Illustration by Ben Beechener
In his delightfully cheesy 1976 Wing’s track, Paul McCartney remarks “You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs”. This thinly veiled sarcasm is followed by the more optimistic “I look around me and I see it isn’t so”. The sheer volume of love songs that we have today has proven Paul right.
Below I share with you my ten greatest love songs. I don’t claim that these are the greatest love songs of all time, but you will find some indisputable classics. Amongst these will also be more personal songs that have somehow found their way to a special place in my heart. Feel free to insult my taste, I am sure I fit many musical stereotypes.
10. My Kind of Woman by Mac DeMarco (2012)
The standard indie-boy hero Mac DeMarco is admittedly one of my favourite artists of all time. Arguably his most famous song, My Kind of Woman is both an ode to his girlfriend Kiera McNally and a reflection of Mac’s self-doubt.
“And it just don’t make sense to me
I really don’t know
Why you stick right next to me
Wherever I go.”
He doesn’t understand why she continues to love him, but never wants her to leave. A juxtaposition many can relate to
9. True Love Will Find You in the End by Daniel Johnston (1985)
Unlike most of the songs in this list, Daniel Johnston is writing about waiting for love, rather than being absorbed in it. His child-like vocals are the perfect accompaniment to the wistful optimism contained in his lyrics. Reassuring the listener that their time will come, he nonetheless appreciates how bleak and unlikely that may seem in the present. Coming in at just under 2 minutes, Johnston conveys this hopeful message with almost naïve simplicity.
“Don’t be sad, I know you will
But don’t give up until
True love will find you in the end”
Sometimes it’s nice to hear that it will all be OK in the end, regardless of how true that is.
8. If Not For You by George Harrison (1970)
Written by Harrison’s great friend Bob Dylan for his debut solo album, this is a classic love song about how important a romantic partner really is. Dylan wrote this about his first wife Sara Noznisky and it conveys a sense of contentment at the simple pleasures of life. Nature, a theme that percolates throughout Harrison’s debut, is brought to life by the love Dylan has for his wife.
“If not for you
The winter would hold no spring
Couldn’t hear a robin sing
I just wouldn’t have a clue, if not for you”
7. As The World Falls Down by David Bowie (1986)
Once you move past the image of Bowie dressed as a Goblin King trying to woo a teenager, this song becomes resurrected as one of Bowie’s forgotten gems. Bowie famously penned this for Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, but this cannot be cast aside as a simple soundtrack filler. It tells a story of love’s durability, despite everything, accompanied by glossy synths and an infectious bass line. 80’s Bowie at his best.
“But I’ll be there for you
As the world falls down”
6. Perfect Day by Lou Reed (1972)
Perfect Day is a song of contradictions. Musically, we have the contrast of the sombre verses in a minor key, before launching into the more emphatic, major choruses. In terms of Reeds’ vocals, his almost melancholy delivery contrasts his jubilant lyrics. The result is the listener feels Reed is only kept alive by this perfect day and his perfect girl. ‘Perfect Day’ always feels like a reprieve from something elusive; romance as a distraction.
“Just a perfect day
You make me forget myself
I thought I was someone else
5. Make You Feel My Love by Bob Dylan (1997)
As we enter the top five, we return to Dylan’s masterful writing. One of the most covered songs of all time, notably by Adele, Dylan’s own version has the benefit of his timeless voice. Yet, it is the lyrics that really stand out and resonate with me, with his desperation palpable. Sung to a characteristically beautiful melody over a jazz-like chord progression, Make You Feel My Love is love at its most vulnerable.
“I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawling down the avenue
No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love”
4. When She Kisses Me by Jonathan Richman (1991)
Richman’s summery tune is a light relief. He tells the story of love in its youthful spring; it’s energetic, exciting, dynamic. It’s unapologetically naïve, but never overly sweet. Unlike other love ballads, we have no idea if this is real love or fleeting. For if Richman pondered the future, ‘When She Kisses Me’ would lose its impish charm.
“And when she kisses me, I feel ecstatic
She thinks that’s just me bein’ overdramatic
When she kisses me”
3. Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton (1977)
For many people, Wonderful Tonight is the love song. The riff, the bass line, Clapton’s charming and warm lyrics. It’s a timeless love, and a timeless classic.
“And the wonder of it all
Is that you just don’t realize how much I love you”
2. Love by John Lennon (1970)
This is quite possibly the most beautiful song ever written. It is the sparkling jewel in one of my favourite albums of all time. Phil Spector on the piano accompanies John’s harrowingly gorgeous vocals, with each line reminding us that love is something so simple in its essence. You can’t help but feel at complete peace as John tells you:
“Love is you
You and me
Love is knowing
We can be”
1. Something by The Beatles (1969)
Nonetheless, it is The Beatles themselves, namely George Harrison, who take the top spot. There’s something in Harrison’s honesty that endears you to his romantic tale. That he doesn’t know how things will turn out gives his voice sincerity and his love authenticity. As for the accompaniment, it is flawless from strings to Paul’s bassline. There is no other love song that matches it.
“You’re asking me will my love grow
I don’t know, I don’t know”
So, having concluded my top ten with a soppy Beatles track, it seems we are all slaves to a ‘silly love song’. But, in the words of Wings, ‘What’s wrong with that? I’d like to know.”