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"

 

Commentarium (84 Comments)

Oct 31 11 - 12:07am
ggg

This is good; really good.

Oct 31 11 - 1:17am
nope

I'd trade any of the Beatles picks for "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

Oct 31 11 - 9:10am
dmsr

doesn't really fit what they're talking about in the intro.

Oct 31 11 - 2:17pm
nope

Really? I considered that, but I think it does. Maybe a bit more innocent a romance than most of the others, but definitely something you could play for someone you're in a relationship with saying, "This is how I feel about you." And I think its innocent glee is what makes it stand out amongst other love songs.

Oct 31 11 - 2:58pm
PeterSmith

"Please say to me you'll let me be your man" = they're not in a relationship yet, at least by our reckoning.

Oct 31 11 - 7:38pm
nope

The fact that he refers to her as "my love," or is saying that he loves her, to me would indicate that they are in a relationship. But I can see where you're coming from, so, fine.

Oct 31 11 - 1:26am
hobbes

fuck yes

Oct 31 11 - 2:30am
Amy

Yes! Yes! Yes! "Something" was the other Beatles song!!!

Nov 01 11 - 1:42pm
GeeBee

A singer guy by the name of Francis Sinatra was of the opinion that "Something" was the greatest love song ever written.

Oct 31 11 - 2:48am
Victor W

I like the choices, but the Crystals' 'Then He Kissed Me' and the Ronettes' 'Be My Baby' really need to be mentioned.

Nov 01 11 - 1:43pm
GeeBee

Two great additions, I agree.

Oct 31 11 - 3:45am
Dea

These are good! Ah, the quaint days before being "my main bitch" became a term of endearment.

Oct 31 11 - 7:46am
Myke

Ah, the quaint days when public racism was still permissible...oh wait, looks like that's still happening!

Oct 31 11 - 9:10am
hmm

How do you figure?

Oct 31 11 - 2:19pm
nope

Well, the use of "bitch" as a general or affectionate term for a woman was popularized in rap, a primarily poor black art form.

On the other hand, if Dea was complimenting the above list, she is clearly not denigrating the many contributions of black artists to the field of saying "I love you."

Oct 31 11 - 2:45pm
Myke

Thanks, nope! That's a really good point actually. I concede...mostly.

I still think (white) people tend to separate black people and their music into good (60s/70s) and bad (everything after). Or more bluntly, acceptable and unacceptable. Which completely trivializes the legitimacy of rap/hip-hop as a voice to the contemporary black experience and leads to condescension and moralizing. Yeah the music can be rude and politically incorrect sometimes, but if that's how they feel, they are more than entitled to say so. Censorship doesn't do anything except make insecure white people feel better. People (again: mostly white) need to remember you don't need to approve of every aspect of an artist's personality and history to enjoy their work. If that were the case, I'd be missing out on great works of art by Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, D.W. Griffith, and many others.

Oct 31 11 - 5:38pm
Saratoga Slim

I picked a good day to wear my "I LYKE MYKE" button.

Oct 31 11 - 5:58pm
Dea

I thought this was a great list. Honestly not really sure how or why you got where you did from my comment, but in any case, let me attempt to clarify. My point was not to idealize the 60s socially or even musically. There's obviously some good music being made today, including rap, hip-hop, love songs, and rap/hip-hop love songs. I do think good love songs -- which I would define as the authors did -- "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" -- are a bit harder to come by these days. If my boyfriend called me his main bitch, he would be sleeping on the couch. I don't know any woman (of any race or musical tastes) who would melt over being called that. It just doesn't give us the warm fuzzies, you know? I'm not a musical expert, but I can't say I've ever heard any songs of any genre sung by women where they use the term "bitch" in a positive way or as a term of endearment. I don't think that language has morphed in a way that has made the word benign, let alone a term of endearment, as it seems you are arguing. Actually, I would say that being called a historically (and currently) derogatory term applied exclusively to females and being told to shut up and accept it because the (male) user *obviously* meant if affectionately, jeez, why do you get so upset about being dehumanized (remember: bitch = female dog) is pretty sexist. I just tried to think of a comparable term for men to give you an example of how it would come off, but could't because there really aren't any words applied exclusively to men to demean them, which I think says something. Anyway, don't mean to start a long or aggressive internet argument here, but I think if there is a word that has been used to oppress or demean a group of people, that group should be the ones to decide if and how the meaning of that word changes, who can use it, etc. (see the different meanings and evolution of the N word in different contexts and by different people).

Oct 31 11 - 7:37pm
Dea

Oh, and totally agree on this! Makes a lot of people miss out on some good and often insightful music.

Oct 31 11 - 7:54pm
nope

@Dea: There are definitely women that have used the word "bitch" in an affectionate sense, or, more commonly, just a general term for women that isn't intended to be insulting. (I can't think of one off the top of my head; my first thought was 'My Bitch Bad,' but it's actually 'My Chick Bad.') If you find it derogatory and insulting, that's fine. Most people would agree with you. But there is definitely a difference in race and socio-economic usage of the word "bitch."

@Myke: I would say people are just as prone to making that declaration about white people music. (60's/70's music was the real deal, now it's all asinine shit about partying and getting drunk!)

Oct 31 11 - 9:52pm
Myke

Well look at this, I agree with all of you! Don't worry Dea, I understand where you're coming from now. Looks like I misinterpreted the intent of your comment, sorry. As far as pop music's evolution, I think you're somewhat correct, but there are some pretty earnest little pop tunes floating around even to this day; Bruno Mars built a career out of it, even, and the ladies love him for it. As for the darker side of male-female relations, you're right in claiming Bitch to be pretty inherently chauvinistic, if not outright misogynistic in some cases. I don't think it necessarily has to connote disdain and superiority, but there's no doubt that it often does, certainly enough that you can make a pretty fair generalization about it. Either way, I'm glad to see you're not just trying to attack black music. I see that so often that I just tend to assume anything remotely disparaging toward black music is racist. My mistake :).

And you're also right nope, though I think white music needs less defense as it has a long and well-established history of quality. Black music has been suppressed and undercut practically since it was born.

Nov 01 11 - 1:47pm
GeeBee

To make a play on words, rap is not a "primarily poor black art form" but to me the absolutely worst black art form. And yes I do get the inherent paternalism in the fact that many a white guy like me prefers the blues, where black people lament their lot, to rap, where they get off their collective asses and stand up for themselves in a sometimes aggressive way.

Nov 01 11 - 6:33pm
Myke

What makes you say that, GeeBee? That's an honest question. There's as much musical prowess in rap as there is in any other genre. Rappers also have to think of rhymes and make rhythms, much like white people (and blues artists). Sure some rap sucks, but that's true of any genre. The best rap (and there's plenty of it) is just as worthy of recognition as blues or jazz or R&B, in my opinion.

Nov 02 11 - 6:21pm
GeeBee

Don't really know. I just doesn't float my boat. Much of it seems as much musical to me as the ramblings of the mentally ill on the street. All that high-speed rhyming to me seems like a party trick, one that has gone on way too long.

Jul 11 12 - 8:50am
pestleman1951's VIDE

OMG YES Someone willing to be unfairly being called a racist for standing up for sweet tunes and soft romantic lyrics.Name one rap song you'd listen to over a romantic dinner you were hoping to open a sweet gals heart ??

Oct 31 11 - 3:57am
Amaya

The thing about this list is I feel like they got all the artists right but none of their best love songs, just their most popular.

Oct 31 11 - 8:20am
ThugPatience

OK Nerve, well D. Lots of good ones on the list. In ThugPatience's book, Sam Cooke's best love song is You Send Me.

Oct 31 11 - 9:45am
Buck Nasty

No Al Green? Come on white hipsters - Get real.

Oct 31 11 - 10:11am
Historian

Given that Al Green's didn't have his first hit until 1970, that seems uncalled for, probably-also-white probably-also-hipster. Maybe it is actually you who should get real?

Oct 31 11 - 3:49pm
Buck Nasty

You got me. I didn't notice the "60's". Nasty has overreacted. I apologize.

Oct 31 11 - 7:10pm
A Guy

@Buck - Au contraire, mon ami méchant. I believe that Buck has overreacted, not Nasty. Nasty was operating true to form.

Oct 31 11 - 11:16pm
Buck Nasty

Touché mon frére.

Oct 31 11 - 10:14am
fred garvin

"You're all I need to get by" - Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Recorded while Terrell was suffering from a brain tumor that would ultimately take her life. Can't listen to that w/out getting choked up.

Oct 31 11 - 11:08am
Wait Five Minutes

This is one of your better lists

Oct 31 11 - 2:21pm
nope

Agreed. Can't wait for the 70's.

Nov 04 11 - 6:42pm
mikey

and the list for the 80s and the 90s and the 00s!

Oct 31 11 - 3:37pm
Sean Matthews

Can we have this as a double CD?

Oct 31 11 - 3:46pm
T

Great list, but definitely missing "Never My Love" by The Association.

May 10 12 - 12:21pm
Phelighn

Great song!

Oct 31 11 - 4:46pm
Timmeka

Yes Hell Yes!!!!!!!! My favorite songs are here Something and God only knows!!!!! Great job guys!

Oct 31 11 - 5:15pm
uhhh

Finally, a good list! Sweet Thing was a great choice, Something was sort of expected (I would have gone with If I Fell or I Will, personally), and I'd was thought of In My Life as more of a mid-life crisis, existentialist sort of tune, but ok. Consider With a Girl Like You also.

Oct 31 11 - 5:25pm
PeterSmith

If I Fell doesn't really fit our criteria, but I Will is a great one.

Oct 31 11 - 6:41pm
Bah!

"Days" by the Kinks is a terrific love song -- sure it's a reflection of one's love post-breakup (which might nix it, given the criteria), but really: "I'll thank you for the days/those endless days/those sacred days/you gave me." The narrator really knows what, er, the power of love is.

Oct 31 11 - 9:07pm
Simmy Lasseno

You guys do realise that "I Want You Back" by The Jackson 5 was released in 1969, don't you?

Oct 31 11 - 9:30pm
hmm

see intro

Oct 31 11 - 10:12pm
Jinna

@nope - are you a dude? I just have NEVER encountered a woman of any race who loved being called a bitch. It's usually not great to rely on anecdotal evidence but for real...

Oct 31 11 - 10:18pm
Jinna

(being called a bitch by their partner, or even "my bitch"). Friends and joking are different, but it only has romantic associations as far as being called someone's property does...

Nov 01 11 - 3:59am
nope

No, I am not a dude. Nor I would I say I love being called a bitch. I was just pointing out that the use of the word "bitch" outside of an insult is primarily amongst black people. (I don't think "my bitch" implies property any more than "my man" does; most terms of endearment have an aspect of possessiveness, that doesn't inherently make them derogatory.) I would say that there are contexts in which "bitch" is affectionate or just a general term for women, neither affectionate nor insulting. That's really all I'm trying to say.

Perhaps the best way to think of it is the neither-affectionate-nor-insulting way. So calling someone a "sexy bitch," or "my bitch" could be compared to a "sexy lady" or "my lady." The only thing that make the word "bitch" more insulting is social context, which can vary from person to person.

Nov 01 11 - 7:38am
Myke

To back this up, girls were all over David Guetta's "Sexy Bitch" a few years ago (the one with Akon). It was like an anthem for them. The song even talked about trying to find a way to describe an attractive girl without being disrespectful. Of all the possible word configurations, Sexy Bitch was what Guetta and Akon chose. So clearly it is a matter of context. That's not to say it wasn't almost universally negative in the past and that it still can be today, but I like nope's point about "my man," which is pretty analogous to "my bitch" these days.

Keep in mind this is all from a male perspective, so I may be missing out on the actual experience of being unironically called someone's bitch, but I still maintain that the tide is turning.

Nov 01 11 - 8:17am
Voice of Reason

Also, who can forgot the elegant, heartfelt "Smack My Bitch Up" by the Prodigy. I have yet to meet a white woman that doesn't love that song.

Nov 01 11 - 1:19pm
GoThere

Any man or woman (especially a man) that calls me a bitch should expect to loose some teeth. If a man refers to me as "his bitch", he should also expect to loose his balls. This is not a sign of the tide turning. It's a sign that misogyny still rules. In hip hop, "bitch" has become a catch-all term, where the easy girl down the street is a bitch because she has no self-respect, but your actual girl is also your "main bitch". For whatever reason, there is a level of hierarchy among the "bitches". Either way, women did not create this system themselves, it was decided by men. My point, songs (of any genre) with women running around calling themselves bitches in a positive light are rare. Any human being that thinks there is something cute or amazing about equating women to a different species of animal is a f*cking idiot.

Nov 01 11 - 6:41pm
Myke

I hate to bring it here, but this argument could be applied to the use of Nigger by black people. Nigger was undeniably created as a word to demean black people, and now it's been enthusiastically co-opted by that same race.

Now, let's be clear here: I am not defending the word Bitch, nor do I even use it myself. I'm just saying that a word can have negative connotations at first and slowly lose its edge over the years. This does not mean every use of the word Bitch is friendly or affectionate (much like Nigger, to this day), nor does it mean every woman should be proud to be called a Bitch. I'm just saying it's not automatically considered an insult anymore. There are exceptions. And as someone up above said, it's up to each individual woman to decide if they want to 'reclaim' the term or not. If they do, cool. If not, perfectly understandable. It's not my place to tell any woman what she should allow herself to be called.

Nov 01 11 - 7:53pm
Mmm

I don't recall hearing black people refer to themselves as "niggers"... There are plenty of blacks out there offended by the n-word regardless of how what letters are added/dropped, just like there are scores of women out there that are offended by the word bitch. Just because a few people in a group like to be objectified, does not mean the whole group should be insulted as well. How about we just stop calling others stupid names, geez...

Nov 01 11 - 10:15pm
nope

Wait... you've never heard a black person refer to themselves or another black person as a "nigger"? I mean, without a doubt there is a class aspect to it as well (a poor white person is more likely to use the term than a rich black person), but it's not uncommon.

And what people like GoThere seem to be missing is that neither me nor Myke are arguing that you NEED to like being called a "bitch," that everyone ought to be called a "bitch," or that you have no right to get offended by whatever offends you. Merely that to some people, in some contexts, it is not objectifying or derogatory.

Black people did not decide to be "niggers," gay people did not decide to be "faggots," women did not decide to be "bitches." But when those words are reclaimed, that's a good thing, an empowering thing -- it takes the ability to objectify and demean away from the words, it doesn't further their power. The words themselves have no intrinsic power, only the weight you give them.

TL;DR: Bitches all up in my shit.

Nov 02 11 - 7:16pm
Myke

Yeah seriously. I hate to keep stoking this fire, but I find it hard to believe you've never heard a black people use the word Nigger in a non-derogatory way. It's hardly some obscure piece of slang. Class is also a factor, as nope pointed out, but it's a pretty common feature in contemporary black culture.

But anyway, there's no defense of objectification here. I'm just saying that language evolves and is full of nuance. That's all. This really is a nice article, so I hate to see it being swallowed up in this nitpickiness (my fault, I'm aware, though I do think this is a debate worth having. Just not here).

Nov 02 11 - 7:16pm
Myke

**black people, no need for that 'a.' I need to proofread more.

Oct 31 11 - 11:42pm
unsexy ferret

Sonny and Cher--I Got You Babe. Duets get extra points.

Nov 01 11 - 1:54pm
GeeBee

Oh hell no. That song is an earworm for the ages.

Nov 01 11 - 1:06pm
LuckyOneEyed

"I Was Made to Love Her" is probably my favorite R&B/Soul song. I can't listen to it without getting a little teary-eyed. I can only imagine how much love you can feel for someone in order to express wanting to build your world around them. Swoon...

Nov 01 11 - 7:36pm
MunchnerKindl

I would possibly also add "Love Gone Bad" by Chris Clark.

Nov 01 11 - 7:54pm
Pity

It's a shame, Nerve posts a really cool article and some asshole trolls try to make it negative. Tsk tsk...

Nov 02 11 - 3:11am
Miman

The inclusion of "Killing Me Softly" by Roberta Flack would have made this list a bit juicier.

Nov 02 11 - 1:29pm
Pat

Killing Me Softly was 1971. Hence not the 60's.

I'd replace In My Life with "And I Love Her," myself.

Nov 02 11 - 5:13pm
AnonymousDoofus

Dylan has much better love songs than Lay Lady Lay imo (e.g., I Want You, Love Minus Zero/No Limit, To Ramona,)

Nov 02 11 - 9:31pm
Rome82

What, are Supremes too pop for this list? Second biggest act behind the Beatles, the classic Motown sound. "Someday We'll Be Together" is a masterpiece.

"I still think (white) people tend to separate black people and their music into good (60s/70s) and bad (everything after)."

I'm black and I pretty much do the same thing. 90's rap was good though. You gotta wonder where mainstream rap can go from here.

Nov 03 11 - 10:54am
Myke

Mainstream anything sucks. I'm big on dubstep but I don't listen to Skrillex or Bassnectar. The early 00s is when dubstep was good, and I'm always quick to make the distinction when I say "I listen to dubstep." But yeah, good rap's still being made. You just don't hear any of it on the Top 40.

I think it's kind of interesting how the Top 40 has fallen in people's opinion over the years. I mean, this whole article is a celebration of popular love songs, many of them Top 40-ers themselves. But now everyone knows not to trust anything that plays on the radio. Was it always this way? Did everyone hate the songs in this article when they first came out? Will we see an article celebrating Ke$ha and Katy Perry in a decade or two?

Nov 03 11 - 6:42pm
Jim

Thank G*D you included the Righteous Brothers in your Best Love songs from the sixties. Now I won't have to stop looking at Nerve.

Nov 03 11 - 6:59pm
Bufo

Knights in White Satin.

Nov 04 11 - 1:32pm
Gazbo

How is "Piece Of My Heart" not here? Nobody's sleeping on the couch after hearing that one. Rough, crude, dysfunctional, certainly not PC, but it's love, and powerful, and qualifies as "great" in most everybody's book. Janis epitomized the 60's and when this song came out we were absolutely stunned - and never really got over it.

Nov 04 11 - 2:56pm
faulknersaysrelax

It's a breakup song. A "take me back" song. A great song, but not a song of love between two people.

Nov 04 11 - 9:02pm
Robbo

Great list. Hard to argue with any of the songs on this list!

Nov 05 11 - 6:41pm
res

um, you DO realize that Elvis did not write "Can't Help Falling In Love With You"? You would think that the writers deserve some credit! The song was written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss.

Nov 06 11 - 1:35pm
brimble

All the way from England with a typically English suggestion of pure teenage-hand-holding-coy morality. Manfred Mann 'doo wah diddy diddy'. Conjures up first love and fairgrounds to me. 1964 I believe, when I was a mere stripling.

Nov 06 11 - 11:19pm
sigmaboomer

Missing some serious propers for the works of great song-writers - Kris, Carole, Joni, Stephen and a whole lotta Motown,

Nov 07 11 - 8:55pm
Robert Plant

No Led Zeppelin's "Thank You"?

Nov 15 11 - 12:15pm
Cramer

Bee Gees "To Love Somebody"

Nov 15 11 - 10:13pm
eyerocknow

yes. me like that one too!

Nov 15 11 - 10:14pm
eyerocknow

"God Only Knows" is good, but I like "I Can Hear Music" better.

Nov 20 11 - 9:29am
Rusty

Wow! Great thiknnig! JK

Nov 20 11 - 4:50pm
Stormy

Smack-dab what I was liookng for-ty!

Nov 22 11 - 10:34pm
Johnette

Wow, that's a really clveer way of thinking about it!

Dec 26 11 - 9:17pm
notfromaroundhere

You missed four from the 1964 London stage production of Robert and Elizabeth, based on the story of the poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning: I Said love, You Only to Love Me, I Know Now and Escape me Never. Doesn't get any better than those.

Jul 11 12 - 9:06am
pestleman1951's Vide

To have not one mention of KIND WOMAN by Buffalo Springfield tells me none you got near Golden Gate Park in the 60s . LOL

Aug 19 12 - 10:02pm
retsbag

I wish "As" by Stevie Wonder was on this list. "Until the day that 8x8x8 is 4...I'll be loving you always"