Jens Lekman’s new record I Know What Love Isn’t is out this week, and on the whole it’s a pretty morose affair, as befits its status as a breakup album. Still, even on a record this subdued, Lekman’s signature humor can’t help but shine through, despite the fact that he’s left some of his funniest recent songs (namely “Waiting for Kirsten” and “An Argument With Myself”) off the tracklisting. The fact that Lekman’s songs are often as witty as they are moving is something that we’ve always liked about him — after all, love is frequently as bewildering, ridiculous, and, yes, funny as it is wonderful and inspiring, and love songs are a whole lot more effective if they eschew clichéd romanticism for realism. With that in mind, here’s a selection of wry, witty, and/or plain old silly love songs that make us laugh, starting with one of Jens’ best. Let us know your favorites in the comments.
Jens Lekman — “Maple Leaves”
Lekman’s had more than his fair share of songs that manage to be both hilarious and moving: from “A Postcard to Nina,” which recounts pretending to be a lesbian’s girlfriend for the benefit of her conservative parents, to painting a bleakly funny depiction of depression (“The Opposite of Hallelujah”) and debating the wisdom of flying to Barcelona to see a girl (“I Don’t Know if She’s Worth 900 Kronor”). But we’re particularly fond of this classic, a portrait of cross-cultural relationship misunderstanding that ends with arguably the best Lekman lines ever: “When she talked about about the fall/ I thought she talked about Mark E. Smith/ I never understood at all.”
Magnetic Fields — “The Book of Love”
Lekman is often compared to Stephin Merritt, and not only because their voices sound remarkably similar at times. The two also share a wry sense of humor — you can totally imagine Lekman singing, “The Book of Love is long and boring / No one can lift the damn thing,” can’t you?
Amy Winehouse — “Me and Mr. Jones”
As we’ve written here before, one of the many sad aspects of Amy Winehouse’s untimely death was that she’s been saddled with an awfully clichéd “tortured artist” image that ignores the reality of both the woman and her music. Winehouse could be as funny as she could be bleak — “Fuck Me Pumps” was a gloriously catty evisceration of starfucking scenesters, and even the largely desolate Back to Black had its LOL-tastic moments. Foremost amongst them was this track, a bruised love song that, apart from anything else, was home to one of music’s most glorious opening lines: “What kind of fuckery is this?/ You made me miss the Slick Rick gig!”
Jarvis Cocker — “Leftovers”
Oh, go on — surely “I met her in the Museum of Paleontology/ And I make no bones about it” made you laugh the first time you heard it…
John Maus — “Less Talk More Action”
We love John Maus for his sense of humor as much as anything else. His songs can be as hilarious as they are cerebral — listen to “Don’t Be a Body” (“Sex with car/ Sex on top of car/ Sex with Ringo Starr”), for instance, or “It Takes Time” (“Oh my, grandma peed her pants again/ And I got it on my hand”). As with many of his early tracks, this song does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a call to get it on ASAP, its giggle-inducing lyrics (“Take off your shirt/ Take off your pants!”) rendered all the more amusing by Maus’ deadpan delivery and the bizarre Casio carnival music that accompanies him.
Malcolm Middleton — “Fuck It, I Love You”
Arab Strap made a career out of kitchen sink dramas set in the sort of kitchen where there’ve been dirty dishes in the sink for at least a month (and possibly something living under them.) Their songs were shot through with the blackest of black humor, and while Malcolm Middleton was a relative ray of sunshine in contrast to his über-misanthropic bandmate Aidan Moffatt, he’s still got a way with an acerbic lyric. This song is really rather sweet, which only makes the bruised romanticism of its title more amusing.
The Beautiful South — “Don’t Marry Her”
More acerbic British humor: “Don’t marry her/ Fuck me” is a definite contender for the most bittersweet refrain of all time, and this song also boasts some great couplets (foremost amongst which is “Your socks smell of angels/ But your life smells of Brie”).
Flight of the Conchords — “Carol Brown (Stick Around)”
Musical comedy is a dicey affair, largely because it’s really difficult for a song to be amusing the first time around and avoid being face-clawingly irritating after a few repeats (a fact that explains the absence of artists like Tenacious D and Barenaked Ladies from this list). We reckon Flight of the Conchords just about pull it off with this track, however — and the chorus of ex-girlfriends is a stroke of genius.
Cole Porter — “I Get a Kick Out of You”
The original master of the witty love song, Porter penned innumerable wryly literate love songs over a career that spanned half a century. It’s really just a matter of picking your favorite — we’re particularly fond of “I Get a Kick Out of You,” which was rather risqué in its time (especially its reference to cocaine, which was promptly expunged by uptight US censors), and its deft rhymes still have us smiling in appreciation every time we listen to it.
Spinal Tap — “Big Bottom”
“My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo/ I love to sink her with my pink torpedo.” Game over.