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The 25 Greatest Love Songs of the 1970s

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The 25 Greatest Love Songs of the 1970s

Wild horses couldn't drag us away.

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 '80s, and click here for the best love songs of the '60s. Okay, now you can tell us what we missed. Have fun! — The Nerve Editors

25. Barry White, "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe" (1974)

"Putting on the Barry White" has become synonymous with "trying to seduce your date in the most ridiculous way possible." But no matter how many would-be Casanovas misuse his work, Barry remains irresistible. "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe" is sweet and a whole lot of fun, as any partner should be. — Kristin Hunt

Listen: Barry White, "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe"

 

24. Carly Simon, "Nobody Does It Better" (1977)

Recorded as the theme song for the James Bond flick The Spy Who Loved Me, Carly Simon's quintessential power ballad (written by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager) is an overwhelming ode to He Who Does It Best. Simon's full-bodied vocals are undoubtedly full of love and wonder, even if when Simon claims that "nobody does it better," you can't help but envy them both a little. — Maura Hehir

Listen: Carly Simon, "Nobody Does It Better"

 

23. David Bowie, "Be My Wife" (1977)

Bowie, at the apex of his chilliest, most cerebral, most coke-whacked period, is wildly convincing as a libertine realizing he can't sustain on kicks alone. "I've lived all over the world. I've left every place." And if his love is one born of desperation, well, that kind gets its day in the sun too. "Please be mine. Share my life. Stay with me. Be my wife." The nakedness of that declaration retains its power, no matter what suspicions you might have over its likely outcome. — Jeff Klingman

Listen: David Bowie, "Be My Wife"

 

22. George Harrison, "What is Life" (1970)

Coming early on George Harrison's first solo album, "What is Life" remains one of the sweetest pop tunes ever produced by the brilliant, reserved ex-Beatle. Weaving his characteristic devotional sensibilities into otherwise lighter lyrics, Harrison also delivers a euphoric sax/trumpet/tambourine combination that complements his signature guitar and vocal work. "What is Life" makes you want to hug a stranger and kiss your lover at the same time. — Marina Cukeric

Listen: George Harrison, "What is Life"

 

21. Tom Waits, "Somewhere" (1978)

As written for West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim in the late '50s, "Somewhere" was already devastatingly beautiful. Tom Waits's interpretation, which opens up his album Blue Valentine, cuts right to the heart of it. This recording is place- and timeless. — Gary Calamar, of KCRW

Listen: Tom Waits, "Somewhere"

 

20. Donna Summer, "Love to Love You Baby" (1975)

A pioneering track for early disco, "Love to Love You Baby" was also one of the most erotically charged songs of its time. Summer recorded the vocal track while lying on the floor of a darkened studio, channeling Marilyn Monroe to deliver her orgasmic performance. The result is a classic of sexual devotion. — Peter Smith

Listen: Donna Summer, "Love to Love You Baby"

 

19. Buzzcocks, "Love You More" (1978)

From a band normally concerned with heartache comes this excited little gem, which (admittedly) doesn't quite shake the angst ("I've been hurt so many times before"). For all its delicious harmonies and early-punk exuberance, it's also a sharp picture of that shaky, "Oh, shit, love!" phase that characterizes so many young relationships. — P.S.

Listen: Buzzcocks, "Love You More"

 

18. Lou Reed, "Perfect Day" (1972)

Some people think this song is about heroin. And while that's certainly a possibility given the singer, I prefer to see it as a sweetly restrained ode to that one glowing day with someone you love: time is fleeting, but we'll always have that day at the zoo. (Come on — you can't go to the zoo with heroin.) — Alex Heigl

Listen: Lou Reed, "Perfect Day"

 

17. Sister Sledge, "Thinking of You" (1979)

If you can absorb the funkiness of Nile Rodgers' guitar playing, and the sweetness of Kathy Sledge's vocal, on "Thinking of You," and not fall in love with everyone and everything for four minutes, you are a harder soul than I. — P.S.

Listen: Sister Sledge, "Thinking of You"

 

16. John Lennon, "Love" (1970)

Can love get any more straightforward than this? "Love is you, you and me. Love is knowing, we can be." The lyrics from this Lennon classic are sparse, to-the-point, poignant, and naked. It's a lullaby of sorts that works as a song of hope and desire. Yet if you pull it out of the context of the Lennon's pure love for Yoko Ono at the time, you can hear echoes of weariness and heartache. Phil Spector plays the piano, Lennon strums and sings. All you need is love, indeed. — Bruce Warren, of WXPN

Listen: John Lennon, "Love"

 

15. The Ramones, "She's the One" (1978)

There's usually a point in every relationship where you want to jump around the room like an idiot because someone has made you so very happy. The Ramones knew this decades before Tom Cruise did, and captured that feeling in just over two minutes of bouncing glee. — A.H.

Listen: The Ramones, "She's the One"

 

14. Dionne Warwick and The Spinners, "Then Came You" (1974)

Via Dionne Warwick's able crooning, "Then Came You" is optimistic, cinematic, and perhaps most of all, mature. The build-up of the piano and the Spinners' backup vocals makes you feel like a character in a musical, oddly compelled to stand up and sing along. In short, "Then Came You" is the kind of song that gradually infiltrates your body until you can't help but stand up and clap your hands together in celebration of that often-awful-but-occasionally-awesome feeling: love. — M.H.

Listen: Dionne Warwick and The Spinners, "Then Came You"

 

13. Patti Smith, "Because the Night" (1978)

Written by Bruce Springsteen for Patti Smith, "Because the Night" has since been recorded by acts from 10,000 Maniacs to Springsteen himself. But no one's ever seemed to mean it quite as much as Smith. She captures the rapturous excitement of being with someone special, and, um, taking advantage of the sundown. — Kristin Hunt

Listen:Patti Smith, "Because the Night"

 

12. Bruce Springsteen, "She's the One" (1975)

On an album brimming over with romance, most of it of the starry-eyed, teenage-rebellion variety, "She's the One" stands out as the purest love song. "Born to Run" may embrace the sentiment of doomed lovers on the lam, but it's more about escape than the down-to-earth emotions expressed here, an assured declaration of love grounded by a brawny sax solo. — Jesse Cataldo, of Slant Magazine

Listen:Bruce Springsteen, "She's the One"

 

11. 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"

 

10. 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"

 

9. Jackson 5, "I'll Be There" (1970)

Before all the drama complicated the story of Michael Jackson and his family, there was "I'll Be There," an innocent declaration of unconditional love. It was a sentiment that obviously resonated with a lot of people; the song was the Jackson 5's most successful single ever. — Confusion, of Pigeons and Planes

Listen: Jackson 5, "I'll Be There"

 

8. 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"

 

7. 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. — Colette McIntyre

Listen: Peter Frampton, "Baby I Love Your Way"

 

6. 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. — Alex Heigl

Listen: Bill Withers, "Lovely Day"

 

5. 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"

 

4. 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"

 

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. 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"

 

1. 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"