I don’t get into Valentine’s Day – as a rule. Tonight we’ll share a bottle of bubbly after the kid goes to bed. We might even make it all the way through a movie. Now: That’s Romance! But if this isn’t the right day to talk about this then I don’t know when it could ever be covered, so here goes…
Because I do love a good love song. I don’t like the cheesy R’n’B songs that bump and grind around the more physical approach to love, but the songs where a person throws their heart out, laying it on the line – sometimes cheesy, sometimes stoic, that’s what I love.
And love songs come in all shapes and sizes – just like love does. You get to choose the way love works for you (hopefully) so you get to choose the love songs that you like (or love). So there’ll be no mocking of other people’s choices please. State your song/s and if you feel you need to, or would like to, state your case for why you love those songs.
Some people have a way with writing/singing a love song – you know George & Ira Gershwin are going to help you out. You know Cole Porter is going to deliver. And you’d have to say that Paul McCartney has done his bit for the love song – even if that does include Silly Love Songs (which I reckon gets a free pass for the bassline alone).
I like the surprising elements within a love song, the twists and turns, the unexpected. A different approach; Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You is an amazing song (long before Whitney Houston got her mitts on it). But remember, this is not so much a love song – it’s a song being sung to an ex-partner, it’s an ode to breaking up and to continuing on in the face of recognising that a relationship cannot work. I guess that means it’s still a love song, in a sense; I just wouldn’t want to have it at my wedding…
But I like the surprises – a line that just stands out and floors you. Bob Dylan with his Love Minus Zero/No Limit…“My love she speaks like silence/Without ideals or violence” and later, “She knows too much to argue or to judge”. Finally, “My love she’s like some raven/At my window with a broken wing.
Sometimes I’ll like a dinky, wee cute rhyme – and I think Neil Young did it well with his Love Is A Rose: “Love is a rose/But you better not pick it/It only grows when it’s on the vine./A handful of thorns and/you’ll know you’ve missed it/You lose your love/when you say the word “mine”.
God Only Knows by The Beach Boys is another twist on a love song premise, it begins with “I may not always love you” – not the usual way to start. And goes on to include a bit about “If you should ever leave me/Though life would still go on believe me” – it’s as if the song’s narrator really wants to show what this person means to him by being as honest as possible – well, that’s what love’s about, right? Trust. Honesty.
You’d have to think that Nick Cave was taking notes when he kicked off his Into My Arms with the line: “I don’t believe in an interventionist God” – it’s the same kind of honesty as “I may not always love you”. And it’s the same kind of quirky way to begin a very serious, tender song. Cave goes on to realise that the person he is singing to does believe (“but I know, darling, that you do”) and he goes on to say, “But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him/Not to intervene when it came to you/Not to touch a hair on your head/To leave you as you are”. He ends the verse with: “And if He felt He had to direct you/Then direct you into my arms”.
Cave starts the second verse with “And I don’t believe in the existence of angels” and then goes on to conclude the song with “And I believe in Love”; it’s given a capital letter – it’s as important, to him, as God. It’s more certain than the existence of angels. So that’s the weight that he gives love.
Another recent love song that clearly owes a debt to The Beach Boys is R.E.M’s At My Most Beautiful. Here we have someone who is prepared to “save your messages/Just to hear your voice”.
After the simple, lovely chorus – the sentiment of it is “I found a way to make you smile” (a good thing for people in love to do to one another) – we get a verse where the song’s narrator explains: “I count your eyelashes, secretly/With every one, whisper I love you/I let you sleep”.
We had that song at our wedding.
A love song can be as clever as an on-form Elvis Costello punning up a storm in New Amsterdam. Or it can be as direct as The Beatles’ Love Me Do and All My Loving.
Burt Bacharach has contributed so many great love songs to the world and his Anyone Who Had A Heart stands out for me because, apart from anything else, it withstood being sung by Cilla Black.
I also like Stevie Wonder’s For Once In My Life, Cole Porter’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin and, from The Music Man: Till There Was You.
If you asked me for a different list tomorrow I’m sure I could add a few more.
So, I threw a few of mine down. Now it’s your turn.
What are your favourite love songs? What makes a good love song? Who makes a good love song? Are there classic love songs you really can’t stand? Are there songs that you know aren’t really love songs but they are love songs for you and the one you love?