Love is a complicated entity. It can provide you with clarity, yet it can also muddle and confuse. In one moment, it provides you with the purest form of joy you have ever experienced; in the next breath, it can hold you in a depressive state. Regardless of whether it has ultimately brought you heartache or bliss, falling in love is a life-changing event that has inspired some of the greatest songs ever recorded.
There’s nothing more romantic and emotional than a love song with a memorable refrain and meaningful lyrics. Whether it’s a blues song about a former flame or a power ballad celebrating the truest love of someone’s life, the best love songs are those that evoke the most emotion and find a permanent place lodged in your body, somehow appealing to both your mind and your heart.
From a variety of genres and eras, and in no specific order, these are indisputably some of the best love songs of all time.
“I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston and Dolly Parton)
For most people, the song title “I Will Always Love You” conjures up a vision of the beautiful Whitney Houston in a fitted evening gown, busting it out with a surprisingly large amount of emotion for her slight, fragile frame. While Houston did indeed record a version of the song for the 1999 hit film The Bodyguard, Dolly Parton originally penned the ballad and recorded a country version of it back in the mid-1970s.
Whether you tend to gravitate towards Houston’s soulful crooning or Parton’s simple serenading, the song’s basic melody and lyrics are so well-done that women from genres that couldn’t possibly be more different were both able to pull off the song with grace and ease. Just as an artist demonstrates her strength through versatility, the adaptable nature of “I Will Always Love You” is simple proof of what an incredibly poignant message the song has.
“I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” (Colin Hay)
As this track’s name implies, and as most of us can attest based on our own life experiences, sometimes love just doesn’t work out the way we want it to. Backed by the sound of his own hand strumming on an acoustic guitar, Colin Hay makes his way through this song in a melancholy murmur as he contemplates moving forward with his life after losing a true love.
He almost rambles on, ensuring her that he could have someone else and that he has kicked the nasty habits that seem to have kept them apart through the years. However, as much as he wants his former lover to know these things, he also seems to grasp the fact that while he may not ever get over her, he will also never get her back. As saddening as the song’s heart may be, “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” is also as real as it gets. It’s simply impossible not to identify with Hay’s raw and authentic sentiments about love and loss.
“I’ll Make Love to You” (Boyz II Men)
The members of Boyz II Men were indisputably “the kings of the slow jam” back in the 1990s, largely because of the smash hit “I’ll Make Love to You.” With smooth vocals, a sultry melody, and a ridiculously sexy music video, I would bet a considerable amount of money that this track is responsible for the conception of a large majority of ‘90s babies. Even today, you would be hard-pressed to find a couple who didn’t play it at their wedding dance.
“Silly Love Songs” (Wings)
While countless critics deemed this Wings song as fluffy and meaningless when it was first released, what they seemed to be forgetting was that Paul and Linda McCartney never intended it to be a deep, thought-provoking track. In fact, the simple, repetitive lyrics revolve around the idea that everyone may criticize those who sing “Silly Love Songs,” but those who are truly happy in love don’t care what anyone thinks. This poppy, light-spirited song puts into musical form the “honeymoon stage” of any romantic relationship, when giddiness and butterflies abound.
“Ring of Fire” (Johnny and June Cash)
The love that existed between country superstars June Carter and Johnny Cash was rare and memorable enough to inspire books and movies about their relationship after the pair had died. The song was written by the duo when they were first beginning to fall into the “burning ring of fire” of love that was only broken by death. Originally recorded by June’s sister, Anita Carter, the song was only popularized when Johnny and June sang it together. The catchy lyrics, upbeat tempo, and mariachi horns made listeners feel as though they were right there falling love with them and still has the mass appeal today that it did back in the early 1960s.
“Un-break My Heart” (Toni Braxton)
While Toni Braxton’s sultry R&B voice would have made her famous had she sung just about anything, the raw emotion and vulnerability she was able to infuse into this mid-1990s hit is what catapulted her into stardom so rapidly. Although most of us would never admit it, the helpless way that Braxton pleads her case to a lover who walked out on her when she still loved him deeply is something to which all of us can relate.
“The First Day of My Life” (Bright Eyes)
With a “cult following” consisting mostly of indie musicians and college students, Coner Oberst, known to his fans as Bright Eyes, is responsible for one of the sweetest love songs of all time, “The First Day of My Life.” A testament to the “born again” experience that only those who have fallen madly and deeply in love can begin to understand, this simplistically structured tune also reveals the vulnerability that also comes along with true love. After all, it doesn’t get much more vulnerable than ending a song with the childlike line, “I really think you like me.”
“Nobody Wins” (Kris Kristofferson)
Many relationships have died in a violent, fiery crash not because two people have lost love for each other, but rather because both individuals refuse to ever give up on “winning” an argument This song, written and performed by a deep-voiced, depressive Kris Kristofferson, is melodic proof that it’s simply not worth it to always try to be right in a relationship.
Rather than place the blame on someone else, he simply muses over the fact that a good relationship has ended because both people simply can’t stop hurting each other with their efforts to always be right. And ironically, in the end, “Nobody Wins.” This is perhaps the most poignant musical testament to broken relationships of all time; rather than yearn for a lost relationship, Kristofferson acknowledges his part in the breakup and finally puts his weapons down.
“Wonderful Tonight” (Eric Clapton)
Written for his wife at the time, Pattie Boyd, Eric Clapton was inspired to write this beautiful ballad while she was getting ready for a party being hosted by Paul and Linda McCartney. Even though their love didn’t ultimately last, its essence lives on through this song, which was released in the late 1970s on Clapton’s first hit album, Slowhand. The ballad details the intimate interactions a couple has throughout an evening, from the hours a woman spends getting ready to the time she takes her husband’s keys and drives home because he’s had one drink too many. Rather than simply list off the evening’s occurrences, Clapton shows through example how beautiful a woman can be in every little thing that she does.
“Naked as We Came” (Iron and Wine)
Let’s be honest: Sex and music just naturally synchronize, like hamburgers and french fries or ice cream and sprinkles just go together. Unfortunately, sex is a topic that is often exploited in song lyrics, becoming either violent or meaningless.
However, Iron and Wine’s “Naked as We Came” couldn’t possibly be more different than its mainstream counterparts. In a mere two minutes, this track preserves the beauty and simplicity of sexual intimacy between two people, focusing on the love and affection that it represents rather than the lust on which today’s hottest Billboard tracks tends to focus. Backed only by a simple guitar riff, the singer’s hushed voice sings about the simple pleasure of being naked with the one you love more than any other.