Certain Songs #1077: The Magnetic Fields – “All My Little Words”

Album: 69 Love Songs
Year: 1999

Arriving just as the old millennium came crashing into the new, the complete and utter audacity of 69 Love Songs made it into one of the last big pop events of that millennium.

The concept was right there in the title of the record: 69 (nice!) love — or love-adjacent — songs spread equally over three discs. A completely pure manifestation of the Ross The Boss motto that quantity was quality, it didn’t even matter if 69 Love Songs was chock full of filler, experiments, bad lyrics, and complete misfires.

Indeed, that was part of the point: like any of the other massive three-disc sets, Stephen Merritt no doubt assumed that each listener would eventually create their own version. Mine ended up being 29 songs and 74 minutes long, and features a candidate for Prettiest Song Ever Written, 69 Love Songs Division, “All My Little Words.”

Over a bed of acoustic guitar and a repeating riff on a banjo, co-conspirator LD Beghtol — with a lovely assist from Shirley Simms — sings about a relationship that is going to end, no matter how hard he tries, no matter what he does.

Not for all the tea in China
Not if I could sing like a bird
Not for all North Carolina
Not for all my little words
Not if I could write for you
The sweetest song you ever heard
It doesn’t matter what I do
Not for all my little words

With Simms singing a ghostly harmony and Sam Davol’s cello sadly floating like an uncatchable butterfly, that chorus is almost unendurably beautiful, a perfect expression of sadness and pain that is also somehow redemptive.

Then after a short guitar break that follows the melody of the verses — one of my favorite tricks — while playing hide and seek with the banjo, one last bit of heartbreak.

Now that you’ve made me want to die
You tell me that you’re unboyfriendable
And I could make you pay and pay
(And pay and pay)
But I could never make you stay

I don’t know of Stephen Merritt coined the word “unboyfriendable” at this exact moment, but it’s such a great word that you might not even notice the heartbreak, but since it’s almost immediately followed by the chorus, of course you do.

“All My Little Words”

“All My Little Words” performed live in 2008

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2 Responses to “Certain Songs #1077: The Magnetic Fields – “All My Little Words””

  1. Idle curiosity: how many hits do you get on your posts?

  2. Jim Connelly says:

    Not a lot. It kinda depends on the artist. More popular rock artists tend to do the best. My theory is that there isn’t anybody (besides me, of course) who likes all of the songs I write about, but everybody likes at least one of the songs I write about. Plus, I’m not super aggressive in the socialization, which probably also leaves potential readers on the table.