In general, this time of year isn’t one I would personally associate with being any more or less loved-up than another part of the year; in general, I’m fairly cynical about the concept of Valentine’s Day and the hearts in the shop windows and sudden buying of chocolates and cheesy cards and all the rest of it. And that’s not me being embittered – the idea of love and celebrating what that means is wonderful, obviously, but Valentine’s Day just makes it all seem unnecessarily commercial and I think it demeans it a little bit. Anyway, some of my favourite songs are love songs – some of them as pessimistic as I can be, some of them far more positive and lovely, and I thought that I’d get over my pre-Valentine’s eye-rolling and share some songs about love with you:
1) Ryan Gosling – ‘You Always Hurt The One You Love’
No, I do not care that it’s probably really lame to have a 1940s pop song covered by Ryan Gosling during a movie (‘Blue Valentine’) in this list. This is so lovely with his “goofy” tremulous vocals and the gloomy sentiment is kind of perfect for the really heartbreaking film it appears in.
2) Belle & Sebastian – ‘I’m A Cuckoo’
One of those songs that encapsulates joyously happy music with really melancholy lyrics, it’s about love and looking back on relationships that have come to an end. “Breaking off is misery, I see a wilderness for you and me, Punctuated by philosophy And wondering how things could’ve been.”
3) Hall & Oates – ‘You Make My Dreams Come True’
Because, yeah, love isn’t always about regret and hurt – sometimes it seems like the best, happiest thing in the world and sugary ’80s excellence like this is proof of that. ’500 Days of Summer’ has lots of brilliantly executed moments on its soundtrack, but the bit with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a loved-up daze to this song is so, so good.
4) Bombay Bicycle Club – ‘Evening/Morning’
There are a lot of Bombay Bicycle Club songs I was considering putting in here, because tonally and lyrically they have some amazing love songs which capture young adult relationships perfectly. Special mentions to ‘Lamplight’ with the impossibly romantic, “you mirror-gaze while I decide the moment you were deified; you turn as if your mind replies ‘if you’re devout, it’s unsurmountable’” and ‘You Already Know’ with the simple but really evocative “the moment we forgot we were just good friends; I moved my arm her face went red again”. Comparatively ‘Evening/Morning’ is not so obvious as a love song, I guess, but the euphoric chorus of “I am ready to owe you anything” is so perfect, and combined with an incredible music video it is very much worthy of this list.
5) The Flamingos – ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’
Old school love songs are so much more sentimental and sincere than anything contemporary and, yes, it’s cheesy and kind of funny, but it’s just such a nice, tender, warming song.
6) Big Deal – ‘Homework’
This song is just the perfect encapsulation of playground love – “can’t do my homework, can’t concentrate, it’s ruining my grades, I can’t think straight”. Simple, woozy and utterly beautiful.
7) Vampire Weekend – ‘Campus’
Another one of those songs that sounds a lot happier than the lyrics are, Vampire Weekend are masters at sugary afro-pop. “How am I supposed to pretend I never want to see you again?” is the refrain, and if the Big Deal song I posted before this was about an all-consuming school romance then this perhaps captures college romances and the awkward moments of seeing someone after that feeling of love or romance is supposed to have died away.
8) Fleet Foxes – ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ (Bob Dylan Cover)
My flatmate who has been listening to me compile this list seemed concerned at how sad the songs that I’m picking are, and admittedly this isn’t the happiest song either, but I think some of the best love songs are the heartbreaking ones. Bob Dylan’s classic gentle rejection of an unrequited love, and the exquisite descriptions of what love is and why he can’t offer it to her make this so good, and Fleet Foxes ever-magic harmonies have rendered this as sublime.
9) James Blake – ‘A Case of You’ (Joni Mitchell cover)
I love Joni Mitchell a lot, to the point where she’ll feature again on this list, but I decided to go for this cover by James Blake because it is really wonderful in its own right, with his rich, swooning vocals and soulful piano. But props have to go to Joni for the lyrics – “I could drink a case of you, darling, and I would still be on my feet”. That intense sensation of love where you can’t get enough of the other person is just conveyed perfectly.
10) The Dodos – ‘Winter’
Thumping drums like heartbeats, rich brass and lyrics about a relationship that seems to be falling apart but held together in a bleak delusional kind of way, this song is lovely in a sad sort of way. Lines like “Convinced myself there’s no one better, so how could I deny Your love, it’s like a thorn into my side” recall The Smiths at their most melancholy.
11) The Smiths – ‘Hand in Glove’
Subverting expectations and going for a happy Smiths song, because in spite of all my bleak choices there are songs like this that show love can be confusing and fun and make you feel on top of the world. And even though it’s something that most people experience at some point, songs like this show that it can still feel like something that no one else could ever have felt – “It’s not like any other love, this one’s different because it’s us”.
12) The Strokes – ‘Under Control’
Because of course I needed a Strokes song on this list and Julian Casablancas’ voice is like the loveliest, smoothest voice in the world. “I don’t wanna change your mind, I don’t wanna change the world, I just wanna watch you go by”. So romantic and dreamy and wonderful.
13) Devendra Banhart – ‘At The Hop’
Again, contextually it is kind of a sad song because the person he loves is going away, but there’s something incredibly romantic about the conceits he uses to convince them to stay. “Put me in your tongue tie, make it hard to say that you ain’t gonna stay…Wrap me in your marrow, stuff me in your bones”. I love Devendra’s entire oeuvre, but this one is particularly lovely.
14) Joni Mitchell – ‘Both Sides, Now’
Finishing on an optimistic song – there is a reason I love Joni and a reason that this song is a classic. Valentine’s Day is bizarre, the next week is going to be inundated with people bemoaning their lack of romance or people being soppy about love, but either way there are excellent songs about love like this to exacerbate your cynicism or to make you even more euphoric. I was going to put a line in about how “I recall, I really don’t know love at all” but I think this whole post has been pretentious enough. Anyway, expect me to be posting more love-themed songs on DWMD’s Facebook page over the next week.
[Photo from: http://vintagecouplesinlove.tumblr.com/]