Sunday, January 30, 2011


With Valentine's Day fast approaching, many hopeless romantics are combing store shelves for a stuffed bear emblazoned with a heart or making reservations for the perfect night out.

Setting the atmosphere with the rightsoundtrack is a key ingredient.

Love, exciting and new! Come aboard, we're expecting you...

For some folks, the very idea of choosing a top ten list of favorite love songs is likely to conjure up sickly images of couples in matching sweaters, eyes locked, while listening to Air Supply.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Love is far more complex than this. Don't be fooled by the bubblegum version that has automatically written thousands of songs so horrific that even the worst hack at the Hallmark corporation wouldn't admit to penning them.

The following ten examples are "love songs" with a twist.

1) In My Life (Rubber Soul LP-1965)- What more can be said about this gem? The lyrics have their feet planted in both the past and present. Lennon deftly assumes the role of a person taking stock of those "people and places" that were dear to him, while also taking care to remind his present partner of her place at the top of the list. Clever and concise, without straying into maudlin territory.

2) For No One (Revolver LP-1966)-One of the most vivid portraits of love's "end game" ever committed to tape. The passion long departed, much imagery is conjured of two people with nothing left to say. One of McCartney's finest constructions, with nary a word wasted. It was a long journey from Love Me Do.

3) Waterloo Sunset (Something Else By the Kinks LP-1967)- Terry and Julie meet at Waterloo Station every Friday night, pass over a bridge across the Thames and the narrator reflects upon the couple with a lovely series of images. Pure poetry that has aged beautifully.

4) Days (Single release, 1968)- Set to a fetching melody, this is a song aimed at a departed lover without a tinge of regret. They don't come much better than this. Note that the word love does not appear in either of these tunes, further testament to the genius of Ray Davies, at the peak of his powers as a wordsmith.

5) The Last Time I Saw Richard (Blue LP-1970)-You must simply listen to this one as it defies description. It is the crowning achievement on an album that saw Joni Mitchell paint her relationship pain in a very naked fashion, yet without the self indulgence that may have reared its ugly head in the hands of a lesser talent.

6) 45 Years (Fogarty's Cove LP-1976)- Evoking emotions without resorting to cliche or overt sentimentality, this is a shining example of song craft that continues to inspire. If you haven't heard this, seek it out. A lovely refrain with every word and bar carefully considered. One of the late Stan Rogers' most touching compositions, it was dedicated to his wife.

7) You Better You Bet (Face Dances LP-1981)-Nothing like coming right out and just saying-nay, demanding it, albeit with a slew of free-wheeling lines involving everything from getting trashed while listening to old records (T-Rex and, with a wink, Who's Next) to showing up at your lover's place in the middle of the night, following consumption of the aforementioned adult beverages. It's a fine "love" song, dressed in the crappy clothes of anti-love. One of Pete Townshend's great, late period Who offerings.

Are you half-way through that heart-shaped box of chocolates yet?

8) Back on the Chain Gang (Learning to Crawl LP-1984)-Love and loss mingle with a nod to an old Sam Cooke tune in the chorus. Sheer emotion drips from every pore of this stunner. Chrissie Hynde's brush with perfection drew on some very significant events in her life at that time.

9) Up the Junction (Cool or Cats LP-1979)- This one will definitely choke you up. Difford and Tilbrook bring some heavy cards to the table, providing lines so perfect that the characters are positively three-dimensional. No happy endings for this couple, though such is often the case when you tell the rest of the story.

10) Only Love Can Break Your Heart (After the Gold Rush-1970)Neil Young took a quick look at the entire process of relationships and summed it all up with aching precision. Uncle Neil has always had a way with words and the message here is conveyed with grace.

There you have it.

So many other worthy contenders could have found their way onto this list. By no means do I believe that these choices are the final or definitive word when it comes to songs that pull on your heartstrings. I just wanted to take a walk down a different path. Feel free to bring your own "top ten" to the comment section.


Jeff said...

Since I'm getting married this year, there's been quite a heavy debate in regards to first dance songs between my fiancee and I. I really like the list you came up with - especially the addition of "Waterloo Sunset", it typically doesn't seem to come to mind when thinking of love songs. One of my personal favorites that isn't on the list is "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys. Another more current song is "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" by Death Cab for Cutie - as the name implies it's not the happiest song, but it's about eternal love. Lastly, one of my favorite love themed songs is "Catch the Wind" by Donovan, a beautiful but sad song.

Perplexio said...

Some of my favorites include:

Ben Folds - The Luckiest: This is my wife's and my song so I'm biased. "What if I'd been born fifty years before you in a house on a street where you live? Maybe I'd be outside as you passed on your bike, would I know? And in a wide sea of eyes, I see one pair that I recognize, And I know, that I am, I am, I am the luckiest"

Harry Nilsson - Without You: While Nilsson didn't perform the song originally he certainly took this Badfinger tune and made it his own. This one is on the list far more for Nilsson's heart-wrenching vocal delivery than for the lyrics which with a lesser vocal performance would have been far more forgettable.

10cc - I'm Not In Love I love how all of the denials of love make the love that much more real and tangible.

Michael W. Smith - The Other Side of Me "If they were to write about the story of my life, They would have to mention you with every page they'd write"

Echoing a similar sentiment...

Harry Chapin - This isn't a love song per se but one of the verses certainly is a love verse Story of a Life: "And I can see it clear out to the end, and I'll whisper to her now again, because she shared my life, For more than all the ghosts of glory, she makes up the story, she's the only story of my life"

Pete Townshend - Let My Love Open the Door: The best song of Pete's solo career.

And I know this one is more about falling out of love but it's still a love song to me...

Gordon Lightfoot - If You Could Read My Mind: "I walk away like a movie star who gets burned in a three-way script, Enter number two, A movie queen to play the scene of bringing out all the good things out in me, but for now love let's be real, I never thought I could act this way and I've got to say that I just don't get it, I don't know where we went wrong, but the feeling is gone, and I just can't get it back"

And the other song about falling out of love that I really enjoy:

Dream Theater - Space Dye Vest: "Love is an act of blood and I'm bleeding a pool in the shape of a heart, Beauty projection in the reflection, always the worst place to start" The lyrics were written by then keyboardist, Kevin Moore. He left the band after the album that song appeared on (Awake) and Dream Theater's lyrics have never been quite as good since his departure.