Your CD Player or Mine?

Makeout music that knows the (ahem) score

As much as skill, timing, responsiveness, and a decent sense of balance enhance its basic acts, you don't necessarily need them to have sex. Making out, on the other hand, depends upon them. After all, sex that's inexpert, awkwardly situated, or truncated can still be plenty hot if passionate enough; making out is, by nature, a more considered endeavor. Sex, which I'll define loosely as any activity between more than one person designed to bring about orgasm, can last two minutes or 10 hours; but a serious lips/tongues/hands/ other session tends to have a built-in duration factor—when you set out to make out, you expect it to last awhile. Maybe it'll lead to a more directly climactic destination, and maybe it won't. Fetishizing lovemaking's more tenderly tactile sensations—kissing, massaging, breathing in rhythm—making out is about the journey, not the arrival.

Which is why you need traveling music. Sensual interaction between human bodies tends to generate fascinating, often hypnotic sounds on its own, but if you wish dearly to lock mouth and limb with the shy-seeming-yet-intense lad or lass who somehow makes their way into your apartment one evening, be assured that you will not get the kind of attention you're seeking if you throw on that half-rewound cassette of the Steve Miller Band's Greatest Hits 1974-1978. No, something entirely different is required here. You need to be attention-earning and unobtrusive simultaneously—the musical equivalent of gently encasing your newfound friend's earlobe between your curious teeth when the signal comes that they're ready (head angled in expectation). The trick is to build and enhance that sense of anticipation.

This is the very reason God put Al Green on the planet. Sure, the singer serves his maker full-time now, performing occasional, perfunctory hits revues to aid his vanity and his bank account. But when Green made his string of masterworks for Hi Records in the early '70s, he and producer Willie Mitchell hit on a formula—thick, insistent, absorbing—that was as close to the essence of relaxed romance as anyone will ever come. 1972's I'm Still in Love with You was where his style turned from clever to classic; the undulating organ and audaciously tick-tocking beat of "I'm Glad You're Mine" remains the sexiest music I've ever encountered. He followed it with 1973's Call Me, whose intimate yearning and untiring push-and-yield dynamics make it the greatest soul album of all time. (I'm leaving out 1977's The Belle Album, a personal favorite, which as his first complete foray into sacred territory falls outside the boundaries of this survey.) Despite the plethora of repackages his catalogue has received, there's no better retrospective than the original Greatest Hits, whose CD reissue contains five worthy bonus tracks. (All titles on Hi/The Right Stuff; about $17.)

Much of Green's appeal stems from his close-microphone technique: Every breath is audible and becomes part of the singing itself. It's a method that's been a standard part of vocalists' repertoire since the 1930s, when Bing Crosby became pop's first successful crooner. The style was scandalous at the time—guardians of society were worried that such up-close-and-personal music might make young people get as comfortable with one another as you and that houseguest of yours are right now. So celebrate how right they were with Closer Than a Kiss: Crooner Classics (Rhino; about $15). From Crosby's "Around the World" to Johnny Hartman's "My One and Only Love"(en- hanced by a smoky solo by John Coltrane) to Chet Baker's stunning "My Funny Valentine," these songs sound like they're murmuring right in your ears. Practice along with them; you may miss a line or two, but if you do it right, it'll hardly matter.

In fact, why not really challenge yourself? Here's the test: Put on Gil e Jorge (Polygram; about $17), the sublimely loose-limbed 1975 acoustic jam session between Brazilian singer-songwriters Gilberto Gil and Jorge Ben. Why not take the way Ben's commanding baritone and Gil's beseeching tenor shadowbox with one another as a model for your own activities? Notice how Gil's fluttering high notes navigate Ben's solid melodic base on "Meu Glorioso Sao Cristovao," or how the 15-minute "Taj Mahal" finds them darting around each other on the endlessly repeated chorus before joining in joyous tandem. With a little practice, the two of you could accomplish something similar with your loose limbs as well.

Or maybe you'd prefer to emulate something a little more contained. If that's the case, try tracing the regularly evolving, utterly beguiling patterns of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians on each other's backs, necks, faces, mouths. (Nonesuch's 1998 recording is easier to find, but I prefer the 1978 version on ECM, which is faster and generates a more pointillistic intensity; both about $17.) The groundbreaking minimalist composition's gridlike, oddly humane structure is ideal for both clearing your headspace for the task at hand and relaxing you into its textural shadings.

Or maybe you'd prefer the warm glow and slippery contours of Miles Davis' In a Silent Way (Columbia/ Legacy; about $14), whose gorgeously textured immersiveness may be the most inviting music Davis ever made. Similarly, the monstrous, aching, bigger-than-God guitars and blurry vocals of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless (Sire; about $13) manage to achieve a sort of feverish stasis—a phrase that could be a working definition of making out.

But you can't make out forever without arriving at the denouement, which is why we've come to the Barry White portion of our program this evening. Sure he's cheesy. Of course it's completely obvious. But if you've listened and made out to all those albums without yet moving into Topic A Itself, all I can say is you both deserve a break. So get with either Barry White's Greatest Hits (Mercury; about $13) or The Very Best of Barry White (Funk Essentials/Mercury; about $17). The latter is twice as long, while the former contains "Love Serenade," seven minutes that shook the world's bedrooms, in which the man utters the most deathless line in the history of popular music: "I don't wanna see no panties." Your choice, kids. Go on. You deserve it. And don't forget to thank him or her in the morning.

Michaelangelo Matos is a staff writer at Seattle Weekly.

 
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