Of all the great love-song singles that the Bee Gees wrote for themselves (“How Deep Is Your Love,” “Too Much Heaven”) and others (Samantha Sang’s “Emotion,” Barbra Streisand’s “Woman in Love,” Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “Islands in the Stream”), this one, in which sweet Dionne hints at possible stalker tendencies (“This world may end” not you and I”), is the one I always go back to.
“Harvest Moon” Neil Young. When I dream about love, this 1992 Neil Young masterpiece always seems to be playing in the background.
“Kiss Me” Sixpence None the Richer.
Michelle Williams’s film career wasn’t the only great thing to come out of Dawson’s Creek
. After the TV teen drama used “Kiss Me” on its soundtrack in 1999, it reached runner-up status on the Hot 100. More than any other song in the history of romance, this one makes me want to run out and fall in love.
“Can’t Get You Out of My Head” Kylie Minogue. Sometimes the glow of love burns so much brighter with a fierce electro beat.
“You’re Beautiful” James Blunt.
When it comes to love songs, they generally don’t make them like they used to, but every now and then, modern love spawns an aural masterpiece.
Five Honorable mentions: “Angel” Anita Baker, “So Alive” Love and Rockets, “Love Is All Around” Wet Wet Wet, “Maps” The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and “1 Thing” Amerie
What love songs will be on your playlist this Valentine’s Day?