The 50 Greatest Love Songs of All Time

Read this first! Bloggers, DJs, and critics helped us assemble this comprehensive list of great love songs. In the fall, we divided them up by decade, but in consolidating them, we've dropped some, moved up others, and rearranged with an eye towards timelessness, which means in many cases the older songs got the edge. (Honestly, you would've freaked out if we'd put Foo Fighters over Etta James.)

Before you tell us what we missed, a few notes. One, we excluded breakup songs and come-back-to-me songs and please-sleep-with-me songs. These are love songs — songs you could play to your current squeeze immediately after saying, "Steve/Miriam, this song explains my feelings for you, which may be nuanced but are ultimately positive," and not expect to sleep on the couch. Two, we limited it to one song per principal songwriter. Lastly, this list goes back to 1960, which we feel represents the dawn of pop music as we know it, but we apologize to Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra, Mozart, et al. Okay, now you can tell us what we missed. Have fun! — The Nerve Editors

And don't forget to check out our Spotify playlist for the 50 Greatest Love Songs of All Time.

50. Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over" (1986)

Despite being memorably featured in the 90210 episode where Brenda and Dylan break up, this is not a breakup song. Instead, it's a defiant song of recommitment from singer Neil Finn to his wife. It's as perfectly constructed as it is touching in its "us against the world" spirit. — Peter Smith

Listen: Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over"

 

49. The Magnetic Fields, "The Book of Love" (1999)

The Magnetic Fields are nothing if not frank: "The book of love is long and boring... Some of it is just really dumb." But that candor only makes their earnest tenderness more affecting, when they sing, "I love it when you read to me, and you can read me anything." Bonus points for making reading romantic. — Kristin Hunt

Listen: The Magnetic Fields, "The Book of Love"

 

48. AIR, "Playground Love" (2000)

Teens in lust are a common pop-song topic, but this haunting theme from The Virgin Suicides turns hormonal hot-bloodedness into cool, clear devotion. "Anytime, anywhere, you're my playground love," purrs Thomas Marz, years ahead of his wider fame with Phoenix. Blanketed by smooth, subtle horns, he sounds like he's swirling a brandy years later, reliving a moment of infatuation he's now certain was the truest love he'll ever know. — Jeff Klingman

Listen: AIR, "Playground Love"

 

47. Modern English, "I Melt With You" (1982)

With bubbly keyboards and a thin, jerky guitar line, "I Melt With You" makes everyone dance — usually in a dorky, euphoric manner, relying on a lot of spinning and jumping up and down. If that's not a commentary on love, I don't know what is. — Colette McIntyre

Listen: Modern English, "I Melt With You"

 

46. The Righteous Brothers, "Unchained Melody" (1965)

Forget about Ghost. Just focus on Bobby Hatfield's spine-tingling vocal performance and Phil Spector's wall-of-sound production, both of which build slowly, until they become a tidal wive that threatens to overwhelm you... kind of like love. — Alex Heigl

Listen: The Righteous Brothers, "Unchained Melody"

 

45. The Four Tops, "I Can't Help Myself" (1965)

Forget Olivia Newton-John — The Four Tops are the best at hopeless devotion. However much their sugarpie honey bunch goes in and out of their life, these guys will always come running, in truly head-over-heels fashion. — K.H.

Listen: The Four Tops, "I Can't Help Myself"

 

44. Tears For Fears, "Head Over Heels" (1985)

While the first few synth chords will never let you forget what year it was, Curt Smith's voice and Roland Orzabal's lyrics never get old. "Head Over Heels" perfectly captures the feeling of being blindsided by love — how scary and thrilling it can be, all at once. — Carlos Cabrera

Listen: Tears For Fears, "Head Over Heels"

 

43. Norah Jones, "Come Away With Me" (2002)

Now that it's won eight Grammies and sold exactly one bazillion copies, it's hard to remember how anachronistically fresh Come Away With Me sounded in 2002. The smoky, elegant title track turns a simple entreaty into a world unto itself — one you can take someone's hand and escape into. — A.H.

Listen: Norah Jones, "Come Away With Me"

 

42. Bob Dylan, "Lay Lady Lay" (1969)

"Lay Lady Lay" is desirous and anticipatory. It wants to reach out and grab your hand, make you stay the night. In a deliciously low croon, Dylan tells his lover that she's "the best thing that he's ever seen," and in that moment the only place you want to be is pressed up against someone's body in a big brass bed, forgetting the time of day. — C.M.

Listen: Bob Dylan, "Lay Lady Lay"

 

41. Sade, "Your Love is King" (1984)

There is no operator smoother than Sade. "Your Love is King" hit radio at exactly at the right moment — disco had finally died and R&B was searching for its next sound. Earthy and understated yet undeniably sultry, the song proved that passion can be subtle and still intense. Its sexiness lies in its reserve; "Your Love is King" takes its time, but when the climax comes, it's well worth it.  — C.M.

Listen: Sade, "Your Love is King"

 

Commentarium (102 Comments)

Feb 08 12 - 1:32am
James (gM)

Hey, you struck a nerve, Nerve.
#6 is an ideal choice for a Beatles love song; reflective, imaginative, and poetic.
I made a remix of this back in the day (non-profit, mind you). I thought I'd share it with anyone who enjoys music, and who loves love. (Cheesy, I know.)

http://soundcloud.com/generalmusician/in-my-life-remix

I'd also like to say, I love the Beach Boys...anyone else fans of "You Still Believe In Me" or "Caroline, No"?

Feb 09 12 - 3:37pm
Trix

I've always thought that "You Still Believe In Me" was the secret gem on _Pet Sounds_...the outro where they harmonize the word "cry" like a choir of angels destroys me every time, but in a good way.

Feb 08 12 - 2:26am
huh

Not to be ridiculously picky, but you guys said "of all time". Ever heard of Gershwin? Nat King Cole? Sinatra? Etc. Since you already did individual lists for each decade after the 60s, I was hoping you'd broaden your range to at least the 1940s/50s if not all of those 20/30s songs.

Feb 08 12 - 2:29am
huh

I realize you guys made a disclaimer, but I think pop goes back much further. If recent generations can't easily think of a few popular love songs from before the Beatles, that's a problem.

Feb 08 12 - 3:00am
GeeBee

You mention Sinatra. His opinion was that "Something" (#2 on this list) was the greatest love song ever written. Just sayin'

Feb 08 12 - 3:26am
huh

I'm not saying it's not one of the greatest. I just really, really wished they'd expanded the pool from what they'd just done. Give us more food for thought.

Feb 08 12 - 9:58am
Yoni

You clearly caught your mistake with your second comment. This is from the 1960's on. If you wanted different criteria, make your own list, don't criticize someone else's.

Feb 08 12 - 12:12pm
Alex Heigl

The decision to start at the '60s wasn't arrived at lightly. Depending on people's definition of "pop music," we could have gone back to Tin Pan Alley, but adding three more decades of love songs to the running would have been a nearly unmanageable list -- how do you judge the dozens of classic recordings of, say, "My Funny Valentine?"

Feb 08 12 - 5:24pm
in the past

not to mention that if you went back to TPA who reading this would know the songs?

Feb 09 12 - 6:36pm
Hypersquared

It's totally reasonable that you had a cutoff, but why title it "...of All Time"? It makes it seems as though you either have no sense of history or don't understand the language. Just call it something vague, like "...of Our Time." Come on, part of pretending to be journalists is pretending that words mean something.

Feb 12 12 - 12:43am
ibg

I agree with Hypersquared....."from 1960" is a far cry from "of all time", even if you are being hyperbolic.

Feb 08 12 - 2:33am
msnerve

the goo goo dolls over elvis and unchained melody ? really bro ?

Feb 10 12 - 6:49pm
?

bro?

Feb 15 12 - 5:47am
?

Srsly.

Feb 08 12 - 2:35am
Ludwig van Beethoven

Greatest all time ??? Ever heard of my single Für Elise?

Jun 18 12 - 8:22pm
?

tell me why do you think the guy mentions that his list goes back to 1960?

Feb 08 12 - 3:09am
MunchnerKindl

maybe of the western world in the latter half of the 20th century...

Feb 08 12 - 3:50am
Yanqui

Nothing by Roxy Music? Really?

Feb 11 12 - 4:44pm
mathray

Exactly. Just put on "Avalon", there's about 5 songs that could be put on this flawed list. Even Bryan Ferry solo stuff deserves a mention.

Feb 11 12 - 9:35pm
BB

Damn skippy. Avalon was one of the greatest albums of love songs of all time. Brian Ferry is king.

Feb 08 12 - 4:20am
Lawrence

Best of all time.
Interesting how you have the greatest love songs of each decade, and then do this, and have songs conflict with each other...

Feb 08 12 - 12:15pm
Lazer12

Wasn't "Lay Lady Lay" about Dylan's dog?

Feb 08 12 - 1:16pm
Maybe

Still love though. Gives lots of boners, that pup.

Feb 08 12 - 12:57pm
Grover Cleveland

I've always thought "Downtown Train" was the second best love song of all time, but that's my only nitpick.

Feb 15 12 - 5:48am
julian

Go back to Sesame Street, you fucking twit.

Jun 02 12 - 9:15pm
Lisat

Downtown train is kind of sad and not really about love so much as the desperation of women looking for it. Wouldn't belong on this list, but excellent lyrics IMHO

Feb 08 12 - 4:17pm
Guffaw yourself

What? No "I'll stand you" by the Pretenders? This is a serious injustice!

Feb 08 12 - 4:27pm
jon

Wouldn't It Be Nice isn't on this list. That's wrong.

Feb 11 12 - 5:43pm
Betty

They specifically said that they wouldn't include "please sleep with me" songs on the list. "Wouldn't it Be Nice" is the quintessential "please sleep with me song" in my opinion.

Feb 08 12 - 5:02pm
duhhh

This is a remarkable top 10, which also just proves how freaking romantic the '80s were, AIDs aside.

Feb 08 12 - 8:33pm
Todd

If I Should Fall Behind - Bruce Springsteen

Feb 08 12 - 9:55pm
Alli

I'm just wondering where "The Way We Were" is. It definitely belongs on this list.

Feb 08 12 - 10:08pm
dwg

Nothing by Leonard Cohen? Are you out of you minds?

Mar 05 12 - 6:23pm
FarAwayGal

PREACH!

Feb 08 12 - 11:23pm
1408

"You Really Got a Hold On Me" Smokey Robinson and the Mirlaces

Feb 09 12 - 12:34am
john lover

wheres "woman"?!

Feb 09 12 - 11:57am
PeterSmith

We limited it to one song per songwriter, and Lennon wrote "In My Life."

Feb 09 12 - 4:29am
DH

If you' gonna go the Clapton route, get rid of the schmaltz that is Wonderful Tonight and replace it with the fiery paen to unrequited love that is Derek and the Dominos' Layla.

Feb 09 12 - 12:24pm
tmp

The intro says no unrequited love songs were considered

Feb 09 12 - 12:55pm
dudeman

Of course you're always going to get complainers about lists like this, but I got the gist of the whole thing. A beautiful list, great job.

Feb 09 12 - 6:08pm
Bryan

That you somehow managed to overlook the entire Burt Bacharach song catalogue is a bit unfortunate.

Feb 09 12 - 6:37pm
Jarvik7

How you could exclude Roxy Music and Richard Thompson is a mystery to me.

Feb 09 12 - 6:46pm
TFT

Rather Debbie Boone than Roberta Flack.

Feb 09 12 - 11:50pm
Marc

Most Americans have never heard of him (maybe "Streets of London"?), but towering over every one this mediocre pile of pop drivel s a beautiful and honest love song by Ralph McTell: "Growing Old with Naomi".
And Gerry and the Pacemaker's "Walk Hand in Hand With Me", beautifully sung by Gerry Marsden,
also far superior anything on Nerve's silly list.
Frankly, I'm surprised you left out Paul Anka's "You're Having My Baby".

Feb 10 12 - 1:11am
Joe

Mel Carter's "Hold me, Thrill me" , Lulu's "Oh me oh my", Stan Getz "Soul Eyes"....panty pullin' music of the highest order..and they didn't make the list??

Feb 10 12 - 6:52pm
Caitlyn

Perhaps it's strange, but the first song I thought of when I saw the title of this list was "Alex Chilton" by the Replacements.

Feb 11 12 - 2:24pm
PeterSmith

I'm in love with that song, even if it's more about loving Big Star than loving a person.

Feb 10 12 - 7:54pm
ChristianH

I was going to eat my computer monitor if you'd left off "Something."

Carry on.

Feb 10 12 - 10:28pm
LAS

The Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe" and Chicago's "Beginnings" are so much better and more romantic than almost all the songs on your list (which really does suck).

Feb 11 12 - 6:10am
Mark

Please. Do yourself a favor. Listen to "Without You" by Nilsson. 1971 I think. Wonderful talent. John Lennon's pal through "the lost weekend" year.

Feb 11 12 - 1:11pm
PeterSmith

We considered it, but it's a breakup song.

Feb 11 12 - 8:00am
R. Thornton

I agree with spirit of MsNerve's complaint. Ducky from Pretty in Pink would call you mad for placing "Enjoy the Silence" way ahead of "When a Man Loves a Woman." Maybe this is a generational thing (i am a classic Gen Xer), but I think classic '60s soul/R&B has it all over the 80s when it comes to raw passion. "Try a Little Tenderness," for example.

Feb 11 12 - 11:15am
MrZ

I actually completely agree with the #1 pick. Wow.

Jul 08 12 - 7:53pm
Pauline

The #1 'God Only Knows' was one of the few I definitely wouldn't have on the list! Absolute crap! Otherwise, not a bad list considering music is all very subjective.

Feb 11 12 - 4:02pm
Joe C.

Many holes in this list, under no circumstances does GnR come ahead of the King... in any list.

Feb 11 12 - 4:03pm
Sarah

No me gusta.

Feb 11 12 - 6:17pm
Nicole E.

#1 is perfect. I think "Shower the People" by James Taylor and "You're My Best Friend" by Queen should be somewhere on this list.

Feb 12 12 - 9:41am
Yanqui

There's an absolutely gorgeous song by John Martyn, "Couldn't Love You More," that people ought to know.

Feb 12 12 - 10:06am
Shane

I can hear her heart beat for a thousand miles
And the heavens open every time she smiles
And when I come to her that's where I belong
Yet I'm running to her like a river's song
Van Morrison - Crazy Love

Feb 12 12 - 10:38am
Tango Turner

The greatest love song of all time, and it's based on a rhetorical question. Are you kidding?! The Proclaimers have a better love song. Overall, lots of good stuff here, but I can't fathom how you got to #1.

Feb 12 12 - 2:59pm
Aalitto

Nothing from Johnny Mathis????

Feb 12 12 - 7:40pm
Rob

Howabout the greatest LUST songs? You know, Black Dog, My Sharona, you know, what rock n roll is all about?

Feb 13 12 - 1:05pm
PeterSmith

Stay tuned on that.

Feb 13 12 - 10:13am
Tango Turner

My list includes...

Etta James -> Embraceable you
Jeff Healey Band -> Lost in your eyes
Tom Waits -> Little Trip to Heaven (on the wings of your love)
Led Zeppelin -> Thank you
Holding out for you -> Coco Montoya

Feb 13 12 - 3:54pm
songwriters???

Ok, I made a similar comment when the first version of your 60s list came out: Elvis Presley DID NOT WRITE "Can't Help Falling in Love"!!! Are you guys really that stupid that you don't bother to fix the mistakes the second time around????
For the record, the song was written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss.
It takes about 2 seconds to look it up on Wikipedia. I can't even finish going through this list because your stupidity is galling....

Feb 14 12 - 12:24am
jess

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_JPEN-Kk3c&feature=endscreen

Add this one too the list! LOVE it! and it's all about LOVE!

Feb 14 12 - 6:30am
Jess

I really, really like this list but I have the tiniest of beefs -a meatball, really -about the Spotify playlist. You guys put the Tina! version of "River Deep, Mountain High" on instead of the Phil Spector production of it. Maybe I'm just in love with the Wall of Sound, but I felt that was a mistake. Other than that? Solid.

Feb 14 12 - 12:38pm
DaveYhead

"my beautiful reward" by Bruce.

Feb 15 12 - 7:43am
John Clark

Great list ! I agree with all of your choices, except that you omitted arguably THE greatest love song of all time.... unquestionably in the top 50... and that is Nick Drake's "Northern Sky". Absolutely needs to be on this list. And it should go in the top slot.

Feb 16 12 - 3:19pm
Ian

I had heard that Wonderful Tonight is actually about Clapton waiting for Pattie to get dressed and is like "yeah, yeah, you look wonderful let's go we're going to be late." Wonder if that's true.

Jul 13 12 - 2:23pm
Eva

I always hated that song. It's really patronizing and all about how she has great hair and makeup and carries his drunk ass home. He doesn't sound like someone in love so much as someone congratulating himself on making all his friends jealous.

Feb 17 12 - 12:07am
Teddy

You forgot 'I Only Have Eyes For You' !

Feb 22 12 - 10:55pm
WayneCha

Yeah, I was hoping The Flamingos' version of this song would be on the list. Pretty hard to dispute that one. It's a true classic that has endured while some of these have just left the gate.

Feb 22 12 - 11:04pm
WayneCha

Okay, I just read the intro, and apparently "I Only Have Eyes for You" wasn't eligible for consideration because it was released before 1960. Guess this list should've been called "The 50 Greatest Love Songs From 1960 to Present" just to make it clear that some classic tunes weren't even in the running.

Feb 17 12 - 10:18am
Tim

#50 "Don't Dream It's Over" is the love song. "Don't Dream. It's Over!" is the breakup song

Feb 18 12 - 12:51am
Missed Opportunities

Frederick by Patti Smith (...And for the record, I'm NOT a Patti Smith fan.)

Feb 18 12 - 12:21pm
JJ Shaw

Van Morrison, "Tupelo Honey". A seven- minute slowdance that takes you around dozens of curves. Pure emotion, pure honesty.

Mar 29 12 - 3:45pm
Steve

Unbelievable you guys missed Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music.
What exactly do you guy do for a living?

Apr 01 12 - 4:52pm
Allegra

"I Can't Help Myself" is kind of a come-back-to-me song and "Lay, Lady, Lay" is a please-sleep-with-me-song... They're great songs, but you broke your own rules there. Plus, I love "Iris", but Goo Goo Dolls song "Name" is soooo much more sentimental.

And just on the side note of songs that should have been on this list:
-The Only Exception by Paramore
-You're All I Need by Method Man and Mary J. Blige
-Wonderwall by Oasis
-Angel by Jimi Hendrix

Apr 19 12 - 9:11am
Nenna

Oh boy, that feels so good so see some Cindy Lauper up here:) Time after Time is so lovely, even though, well, a bit cheesy, but isn't that the whole point in love songs anyway? I do miss The Pretenders' I'll Stand By You. But you can't have everything^^

Apr 28 12 - 4:08pm
Lala

Id just like to ask,how in the world is Wicked Game - Chris Isaak no on this list? Its a great list but lets get real,Wicked Game should be on it!

Apr 29 12 - 3:48am
Ian

Almost a fan of this list, just needed a little Beautiful by Gordon Lightfoot.

May 03 12 - 4:44am
Matt

Roberta Fleck but no Donnie Hathaway...a song for you is top 5 all time too!!

May 09 12 - 2:01pm
me :)

Great list but where is la vie en rose?

May 20 12 - 8:54pm
kjmdinj

no air supply? No Foreigner? and NO Clapton? where is the good music

May 29 12 - 3:29am
DJ

I thought it was really good! I don't usually go through a list one by one but I swear this one kept me from #50 to #1! good job Nerve team!

Jun 02 12 - 9:19pm
Lisat

I loved listening to all the song choices, some I had never heard before. Something is my #1 pick. Dave Matthews "Crush" is spectacular in the lyrics and melody.

Jun 03 12 - 11:52pm
Rebecca

You definitely forgot "Her" by Swans. Beautiful lyrics (more of a miniature poem), beautiful instrumentals, beautiful out-of-the-blue found tape loop. It's from 1992 I believe.

Jun 08 12 - 3:03pm
Meaghan

I'll admit I didn't take the time to read through all of the comments, so this may have already come up.
But "Our House" by CSNY has always been my favourite love song. Pure contentment.

Jun 15 12 - 9:19am
Dom

Really? Best love songs of all time? Where is Open Arms or Faithfully from Journey? Those songs don't make the list, but the Foo Fighters and Guns and Roses sweet child of mine does.....REALLY......what a joke.

Jun 18 12 - 6:34am
Mrs.Bunny

What about Bette Midler's "The Rose"?

Jun 20 12 - 1:02pm
Galadrielle

Good list with one major collosal omission, which renders the list almost null and void; a list of the greatest love songs must have Dylan's "Make You Fell My Love" in the top 5. Check out Adele's version on her "19" cd.
When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I’ve known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong

I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawling down the avenue
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love

The storms are raging on the rollin’ sea
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain’t seen nothing like me yet

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you feel my love

Jun 21 12 - 10:45am
Johan

Great list! And for once (in these types of lists...) an undisputable number 1. But if I was going to choose a Magnetic Fields song: "It's Only Time"... it may be saccharine, but god, it's beautiful...

Jun 28 12 - 7:00am
jman

Got some good songs on the list. Just wondering why is roberta flack ranked less than al green on this list and is number 1 on your greatest 70's love songs list?

Jul 08 12 - 8:20am
akshay

get some lovely songs

Jul 12 12 - 11:30pm
Anon

Nothing from sam cooke? You send me is at least in the top 10

Jul 17 12 - 6:11am
CHLOE

Where is "I don't wanna miss a thing" by Aerosmith???

Jul 25 12 - 5:56pm
Argh

How could Billy Joel's Just the Way You Are not make this list? It's just a so romantic and enchanting song.

Aug 15 12 - 8:11pm
Rick Astley

There must be some error on the list...perhaps a page is missing. How could you not have list NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP.

It was pure recording genius by yours truly.

Love,
Rick

Aug 15 12 - 8:24pm
Jennabug

Nice list. I'm certain the few I want to add don't follow the rules since they're aren't "Of All Time", but they're worth a listen.

Love You 'Til the End- The Pogues
Final Home - Esthero
Everyday is a Holiday with You- Esthero
Songbird- Eva Cassidy
Better Together- Jack Johnson
Rhythm of Love- Plain White Ts
Wrap Your Arms Around Me- Barenaked Ladies
She Loves Me - Stephen Tin Tin Duffy
It Must be Love - Madness
Con te Partiro - Andre Bocelli

Aug 28 12 - 12:01pm
Leon

"Calling You" from the movie Bagdad cafe

Sep 06 12 - 2:51am
H

"I Only Have Eyes for You" by The Flamingos couldn't make it to the top 50?