Choosing your favorite love song is no easy task. Do you dig in your memory for that nostalgic gem of teenage tenderness, or stick with the song that soundtracked your last kiss? Which passion do you prefer: gushing exuberance or deep longing? Or perhaps you have a soft spot for cultural impact. I asked my fellow ATG writers to choose their favorite love song of all time and share with the world what makes it THE ONE. Find out what we had to say after the jump.
Joan Baez – “Diamonds and Rust”
They say time heals all wounds, a cliché that takes for granted the past’s immobility. Heartbreak hurts less the further you get from it, but what happens when it comes creeping back? “Well I’ll be damned, here comes your ghost again,” Joan Baez trembles in “Diamonds and Rust,” capturing perfectly the haunt of a past lover. And not just any past lover: “by far, the most talented crazy person I’ve ever worked with.” My heart goes out to Baez – the intensity of power struggles in a Bob Dylan relationship may be second only to Bolshevik Russia. The song does an unparalleled job laying out the high stakes of love between a great genius and a great talent, equal parts worship and resentment, dependence and opposition. And holy hell, that voice.
Honorable Mentions: Bonnie Tyler – “The Best”; Guns N’ Roses – “Sweet Child o’ Mine”; The Beach Boys – “God Only Knows”; The Cure – “Just Like Heaven”; of Montreal – “Gallery Piece”; Canoodle – “Undertone”
Sam Cooke – “Bring It On Home To Me (Live At The Harlem Square Club)”
Sam Cooke is undoubtedly one of the best musicians of all time, and his greatest hits would serve well as a Valentine’s Day mix all on their own, but since I have to settle for one track, it has to be the iconic “Bring It On Home To Me.” “You Send Me” may be sweeter, and “(What A) Wonderful World” might be cuter, but “Bring It On Home To Me” has more character than either. Cooke delivers more passion in one single line than I may ever be able to deliver in a lifetime (sorry, future girlfriends), and his call-and-response of ‘yeahs’ with Lou Rawls gives me chills even today, after what must be 2000 listens. For those of you looking for even more passion (is that even possible?), listen to the above recording of his legendary performance at the Harlem Square Club in 1963, less than a year before his tragic murder.
Honorable Mentions: The Rolling Stones – “Under My Thumb”; Teddybears – “Yours To Keep”; The Troggs – “With A Girl Like You”; ‘N Sync (Ft. Nelly) – “Girlfriend”
Berlin – “Take My Breath Away”
Alright, here it is. The cherry on the top of Fancy Nancy’s most romantic jams list. “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin because, first and foremost, Berlin is a rad band. Secondly, it makes me inexplicably nostalgic for big hair, oversized suit jackets and young pre-Oprah meltdown Tom Cruise. Third, just listen to the lyrics and tell me it doesn’t get you emotional. Finally, and most importantly, it was written by legendary producer Giorgio Moroder. Yeah, bet you didn’t know that. If you did, you’re cooler than me.
Honorable Mentions: Sinead O’Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U”; Prince – “I Would Die 4 U”; Cassius – “I <3 U"; any other popular 80s songs with numbers and that spell "you" as "U"
Weezer – “El Scorcho”
I’m a sucker for sap. But on the sappiest day of the year, I go for the less obvious, the alternative love song. Though he’s since graduated to writing half-ass songs about hash pipes, at one time, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo was the preeminent troubadour of romantic angst. “El Scorcho” is the heart-warming tale of a rock-obsessed protagonist and his unrequited love for a very-special, cello-wielding ”half-Japanese girl” (presumably based on the initial relationship of Cuomo and his now-wife Kyoko Ito). Weezer has some other great love-songs, including “Susanne,” but lines like “I’ll bring home the turkey if you bring home the bacon,” put “El Scorcho” over the top.
Honorable Mentions: Big Star – “I’m In Love With A Girl,” The Cure – “Just Like Heaven”
Talking Heads – “This Must Be The Place (Stop Making Sense Version)”
We’ve heard this one so many times in so many different settings that it can be easy to forget “This Must Be The Place” is, in fact, the greatest love song of all time. The ultimate paean to life, love and all things funky, floating on synth bass wings and the guitar riff to end all guitar riffs – with lyrics guaranteed to slay you emotionally provided you’re a red-blooded human. A song that was amazing to begin with got vaulted into the upper reaches of the jam stratosphere when the Talking Heads played it live with P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell and rhythm guitar wizard Alex Weir for the filming of “Stop Making Sense.” Stick a fork in it, put a bird on it, case closed: this song is the greatest.
Honorable mentions: Big Star – “Thirteen”; Van Morrison – “Real Real Gone”; Visitor – “RNB”; The Four Tops – “Still Water (Love)”; The Beach Boys – “God Only Knows”
Something Corporate – “Konstantine”
“Konstantine” was the soundtrack to my first love. My high school sweetheart and I would play it on my car’s stereo on nights that we’d told our parents comprised of just dinners and movies with friends but were actually highlighted by sleepovers in middle school parking lots adorned with the overwhelming feeling that we shone brighter than anything else in the universe and the unwavering assertion that this would last forever. Andrew McMahon’s signature ballad captures that feeling of youthful naivety and its ability to give love earth-shattering power.
I remember going to see them at the 9:30 Club my junior or senior year of high school. Said sweetheart got a little too close to the front and ended up having to get lifted out of the crowd to get some water near the end of the set, but “Konstantine” hadn’t been played yet. I waited her for her near the side of the crowd, anxiously awaiting her return as those first rising and falling notes finally started playing. Just when I thought we were going to miss hearing this song together, she emerged from the side door and ran towards me, kissing me right as, “This is to a girl who got inside my head” echoed through the venue. It was the kind of movie moment that only two kids in love who didn’t know any better could have.
Honorable mentions: Bloc Party – “I Still Remember”; Frightened Rabbit – “The Wrestle”; The New Amsterdams – “Stay On The Phone”; Neko Case – “This Tornado Loves You”; Van Morrison – “The Way Young Lovers Do”
Joni Mitchell – “All I Want”
One step above Unrequited Love on the Relationship-Angst-O-Meter is Bittersweet Love—the kind where you really love someone, but for whatever reason it’s not quite right. Half of you loves the person completely, but the other—equally opinionated—half of you wants to grab him by the shoulders and shake him every time he takes 24 hours to respond to your last text message or makes some lame excuse to get out of a date. Doesn’t he know that you could be so happy together if he could just get over his shit and give you what you so obviously crave and need from him? A song about caring for someone so much you want to knit him sweaters, write him love letters, make him feel better, even though he makes you hurt (so good?), “All I Want” captures exactly what it feels like to be a 20something entangled in a romance that you know isn’t right for either one of you, but that you keep working at because you know how great it could be.
Honorable Mentions: The Cardigans – “Lovefool”; Neil Young -“Harvest Moon”; The Shivers – “Beauty”
Beyonce – “Love On Top”
“Love On Top” is one of those songs that gets played at a wedding and brings every generation of your family out on the dance floor. It’s full of energy without being aggressive and carries a subtle New Jack Swing groove that gives it a throwback feel without tying it to any particular decade. Bey handles the rest, gracefully jumping between key changes while, in increasingly high registers, belting out a chorus about men that have their shit together. It’s no wonder B snagged a Grammy for this one.
Talking Heads – “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)”
This closing track off of Talking Head’s 1983 album, Speaking In Tongues is not your typical love song. It isn’t a song serenading a beautiful girl with a couple “ooh baby’s,” “darling’s” or “I’d-give-you-the-world’s.” It’s barely even about another girl; in the concert film Stop Making Sense, frontman David Byrne sings the song to a lamp. What the song is about, though, is the feeling of first love and all the insecurities that come with it. It’s hard enough to say “I love you” for a guy in disbelief of another person wanting to be with him, so instead the song is scattered with references of wanting to be “home,” that “this must be the place,” and to “share the same space for a minute or two,” using those words almost as a cover up instead of saying what he wants to say. As the song progresses, he becomes more comfortable with himself, stating that “this is where I’ll be” and “love me till I’m dead.” The end result is a love song at its most love-struck, but told in a way that doesn’t come off so corny. As for its composition, it’s just so simple, honest and joyous, you can’t help but feel better after hearing it. It’s a pretty amazing feat for a guy who had never written “a real love song before.”
Honorable Mentions: The Beatles – “Michelle”; Stevie Wonder – “My Cherie Amour”
Etta James – At Last
Was there any other choice? I could go on about how the silky strings swing in the embrace of the strong and steady bass guitar, and about the keys softly tapping in the background, lending an air texture and depth, and light flirtation. But, while true, none of that is really what makes the song go. This track is about a longing, a release, an unstoppable voice. It’s about Etta James and her whisper, and her warble, and her wail. Her voice shakes as she sings, “My heart was wrapped up in clover, the night I looked at you,” and our hearts collectively tremble. She sways and pulls us close, cheek-to-cheek, holding us tight as those crystal clear notes caress our ears, speed the beating in our chest, set butterflies loose in our stomach and make our knees weak. The song is slow-dancing by candlelight in pajamas and slippers. It’s sitting in the cool grass, head-on-shoulder, watching ripples on a pond as dusk gives way to dark. It’s laying on the hood of car, hand-in-hand, staring up at the stars. It’s love and hope in 4/4 time.
Honorable Mentions: The Getup Kids – “I’ll Catch You”; Iron and Wine – “Love and Some Verses”; Van Morrison – “Crazy Love”
BEN – @benjiwo
Prince – “If I Was Your Girlfriend”
“If I Was Your Girlfriend” is even sweeter than it is weird. In the late 1980s, Prince almost released an entire album under the name Camille and sung in an absurdly high pitched falsetto. He scrapped the idea, but some of the songs – including “If I Was Your Girlfriend” – made it onto Sign o’ the Times. On the surface, the song is bizarre: Prince femininely coos about how much he wants to be your very best man/girlfriend/friend-that-is-a-girl and dancing a naked ballet over an alien 808 beat. There’s a church organ. There’s an orgasm. There’s the plea to see you naked in the outro monologue.
But underneath all of the androgynous kink flying around, Prince hides the most romantic lyrics he has ever written. He longs for a mundane, everyday relationship. He wants to help you wash your hair, pick out your clothes, make you breakfast and go to the movies and cry together, not because you’re helpless but because those are the things that being in love is about. Prince doesn’t want to be just another man in your life, he wants to be your best friend. Isn’t that what you really want out of love?
The White Stripes – “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”
“Soft hair and velvet tongue I wanna give you what you give to me and every breath that is in your lungs is a tiny little gift to me.” Of all the rock duos in history, Jack and Meg White had to be the most mysterious. The pair represented themselves as siblings in early interviews but were later discovered to have once been married (neither has ever officially confirmed it). Regardless, I don’t think I’ve ever heard love summed up so succinctly in one verse which makes this raw garage rocker my V-Day #1. It evokes such a powerful image of lust at first but, in a split second, switches to love. The raw emotion of the song is unleashed in the feedback of Jack’s guitar before each chord progression. Gets me hot and bothered every time.
Honorable Mentions: Danny Daze ft. Louisahhh – “Your Everything”; David Bowie – “Moonage Daydream”
Elton John – “Your Song”
No love song captures what it is to be young and in love more simply and eloquently than Elton John’s “Your Song.” As the song begins, we sit on the sidelines as an awkward, innocent youngster professes his love for someone. The kid doesn’t prance around with lofty, romantic promises of a fairy tale life that will last forever; he tells it like it is in simple terms that carry an immense, intensely sincere weight. The boy had fallen in love, and by God he was going to let her know, because the world could end at any moment. Co-writer Bernie Taupin’s lyrics and Elton’s flawless key strokes and heart gripping chords can put anyone in that same mindset. No matter how old you are, no matter how many relationships or marriages you have been in, this song will put you in that boy’s quivering shoes.
Honorable Mentions: Air Supply – “All Out of Love”; Barry White – “Love’s Theme”; Iron and Wine – “Such Great Heights (Postal Service cover)”; Dead Milkmen – “Punk Rock Girl”; Death Cab for Cutie – “Follow You into the Dark”
Nat King Cole – “L-O-V-E”
OK, OK…I know – maybe it’s not the most inspiring or openly interpreted Valentine’s Day pick – but bear with me here. We all know love is complicated, but that doesn’t mean its soundtrack should be so difficult. Sometimes I want something straightforward. Sometimes I want something simple. Sometimes I want the title of my favorite love song to just spell out “LOVE”. It reads like a poem written to a faraway sweetheart and I can hit almost every note. It breaks down love into first grade spelling and a couple rhyming verses. It’s short, it’s oh so sweet, and if you don’t know all the words by heart, you probably don’t have a heart.
Honorable Mentions: Musiq Soulchild – “Love”