Why are there so few uplifting Valentine’s Day songs? If ever a manufactured holiday screamed for some enterprising young artist to come along and brand it with a catchy tune, it’s Valentine’s Day. And yet, when February 14 rolls around each year, people invariably settle for general songs about love or heartbreak to augment their Valentinal experience. We’ve got it all wrong, people! Valentine’s Day needs the kind of universally known jam that reminds us to love each other extra much on this one particular day, the way that Christmas songs remind us to be thoughtful and generous once a year. If that song could warm the hearts of lovers, or those falling in love, while simultaneously reminding all of the single people that an unloved heart is a cold brittle heart, and that their time on earth is limited, and that they’re wasting it in solitude, that would be even better! And how about this: Valentine’s Day carolers? That’s an idea I’m just giving away for free. Run with it, and you will make a million dollars. Or whatever carolers usually make.
According to Wikipedia, Valentine’s Day was invented in the late 19th century by a haberdasher named John Whitmansampler, who lived in the area of colonial California then known as North Cackalacka. Whitmansampler was carrying on a romance with a schoolteacher named Fanny Underwire, and wanted to profess his love for her in a unique manner, rather than simply handing her his finest turnip, as was the tradition. In order to celebrate his mistress, he created what he called a “super-birthday” or “universal birthday” for her on February 14th, on which he would shower her with gifts. Of course, since Whitmansampler was a religious man, he needed to choose a sponsor for his proposed super-birthday. He chose Saint Valentine, which was a fortuitous choice: In addition to being the patron saint of kindling romance, Saint Valentine is also the patron saint of anxiety and dentistry. Whitmansampler set about using all of his talents as a haberdasher to make gifts for Fanny Underwire. Later, when other suitors began to celebrate super-birthdays under the auspice of Saint Valentine (or Valentine’s Days, as they began to be known), they attempted to stay as close to the model originated by John Whitmansampler as possible. That is why most of the original valentines were hats shaped like hearts, and the rest were hearts shaped like hats.
However, for reasons unbeknown to us, Fanny Underwire spurned John Whitmansampler’s advances. Whitmansampler was crushed. However, in a feat of astonishing resilience, within a couple of years he had regained his spirit, and just as Saint Valentine famously chased the snakes out of Ireland, John Whitmansampler vowed to chase the snakes out of women’s hearts in North Cackalacka. This was especially ambitious, because snake-heart was a common ailment of that particular time. First, Whitmansample bought all of the construction paper in North Cackalacka, as well as the neighboring towns of New York and Compton. Then, he used the construction paper to make dozens of brightly-colored envelopes, and wrote the name of a female town resident on each one of them. Then, the real work began! Whitmansampler set about creating a postcard for each of the women in North Cackalacka that included their name in a clever pun. Because John Whitmansampler knew then what most guys wish they knew now: Girls love puns. It’s inexplicable, but they fucking love them. So he set about finding puns for all the Samanthas and Megans and Rachels of North Cackalacka. As he set about the arduous task, he thought to himself, “Why, oh, why did I lose the love of Fanny Underwire? Her name was so ripe for punning!”
Of course, as we all know now, John Whitmansampler did not cure the women of North Cackalacka of heart-snake—so, today, most Valentine’s Day songs are deeply, horrifically sad. Bleak Valentine’s Day songs outnumber hopeful Valentine’s Day songs at a much higher ratio than bleak regular old songs outnumber hopeful regular old songs. Perhaps there are easier explanations for this—that art strives on conflict; that Valentine’s day has become less a day to celebrate love and more a day to celebrate consumerism and mourn the loss of love—but what better explanation can there be than that failing on Valentine’s day is woven into our miserable little history. It may not even be a coincidence that all of the great, morbid Valentine’s Day songs—like Steve Earle’s “Valentine’s Day” (“I come to you with empty hands”) or Old 97’s “Valentine” (“It’s a lonely, lonely feeling when your valentine is wrong”) or Bobby Bare Jr.’s Young Criminals’ Starvation League’s “Valentine” (“Valentine, I killed my Valentine”)—come from the genre of alternative country. They’re not even marketable; they’re just fun to write. Even the most famous Valentine’s song of all, Chet Baker’s “My Funny Valentine,” is about falling in love with someone so hideously ugly, that, when you smile, you only smile in your heart because your face is twisted into absolute horror.
Valentine’s Day is in need of a serious PR makeover. Single people loathe it, obviously. But at least half of people in couples loathe it, too—either because they hate the person they’re dating, or because they know that, no matter what they do, their haberdashery will never make a hat-shaped-heart like the one their significant other was promised when they were ten. Thing is, this is an easy fix. All we need is a song—one that people could sing when they wake up on Valentine’s morning to remind them to love today; one that you could walk down the street with it stuck in your head and see someone walking in the opposite direction mouthing the words; one that all the single people could get together and sing door-to-door for all of the not single people. A universal song of love. For love. To love. Or, barring that, Valentine’s Day needs a cute, furry mascot. And that’s why OutKast’s “Happy Valentine’s Day” is currently the greatest Valentine’s Day song of all time: Because it mentions the Easter Bunny.
-Martin Brown, 2009