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Setting The Mood With Five International Valentine’s Day Tunes

The countdown has begun to what is either the most romantic or most depressing holiday of all—Valentine’s Day. If you’re currently attached, well good on you—it can be tough out there. To help you enjoy this special day all that much more, we’re offering five songs perfect for a little one-on-one time with your someone special from all around the world. Download our picks to your iPod, cut the lights, and fire up a few candles—this is about to get real. Don’t worry—if your Valentine’s is more of a Lonely Hearts Day, we’ll have some love-hatin’ tracks for you later in the week.

“Walk On By”, Isaac Hayes, “Hot Buttered Soul”, 1969 —U.S.A.
If you just read the lyrics, this is a heartbreaker. We’ve all had “the hurt put on” us as Hayes says. But somehow, this rich track seems less about moping to us and more about what happens when the lava lamp heats up and the curtains are drawn. There’s a fairly good reason the original version of the song lasts almost 10 minutes. If you can’t figure that out, we can’t help you.
“Soukora”, Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder, from “Talking Timbuktu”, 1994—Malawi and U.S.A.
We should probably look up what “Soukora” and the other words to this beautiful, chiming waltz by Malian troubadour Ali Farka Tour&eacute and American bluesman Ry Cooder mean. The cut could be about civil war or marzipan cookies for all we know. Yet, it’s so delicate and warmly swaying, we’re worried that googling a decent translation might spoil this track forever.
“Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus”, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, “Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg”, 1969—U.K. and France
We need absolutely no translation for this track. English model Jane Birkin paired with her real-life partner, music legend Serge Gainsbourg, for a bouncy track featuring swooning strings, French protestations of love, and a lot of heavy breathing. Yes, many out there will react with laughter when Birkin begins to pant. Most, however, won’t be able to suppress a blush.
“Night Nurse”, Gregory Isaacs, “Night Nurse”, 1982—Jamaica
Sure, it’s fairly corny as musical come ons go, but Gregory Isaacs’ “Night Nurse” makes up in bass lines and directness what it lacks in elegance. It’s round, syncopated beats and lyrics have made it a favorite of cover artists and remixing DJs, but the original has a lovely rhythm all its own ideal for vertical or horizontal dancing.
“I Found a Reason”, Cat Power, “The Covers Record”, 2000—U.S.A.
Sometimes a quickie is all you need. Barely two mintues long, Chan Marshall’s rendition of the Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason”, like so many of her covers, strips the original down almost past recognition. What’s left over may be one of the most romantic tracks out there. Just try to hold back the tears.
For more songs that make the world go round, order a copy of our “Music + Travel Worldwide” guide to dozens of music scenes all over the globe.
Above (clockwise from upper left): Ali Farka Touré, Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, Gregory Isaacs, Cat Power

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