I guess many people would not be happy to admit having any favourite love songs, but the fact remains that we all have songs that touch our hearts with tales of love gained or love lost. Seems many of my favourites tend towards the tragic side of love, but then happy-clappy are not a true reflection of love. Many of the finest eschew the “baby I love you” school pop song conventions and instead choose bittersweet tales that add levels of sophistication, such that the song is believable rather than trite.
Wouldn’t be a list without old blue eyes, would it? Definitely something delicious about the notion of love at first sight, even if it’s usually hogwash in practice.
Written specially for Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (the only song that was), this rueful anti-love song is packed with character and vivid metaphors, plus plaintive whistling.
OK, a punkish song seems strange in this company but there is little doubt it spoke to a generation and still does. A good proportion of us have fallen in love with someone we shouldn’t have fallen in love with, and the prospect of losing them is worse than the issues caused by being with them.
Whatever Cole Porter made of Coward’s comic rewrite of his cutesy clever love song, it is with the benefit of hindsight surprisingly poignant: “I suppose we must assume that even Liberace does it,” sings Coward. How could you not fall in love?
A classic bluesy number played by a host of legendary jazz session musicians and sung memorably by actress/singer Julie London – then covered by absolutely everyone with a voice. Can’t think loss of a love was ever expressed better.
For personal reasons I find this song incredibly moving, but then it speaks to anyone who has been in a relationship that folded for reasons that leave one party wracked by regrets – “I had hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded that for me it isn’t over.”
He is, you know! A gorgeous velvety wraparound sound constructed from countless multiple synchronised backing vocals with a warm synth underlay, plus a teasing lyric in which the narrator tries to justify his claim of not being in love.
My grandmother once called this song “a terrible noise” though I have no idea what she was talking about. This is a heartfelt story of love lost, with a musical accompaniment perfect to the last synthesised bongo and glissando string backing.
Brel is best known for very dark songs with but this one tells of a tempestuous 20-year affair between two people who demonstrate just how close love is to hate (“Mais c’est toujours la tendre guerre“) – and in that most poetic of languages, French. Despite the storms, despite everything, the narrator sings this achingly beautiful chorus to his love:
Oh mon amour
Mon doux, mon tendre, mon merveilleux amour
De l’aube claire jusqu’à la fin du jour
Je t’aime encore, tu sais, je t’aime
The greatest love song in the English language, in my humble opinion, and certainly demonstrable of the art of telling a truly heart-rending story from beginning to end in the course of five-and-a-half minutes. If there is a more beautiful lyric, or one more likely to make me blub, I’ve yet to find it:
She was a rare thing
Fine as a beeswing
And I miss her more than ever words could say
If I could just taste
All of her wildness now
If I could hold her in my arms today
Then I wouldn’t want her any other way