Once upon a time there was no more common rite of passage for a teenager than the creation of a mixtape. You'd fill a sixty- or ninety-minute cassette with favorite songs from your collection, maybe from your friend's, and you had a soundtrack for your summer. It was usually just a collection of the best songs from your favorite bands, but sometimes there was a theme of some sort -- British new wave, bands with female leads, classic rock guitar legends. (Rob Sheffield wrote a great book about this that I highly recommend, Love Is a Mixtape.)
Which brings us to the pinnacle of the art form, the romantic mixtape. Never did we spend so much time finding just the right songs with just the right lyrics and putting them in just the right order as when we were crafting a collection of songs to present to someone we loved and hoped would love us back. I still have the mixtape my wife made for me when we first started dating almost a quarter century ago, and even though I no longer have a cassette player and don't even know where I'd get one, I'll keep that tape forever.
None of that was possible for young lovers sixty years ago, so the music industry obliged. There were any number of options for those looking to set a romantic mood, and all the crooners of the day -- Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett -- regularly released collections of love songs that were no doubt played over candlelight dinners everywhere.
Nat "King" Cole was one of the legendary singers of that or any era, and here he presents a collection of ballads lamenting lost love. In "A Cottage for Sale," a man comes across a home where he once lived with his true love and discovers that though it looks the same, everything is different.
From every single window, I see your face
But when I reach a window, there's an empty space.
The key's in the mailbox, the same as before,
But no one is waiting for me anymore.
The lyrics are from Larry Conley, and the song has been recorded dozens of times by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Judy Garland to Willie Nelson, but Cole's phrasing here is perfect as he expresses a longing for something he can no longer reach.
Continuing with the theme of heartbreak, Cole tackles another standard, "These Foolish Things." Of all the tracks on the record, none has been recorded by as many different legends. There are versions from the people you'd expect -- Sinatra, Holiday, Fitzgerald -- but it's also appealed to modern singers from different genres, like Aaron Neville, Rod Stewart, and Bob Dylan. The first time I came across the song it was the Bryan Ferry version, which isn't surprising because I'm sure Ferry would've been right at home singing standards back in the 1950s.
The lyrics are simple but poignant.
A cigarette that bears a lipstick's traces,An airline ticket to romantic places, A fairgrounds painted swings, These foolish things remind me of you.A tinkling piano in the next apartment,Those stumbling words that told you what my heart meant, And still my heart has wings. These foolish things remind me of you.You came, you saw, you conquered me.When you did that to me, I knew somehow It had to be.The winds of March that make my heart a dancer,A telephone that rings but who's to answer? Oh, how the thought of you clings. These foolish things remind me of you.
When Your Lover Has Gone
A Cottage for Sale
Who's Sorry Now?
Once in a While
These Foolish Things Remind Me of You
Just for the Fun of It
Don't Get Around Much Anymore
Just One of Those Things
The Song Is Ended
I Should Care
The Party's Over