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The 25 Greatest Love Songs of the 1960s

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The 25 Greatest Love Songs of the 1960s

God only knows what we'd be without you.

Read this first! Bloggers, DJs, and critics helped us assemble this comprehensive list of great love songs. 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 artist, with a couple of exceptions, like The Beatles, because they're The Beatles. Lastly, come back next week for the best love songs of the '70s. Okay, now you can tell us what we missed. Have fun! — The Nerve Editors

25. Leonard Cohen, "Suzanne" (1967)

"Suzanne" is probably Leonard Cohen’s most covered song after the notorious "Hallelujah." Yet it remains one of the most distinctive examples of the singer’s graceful style, spinning together biblical references, exotic ephemera, and glimpses of decay and unexpected beauty into an achingly complete tale of romantic longing. — Jesse Cataldo, of Slant Magazine

Listen: Leonard Cohen, "Suzanne"

 

24. Nick Drake, "Time Has Told Me" (1969)

The first track on the first album by this notoriously unhappy artist is actually a love song — albeit one written to "a troubled cure for a troubled mind." With its jazz chords and Drake's soft, lilting voice, it's a haunting song of gratitude for the one person who brings the singer some sense of tranquility. — Peter Smith

Listen: Nick Drake, "Time Has Told Me"

 

23. The Velvet Underground, "Pale Blue Eyes" (1969)

Lou Reed's ballad to college sweetheart/muse Shelly Albin has the feel of a hangover — the complicated relationship leaves the singer so wrung out he can't help but be totally honest. If you've got a blue-eyed better half, the words can't help but cut through you. — Carlos Cabrera

Listen: The Velvet Underground, "Pale Blue Eyes"

 

22. The Monkees, "I'm a Believer" (1966)

Like so many people in love, "I'm a Believer" doesn't care if it's a little cheesy — it's positively euphoric, and it embraces that feeling unabashedly. — Kristin Hunt

Listen: The Monkees, "I'm a Believer"

 

21. Dusty Springfield, "The Look of Love" (1967)

Has any pop single ever taken longer than "The Look of Love" to stoke a fire of anticipation? The gently brushed percussion sets a languid pace, and Springfield uses her impossibly slow, natural vibrato like one long caress. She might be delaying gratification, but she makes it worth the wait. — Jonathan Keefe, of Slant Magazine

Listen: Dusty Springfield, "The Look of Love"

 

20. Otis Redding, "The Glory of Love" (1967)

"The Glory of Love," a hit for many an R&B artist over the years, doesn't mince words — sometimes, love is going to make you cry. But Otis assures us that in spite of the tears and sighing, at the end of the day, it's glorious just to have someone. — K.H.

Listen: Otis Redding, "The Glory of Love"

 

19. Sam Cooke, "That's Where It's At" (1964)

According to Sam Cooke, "where it's at" isn't a swinging, drug-fueled '60s party, but hanging out in a dimly lit room with his pretty baby. If that doesn't say true love, we don't know what does. — K.H.

Listen: Sam Cooke, "That's Where It's At"

 

18. The Kinks, "You Really Got Me" (1964)

"You Really Got Me" doesn't over-extend itself. While Diana Ross was asking what she did to make her lover go away and how she could make him come back, these Brit Invaders took the less-involved route. Love songs to this point were generally ballads; with their thumping drums and guitars, The Kinks gave theirs a libidinal push. — Delia Pless

Listen: The Kinks, "You Really Got Me"

 

17. Nina Simone, "I Love Your Lovin' Ways" (1966)

No one gave songs religious intensity like Nina Simone. It's that intensity, combined with her band's confident swagger, that makes this song such a winner. Because sometimes being in love makes you feel like strutting. — Alex Heigl

Listen: Nina Simone, "I Love Your Lovin' Ways"

 

16. 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. — A.H.

Listen: The Righteous Brothers, "Unchained Melody"

 

15. 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"

 

14. 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. — Colette McIntyre

Listen: Bob Dylan, "Lay Lady Lay"

 

13. 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"

 

12. 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. — D.P.

Listen: Tina Turner, "River Deep, Mountain High"

 

11. Van Morrison, "Sweet Thing" (1968)

When I was a young man, "Sweet Thing" seemed to encapsulate the feeling of what it might be like to be in love. That powerful chemistry between Van Morrison's possessed voice, that bass line, the sweeping strings, the evocative poetic lyrics… in my mind, it set a standard for what love was that my relationships were consistently falling short of. That is, until I met my wife Maggie. "Sweet Thing" became our song and was the first one we danced to at our wedding. I continue to appreciate it to this day, largely for its great advice on keeping a marriage strong: "Just to dig it all and not to wonder, that's just fine/and I'll be satisfied not to read in between the lines." — Dan Wilcox, of KCRW

Listen: Van Morrison, "Sweet Thing"

 

10. 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"

 

9. 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"

 

8. 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"

 

7. 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"

 

6. Stevie Wonder, "I Was Made To Love Her" (1967)

This song, cowritten with Wonder's mother, is a true story. It's a delightful, rambunctious, two-and-a-half minutes that tell the tale of childhood sweethearts who passed the test of time. Is there anything sweeter than love that endures? — Linda Park, of SXSW

Listen: Stevie Wonder, "I Was Made To Love Her"

 

5. 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"

 

4. 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"

 

3. 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"

 

2. 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"

 

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"