The 50 best love songs ever made

Are you ready to fall head over heels with the best love songs of all time? Cupid has you in his sights, people.

Birds do, bees do it, even educated fleas do it.… So wrote Cole Porter in 1928, and we’re the first to admit that falling in love can be as easy as falling off a log. But as to the business of writing a love song—one that’s not cheesy or obvious—that’s a challenge that the greatest songwriters have wrestled with since the first caveman grunted a serenade to his Valentine. After painstaking research and several rock fights, Time Out has arrived at what we believe to be the 50 best love songs ever recorded. Expect to sniff along to the all-time classics (yes, you can tell Mom that Aretha Franklin is in there), get down like you’re at a wedding disco to dance-party titans like Madonna, and feel a smile spread across your face when you hit the number one spot and think of your own number one sweetie—whether they know it yet or not. Bring on the love songs!

Written by Michael Chen, Brent DiCrescenzo, Adam Feldman, Sophie Harris, Oliver Keens, Tim Lowery, Marley Lynch, James Manning, Amy Plitt, Jenna Scherer, Hank Shteamer, Kate Wertheimer and Kristen Zwicker.

Love songs too chirpy for you? Check out our list of the best breakup songs ever made

50–41

“Countdown” by Beyoncé

There was some debate over the merits of this 2011 track versus those of Queen B’s first chart topper, “Crazy in Love.” But it’s a no-brainer. “Crazy” is not love, it’s the first blush. It’s a crush, and the music, accordingly, is giddy and one-dimensional. But “Countdown”? That’s some real shit. It’s crazy in love years later, after the domesticity, after you stop bothering to close the bathroom door. And the tune, the arrangement, is complex, mercurial, fluttering and diving, able to create a rush from routine. This is the one that will make Senator Blue Ivy weep ages from now.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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“Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert

We loved this same-sex marriage anthem, released last year, even before the Seattle hip-hop duo performed it at the 2014 Grammys while Queen Latifah officiated the onscreen weddings of 34 gay and straight couples. Beginning with relaying his third-grade fears of being gay, Macklemore addresses homophobia and its prevalence in rap culture especially, along with bullying in schools, religious hypocrisy, stereotypes, gay-conversion therapy and civil rights—a veritable hip-hop breakthrough.—Marley Lynch

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“Temptation” by New Order

Kelly Macdonald sits on Ewan McGregor’s bed, cooing, “Oh, you’ve got green eyes, oh, you’ve got blue eyes, oh, you’ve got gray eyes,” as he writhes and sweats through cold-turkey hallucinations. Can’t hear that refrain without thinking of that scene in Trainspotting. Bernard Sumner’s daffy lyrical abstraction often stumbled upon genius, as he does here. “Temptation” encapsulates being too pissed to notice or remember anything but some lovely person’s irises. It is the inarticulate poetry of clubbing adolescents. Or, it could be an ode to David Bowie. Either way, nailed it.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” by Talking Heads

The second single from the band’s fifth album, Speaking in Tongues, this 1983 hit was David Byrne’s attempt to write a love song “that wasn’t corny, that didn’t sound stupid or lame the way many do.” Though he’s often avoided the topic (due to it being “kinda big,” as he eloquently puts it), Byrne hit the target here with a sweet, sincere tune about home being wherever your lover is.—Kate Wertheimer

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“Hit” by the Sugarcubes

Wow. If ever the ecstasy and anguish of falling in love was captured in music, it’s on this 1992 track—which catapulted Sugarcubes singer Björk to wider fame. “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” she wails at the song’s opening, bemoaning the fact that she’s in love again: “How could you do this to me?” she chides her lover. But then the sweet, dreamy middle eight sneaks in: Now she’s lying in bed, “totally still, my eyes wide open, I’m enraptured…” And so Björk vacillates between the bliss and the pain; as Paul Dooley says to his lovesick daughter in the John Hughes movie Sixteen Candles: “That’s why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they’d call them something else.”—Sophie Harris

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“Heroes” by David Bowie

Reagan gets all the credit. In 1987, he stood at the Brandenburg Gate and chided Gorbachev, “Tear down this wall!” Thing is, the first metaphorical sledgehammer was swung into the Wall ten years prior, with this title track off Bowie’s only true Berlin album. Two lovers kiss by the graffiti and razor wire. Bowie, dreaming of escape so hard he wishes to be a porpoise, wails against a wall of sound, made romantic. Some songs are about being in love. This 1977 krautrock cannonball is testimony to the awesome, world-shaking power of love itself.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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“Wild Thing” by the Troggs

Written by songwriter Chip Taylor and originally recorded by the Wild Ones in 1965, “Wild Thing” finally made it to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July of 1966, when it was covered by English band the Troggs. It’s a love song for anyone with a weakness for party girls, bad boys, rebels without a cause, and um, ocarinas. Because nothing says “I think I love you” like an ocarina solo.—Kate Wertheimer

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“I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” by the Ramones

“Do you love me babe? What do you say?” Romance, Ramones-style, isn’t an especially complicated thing. Joey & Co. don’t want to know if you want to get married, and they’re not interested in overwrought gestures of love. They simply want to know if the girl in question does, in fact, want to be paired up—and the tune’s simplicity is why it’s so affecting.—Amy Plitt

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“Bound 2” by Kanye West

We know what you’re thinking: Nothing says true love like a tacky music video and the lyric “Step back, can’t get spunk on the mink.” Well, bear with us, because “‘Bound 2”—Kanye’s tribute to Kim Kardashian—is one of the most heartwarming love songs of the past decade. Brilliantly honest and plainspoken (“Okay, I don’t remember where we first met”), it rejects romantic clichés to paint an intimate picture of Ye and Kim’s relationship. And despite the very NSFW bits in the lyrics, the line that really sticks in your head is about fierce romantic devotion: “One good girl is worth a thousand bitches.” Amen, K.—James Manning

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“Jeepster” by T. Rex

Written by Marc Bolan in 1971 for the group’s second (and spectacular) album, Electric Warrior, this song has some of the most romantic, nonsensical lyrics we’ve ever swooned to. (Please tell us again how we have the universe reclining in our hair.) The song is sleeper sexy: starting off slow, building into a hip-shaker and ending with, um, some sucking. Bravo, Bolan.—Kate Wertheimer

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40–31

“You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates

When you and your boo are newly in love and your idiot happiness is annoying the crap out of all your friends, this 1981 single from Voices is the soundtrack to your lives. (500) Days of Summer pretty much hit the nail on the head with this one—enjoy it while it lasts, lovebirds.—Kate Wertheimer

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“Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Magnetic Zeros frontpeople Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos had a whirlwind romance that sparked a band, so it’s only fitting that the Magnetic Zeros’ 2009 breakout hit was this sweet duet. They sing to each other like Johnny Cash and June Carter, with a whole crowd (and a horn section) behind them. What makes this tune’s aw-shucks, neohippie earnestness work so well is that you can just tell that Ebert and Castrinos mean it. “We laugh until we think we’ll die / Barefoot on a summer night / Never could be sweeter than with you.” This is your soundtrack for cartwheeling through a field of daisies.—Jenna Scherer

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“Heartbeat” by Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly is the king of li’l love ditties, and 1958’s two-minute “Heartbeat” (the last single to be released during his lifetime) is one of his sweetest, illustrating that well-known, might-vomit feeling that comes along with new love. We’ll cut him a break for “piddle dee pat” because heartbeat sounds are hard, and it was the ’50s.—Kate Wertheimer

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“Stand By Me” by Ben E. King

“Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its turmoil.” If that’s not a love song—well, it’s not, but Ben E. King purportedly drew inspiration from Psalms 46:2-3 when writing his 1961 hit ballad, “Stand by Me,” with legendary songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. With more than 400 recorded versions, the song has hit the Billboard Top 100 more than any other song in existence, becoming a testament in its own right—to the benefit of staring down life’s woes side by side.—Kristen Zwicker

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“Eternal Flame” by the Bangles

The Bangles were not known for emotional depth, but this plaintive ballad from the girl group’s 1988 album, Everything, takes the bop out of their usual teenybopper sound, leaving only a piercing distillation of teen angst. If love here burns like the sun, it is set against the storm of “a whole life so lonely.” And the girlish tremble of Susanna Hoffs’s vocals, which flip into a vulnerable head voice for most of the higher notes, poignantly embodies the song’s yearning for security.—Adam Feldman

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“Hello” by Lionel Richie

Banish from your mind’s eye the meltingly cheesy and vaguely creepy video for Lionel Richie’s 1984 No. 1 hit, with its plot about a teacher, a blind girl and the clay bust she molds of him. But give yourself over to the softer kitsch of the song itself—the slow build of anticipation, the rise and fall of the guitar solo, Richie’s tender vocals as he imagines spilling his heart out—and you may be surprised to find how well it has held up in the years since that rather unfortunate introduction.—Adam Feldman

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“The Book of Love” by the Magnetic Fields

Stephin Merritt once said of his group’s 1999 lo-fi concept masterpiece: “69 Love Songs is not remotely an album about love. It’s an album about love songs, which are very far away from anything to do with love.” We’d argue otherwise about “The Book of Love,” a monkishly unadorned ode to amour in all its mystery and banality. The track’s status as a hipster-wedding staple hasn’t dulled its poetic beauty, or the simple truth it conveys about matters of the heart: “Some of it is just transcendental / Some of it is just really dumb.”—Jenna Scherer

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“That’s How Strong My Love Is” by Otis Redding

Otis, you slay us. We’re hard-pressed to think of an artist who croons the good, bad and ugly of love as heartbreakingly well, and this 1965 cover (of O.V. Wright’s ’64 original) is no exception. The lyrics are so comforting, so reassuring—especially when sung with Redding’s signature soul—that it makes us feel adored just to hear them on the stereo.—Kate Wertheimer

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“Cheek to Cheek” by Ella Fitzgerald

Untroubled by the darker themes that complicate so many love songs, Irving Berlin’s 1935 classic—written for Fred Astaire to woo Ginger Rogers with, as they dance in the movie Top Hat—is a pure expression of romantic bliss. “Heaven, I’m in heaven / And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak”: When Ella Fitzgerald sings these lines on her 1958 album of Berlin standards, with a confident and good-natured swing of total contentment, you can’t help joining her in the clouds.—Adam Feldman

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“It Had to Be You” by Harry Connick Jr.

Flirtatiously wry in its acceptance of the singer’s perfectly imperfect match (“For all your faults I love you still”), this 1924 Tin Pan Alley ditty has been a Hollywood staple for generations, in films ranging from Casablanca to Annie Hall. For many modern listeners, though, “It Had to Be You” is indelibly linked to the 1989 rom-com When Harry Met Sally…, a movie that perfectly captures its sense of romantic inevitability. Harry Connick Jr. recorded the soundtrack when he was just 21, with a mix of youthful freshness and retro finesse that deservedly made him an instant star.—Adam Feldman

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30-21

“When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge

Percy Sledge’s R&B (and wedding-soundtrack) staple might be one of the most romantic-sounding songs of all time, but the 1966 hit’s lyrics basically boil down to this: Love fucks everything up—your judgment, your pride, your friendships, your bank account, the roof over your head. It can be a powerful, fickle bitch, in other words. Oh, also: When you’re under its spell, it’s the absolute greatest thing in the world.—Tim Lowery

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“Into My Arms” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

“I don’t believe in an interventionist God,” sings Nick Cave in one of the most magnificently awkward first lines in any love song. “But I know, darlin’, that you do.” Taken from 1997’s The Boatman’s Call, “Into My Arms” stands head and shoulders above so many other songs of devotion because it feels thoroughly honest; a negotiation of a down-to-earth worldview with the celestial stirrings of the heart. Cave lists the things he can’t put faith in, and then acknowledges simply, “But I believe in love, and I know darlin’, that you do too.” Further note: Cave performed this song at the funeral of Michael Hutchence, his friend, requesting it not be recorded as he sang.—Sophie Harris

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“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack

There are some people whose sheer grace can bring quiet to a roomful of noisy people; “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” achieves the same effect. Based on the 1957 folk song Ewan MacColl wrote for his soon-to-be wife, singer Peggy Seeger, the tune gains exquisite serenity in this 1972 reworking, which became a hit after soundtracking Play Misty for Me. The backing is barely there: a double bass, a piano, Spanish guitar. Roberta Flack’s voice starts hushed, almost like she’s singing you to sleep, then soars to its full, clear capacity, passionately paralleling the love she’s recollecting. In a word: astonishing.—Sophie Harris

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“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” by the Smiths

Written by lead singer Morrissey and guitarist John Marr, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” originally appeared on the Smiths’ transcendent third album, 1986’s The Queen Is Dead, but wasn’t released as a single until 1992—five years after the Smiths had disbanded. Brimming with desperation and devotion, the tune gripped the hearts of critics and fans alike—Marr himself remarked in a 1993 interview for Select magazine, “I didn’t realize that ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’ was going to be an anthem, but when we first played it, I thought it was the best song I’d ever heard.”—Kristen Zwicker

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“Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS

We all have those moments when our lives play out like the last five minutes of a CW season finale (before the shocking cliff-hanger, natch). You’re in a plaza or maybe a café, and the object of your affections enters the frame. Time slows down, all other noises fade. You exchange glances. Your heart flutters. The synthesized strings kick in (it was 1988, after all). And Michael Hutchence, Australia’s answer to Jim Morrison, starts to sing: “I was standing.… You were there.… Two worlds collided.… And they could never, ever, tear us apart.” And then—that pause.—Michael Chen

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“Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac

Oh, you thought chillwave was some blogger invention of 2009? Take a dip in Tango in the Night; Buckingham, Nicks and McVie invented—no, perfected—the sound in 1987. McVie stacks and stacks her blissful sighs atop darting, shimmering Buckingham arpeggios and a breezy drum gallop. Eat your heart out, Beach House.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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“Cherish” by Madonna

Pop’s ultimate chameleon, Madonna offered this unabashedly cheery romp in 1989, between releases of the controversial “Like a Prayer” (our No. 1 dance-party song), the brazen “Express Yourself,” the classically cool “Vogue” and the smokin’ sex odyssey “Justify My Love.” Here, Madge testifies to a sweet romance that would put those novices Romeo and Juliet to shame. We like a lot of the Madonnas we’ve seen over the years, but the rarely seen giddy, love-struck Madonna—she’s one of our faves.—Michael Chen

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“The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson

Remember when Michael Jackson released single after single from Bad, and each one was amazing and went to No. 1? And remember how you felt the first time you heard 1987’s “The Way You Make Me Feel”—among the sexiest and most febrile tracks Jackson ever cut, and the exuberant counterpart to brooding “Billie Jean”? It’s the kind of song that just gets you, even if you are only nine years old and the video’s a little creepy. C’mon, girl!—Sophie Harris

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“Ain’t Nobody” by Rufus & Chaka Khan

Quincy Jones almost nabbed this slice of loved-up electrofunk for Michael Jackson, but it ended up becoming a signature tune for R&B diva Khan when she sang it with her old band Rufus in 1983. When Frankie Knuckles gave it a piano house remix in 1989, a new generation went crazy for the song: now artists ranging from Mary J. Blige to KT Tunstall have recorded versions, but none of them reach the thrilling heights of Chaka as she hits the final chorus.—James Manning

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“Love Hangover” by Diana Ross

Before she was coming out and wanting the world to know, Diana first staked a claim on disco by virtue of this supreme 1975 Motown cut. Thanks to a mellow-into-groovin’ tempo change, she lays down the love law in style by sending away any doctors boasting a cure for her sweet hangover.—Oliver Keens

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20-11

“Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey

Though we could have put many a Mimi song on this list, her 1990 smash single made the cut for its classically Carey assurance that come what may, love will triumph. Plus, the slow-dance-ready ballad basically launched American Idol–type melismatic singing, and stars like Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera cite the track as a key influence—so we basically have the diva to thank for Mrs. Carter’s “Drunk in Love,” too.—Marley Lynch

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“You Got Me” by the Roots

Fidelity is the name of the game in this 1999 Grammy-winning track from Philly’s favorite hip-hop sons, the Roots. A globe-trotting musician and a film student meet cute, but what happens when he goes back on tour and she starts drawing the attention of famous athletes? The dreaded long-distance relationship has been known to decimate many a couple, but not this time. Our steadfast heroine—whose rhymes are courtesy of Ruff Ryders First Lady Eve and singing is by Erykah Badu—assures her boo that his paranoia is unfounded and, no matter what, “You got me.” Sounds like a keeper!—Michael Chen

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“Eye Know” by De La Soul

Sweetly revealing hip-hop’s soft center, this 1989 cut from (then-teenage) Long Island trio De La Soul perfectly demonstrates what the crew meant when it referred to the “D.A.I.S.Y. Age.” Set to snippets of Steely Dan’s “Peg” plus a breakbeat from Sly and the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song” and a sample of Otis Redding’s whistling from “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of a Bay,” “Eye Know” is as charming as it is groovy—a gorgeously deft and understated invitation to love.—Sophie Harris

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“Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder was a mere 20 years old when he released his apologetic anthem “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.” Even at that tender age, the Detroit prodigy had done a lot of foolish things that he really didn’t mean, but making that record wasn’t one of them. It spent six weeks atop the U.S. R&B chart and garnered Wonder his first Grammy nomination, proving that everyone loves a second chance.—Kristen Zwicker

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“My Baby Just Cares for Me” by Nina Simone

Written for Eddie Cantor to sing—in blithe blackface—in the 1930 movie Whoopee!, “My Baby Just Cares for Me” has had an unusual afterlife. Though Nina Simone recorded her version in 1958, it became an unlikely chart hit in the U.K. nearly 30 years later, when it was used in a popular ad for perfume. The irony of this commercial connection is keen, since the song itself represents a rejection of material and cultural distractions. Simone’s account, though relatively lighthearted by her standards, nonetheless strips the ditty of much of its surface frivolity; in performance, her rendition could seem positively dour. With matter-of-fact majesty, she restores the song, in a sense, to its own values.—Adam Feldman

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“Sweet Thing” by Van Morrison

The Irish belter famously commemorated first love in “Brown Eyed Girl” and summed up hippie-style soul communion on “Into the Mystic,” but he never captured the ecstasy of romance better than on 1968’s Astral Weeks. On “Sweet Thing,” with help from jazz pros Richard Davis, Jay Berliner and Connie Kay, he starts in the troubadour zone and quickly propels himself to full-on speaking-in-tongues word spew. Riding the song’s tumbling waltz rhythm, he pours out half-coherent proclamations (“I’m dynamite, and I don’t know why”) and blissful babble, climaxing with a triumphant “Sugar baby!” at the 4:03 mark. If love is a drug, then Van was on a heavy dose here.—Hank Shteamer

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“Oh Yoko” by John Lennon

Lennon’s flair for the prosaic and his unabashed adoration for his lady make this simple folk-rock ditty (taken from 1971’s Imagine LP) simply glisten in beautiful gooey drippiness. There’s probably only one person whose heart doesn’t melt hearing it, in fact: the poor engineer bawled out by John and Yoko during its recording.—Oliver Keens

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“Be My Baby” by the Ronettes

Lennon covered it, Scorsese used it to announce his directorial arrival in Mean Streets, and Brian Wilson was so in awe of its orchestral drive, he famously listened to it 100 times a day. With 1963’s “Be My Baby,” Phil Spector put a bowtie on the bubblegum love song—conveying love’s urgency and sweaty-palmed excitement.—Oliver Keens

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“The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra

Considered by many to be the gold standard against which all romantic standards are judged, this perennial wedding favorite marries an elegant, soaring melody by Jerome Kern with a personal, wistful lyric by Dorothy Fields. It’s about wanting to preserve a perfect moment that must pass—but that might at least be extended and treasured in memory. Introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1936 MGM musical Swing Time, the song has been recorded countless times since, but Frank Sinatra’s sensitive early-1940s recording (not to be confused with his later, more cavalier version) gives it a sure, gentle touch that feels perfect.—Adam Feldman

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“The Very Thought of You” by Billie Holiday

Originally recorded by Al Bowlly and then Bing Crosby in 1934, Ray Noble’s jazz standard has been covered time and again this past 80 years—but its defining version comes from Lady Day. This 1938 reverie swings like a lazy daydream, Holiday’s voice sweet and languid. “I see your face in every flower,” she coos, reminding you of each time you got lost in fantasy when you were washing the dishes, or watching a movie, or listening to someone explain something to you.… Sorry, what was that?—Sophie Harris

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10-2

“At Last” by Etta James

The most unapologetically romantic slow-dance–wedding–love-scene song in history, Etta James’s 1960 cover of “At Last” may seem a bit cliché. But from the first note, we all know what’s coming (love! finally!), and James’s soulful crooning induces a shiver every time, whether we expect it to or not. Case in point, pretty much everyone lost it during Beyoncé’s rendition at the 2009 presidential inauguration ball, including the First Lady and President Obama himself. Cuuute.—Kate Wertheimer

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“My Girl” by the Temptations

This sugary ’64 chart-topper (the Temptations’ first) might be the best puppy-love song ever. Penned by fellow Motown signees the Miracles, its instantly recognizable guitar riff (right up there with the one from “Satisfaction”), peppy finger snaps, unabashed optimism and comforting-as-a-much-needed-hug harmonies can make even the most jaded downer feel all warm inside.—Tim Lowery

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“Your Song” by Elton John

As serenades go, this one’s a bit of a mess: full of ideas that stop and start, sentences that don’t quite track and a final fluster of confusion—“Anyway…the thing is…what I really mean…”—when the singer forgets the color of the eyes he means to flatter. But therein lies the song’s enduring sweetness. The combination of Elton John’s simple, pretty tune and Bernie Taupin’s self-effacing, fumbling lyrics gives this 1970 track the hand-sewn charm of a homemade gift.—Adam Feldman

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“The Power of Love” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Love is a sweet and splendid thing, but boy, oh boy, can it get dramatic—the rush of endorphins washing through your body when you fall in love, the pangs of pain and fear and longing that can follow.… In 1984, Holly Johnson’s British crew somehow managed to touch on the feather-fine subtlety of love, and its crashing, whooshing, earth-shattering might. Johnson himself has remarked of the song, “I always felt like ‘The Power of Love’ was the record that would save me in this life. There is a biblical aspect to its spirituality and passion; the fact that love is the only thing that matters in the end.”—Sophie Harris

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“Something” by The Beatles

“Something” was the first George Harrison-written song to occupy the A-side of a Beatles single (though it did share the accolade, appearing as a double A-side with unifying call “Come Together” in 1969). Capturing the swirling triumph of infatuation, the tune would become the second-most-covered song of the Beatles’ canon (“Yesterday” is the first)—more than 150 artists have tried the dreamy, swooning ode on for size, including James Brown, Elvis Presley, Phish, Isaac Hayes and Frank Sinatra, who famously christened it the “greatest love song ever written.”—Kristen Zwicker

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“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green

Al Green’s greatest gift to the world is that he makes love funky. The lyrics to the Reverend’s landmark 1971 hit, “Let’s Stay Together,” articulate the solemn vows of marriage: “Whether times are good or bad, happy or sad.” But sung by Green, these promises are given wings. Covered multiple times since its release, Green’s gorgeous original was given a new lease on life in ’94, when Quentin Tarantino featured it in Pulp Fiction. But our favorite boost for the song has to be the snippet—“Oh no you didn’t!”—sung by President Obama at a fund-raising event in 2012, naughty smile and all.—Sophie Harris

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“I Say a Little Prayer” by Aretha Franklin

Set in F minor, the song hits like a breakup. Burt Bacharach, you clever devil. Aretha belts it like tragedy, too. That’s what puts it in the upper league, what separates it from the puppy-dog bullshit. Love is devastating. She turns her mundane morning ritual—hair, makeup, dressing—into opera. Years later, Björk would repeat this dark magic tragic in “Hyperballad.”—Brent DiCrescenzo

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“I Only Have Eyes for You” by The Flamingos

The Flamingos’ 1959 doo-wop classic is a perfect slow-dance standard, with super-literal lyrics about that moment when everything and everyone else fades away. The group—one in a slew of the “bird groups” of the ’40s and ’50s, including the Orioles, the Penguins and the Larks—set a high bar for elegant ballads such as this one, and played their own instruments to boot. Swoon.—Kate Wertheimer

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“Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke

If there’s anyone out there whose heart doesn’t melt just a little bit when they hear the drum flutter that opens this 1960 swoon of a song, we’ll eat our hat. “Wonderful World” is lullaby-simple in its structure—of course one and one is two! of course this one should be with you!—echoing the way that when love feels right, it’s somewhere between a no-brainer and a miracle. And no, we still don’t know what a slide rule is for.—Sophie Harris

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No. 1

“God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys

As we mentioned earlier in our list, in 1963, Brian Wilson was so obsessed with Phil Spector’s orchestral vision for the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” that he took to listening to it 100 times a day. Spector revels in telling this story (watch and see for yourself), picturing Wilson as a dope-smoking dilettante, smitten by the wonder of the Wall of Sound. “I’d like to have a nickel for every joint he smoked figuring out how I got that ‘Be My Baby’ sound” is just one of his many barbs.

Yet three years later, Wilson and the Boys would surpass the master with a song that lifted the notion of the sophisticated love song clean into the heavens. The uncertainty of the first line (“I may not always love you”) is a classic pop curveball, which works with the swooping transition from intro to verse. Once that miasmic mix of harpsichords and celestial brass clears, and that opening caveat is laid bare, we’re left with a heartbreakingly tender song of yearning, of devotion and of fidelity.

Combining the fatalism of lines like “what good would living do me” with the use of God in the title was risky business back in the mid-’60s. There was no need to worry. In fact, the song’s universality has turned it into an almost nondenominational and humanist hymn, blessed with an equivocal outlook that can magically give succor to all forms of love.

Filmmakers certainly know it: Just compare the Kleenex-soaking finale of Love Actually to the complicated pseudo-family resolution at the end of Boogie Nights. Two vastly different stories of love, but both tied together at the end by “God Only Knows”—in a pretty, complicated, perfect bow. How like love.—Oliver Keens

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