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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"