The 50 best love songs of all time
Ready to fall head over heels with the best love songs of all time? Here, fifty to make your heart skip a beat.
Mon Feb 10 2014
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 beloved. 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 of all time. Looking for something a little more sultry? Peruse our list of the 50 sexiest songs ever, baby.
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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