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Passion: The Music of Love
Various Artists
Intersound

Passion: Music for Guitar
Various Artists
Narada Lotus

Romance: Music for Piano
Various Artists
Narada Lotus

THE CONCEPT OF MAKE-OUT MUSIC is probably as old as music itself. Surely Pythagoras developed his notion about the “Music of the Spheres” after a particularly hot toga party. Beats there a modern heart so cold that it can’t be turned to mush at the first strains of some radio hit from the puberty years? The song that first stirred your loins may be embarrassing twaddle in the full light of maturity, but that’s beside the point. The point is, music hath many charms, one of which is to fan the flames of desire.

The average 45 rpm record lasts barely three minutes. Granted, that’s longer than most anxious teen-age males need, but it’s still problematic. The old long-playing vinyl album was only good for 20 minutes, at most, before someone had to get up and replace the tone-arm. But with the advent of compact disc technology, modern swingles can program hours and hours of sensual sounds for uninterrupted rapture. For the multi-orgasmic and slow-to-ignite, this would seem a near necessity.

After the mad vault-cleaning rush of best-ofs and box sets, enterprising record companies have realized they can target acquisitive consumers with theme releases. And since nothing sells like sex, it’s hardly surprising that a near glut of prepackaged boudoir soundtracks should appear. In addition to the discs here, Cyborgasm 2 is out, and Rhino will shortly release Smooth Grooves: A Sensual Collection, four volumes of “Quiet Storm” music.

The discs at hand contain no triple-X, Donna Summer “Love to Love You Baby”-style explicitness. Rather, they take a Hallmark-card approach, with the packaging including many poems to set the appropriate tone. No Bukowski. No Ginsberg. Strictly the high-school sentimentalists: Byron, Yeats, Shelley.

Passion: The Music of Love offers four discs, arranged under the titles A Time for Love (pop symphonic), Classics for Lovers (classical hits), Sensual Interludes (solo piano), and Forbidden Pleasure, which is defined here as soft AOR pop.

A cavorting couple adorns the box, as well as each jewel case and the discs themselves; the man and woman affect that bored, vacant manner of the professional model, illustrating the collection’s lascivious theme like the “serving suggestion” on a box of Rice-a-Roni. Liner notes helpfully identify the pair as Shelly Jones and Brad Cooper. Also credited is a hair and makeup artist. What makeup? They’re nearly nude!

As the discs played, I found myself becoming ever fonder of the distant Shelly. Her sepia-toned cheeks, her pouting lips, piqued my imagination. I pictured myself in Brad’s place, holding her close. I imagined myself with Brad’s body. I imagined calling the makeup artist over for a quick touch-up. Eventually, I grew to despise them both. These collections reach me at a moment when I am—how to phrase it?—between tragically doomed affairs, and the languid couple’s feigned infatuation mocks me.

To fully test the passion-producing prowess of these recordings, I dug deep in my phone book, seeking a listening partner. When the enticement, “Just you, me, some Asti Spumanti, and the shuffle/repeat key,” yielded only threats of fresh injunctions, I swallowed my pride and a hefty slug of Chianti and pressed on, unaccompanied.

Fully one-third of the songs on Passion are identified as theme songs from movies, and most of the rest often appear on soundtracks or commercials. Fine—cinema has long defined what is romantic. But conspicuously absent is that famous film song, Ravel’s “Bolero,” from the Bo Derek flick 10. It is widely regarded as the most erotically charged piece of music ever written (after, of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “That Smell”). It’s omission here seriously dampens the collection’s usefulness.

Also missing is Wagner‘s “Ride of the Valkyries,” which could have been identified as the Apocalypse Now tune. Maybe this is too personal a complaint, but I say there’s nothing like a little Viking foreplay to get the pheromones racing.

AS SEDUCTIVELY STIMULATING AS A POP SONG MAY BE, it is but a peck on the cheek compared to the deep, sustained soul kiss that is classical music. Classics for Lovers runs through those “hits” most people are familiar with, as performed by the London Festival Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and others, from the pastoral Trois Gymnopédies by Erik Satie (performed here on piano) and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” to the “hook” portions of Madame Butterfly and Pagliacci. I prefer Malcolm McLaren‘s funkified version of Butterfly—he disguised the fact that this is actually opera. But for evoking a screamingly pre-orgasmic atmosphere, it’s not bad.

I find little titillating about Tchaikovsky‘s Swan Lake suite. Rather, its minor-key woodwinds just reduce me to great heaving sobs of self-pity. This, I have found, is rarely an aphrodisiac. Conversely, Rodrigo‘s “Adagio” from Concierto de Aranjuez always inflames my Latin blood (surely somewhere). Its dancing guitars, alternately toying, taunting, tempting, roil me into a state of insane frenzy. I think of hot summer nights and a dark-haired beauty I could never tame. She had lived with Gypsies—what chance had I? Damn, is the wine all gone?

Several steps down the orchestral hierarchy is A Time for Love—more movie tracks that the London Symphony Orchestra, Rochester Pops, and others make sound like outtakes from a Liza Minelli special. This is “Pops”-style sensuality, which is to say it’s as arousing as Arthur Fiedler in a Speedo. The exception is the “Love Theme From The Godfather.” The haunting, luxurious strings remain evocative of all the loved ones who were ever blown to bits. Or should have been.

Two of the songs on Time come from James Bond films, “Diamonds Are Forever” (worst Connery Bond) and “Casino Royale” (1967, no Connery). While men rightly find 007 the pinnacle of studliness, Bond babes routinely perish après amour. Discretion is advised in programming these two. Hearing such limp attempts at suaveness only reminds me that too often my encounters with women have left them shaken, not stirred. Feeling like the George Lazenby of lovers, I freshen my rum and Coke and move, hopefully, to Forbidden Pleasure.

If you consider Janet Jackson, Garth Brooks, and Michael Bolton covers at all pleasurable, then you’ll enjoy these dozen attempts at Kenny G-spot, soprano-saxuality by a group known as Spectrum. Among the songs is a Yanni cover (think about that). But it is the two Spectrum “originals” that most effectively approximate a seductive mood. Environmental, airy synth excursions to nowhere, “While She Sleeps” and “Ricky’s Prayer” would prove complementary to a mutual massage session (no tipping). I rub my aching head.

Sensual Interludes features older standards like “Star Dust” and “My Funny Valentine” performed on solo piano by Van Craven. Craven does a fair George Winston impression, only slower, if that’s possible. So slow that at times it sounds as if he’s playing one-handed. Which is probably appropriate.

Similarly, the Narada piano sampler, Romance, favors the same high-register, minimalist, plinkety-plink style that makes it almost impossible to discern Michael Whalen from David Arkenstone. Most new age is meaningless on first listen, generally being merely a pleasant assemblage of notes rather than an identifiable song. But it can subliminally sneak up on you and is most effective when nearly ignored in the background, lost amid the clinking glasses. Drink up.

But this piano is too cerebral, the sound of very dry white wine. It is the guitar—a robust burgundy—that reaches closer to the heart. Letting Music for Guitar play continuously while waiting for the telephone repairman to arrive (to fix the phone, I hasten to add), I found the sinuous riffs by Nando Lauria, Simon Wynberg, Randy Roos, and others getting under my skin. This is music to writhe by. Thank god the phone man didn’t catch me.

Ultimately, most of this music is white-bread, Merchant/Ivory eroticism, polite and restrained for Chablis sensibilities. There’s no throbbing electronic bass and percussion, kids, so most of the real sweaty work will have to be done by you.

Still, it has its uses. After ruminating at length and alone, I offer this prescription: Candlelight dinner to the pianos, move to the sofa for extended groping with the guitars, then get serious with select classical tracks. I suggest Beethoven to Bach, up the ante with the Rodrigo, get her singing along with Madame Butterfly, answer her with Pagliacci, then linger in the afterglow with Albinoni‘s “Adagio for Strings and Organ”—the aural equivalent of le petit mort.

Well, it works for me. Stepping out of a very cold shower, I finish the bourbon, turn off the stereo, turn off the lights, and weep heavy tears of remorse. And so, to bed.

Reprinted from Washington City Paper