The HyperTexts

The Best Love Songs Ever: the Greatest Love Songs of All Time
The Best Valentine's Day Songs


Which love songs were the greatest of all time? Who were the best singers of love songs? Who wrote the best love songs? Who wrote the best Valentine's Day songs? This page considers love songs as works of art. I have also included snippets of trivia about love songs, answering such questions as:

Which allegedly pornographic love song was investigated by the FBI but went unprosecuted because no one could understand the lyrics?
Which immortal country singer-songwriter vowed to be faithful to his wife, only to record a song written by his mistress?
Which soul singer-songwriter wrote a heartfelt plea for love, understanding and mercy, only to be murdered by his own father?
Which singer-songwriter died three days after recording his best-known song: the one that made him famous?
Which love song to God resulted in a ten-year legal battle over its allegedly plagiarized melody?
Which darkly brilliant love song, written by a disaffected rock god who refused to record it, became the signature song of the "godmother of punk"?
How did the medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer influence Procol Harum's eerie masterpiece "A Whiter Shade of Pale"?
Which female muse and vision of loveliness inspired four iconic love songs by competing rock gods: "Layla," "Wonderful Tonight," "Something" and "I Need You"?
Which piano-and-sax-infused anthem by Billy Joel may qualify as the best unknown love song of all time?
Which two recordings by the first hard rock supergroup, Cream, remain among the greatest love songs of all time?
Why do so many people get married to the stalker lyrics of "Every Breath You Take" and to the dark, relationship-in-the-process-of-disintegrating lyrics of my number one love song, which is also my number one anti-love song of all time?

I will now answer the questions above, while counting down my top 25 love songs of all time, then reveal my "honorable mentions." There are a number of ties, so more than 25 songs appear in the rankings below, but they're all so good I'm sure no one will mind!

compiled by Michael R. Burch

#25 — Tie: Several Songs, Old and New, Borrowed and Exceptionally Blue

"In Your Eyes" is a great, haunting love song with stellar lyrics, performed by Peter Gabriel
"I'm Not in Love" by 10cc features ethereal music and voices, stellar lyrics, a bossa-nova beat, choral backgrounds and wonderful irony
"Love Hurts," written by Boudleaux Bryant, performed originally by the Everly Brothers, then covered in a hard rock version by Nazareth, is one of the best painful love songs of all time
"You Are So Beautiful" as performed by Joe Cocker is one of the great love songs of all time; but should anyone else be allowed to cover it?
There should also be a law against lesser singers trying to cover Percy Sledge's iconic "When A Man Loves a Woman"
"Take on Me" by A-ha is a great song with a great music video; how can any male singer hit those high, sweet notes so effortlessly?
"Danny Boy" is a folk ballad of heartrending loss written by Frederic Weatherly and sung to the tune of "Londonderry Air"
"Oh Shenandoah" is an American folk song of uncertain origins
"Greensleeves" is an English folk song of uncertain origin; it dates back to 1580, perhaps earlier, and may be the oldest song that remains popular today

#24 — Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, Daniel and Your Song

music by Elton John; lyrics by Bernie Taupin; performed by Elton John

This eleven-minute track "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" was too long to be released as a single but it received quite a bit of radio air play (one critic suggested that it allowed DJs time for extended "potty breaks"). Elton John is said to have written the music while thinking about what he wanted played at his own funeral, but he wrote it as a love song of sorts for a departed friend. The song is full of furious, somewhat bombastic chords, but they all seem to work remarkably well, as do the dark, angry lyrics. "Daniel" is an evocative love song about brotherhood and friendship. "Your Song," sung slowly, gently and tenderly, is virtually the antithesis of "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding."

#24 — Light My Fire

written by Robby Krieger, John Densmore, Jim Morrison, and Ray Manzarek; performed by the Doors

"Light My Fire" was the first song Kreiger wrote. Jim Morrison, an accomplished poet/songwriter, provided additional lyrics. The seven-minute song was pared down to three minutes for the single, which catapulted the band to international fame and helped Morrison become a rock God.

#24 — Louie, Louie

written by Richard Berry; performed by the Kingsmen

"Louie, Louie" was investigated by the FBI for being possibly pornographic, but the investigation ended without prosecution, presumably because no one could interpret the highly entertaining but ultimately indecipherable lyrics. My "educated guess" is that the song is merely about a sailor trying to get back to Jamaica to see his girlfriend.

#24 — Stairway to Heaven and Whole Lotta Love

music by Jimmy Page; lyrics by Robert Plant; Willie Dixon is credited as a contributor to "Whole Lotta Love"; performed by Led Zeppelin



And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The truth will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all ...

Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" is an unusual song, and not a traditional love song, to say the least. But it is a highly romantic song, and its central theme seems to be a search for metaphorical "gold" that turns out to be universal love. And who knows ... perhaps the lyrics were heaven-sent. Comments by band members suggest that the lyrics were written rather mystically, apparently via some form of "automatic writing." (Poets like William Butler Yeats have also claimed that poems came to them from "out of blue nothing," as if conveyed by extraterrestrial spirits. The ancient Greeks even created goddesses, the Muses, to explain the otherworldly inspiration of poets.) But wherever the lyrics of "Stairway to Heaven" originated, they certainly tell a compelling story. While the song was written in Wales and has a decidedly Celtic "feel," it also alludes the Bible. Jacob, who became the patriarch and namesake of Israel, saw angels descending from and ascending into heaven on some sort of stairway. Also, there are a number of verses in the Bible which speak of God becoming "all in all" at the end of time: that idea seems to be echoed in the song's closing lines: "And if you listen very hard / The truth will come to you at last / When all are one and one is all." In Saint Peter's second sermon after Pentecost he spoke of "the restitution of all things to God" which had been spoken of "by all the holy prophets since the world began." The image above is William Blake's "Jacob's Ladder."

#23 — Fever and Blue Moon (early Sun recordings) and Always on My Mind, Heartbreak Hotel

as performed by Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley was like the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead: sometimes he was very, very good, and sometimes he was horrid (i.e., the ultimate cheesy/bombastic Vegas lounge act). But if you haven't heard the young Elvis Presley sing "Fever" and "Blue Moon," hie thee quickly to YouTube to check out the really, really good, really, really hip, cool Elvis. These are songs of passionate longing sung by a truly blessed, unaffected young singer. The result is magic that will take your breath away. "Always on My Mind" proves that Elvis could croon a love ballad with the best of them. "Heartbreak Hotel" was Elvis's first million-selling single and his first number one hit. It also demonstrates that sometimes "less is more."

#23 — Georgia on My Mind

music by Hoagy Carmichael; lyrics by Stuart Gorrell; performed by Ray Charles

"Georgia on My Mind" is a love song about home and place. It is now the official state song of Georgia. However, the song may have been written about a woman named Georgia, not the state. Ray Charles, a Georgia native, recorded a blues-infused version of song, which became one of his signature songs. Willie Nelson also recorded a version of the song, which became a number one country hit.

#22 — Let's Stay Together, Tired of Being Alone and Love & Happiness

written by Al Green and various co-writers; performed by Al Green

Al Green is one of the best, most soulful male singers of all time, whether singing gospel or melancholic songs of longing like "Let's Stay Together," "Tired of Being Alone" and "Love & Happiness." If you want to make whoopee, first dim the lights, then pour the cabernet, then make sure the stereo is playing Al Green softly in the background. "Let's Stay Together" was a song Green initially didn't want to record even though he wrote the lyrics; it became his only number one song in the United States. "Love and Happiness" was written initially by Mabon "Teenie" Hodges one morning after having sex then watching wrestling on TV; Green contributed to the song later.

#22 — These Arms of Mine, Try a Little Tenderness, Respect and I've Been Loving You Too Long

written and performed by Otis Redding; the most popular version of "Respect" is the one performed by Aretha Franklin

Put on any of these love songs by Otis Redding, and you can't go wrong. Redding was a wonderfully gifted, soulful singer who died just three days after recording his best-known song, "(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay." That song became the first posthumous number one single on the U.S. charts.

#22 — Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, Crazy, Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain and You Were Always on My Mind

written and performed by Willie Nelson

"Angel Flying too Close to the Ground" has one of the best titles and choruses of any song that ever hit the charts. "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "You Were Always on My Mind" are classic, iconic love songs. "Crazy" was Patsy Cline's biggest hit, and justifiably so. But when she first heard the song and was told that its title was "Crazy," she agreed that it was just that. She died in a plane crash two years after making it immortal.

#21 — Taxi

written and performed by Harry Chapin


Oh, I've got something inside me
To drive a princess blind ...
There's a wild-man wizard
He's hiding in me, illuminating my mind

Harry Chapin's "Taxi" is a darkly romantic ghost story in which both ghosts are still partially alive. I once saw Chapin in concert, and he was a wonderful storyteller: both in his songs and in his interactions with the audience. This is an intensely sad song about young love that ends in loneliness, alienation, drug abuse and a marriage of convenience.

#21 — Sunshine of Your Love and White Room

"Sunshine of Your Love" was written by Jack Bruce, Pete Brown and Eric Clapton; performed by Cream


Cream was the first hard rock supergroup; it included the guitar demigod, Eric Clapton. "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room" are timeless classics, but more than that, they remain timeless wonders. "Tears in Heaven" is another evocative love song, but of a different order, as it was written and performed by Clapton after the death of his infant son.

#21 — She's Not There, Time of the Season, and Tell Her No

performed by the Zombies


These three songs by the Zombies (one of the earliest and best British "invasion" groups) sound as good today as when they were first recorded, and they give the Zombies a triad of great love songs. The Zombies were formed in 1961, making them contemporaries of the Beatles and Rolling Stones. While the Zombies didn't have as many big hits, these three songs seem far ahead of their time and destined to remain immortal classics.

#21 — Here Comes the Sun, Something, Give Me Love, and My Sweet Lord

written by George Harrison; performed by Harrison and/or the Beatles


While John Lennon and Paul McCartney garnered the lion's share of the credit for the songwriting successes of the Beatles, George Harrison may be just as good, if not better, when it comes to moving love songs. "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something" were written by Harrison and performed by the Beatles. "Give Me Love" and "My Sweet Lord" were written and performed by Harrison as a solo artist. Ironically, "My Sweet Lord," a tender hymn of love to God, resulted in a ten-year, multi-million dollar lawsuit over an allegedly plagiarized melody (that of "He's So Fine" by the Chiffons).

#20 — Candle in the Wind

music by Elton John; lyrics by Bernie Taupin; performed by Elton John

Collage: Diana (head and shoulders) in front of temple

Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled

Bernie Taupin's evocative lyrics tell a haunting story about an enchanting artist: Marilyn Monroe (the former Norma Jean Baker). The music was written and the song was originally performed by Elton John. The original song not only causes us to empathize with Marilyn Monroe, but also with the young boy who felt such affection and empathy for her. Bernie Taupin later wrote new lyrics for the song, honoring England's fairest Rose, Princess Diana, after her tragic death in an automobile accident.

#19 — Wicked Game

written and performed by Chris Isaak

"Wicked Game" is not only a killer love song, with atmospheric vocals by Chris Isaak, but its music video is sexy as hell, thanks to a tropical beach, Isaak, supermodel Helena Christensen and half a white bikini (or perhaps it's the missing half most men will prefer). The song became a hit after being featured in the David Lynch film Wild at Heart.

#18 — Criminal

written and performed by Fiona Apple

"Criminal" is another killer love song with a sexy music video, although two songs could not be more different than "Wicked Game" and "Criminal." Fiona Apple was still a teenager when "Criminal" became a hit; she was awarded a Grammy for the song at age nineteen. The song's controversial music video—which featured a waif-like, scantily-clad Apple running around in her panties in a '70s-era tract house—was explained by Apple (who was raped at age 12) thusly: "I decided that if I was going to be exploited, then I would do the exploiting myself." More power to her. In any case, it's a great song.

#17 — House of the Rising Sun

original writer unknown; performed by the Animals



There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun;
It's been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I'm one ...

"House of the Rising Sun" is an American folk ballad whose authorship remains unknown. The best-known version of the song was performed by a British "invasion" group the Animals. (Hey, what were they doing, stealing our best songs?) Like several other songs on this page, it tells a dark, haunting, compelling story. In this case, love (or the lack of it) is experienced in a whorehouse called the "Rising Sun."

#17 — Until the Night, Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel), Always a Woman to Me and Only the Good Die Young

written and performed by Billy Joel

Billy Joel's "Until the Night" gets my vote as the best unknown love song of all time. If there can be such a strange thing, I think it may qualify as good (or great) bombast. If you haven't heard the song, you really should check it out on YouTube. The combination of the mournful sax, the crashing piano chords, and Joel's avowals of passionate longing mingled with doubt, all go wonderfully well together. If you listen to a live performance, the reaction of the audience at the end will be a clue that this song is an overlooked treasure. "Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel)" is another less-well-know Joel song that should be on everyone's playlists. "Only the Good Die Young" is a carpe diem (seize the day) invitation to indulge in the pleasures of sex; it employs some of the cleverest come-on lines in the English language, making Billy Joel the rival of poets like Andrew Marvell and Robert Herrick when it comes to the art of seduction. And talk about artists with range! ... could any four love songs be less alike?

#17 — All I Know

performed by Art Garfunkel

"All I Know," performed by Art Garfunkel, runs a close second to "Until The Night" as the best unknown love song of all time. Garfunkel is one of the best male singers of recent times, and while "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is probably the vocal he'll be most remembered for, this one is also unforgettable.

#16 — Born to Run, Thunder Road, Jungleland, Dancing in the Dark, Rosalita, Secret Garden and Fire

by Bruce Springsteen; performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Every day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on Highway 9
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected and steppin' out over the line
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we're young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

"Born to Run" is a rip-roaring dark anthem perhaps inspired to some degree by badass actors like James Dean, Marlon Brando and Dennis Hopper. What happens when machismo-dripping young men straddle their Harleys and roar around in search of companionship? A love song like "Born to Run" seems almost inevitable. A fundamental line may be: "And the boys try to look so hard." There's quite a discrepancy between the lyrics of songwriters like Chris Isaak and Fiona Apple, and those of "the Boss" above. But his anthem to doomed love is perhaps the sadder for all its bravura defiance. The Boss's other love songs also tend to be on the darker side, but "Rosalita" is nicely upbeat and "Secret Garden" is soft and tender. "Thunder Road" took its title from a1958 Robert Mitchum bootlegger movie that Springsteen had never actually seen.

#15 — I Want to Know What Love Is

written by Mick Jones; performed by Foreigner

"I Want to Know What Love Is" is a rock power ballad backed by a large gospel choir, "Dreamgirls" star Jennifer Holliday and the Thompson Twins. While it seems the song was destined to be schizophrenic from the get-go, it works wonderfully well on all levels. Mick Jones is a stellar vocalist whose voice has stood the test of time.

#14 — I Walk the Line and Ring of Fire

performed by Johnny Cash

I find it very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when each day is through
Yes, I'll admit that I'm a fool for you
Because you're mine, I walk the line

Johnny Cash wrote "I Walk the Line" in 1956, when he was newly married. In the song he promised to always be faithful to his wife. Years later he recorded "Ring of Fire," a song written by his mistress, then known as June Carter (of the famous country-music-singing Carter family). June Carter wrote "Ring of Fire" with Merle Kilgore. Johnny Cash had a dream in which he was singing the song with mariachi horns in the background, which was how he recorded it. Soon thereafter, June Carter became June Carter Cash.

#13 — White Flag, Thank You and Here with Me

performed by Dido

It hardly seems fair that a singer like Dido is allowed to have two immaculate songs like "White Flag" and "Thank You" in a single career. "Here with Me" completes an amazing hat trick. Dido's atmospheric voice makes her seem like an angel bringing gifts to earth from some distant heaven.

#12 — A Whiter Shade of Pale

written by Matthew Fisher, Gary Brooker and Keith Reid; performed by Procol Harum

And so it was that later,
As the miller told his tale,
That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale.

"A Whiter Shade of Pale" has been the most-played song at venues in the United Kingdom over the last 75 years, and justly so. It's a song that tells a haunting if somewhat surrealistic tale. The song is based on a party at which Keith Reid heard the phrase "a whiter shade of pale" ... the rest, as they say, is history. The phrase "as the miller told his tale" probably refers to the Miller's Tale of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." The Miller's Tale was about a man's attempt to seduce a young woman, so we may perhaps deduce that the woman who blanched at the party turned "a whiter shade of pale" because she was being propositioned.

#11 — Leah, Crying, Only the Lonely, Pretty Woman and In Dreams

"Crying" was written by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson; performed by Roy Orbison

I'll place the pearls
around the only girl
for me:
Leah

Some songs have haunting lyrics, but Roy Orbison has a haunting, almost otherworldly voice. I'm not sure if "Leah" is a truly great song in its own right (it's about a pearl diver who drowns, only to wake up and realize he was having a nightmare), but Orbison's voice makes the performance utterly magical. "Crying" and "In Dreams" are great love songs made all the more magical when Orbison hits the high notes, which he somehow manages to do both warmly and sweetly. According to Rolling Stone magazine, after Orbison first hit the highest note in "Crying," he was able to hit it again and again, until his death in 1988.

#10 — Piece of My Heart

by James Ragovoy and Bert Berns; performed by Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company

Didn't I make you feel
like you were the only man?
An' didn't I give you nearly everything
that a woman possibly can?

Rolling Stone nominated "Piece of My Heart" as the 344th greatest song of the modern era, which only illustrates the dark, murky depths to which music "experts" are capable of sinking. This may be the greatest all-out rock/blues performance by a female singer, or by any rock/blues singer, male or female. While many songs are "heart rippers," this is the only one that actually encourages the act of heartbreaking.

#10 — Angie, Wild Horses, Miss You, Shattered, (I'm Just) Waiting on a Friend, Beast of Burden, Start Me Up, Satisfaction, Under My Thumb, and Brown Sugar (just to name a few)

written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards; performed by the Rolling Stones

When both quality and quantity are considered, the Rolling Stones may have good reason to claim to be the world's greatest singers of love songs, as well as the "Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band on Earth." Of course it doesn't hurt that they managed to stay together for nearly half a century, while so many other supergroups were self-destructing. "Angie" is one of the most touching love songs ever written or sung. Songs like "Wild Horses," "Miss You," "Shattered" and "(I'm Just) Waiting on a Friend" are also absolutely stellar. For me, songs like "Satisfaction" and "Brown Sugar" seem a bit over-rated, but the first six songs on my list are so good, everything else is merely icing on the cake. If quantity and quality matter, the Stones go to the head of the love song pack.

#9 — Because The Night

written by Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith; performed by the Patti Smith Group


"Because the Night" is one of the songs (if not the song) that made Patti Smith the "godmother of punk." The song was originally by Bruce Springsteen, but wasn't recorded because he wasn't happy with it. Patti Smith altered the song, which became her biggest hit and has rightly been called one of the best songs of all time. Springsteen continued to perform the song with his original lyrics, but it is Patti Smith's version that became one of the iconic songs of the punk era, and one of the great love songs of all time.

#9 — Sweet Child O' Mine

performed by Guns 'n Roses


"Sweet Child O' Mine" began as a sort of joke, with guitarist Slash making faces at drummer Steven Adler while playing a "circus" melody riff. But Axl Rose heard the impromptu jam session from a room upstairs, didn't know the band was just horsing around, and came up with tender-but-passionate lyrics for his girlfriend at the time, Erin Everly, the daughter of Don Everly of Everly Brothers fame. The song went on to become the band's only number one hit in the United States, and a highly passionate and tender song for the ages.

#8 — Layla

written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon;  performed by Derek and the Dominoes

Layla, you got me on my knees;
Layla, you got me singing "Darlin' please" ...

"Layla" was written by Eric Clapton as a song of unrequited love for his friend George Harrison's wife, Pattie Boyd ... talk about a lovers' triangle! At least this triangle was immortalized through art, as Pattie Boyd has been called the inspiration for "Layla," "Something," "I Need You," "Wonderful Tonight" and other songs by Harrison and Clapton. Both the original and the "unplugged" versions of "Layla" are utterly stellar. The song is a longing plea for love, with no indication that reciprocation is expected.

#8 — At Last

written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, and performed magnificently by the great blues singer, Etta James

Etta James overcame a heroin addiction in the 1960s and 1970s to return as the opening act for the Rolling Stones in the 1980s. "At Last" is her best-known song today, and rightfully so. While the song has been covered by other singers, that seems unwise and should probably be illegal!

#7 — The Freshmen

written by Brian Vander Ark; performed by The Verve Pipe

Photo Gallery

When I was young, I knew everything
and she, a punk who rarely ever took advice ...
now I'm guilt-stricken, sobbing with my head on the floor
stop a baby's breath and a shoe full of rice ...
I can't be held responsible
'cause she was touching her face
I won't be held responsible
she fell in love in the first place ...
For the life of me, I cannot remember
what made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise
for the life of me, I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins ...
we were merely freshmen

When the Verve Pipe released "The Freshmen" there were debates on the Internet about just what they meant by lines like "stop a baby's breath and a shoe full of rice." While "stop a baby's breath" might refer to an abortion, "shoe full of rice" might refer to a wedding, in which case "baby's breath" might be a sprig of flowers. Song lyrics, like all forms of poetry, are open to interpretation.

#6 — Nothing Compares 2 U, When Doves Cry, Purple Rain, Kiss, Raspberry Beret and Little Red Corvette

written and performed by Prince; "Nothing Compares 2 U" was also performed by Sinead O'Connor in one of the great "covers" of all time

"Nothing Compares 2 U" is a wonderfully tender, poignant song, sung exquisitely by Sinead O'Connor. The tear she shed in her video was real, and unscripted. She had shaved her head when she started singing because she wanted to be known for her music, not her looks (although she looked better without hair than most women with flowing manes). When the head of her record label heard the song the first time, he cried. When O'Connor heard that he had cried, she asked: "Was it that bad?" No, silly, it was that magnificent! "Little Red Corvette" is undoubtedly the best passionate love song ever written to a car, or is it a sexy metaphor? "When Doves Cry" is a wonderfully tender love song. "Purple Rain" and "Kiss" are also classic love songs. "Raspberry Beret" is a wonderful song about individuality.

#6 — Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) and What's Goin' On

written and performed by Marvin Gaye; "What's Goin' On" was co-written with Renaldo "Obie" Benson and Al Cleveland

"Mercy, Mercy Me" and "What's Goin' On" were love songs to the earth and humankind, and earnest pleas for love, understanding and peace, written and performed by Marvin Gaye. Unfortunately, even though he wrote the lines "Father, father, there's no need to escalate," Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his own father. Although Gaye performed romantic love songs like "Sexual Healing" and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," the love songs of his that may leave the most lasting impressions are the ones he wrote to the world: "Mercy, Mercy Me" and "What's Goin' On."

#6 — Open Arms, Don't Stop Believin', When You Love a Woman, Faithfully, Separate Ways, Send Her My Love, Who's Cryin' Now, Patiently, Wheel in the Sky, Lights, and Good Morning Girl

written and performed by Journey, with lead vocals by Steve Perry

Journey combined great songwriting and musicianship with the otherworldly voice and range of Steve Perry. My favorite Journey song is the lesser-known "Good Morning Girl."

#5 — Hallelujah

written by Leonard Cohen; performed by Cohen and other artists (my favorite performers of the song include Alexandra Burke and K. D. Lang)

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do ya?
It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift,
The baffled king composing Hallelujah ...
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah is an utterly sad song that transforms love into a cold and broken Hallelujah. (Some artists ruin the song by singing "do you" rather than "do ya." Argh!)

#4 — Unchained Melody

music by Alex North; lyrics by Hy Zaret; performed by the Righteous Brothers (vocals by Bobby Hatfield)

Oh, my love, my darling
I've hungered for your touch
a long lonely time
and time goes by so slowly
and time can do so much
are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
Godspeed your love to me

"Unchained Melody" is one of the most popular songs of all time, having been covered by more than 700 artists in various languages. But if you haven't heard the version recorded by the Righteous Brothers, please be sure to browse over to YouTube and check out Bobby Hatfield's stunning, soaring vocals, because you haven't yet truly lived. This is a haunting song of inconsolable longing that became popular again when it was appropriately featured in the movie "Ghost" starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.

#3 — Bridge Over Troubled Water

written by Paul Simon; performed by Simon & Garfunkel (vocals by Art Garfunkel)

When you're down and out
When you're on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I'll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" is one of the greatest love songs ever written. Paul Simon wrote this song of love and friendship specifically to be sung by Art Garfunkel, shortly before the breakup of Simon & Garfunkel, at a time the two were constantly at odds. Garfunkel's vocals make the original recording one of the best of all time; the song has also been performed by many other singers, including notably Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Josh Groban and Charlotte Church. While the song does have a bit of "light at the end of the tunnel," for the most part it is a dark masterpiece. Garfunkel contributed the "sail on silver girl" line, which Simon didn't like. "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her" is another great love song written by Paul Simon, with some of the most enchanting lyrics in music history:

What a dream I had,
Pressed in organdy
Clothed in crinoline
Of smoky burgundy
Softer than the rain …

#2 — Without You

written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger; the best and most famous performance of the song was by Harry Nilsson

Paul McCartney, who knows a thing or two about songwriting, called "Without You" the "killer song of all time." While the original Badfinger version is good, the atmospheric, soaring vocals of Harry Nilsson took the song to new heavenly levels of unrequited longing. The song has since been covered admirably well by Mariah Carey and other accomplished singers, but for me the Harry Nilsson version is unique and untouchable.

#2 — The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

written and first performed by Robert Flack

"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" was written and first performed by Robert Flack; it has since been performed by Celine Dion, among others; one of my favorite versions is a somewhat darker version by an unknown singer, Josh Krajcik, which you can find on YouTube.

I think the two songs above go well together, and tie for my best sad, dark, haunting love songs of all time. Now here, without further ado, is my number one song of all time ... named, in an interesting synchronicity, "One." One might call it an anti-love song.

#1 — One, With or Without You, All I Want Is You, Sweetest Thing, and I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

"One" was written by Bono (Paul Hewson), The Edge (David Evans), Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr.; performed by U2

Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head?

In my opinion, "One" is either the greatest love song ever written, or the greatest anti-love song, or perhaps both. It was written and recorded in Berlin, on the eve of the reunification of Germany. At the time U2 was experiencing internal disharmony: the song has been credited with helping keep the band together. The Edge came up with the music first; Bono said his lyrics "just fell out of the sky, a gift." The entire song was composed in about 15 minutes. The other U2 songs on my list are utterly stellar, but "One" is the king of the hill.

Honorable Mentions

"I Can't Stop Loving You" is a great love song by Ray Charles
"Stand By Me" is a powerhouse love song by Ben E. King
"I'll Be There" is a great love song by Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5
"Up Where We Belong" is a power ballad by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
"(To) Make You Feel My Love" was written by Bob Dylan and recorded notably by Adele
"Rolling in the Deep," "Hello" and "Someone Like You" by Adele
"The Rose" is a classic love song by Bette Midler
"In Your Eyes" is a hypnotizing love song by Peter Gabriel
"To Know Him is to Love Him" is a touching love song from 1958, by the Teddy Bears
"When I Was Your Man" is a lovely love song by Bruno Mars
"Stay With Me" and "I'm Not the Only One" by Sam Smith
"All of Me" by John Legend
"Every Breath You Take," written by Sting and performed by the Police, is a song about obsession and perhaps the number one "stalker love song" of all time
"God Only Knows" was written by Brian Wilson and performed by the Beach Boys; Brian's brother Carl sang lead on the song
"Ain't No Sunshine (When She's Gone)" is a wonderful, bluesy love song by Bill Withers, a great vocalist
"I Will Always Love You" is a classic song written by country superstar Dolly Parton that was recorded by the ultimate rock diva, Whitney Houston
"Maybe I'm Amazed" and "My Love" are great love songs written by Sir Paul McCartney of Beatles and Wings fame
"Private Dancer" and "What's Love Got to Do with It" are top-notch love songs recorded by Tina Turner
"Justify My Love," "Crazy for You" and "Like a Virgin" are superb love songs recorded by Madonna
"Anticipation," "You're So Vain" and "That's the Way I Always Heard it Should Be (We'll Marry)" are great love songs by Carly Simon
"You Send Me" and "Cupid" are immortal love songs by Sam Cooke
"As" and "I Just Called to Say I Love You" are tour-de-force performances by Stevie Wonder
"Maggie May" by Rod Stewart
"Fallin'" or "Falling" as performed by Alicia Keys is pure magic
I'm not much of a Frank Sinatra fan, but his version of "Strangers in the Night" is damn good
"Lay, Lady Lay" was written and performed by Bob Dylan, in one of his better vocal performances
"How Deep is Your Love" is a stellar love song by the Bee Gees
"Woman in Love" was written by Barry and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees and recorded by Barbara Streisand
"Heart of Gold" was written and performed by Neil Young; the song is so good Young's nasally, somewhat whiny vocals almost don't matter
"He Stopped Loving Her Today" was written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, and performed by George Jones, another great vocalist
"That's the Way I've Always Heard it Should Be" was written and performed by Carly Simon
"At Seventeen" is a song of intense loneliness and alienation written and performed by Janis Ian
"You Really Got Me" was written by Ray Davies and performed by the Kinks
"Jack and Diane" and "Pink Houses" by John Cougar Mellencamp
"Lovesong" was the only top ten hit for the Cure in America
"If Not for You" was written by Bob Dylan, but Olivia Newton-John sang it better, and far more sweetly
"Ferry Cross the Mersey" by Gerry and the Pacemakers is a song about love of home and returning there
"How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" was written and performed by the Bee Gees
"Time After Time" and "True Colors" are touching love songs written and performed by the exotic and quixotic Cyndi Lauper
"Come On Eileen" is wonderfully catchy love song performed by the one-hit wonders Dexy and the Midnight Runners
"Crazy Little Thing Called Love" is another impossible-not-to-sing-along-with love song, performed by Queen
"I'll Make Love to You" was written by Babyface and recorded by Boyz II Men
"You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" is a classic love song by The Righteous Brothers
"To Sir with Love" is a classic love song recorded by Lulu
"If" by David Gates and Bread
"Endless Love" is an immortal duet by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie
"Bleeding Love" is a moving love song by Leona Lewis
"Vision of Love," "Dreamlover" and "Love Takes Time" are touching love songs by Mariah Carey
"Halo" and "Crazy in Love" are great love songs by Beyoncé
"Lovin' You" and "Inside My Love" are evocative love songs by Minnie Ripperton
"Roses are Red (My Love)," "Blue Velvet" and "Sealed With a Kiss" are classic love songs recorded by Bobby Vinton
"I Drove All Night" is a cover of the Roy Orbison song by Cyndi Lauper
"The Look of Love" and "Son of a Preacher Man" are evocative love songs by Dusty Springfield
"Your Love is King" is a catchy love song by Sade
"Betcha By Golly Wow" by the Stylistics and the Neville Brothers
"Always on My Mind" and "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys
"Annie's Song" by John Denver
"The Highwayman" written by the English poet Alfred Noyes and performed by a number of different artists
"Baby Love," "Love Child," "Come See About Me" and "Stop in the Name of Love" by Diana Ross and the Supremes
"Trouble" and "Love Story" by Taylor Swift
"This Guy's in Love with You" by Herb Alpert
"I Can't Help Falling in Love with You" by Elvis Presley and the reggae version by UB40
"I Knew I Loved You" and "Truly Madly Deeply" by Savage Garden

Vincent

by Don McLean



Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Starry Night"

Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul

Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen
They did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue
Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand

For they could not love you
But still your love was true
And when no hope was left inside
On that starry, starry night
You took your life as lovers often do
But I could've told you, Vincent
This world was never meant
For one as beautiful as you

Starry, Starry night
Portraits hung in empty halls
Frameless heads on nameless walls
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget
Like the strangers that you've met
The ragged men in ragged clothes
The silver thorn, the bloody rose
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow

Now I think I know
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen
They're not listening still
Perhaps they never will . . .

Don McLean's "Vincent" got my vote as the best rock poem of all time, based strictly on words, because it tells a moving story and also carries us somewhere "beyond" by making us feel a strong kinship with the troubled Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh. The best poems and songs create a sort of spiritual "communion" between writer, subject and audience ...

Go Rest High on that Mountain

by Vince Gill

I am not normally a country music fan, but this song, a modern hymn, is wonderfully moving and exquisitely sung by Vince Gill, a former lead singer of Pure Prairie League. Gill wrote the song originally for Keith Whitley, a fellow country music singer who died in 1989, but didn't finish it until after the death of his brother Bob, who died in  1993. Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless sang the background vocals on a song that is sure to be an enduring classic.

She's Gone

by Daryl Hall and John Oates; performed by Hall and Oates

Up in the morning, look in the mirror ...
I'm as worn as the toothbrush hanging in her stand ...
My face ain't lookin' any younger ...
Now I can see love's taken her toll on me ...
She's gone ...

This is one of the best songs about love, loss, disappointment and aging alone. The song was written after Hall had divorced his wife and Oates had been stood up by a New Year's date.

Love And Affection

by Joan Armatrading

This is an absolutely wonderful song that deserves far more attention than it gets today. If you haven't heard it, please be sure to check it out on YouTube.

Kathy's Song

by Paul Simon; performed by Simon & Garfunkel


I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm, continuing,
Tapping on my roof and walls

"Kathy's Song" is a tender lament about love and loss. Paul Simon's songs tend to read well as poems because he wrote them as poems, then set them to music later.

America

by Paul Simon; performed by Simon & Garfunkel


"Let us be lovers,
We'll marry our fortunes together.
I've got some real estate
Here in my bag."
So we bought a pack of cigarettes,
And Mrs. Wagner's pies,
And walked off
To look for America.

"Kathy," I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
"Michigan seems like a dream to me now.
It took me four days
To hitchhike from Saginaw.
I've come to look for America."

Laughing on the bus,
Playing games with the faces,
She said the man in the gabardine suit
Was a spy.
I said, "Be careful,
His bow tie is really a camera."

"Toss me a cigarette,
I think there's one in my raincoat."
"We smoked the last one
An hour ago."
So I looked at the scenery,
She read her magazine;
And the moon rose over an open field.

"Kathy, I'm lost," I said,
Though I knew she was sleeping.
"I'm empty and aching and
I don't know why."

Counting the cars
On the New Jersey Turnpike.
They've all come
To look for America,
All come to look for America.
All come to look for America.

"America" is a wonderfully touching song about longing: the longing for love and the longing to discover oneself and one's place in the world. Paul Simon was born in the United States to Hungarian Jewish parents, but he has always struck me as being a somewhat monkish English troubadour.

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

by Bob Dylan

I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don't think twice, it's all right

"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" is yet another strong song by one of America's most famous singer/songwriters.

Homeward Bound

by Paul Simon; performed by Simon & Garfunkel

Ev'ry day's an endless stream
Of cigarettes and magazines.
And each town looks the same to me,
the movies and the factories
And ev'ry stranger's face I see
reminds me that I long to be
Homeward bound.

"Homeward Bound" is another strong song by one of my favorite singer/songwriters, and the one that makes him seem most like the reincarnation of an English troubadour.

Lady Midnight

by Leonard Cohen

I came by myself to a very crowded place;
I was looking for someone who had lines in her face.
I found her there but she was past all concern;
I asked her to hold me,
I said, "Lady, unfold me,"
but she scorned me and she told me
I was dead and I could never return.

"Lady Midnight" is yet another strong song by one of the premier songwriters of the modern era.

Related pages: The Most Beautiful Sonnets in the English Language, The Most Beautiful Lines in the English Language, The Best Poems Ever Written, The Best Love Poems, The Best Erotic Poems, The Best Urdu Love Poetry, The Best Poetry Translations, The Best American Poetry,
Best Singers of All Time, Best Singer-Songwriters, Best Female Singer/Songwriters, Best Songs of All Time, Best Sad Songs, Best Protest Songs and Poems, Best Love Songs, Rock Jukebox: the Poetry of Rock Lyrics, Best Female Poets, Best Sappho Translations, The Worst Song Lyrics of All Time, Best Lines from Songs and Poems, The Best Vocal Performances of All Time, The Love Song of Shu-Sin: The Earth's Oldest Love Poem?

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