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"
40. Seal, "Kiss From A Rose" (1994)
Sweeping. Epic. Overblown, perhaps; or maybe you're just intimidated by its grandeur. This is what Led Zeppelin would have recorded if they survived into the '90s and abruptly switched to making R&B. "Kiss From A Rose" still gives me chills, no matter how many times I've drunkenly yelled that "Bay-bay!" — A.H.
Listen: Seal, "Kiss From A Rose"
39. Elton John, "Your Song" (1970)
Many love songs are so over-the-top that the words lose meaning. "Your Song" is a ballad for the ordinary man or woman who can't promise the world to the one they love. Instead of saying what he will do, Elton expresses — with an honest yearning in his voice — what he would do if he could. Instead of buying big houses or painting a masterpiece, all he can do is try his best to make a simple love song. It turns out to be a pretty good one. — Confusion, of Pigeons and Planes
Listen: Elton John, "Your Song"
38. Bright Eyes, "First Day Of My Life" (2005)
Conor Oberst has an instantly recognizable voice. It quivers like Eddie Vedder's, but without that deep, throaty confidence; for some, it's too fragile, too "emo," and too weak. But paired with the simple melody and honest lyrics of "First Day Of My Life," that voice works perfectly. — Confusion, of Pigeons and Planes
Listen: Bright Eyes, "First Day Of My Life"
37. Rufus & Chaka Khan, "Ain't Nobody" (1983)
"Ain't Nobody" is contagious; the song's repeating synthesizer loop gets trapped in your head for days and you can't help but groove. Chaka's voice is an insurmountable force, soaring above the bassline. The song is impassioned and just a little dirty; that feeling of danger makes it unforgettable. — C.M.
Listen: Rufus & Chaka Khan, "Ain't Nobody"
36. Michael Jackson, "The Way You Make Me Feel" (1987)
Michael Jackson's voice lent his every performance just a hint of desperation. But the joy he brings to "The Way You Make Me Feel" is almost pure. Even when he's spouting gibberish like "Acha-hoo" and "Chika chika chika," it sounds like he's speaking in tongues out of sheer glee. — A.H.
Listen: Michael Jackson, "The Way You Make Me Feel"
35. Earth, Wind & Fire, "September" (1978)
Funk music can be so busy and buoyant that tender emotion sometimes gets subsumed by groove. (After all, I generally don't think of my booty as my center of love.) But "September" nails both: it's sweetly nostalgic, adorably wholesome, and irresistibly funky. — A.H.
Listen: Earth, Wind & Fire, "September"
34. Tina Turner, "River Deep, Mountain High" (1966)
If there were a moral to this song, it'd be "love conquers all." Given what we know about Ike and Tina's marriage, maybe love doesn't actually conquer all, but "River Deep, Mountain High" almost makes you believe it. — Delia Pless
Listen: Tina Turner, "River Deep, Mountain High"
33. U2, "With or Without You" (1988)
In this ambiguous classic, Bono has got it bad. Even twenty plus years later, "With or Without You" remains of U2's most impassioned, emotionally resonant songs to date — that howl he lets out has to stir you, even if you think U2 is a little much. — K.H.
Listen: U2, "With or Without You"
32. Elvis Presley, "Can't Help Falling in Love With You" (1961)
"Take my hand / Take my whole life, too" — what two-line entreaty packs more of the selflessness and devotion of true love than that? But there's trepidation here as well: the very human fear of being consumed by something so wonderful and inevitable. And Elvis's performance is gold. — A.H.
Listen: Elvis Presley, "Can't Help Falling in Love With You"
31. Percy Sledge, "When A Man Loves A Woman" (1966)
Lyrically, "When a Man Loves a Woman" covers the full range of sentiments about love and the human condition, in just under three minutes. Love hurts. Only love can break your heart. It's a thin line between love and hate. Love stinks. Love is like a heatwave. Love is like oxygen. My world is empty without you. Love to love you baby. When you look in the dictionary under "L" for love song, Sledge's timeless classic ballad could be the only definition. — Bruce Warren, of WXPN
Listen: Percy Sledge, "When A Man Loves A Woman"
30. The Smiths, "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" (1986)
Romantic in the eighteenth-century sense of the word — grandiose, sweeping, and death-obsessed — "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" is the apex of The Smiths' catalog. Maybe it borders on ridiculous, but so does young love. Only Morrissey could turn a phrase like "if a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die" into a sincere plea for togetherness. — C.M.
Listen: The Smiths, "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"
29. Stevie Wonder, "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" (1973)
Stevie's voice isn't even the first you hear on this track, and his delayed entry sees him descend into the song like the supreme arbiter of all things romantic. As his voice soars above the sweetly layered backing vocals, you start to think that's a role he was born to play. — A.H.
Listen: Stevie Wonder, "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life"
28. The Cure, "Lovesong" (1989)
There had been plenty of nervous pop moments in The Cure’s dark catalog before this 1989 smash, but it only took a deceptively subtle two-word twist for Robert Smith to modify all of his previous moping, revealing him helplessly, hopelessly in love. “Whenever I’m alone, with you…” Written as a wedding present to his childhood sweetheart (now wife of twenty-three years), and containing only the starkest, simplest language possible (plus some truly, truly sweet guitar), it earns its blankly descriptive title, lifting it to some sort of platonic ideal. — Jeff Klingman
Listen: The Cure, "Lovesong"
27. Peter Frampton, "Baby I Love Your Way" (1975)
Covered by everyone from Dinosaur Jr, to Gary Glitter, "Baby I Love Your Way" is a standard — and with good reason. The song moves like some beautiful '70s dream, warm and embracing. When Peter Frampton wants to tell you that he loves your way, every way… you let him. — C.M.
Listen: Peter Frampton, "Baby I Love Your Way"
26. Goo Goo Dolls, "Iris" (1998)
If you're getting ready to roast us for putting "Iris" on here, stop right now and listen to it. The Goo Goo Dolls may have a deeply stupid name, but goddamn, did they know their way around a melody. There's not an ounce of insincerity that soaring, beautiful chorus. Drop your guard and let this song in. We won't tell anyone. — A.H.
Listen: Goo Goo Dolls, "Iris"
25. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, "Home" (2009)
Despite its omnipresence, "Home" still makes you smile. It's big and jaunty and sweet, and before you know it, you feel at home too. And if the song doesn't make you smile? Well then, keep your bad mojo to yourself, because I'm too busy letting love in. — C.M.
Listen: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, "Home"
24. The Temptations, "My Girl" (1964)
Every week, four guys come through my subway car and sing this one a capella. When I'm feeling down on love, I want to punch them. Other times, it sounds about as sweet and sunny as a song could be. — P.S.
Listen: The Temptations, "My Girl"
23. Guns N' Roses, "Sweet Child O' Mine" (1987)
Is there a better romance than metal romance? Pheromones and hot nights all wrapped up in a teased-out halo preserved in time through a haze of Aqua Net. I would love to say that this song played host to a great romance in Dallas, Texas in the summer of '88. But alas, it merely provided the soundtrack to some teenage fantasies of boys in leather pants during those steamy months of fast times and virginal confusion. — Linda Park, of SXSW
Listen: Guns N' Roses, "Sweet Child O' Mine"
22. Depeche Mode, "Enjoy the Silence" (1990)
"Enjoy The Silence" could be interpreted as sulky, complaining that words only screw things up in a relationship. But I like to think that it's more about finding someone whose company you can enjoy without needing to chatter. It's like what Mia Wallace says in Pulp Fiction: "That's when you know you've found somebody really special: you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably share silence." — Maura Hehir
Listen: Depeche Mode, "Enjoy the Silence"
21. Alicia Keys, "Fallin'" (2002)
"Fallin'" is one of the most honest love songs out there. It's a kind of relationship gospel, if you'll permit me. Keys recognizes that love isn't love all the time — sometimes you can't stand being around the person, but other times you simply can't stand being away. "Fallin'" is a song that you surrender to. There's no point in putting up a fight. It's sad, yes, but it's also ecstatic. It's worth the fall. — C.M.
Listen: Alicia Keys, "Fallin'"
20. Foo Fighters, "Everlong" (1997)
The Foo Fighters never topped this electrifying promise of eternal devotion. Much of their later discography feels blandly competent, but for at least one song, they were sublime. — P.S.
Listen: Foo Fighters, "Everlong"
19. The Roots, "You Got Me" (1999)
Erykah Badu's sweet vocal hook weaves in and out of "You Got Me's" backing track, while Black Thought spins a finely-detailed story of love triumphing over all. The band's groove is everything you want in a lover: supportive yet assertive, and, as evidenced by ?uestlove's part at 3:33, agile. — A.H.
Listen: The Roots, "You Got Me"
18. Etta James, "At Last" (1961)
If you mention this song at a party, at least one couple — probably more — will yell, "That's our song!" Its universal appeal may lie in its simplicity: if you've ever been in love, you can relate to the lyrics. — Confusion, of Pigeons and Planes
Listen: Etta James, "At Last"
17. Bill Withers, "Lovely Day" (1977)
A testament to the way love can elevate your entire day for you — or give you near-superhuman powers, as evidenced by Withers' eighteen-second note from 3:05 on. — A.H.
Listen: Bill Withers, "Lovely Day"
16. Rolling Stones, "Wild Horses" (1971)
It was rare during their peak years for the Rolling Stones to get sentimental, but when they did, the results were often surprisingly affecting. The tenderest song in a canon full of strutting cocksmanship and borderline misogyny, "Wild Horses" comes as even more of a surprise on an album emblazoned with a protruding boner. — Jesse Cataldo, of Slant Magazine
Listen: Rolling Stones, "Wild Horses"
15. Ben E. King, "Stand By Me" (1961)
Writing about "Stand By Me" — in its devastating simplicity — almost seems superfluous. They don't make songs of devotion much purer or more spine-tingling than this. — P.S.
Listen: Ben E. King, "Stand By Me"
14. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (1967)
Ignore its overuse in feel-good movies, and focus on the pure, searing emotion in the vocals and the soaring, complex arrangement — if this song isn't a portrait of true love, then I don't ever want to know what is. — A.H.
Listen: Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"
13. Eric Clapton, "Wonderful Tonight" (1977)
"Wonderful Tonight" reminds me that love is about another seeing the absolute best in you. Beyond just the lyrics, the sweet legato notes make it hard not to sway my head and wish that Clapton was singing this tune to me. — Lydia Simmons, of Sunset in the Rearview
Listen: Eric Clapton, "Wonderful Tonight"
12. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Maps" (2003)
You might mistake Karen O's sweet ode to Liars frontman Angus Andrew for a brokenhearted ex's lament. It isn't. Titled with a thematically appropriate acronym of "My Angus Please Stay," it serves as the bittersweet flipside to every "life on the road" epic of the rock-n'-roll era. "Wait, they don't love you like I love you" — forget the cheering crowds and snuggle up with me. Before this track, Yeah Yeah Yeahs were pegged as sloppy, stompy, post-punk noiseniks. "Maps" revealed them as the decade's most unexpected romantics. — Jeff Klingman
Listen: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Maps"
11. Paul McCartney, "Maybe I'm Amazed" (1970)
Maybe it's the touches of organ, maybe it's McCartney's vocal journey from sweet choirboy to raucous holler, maybe it's the line "you're the only woman who could ever help me," or maybe I'm just a softie. Either way, "Maybe I'm Amazed" consistently makes me swoon. — C.M.
Listen: Paul McCartney, "Maybe I'm Amazed"
10. Prince, "Adore" (1987)
Prince overdubs himself into the world's coolest soul harmony group, just so he can serenade that crucial lady he plans to worship until the end of time. His warmest ballad is also his funniest, as he pledges, "You can burn all my clothes, smash up my ride — well, maybe not the ride." On his latest tour, he changed that line to "smash up my Bentley," but the sentiment remains undeniable: he's got to have your face on his pillowcase. — Rob Sheffield, writer for Rolling Stone and author of Talking to Girls About Duran Duran
Listen: Prince, "Adore"
9. Talking Heads, "This Must Be The Place" (1983)
"I try to write about small things — paper, animals, a house. Love is kind of big." That's David Byrne on writing love songs. Nevertheless, he managed one of the most beautiful ever, which builds in five minutes from uncertainty to soaring joy. Having entered a relationship with the most basic hopes ("I'm just an animal looking for a home — share the same space for a minute or two"), Byrne realizes he's gotten a lot more. Okay, I have to stop writing about this now, because I'm kind of tearing up. — P.S.
Listen: Talking Heads, "This Must Be The Place"
8. Aretha Franklin, "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" (1967)
Gerry Goffin and Carole King's lyrics about finding purpose and joy through love are heartfelt on their own. Add in vocals from the Queen of Soul, and you have a love song for the ages. — K.H.
Listen: Aretha Franklin, "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"
7. Peter Gabriel, "In Your Eyes" (1986)
If you leave Say Anything out of it, "In Your Eyes" is a touching song about love under pressure. Like "Don't Give Up," also off Gabriel's hit So, it's a testament to love's ability to keep you sane while you struggle to stay alive. — P.S.
Listen: Peter Gabriel, "In Your Eyes"
6. The Beatles, "In My Life" (1965)
Beyond the unforgettable six-note guitar entry and Bach-inspired piano bridge of "In My Life" are some of the most moving lyrics ever written. The simple reflection on the past, and the love of one person who brings it all together, transcends time and makes you reflect on what really matters. — Lydia Simmons, of Sunset in the Rearview
Listen: The Beatles, "In My Life"
5. Cyndi Lauper, "Time After Time" (1983)
Cyndi Lauper's most enduring masterpiece hits at the very essence of commitment. Lauper may be most often (and unfairly) remembered for the excesses of her image, but she captures real romance in the most simple and straightforward of lines: If you're lost, you can look and you will find me, time after time. — Jonathan Keefe, of Slant Magazine
Listen: Cyndi Lauper, "Time After Time"
4. Roberta Flack, "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (1972)
Roberta Flack's gorgeous, intimate take on the Ewan MacColl folk ballad became a hit in 1972 and won a Grammy for Record of The Year. Flack's vocals are nothing less than spectacular, floating like pure bliss over an equally powerful musical arrangement featuring jazz legend Ron Carter, guitarist John Pizzarelli, and Flack on piano. It's as close to a perfect love song you can get; good for the bedroom, the wedding dance, and the ultimate love-song mixtape. — Bruce Warren, of WXPN
Listen: Roberta Flack, "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"
3. Al Green, "Let's Stay Together" (1971)
Is there any better intro to a song in all of soul music? Those Willie Mitchell-produced strings, punctuating horns, and seductive whispers that make up the first ten seconds of "Let's Stay Together" perfectly set the table (or is it the bed?) for what evolves into not only the definitive Al Green song but one of the sexiest love songs of all time. — Dan Wilcox, of KCRW
Listen: Al Green, "Let's Stay Together"
2. Beatles, "Something" (1969)
Love can be full of doubt, but sometimes all we have to do is take a good look at our partners and realize that no matter what happens, the present we have is the most beautiful time of all. This may be a fairly literal translation, but I say, "Testify, Brother Harrison!" The future is uncertain, but the song's emotional swell tells us that today the answer is yes. — Linda Park, of SXSW
Listen: Beatles, "Something"
1. The Beach Boys, "God Only Knows" (1966)
Two friends danced to this song at their wedding, and it was one of the most romantic things I've ever witnessed. We all felt a little more love that night as the lights twinkled down on us and Carl Wilson made us all ponder a moment over who we'd be without our partners on that dance floor. The joy mixed with melancholy sentiment in the lyrics captures perfectly what it is to be connected in this life. — Linda Park, of SXSW
Listen: The Beach Boys, "God Only Knows"
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