A couple of weeks ago I was minding my own business when cousin, scholar, theologian, #1 blog fan left me a voicemail wondering if Al Green should really be included on any list of the top five greatest love songs. Apparently everyone on the radio asserted that he should, and CST1BF disagreed, or at least thought he should disagree. At that time, he requested my thoughts on this category of music. My immediate response was to write it off. I'm quite terrible at such lists, and I don't especially favor love songs. But then I started thinking about it, and I couldn't stop until I'd done some research and some list making of my own.
I think greatest lists are difficult for me for a couple of reasons. First I'm not objective enough to separate my personal favorites from any sort of empirical standard of excellence. And even if I give up on that and just go for detailing my favorites, I'm still fairly horrible at picking favorites partly because I'm indecisive, partly because I always have a nagging feeling I'm leaving out something important I haven't even thought of, and partly because I suspect that those items that don't get picked for my list will feel sad and neglected and left out, and I just can't live with that on my conscience. But CST1BF keeps nagging, and I hate to see my research go to waste, so here I am posting about great love songs.
The interwebs provided a jumping off point with several lists from various sources, but it soon became clear that my idea of a good love song didn't necessarily mesh with the lists, and I began to see the need for categories, so that's how this will be organized. There will be some overlap, and several songs that could appear in multiple categories, but I'll stick 'em where I think they belong. Also CST1BF asked me for a list of five, so I'm claiming all these lists have five songs in them whether they actually do or not. I can't cut any more, so you'll get the number you get. I'm going to attempt to link all my selections to youtube versions. I'm quite certain based on my experience in the research process that some of the videos that people have made to accompany the songs will be fairly horrible, but I wanted you to hear the songs in question, so please just listen and don't judge the song by the video. One final warning before I start naming names: any term such as great, greatest, best, etc. that may be used is strictly my opinion which I admit isn't worth much at all.
5 Best Country Love Songs
I may have mentioned previously that I was raised on country music in my rural upbringing, and for many years in my youth it was my preferred genre. These days I don't particularly have a favorite genre, and I don't currently listen to country music, but what I do know about current country tells me that nothing's come along lately that could topple any of these songs:
"Something that We Do" Clint Black: Robyn does an extremely awesome Clint Black impersonation, but I've never seen her try this song. Maybe I don't want to because I really love it in a serious way, and her impression is far from serious, unless you count being seriously hilarious. Under normal circumstances I would, but not when it comes to this song.
"Where've You Been" Kathy Mattea: I sometimes have mixed feelings about story songs, but this song makes me cry. It's so sweet.
"I Believe in You" Don Williams: This song doesn't need me to say anything about it. That's how phenomenal it is. I kinda wanted to include the Don Williams song "You're My Best Friend" too, but I thought that might be overkill.
"I Will Always Love You" Dolly Parton: Say whatever you will about Whitney, you will never convince me that her version can touch this one. Dolly owns this song. She wrote it about Porter Wagoner (HI!), and that's sort of precious enough, but then in Best Little Whorehouse when she sings it to Ed Earl, it's heartbreakingly perfect. As you'll see in these lists, I prefer my love songs to be a bit more happily ever after, but I'll make an exception for this song any time.
"It Was" Chely Wright: I feel like people are going to question this choice, but I love this song. It's so strong, maybe even forceful. And in the music video (which I've been careful to link to here), she cries the most gorgeous tears imaginable.
"One Friend" Dan Seals: To be clear, the word love does not appear anywhere in the lyrics of this song, but it's an achingly beautiful description of love, and I'll dare anyone to say otherwise.
5 Best 80s Love Songs
Though country music ruled where I'm from, pop music of the 80s is an intrinsic part of the soundtrack of my childhood as well, thank in no small part to having teenage siblings during those years. There are probably tons of songs from this decade that can stand on their own on any great love song list without qualification, but I think sometimes the complete 80s-ness of their sound holds certain songs back, but I can't stop loving them anyway. Here are my five favorites that scream 80s.
"Time After Time" Cyndi Lauper: I'll be the first to admit that I don't 100% get the words of this song, but I still love it and think it's beautiful. So there.
"Crazy for You" Madonna: I'm not necessarily a huge Madonna fan, but I'm crazy for this song.
"Eternal Flame" The Bangles: Do you remember that episode of Gilmore Girls from season 1 when they go to a Bangles concert? And they sing this song? If Madeleine and Louise weren't interrupting with all their drama, it would have been perfect.
"Faithfully" Journey: These days Glee has made Journey such a thing that I almost left them off the list, but my affection for Journey (thanks to my moma's slight obsession with Steve Perry) is so long and far-reaching that I knew I couldn't leave them out. And I've always liked "Faithfully"more than "Open Arms," which is probably the more obvious Journey choice.
"Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" Starship: We used to tape episodes of Friday Night Videos, and my moma still has some of those VHS tapes at her house, which are enjoyable as much for the vintage commercials as the videos. But I can remember this video from that era, and this song still stirs warm, fuzzy memories from my childhood.
5 Most Overplayed Love Songs that I Love Anyway
I almost called this list guilty pleasures, but I don't think I should feel any guilt or shame for loving these songs. I think that most of these are songs you hear quite a lot because they are so great, but since familiarity breeds contempt, it's easy to discount them simply because they're everywhere. The ubiquitous nature of several of them makes it feel like putting them in the actual "greatest" list is a cop-out. Thus I've created this "overplayed" list. And don't worry--despite my secret love of Peter Cetera's voice "You're the Inspiration" will not be appearing here as a favorite. Even I have my limits.
"Your Song" Elton John: I've always loved this song, but I'll admit that Moulin Rouge intensified my feelings towards it.
"Can't Help Falling in Love with You" Elvis: He is the King, after all, so of course, he needed some representation here, and I think this is his best love song.
"Bridge Over Troubled Water" Simon & Garfunkel: When other people sing this song, it's the worst kind of cheese, but I do have a vast affection for the original version.
"I'll Be There" Jackson Five: Michael Jackson was a brilliantly talented man. Crazy as all get-out, but talented.
"Maybe I'm Amazed" Paul McCartney: Yummy, yummy song.
5 Great Love Song Duets
I originally only had four lists, but they kept growing longer and longer, and I began to notice that they were starting to choke on duets, so I culled a few from those other lists for this special category.
"Endless Love" Lionel Richie & Diana Ross: This song could just as easily fit in the overplayed list, but it's brilliance as a duet even outshines the fact that it's played out. (I first linked to a live version where Lionel had an especially impressive afro, but the sound on it was tinny, so I chose instead a series of Disney clips set to this song. It's precious.)
"I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" Aretha Franklin & George Michael: I love this unlikely pairing, and I love this song.
"After All" Peter Cetera & Cher: Peter Cetera is the voice of 80s love songs, so feel proud that I was able to get him down to just one mention ("Glory of Love" was on the 80s list until really close to the end). This duet is the reason I own the movie Chances Are (on VHS).
"Always" Atlantic Starr: Of course, the most famous rendition of this duet was by Peeps Paige and Becky at Fall Getaway 2007, but my love for this song goes back to the original Atlantic Starr version. (Finding a decent video of this one was more difficult than picking the songs themselves.)
"Nobody Loves Me Like You Do" Anne Murray & Dave Loggins: This was my moma and the Popster's wedding song, so even if it was awful it would remind me of the blessing that their love has been to our family for the past couple of decades. But Anne Murray's voice is so delicious, and the song is far from awful.
My Vision of the 5 Greatest Love Songs
Categories aside, these are the best of the best (of the best, SIR!) for me.
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" Roberta Flack: Let the record show that I do possess at least a little objectivity, which is to say I didn't just flip through my own music collection and pick songs I own or listen to constantly. I know this song and like it, but definitely don't own it or count it as a favorite, but I think objectively it's a tremendous combination of powerful lyrics and a hauntingly romantic melody.
"You've Got a Friend" James Taylor: (I specifically chose this video for JT's long flowing hair.) I'm beginning to see how these choice I'm making say a lot about what I think is important in love. This is definitely one of those cases.
"Love Never Fails" Brandon Heath: This is the newest song on the list, and it's possibly a bit chancy to place a song that's only three years old among so many others that have stood the test of time, but its inclusion demonstrates the power that this song has for me. The lyrics are just beautiful and perfect.
"I Love You for Sentimental Reasons" Nat King Cole: This man's voice was made for love songs. "When I Fall in Love" lands on all sorts of greatest love song lists, but I think this one is a better love song.
"I Will" The Beatles: I had a bit of work narrowing down the list to just one Beatles song, but this one is my favorite of their love songs. Feel free to argue the case of your preferred Beatles tune below.
"God Only Knows" The Beach Boys: I am not above admitting that this song came to my attention primarily because it's played during the closing credits of Love Actually. I've been sort of surprised how many movie connections these songs have for me.
Well, the good news for CST1BF is that I didn't include Al Green. The bad news is that it took me over two weeks to still not be able to fully answer the question.