After a long and brutal winter, spring is finally in the air (at least in the northern hemisphere). According to the poem “Locksley Hall” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, spring is when “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Even after 100 years, the famed poet was right, because the warmer weather is making me feel a little more romantic than usual and got me to thinking of some of the greatest love songs of all time.
If you have a special somebody in your life, cue up this list on your home stereo and get cozy or share an iPod and take a brisk walk in the park, hand in hand. If you’re between romantic partners at the moment, listen to these songs anyway in hopes of one day meeting your soul mate-or at least someone who takes you as you are. Let this music warm your heart as the weather outside gets warmer. For most of us, feelings of romance and music go hand in hand, so here are 25 of the greatest love songs of all time, in absolutely no order:
25. “I Only Have Eyes For You” -The Flamingos
This is one of the best “golden oldie” songs. The beautiful, almost odd atmosphere it conjures was way ahead of its time. I love the pairing of the haunting, spare piano line in the background with the piercing, staccato “Shoo-wop, shoo-wop!” of the vocalists. You can’t help falling in love with this song every time you hear it.
24. “Just Like Heaven” -The Cure
This is possibly the most beautifully crafted pop song ever. Most people don’t realize how well constructed it is, especially for a seemingly simple pop tune. Though the guitar lick, keyboard line, and drum fill start out separately, the ending to the bridge ties them all together in perfect harmony with the climax of the keyboard solo and smashing of the cymbals. Then again, you don’t have to overanalyze a song to love it.
23. “Let My Love Open The Door (E. Cola Mix)” -Pete Townsend
Pete Townsend proved he had a lot more to say after his Who heyday. This isn’t the popular, hyper version you’ve heard on the radio. Available on the first volume of the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack, this mix was slowed down to let the listener appreciate its gentle melody and lovingly tongue-in-cheek lyrics. (“You’re so lucky I’m around.”) It made me completely reevaluate its worth from a throwaway pop song to a romantic classic.
22. “The Search Is Over” -Survivor
It’s true that Survivor is mostly known for providing songs to the soundtracks of two Rocky movies (parts III and IV), but these guys proved their body of work consisted of more than just “Eye of the Tiger” and “Burning Heart” (Get it? “Body of work”? “Eye” and “Heart”? Forget it…) If nothing else, I love the simple love story of the lyrics, how the guy didn’t realize he was with the love of his life all along. Sometimes love is staring you straight in the face, and you have to be hit in the head with a 2 x 4 to realize it.
21. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” -The Beach Boys
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is the first song off Pet Sounds, considered by many, including Paul McCartney, to be one of the greatest albums of all time. Listening to this classic, you can hear why. Brian Wilson’s melodious vocals never sounded sweeter. The former frontman and writer of The Beach Boys before he went crazy (ironically trying to compete with McCartney’s Beatles) left us quite the tuneful evidence of his musical genius.
20. “You’re My Home” -Billy Joel
Written for his first wife (he’s had two since then, including former model Christie Brinkley), this is probably the most romantic Billy Joel song ever recorded, though he himself admitted the song is “corny but true.” This is the Joel tune that every couple says is “their song.”
19. “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song” -Jim Croce
The title alone gets me, especially for wannabe writers. Sometimes it’s so difficult to put down the words to how you feel, particularly when you’re writing about love. Part of the reason is that some linguistics experts have estimated there are nearly twice as many negative words in the English language as positive ones. This song is autobiographical; after Croce got into an argument with his wife, he went downstairs in his home to brood when inspiration hit. The next morning, he woke up his wife with the completed song, and they made up, not to mention the song itself became a smash success.
18. “Love Will Keep Us Alive” -Eagles
The Eagles knocked it out of the park with “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” which boasts one of the best, though simplest, guitar riffs of any song. First featured on their reunion album, Hell Freezes Over, it lulls you into a kind of soft lullaby but is yet still riveting in its open, near vulnerable honesty: “Lost and lonely/now you’ve given me the will to survive.”
17. “Snow Come Down” -Lori Carson
You’ve probably never heard this song, but it was featured in Waking the Dead, one of the most underrated movies of the 2000s. It’s just a simple tune featuring a lonely, strumming guitar and the soft, almost child-like vocals of Lori Carson, as she sings, “I don’t want to cause you any pain/I just wanna love you.”
16. “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” -Starship
I realize this was the song featured in the ’80s cheeseball-fest Mannequin, a love story between a guy and his, well, mannequin, but forget where it came from; just try not to be inspired by that spirited chorus as they sing, “And if this world runs out of lovers/we’ll still have each other.” Aww. There’s a reason this song was nominated for an Oscar.
15. “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” -The Proclaimers
By far the biggest single of The Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” didn’t actually become a hit until years after it was recorded when it was featured on the soundtrack of Benny & Joon, the 1993 movie featuring Johnny Depp before he was overexposed. Singing in that inimitable Scottish brogue, this twin duo counted all the miles they’d walk just to be with their one true love. Features quite possibly the catchiest chorus of the early ’90s. Go on. Just try to get it out of your head (“And I would walk 500 miles/and I would walk 500 more”). You won’t succeed.
14. “Hysteria” -Def Leppard
Along with R.E.O. Speedwagon and other longhaired bands in the ’80s, Def Leppard was one of the pioneers of the so-called “power ballad,” and “Hysteria” is a prime example of this. This moody, melodic rocker has one of the best guitar riffs of any era, regardless of what decade it’s from.
13. “Melt With You” -Modern English
Here is another romantic rocker from the ’80s. Unfortunately, this classic’s surreal, dream-like imagery and incredibly catchy chorus, as well as that infectious humming during the climax, were co-opted by not one, not two, but three fast-food commercials: Burger King, Hershey’s, and Taco Bell. Still, selling out never sounded so sweet.
12. “Head Over Heels” -Tears for Fears
This possibly features the greatest opening line of any song: “I wanted to be with you alone/and talk about the weather.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what they were talking about, as long as they were together. And just try to resist that “Na-na-na-naaa-na” sing-along at the end. It’s impossible.
11. “Too Much Of A Good Thing” -The Sons
This little-heard track from, of all things, the Dumb and Dumber soundtrack perfectly illustrates why I love pop music so much. The band takes a basic guitar riff, essentially the foundation of the entire song, and turns it into something sublime. They change tempos. They add distortion. They change keys. It keeps your toe tapping for five whole minutes, and yet it’s still the same riff. And a lovely romantic song to boot.
10. “In Your Eyes” -Peter Gabriel
Thank you, John Cusack, for those strong arms of yours that lifted the boombox high over your head and introduced this song into our lives and hearts. I think Peter Gabriel thanks you too, since before Cusack’s movie Say Anything, the song wasn’t a hit, but it eventually was included on Gabriel’s bonus disc of his Greatest Hits, titled Miss.
9. “My Heart Will Go On” -Celine Dion
9. “I’ll Catch You” -The Get Up Kids
Apparently taking a page-literally-from J. D. Salinger’s classic novel, The Catcher in the Rye, these emo rockers showed their sensitive side in this soft, gentle reminder of two of love’s greatest advantages: reliance and security: “Don’t worry/I’ll catch you/Don’t ever worry.”
8. “Too Good to Be” -New Found Glory
Quite a departure from the Floridian pop-punkers’ normally kinetic set, this acoustic ballad was quickly written when they were on tour. Sometimes you have to strike while the inspirational iron is hot, and they struck gold with this one: “You have my heart in your hands/You have my heart so/don’t let it go.”
7. “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” -Christopher Cross
You don’t have to be from New York to love this song-or appreciate its Manhattan shout-out in the chorus-but it helps. Written when the songwriter was flying over the New York City skyline at night during a full moon, the song initially appears to have a confusing chorus, since normally you follow the phrase “The best that you can do” with something negative, not positive like “falling in love.” Then you realize that yeah, that’s what makes it clever. Unfortunately, the lyrics in the second verse get bogged down in the complicated plot details of the Dudley Moore-Liza Minnelli movie: “Arthur, he does as he pleases…” Still, no song is perfect, not even ones on this list.
6. “Annie’s Song” -John Denver
Yes, John Denver. I’ll defend this song to the grave. I love the litany of nature similes in the lyrics: “You fill up my senses/like a night in a forest/like the mountains in springtime/like a walk in the rain/like a storm in a desert/like a sleepy blue ocean,” etc. A lover of nature himself, there’s a reason he was the spokesman for Earth Day at one point: “Plant a tree/for tomorrow/Plant a tree for all the world to share.” And this Earth lost a great defender.
5. “Good Feeling” -The Violent Femmes
The band behind “Blister in the Sun” wasn’t known for their soft side, but this sweet ballad proved they had one lurking behind that ironic sneer. The acoustic punkers released the tension in their normally pent-up numbers, underscoring what was truly important: “Good feeling/won’t you stay with me/just a little longer.” And dig that violin solo!
4. “Cherish” -Madonna
This is by far one of the greatest Madonna songs. With its bouncy rhythm and cheerful, jaunty melody, it is impossible, just damn impossible to be depressed while listening to it. And Madonna’s tuneful delivery just adds to the ebullient sunshine: “Romeo and Juliet/They never felt/this way I felt/so don’t underestimate/my point of viiiieeeewww.” Pure bliss.
3. “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” -Belinda Carlisle
I love the idea of this song, that instead of waiting and hoping we’ll get into heaven, we should just make our present reality a personal heaven through sheer romance. It reminds me of one of Homer Simpson’s pithy sayings: “If everyone was like Ned Flanders, we wouldn’t need a heaven. We’d already be there.” This ranks right up there with Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine,” and that is no faint praise indeed.
2. “More Than Words” -Extreme
This band was called Extreme for a reason, since their songs went from screeching pop-metal to soft ballads like this early ’90s classic. If you came of age during this time, it played at every one of your school dances, and you were more than happy to melt in the arms of that special someone, swaying to the gentle rhythm. Featuring a sparse arrangement of just one acoustic guitar and two voices, the song almost mocks the most cliched three-word phrase in modern love (“Then I couldn’t make things new/just by saying ‘I love you'”) but is still romantic enough to earn a place on this list.
1. “True Love Ways” -Buddy Holly
Recorded a few months before his tragic, untimely passing, this is not the ’50s icon’s most beloved song (that would be “That’ll Be the Day,” “Rave On,” or “Everyday”) but definitely his most romantic, as it was written for his wife. He doesn’t even play any instruments on the track (he doesn’t need to); instead, his soft, fragile voice is backed by a lush orchestra as he sweetly serenades the girl he loves. Don McLean was right: we lost a legend “the day the music died.”