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Image: Kathy Hutchins

The 60 best love songs of all time

Add the 60 best love songs ever recorded – from new classics to timeless romantic cuts – to your playlist now

Edited by
Andrzej Lukowski
Contributors
Tim Lowery
&
Nick Levine
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From yearning ballads to wrenching declarations of need, from madrigals to metal, the history of music is the history of love songs, and vice versa. And yes, there have been a lot of syrupy, formulaic declarations of affection churned out for the pop charts over the years, but that’s not what we’re about here.

While you’ll find some great pop ballads on this list, they’re foremost here as a reflection of the glorious breadth of what constitutes a love song, a form claimed by no one genre. The only constant is that the best love songs express sentiments that we’d struggle to put into words in real life. They’re touching, comforting and uplifting all at the same time. Sometimes the music says as much as the words; sometimes the words are more powerful than the most beautiful of poems.

Of course, there are days when a great love song is the last thing you want to hear. When that happens, head to our list of the best breakup songs instead.

Listen to these songs on Amazon Music

RECOMMENDED:
🍆 The sexiest songs of all time
💕 The best R&B love songs
💔 The best breakup songs
🎙 The best soul songs
🎺 The best Motown songs
😭 The best heartbreak songs

Best love songs, ranked

‘This Magic Moment’ by the Drifters

1. ‘This Magic Moment’ by the Drifters

A standout love song even among the other classics written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, ‘This Magic Moment’ is gloriously cinematic: You can almost picture the camera slowly zooming on the two sharing that mind-blower of a first kiss, as Ben E. King wails reverby lead vocals against beautiful swirling strings.  

‘Love Me Like You Do’ by Ellie Goulding
Photo: Cherrytree/Interscope/Republic

2. ‘Love Me Like You Do’ by Ellie Goulding

Co-written by pop genius Max Martin and ace Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Lo, this electro power ballad became a huge global hit in 2015. Topped off by Goulding’s distinctive fluttery vocals and a properly loved-up climax, it’s so irresistible that it’s even possible to block out, just about, that it featured on the Fifty Shades of Grey movie soundtrack. Promise we won’t bring it up if you won’t?

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‘Unchained Melody’ by the Righteous Brothers

3. ‘Unchained Melody’ by the Righteous Brothers

It’s the mushy definition of a love song that becomes all the more powerful for it. ‘Unchained Melody’ has all the corny trappings of a by-the-numbers ballad: the swooning, arpeggiated opening, the crescendo to an epic orchestral finale, lyrics whose blatant emotional manipulation ought to fall right apart under scrutiny. But theres real, undeniable hunger in Bobby Hatfield's luminous and raw vocal, the push and pull of the instrumentation is subtler than expected, and the words reveal layers where true fidelity fights to overcome lingering doubt. The world seems to agree: The Righteous Brothers version of the song remains the most popular and well-loved out of hundreds of recordings from around the globe.

‘Slow Show’ by the National

4. ‘Slow Show’ by the National

The National is a band best known for its alternately stately and ravaged examinations of existential dread and anxiety—in short, they're far from lovey-dovey. But this track from their breakout album, 2007's ‘Boxer’ proves that they're aware of love's curative powers. Frontman Matt Berninger finds himself stranded at a party without his companion and self-deprecatingly details his panic and isolation before identifying the exhilarating recognition of a soulmate with simple precision: ‘You know I dreamed about you for 29 years before I saw you.’

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‘At Last’ by Etta James

5. ‘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 for Obama including the First Lady and President himself. Cuuute.

‘Let’s Stay Together’ by Al Green

6. ‘Let’s Stay Together’ by Al Green

The lyrics to the Reverend’s landmark 1971 love song, ‘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 when it was sung by Barack Obama at a fund-raising event in 2012.  

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‘God Only Knows’ by the Beach Boys

7. ‘God Only Knows’ by the Beach Boys

In 1963, Brian Wilson was so obsessed with Phil Spector’s orchestral vision for the Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ that he reportedly took to listening to it 100 times a day. 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.

‘Be My Baby’ by the Ronettes

8. ‘Be My Baby’ by the Ronettes

Lennon covered it, Scorsese used it to announce his directorial arrival in Mean Streets, and, as discussed, 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. 

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‘Maps’ by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

9. ‘Maps’ by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

While the lyrics to this early aughts classic are fairly repetitive, they become almost like a mantra. ‘Wait, they don’t love you like I do’ is a thought perhaps way too many of us have had, whether spoken or not, as things start to fall apart in a relationship.  

‘Something’ by the Beatles

10. ‘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.’

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11. ‘Love is All Around’ by the Troggs

To anyone British over the age of about 40, ‘Love Is All Around’ will be forever synonymous with the Wet Wet Wet cover from 1994, which was… basically fine, but so ludicrously ubiquitous for a period of months that the band themselves deleted the song because even they were sick of it. It’s worth stressing that the song they were covering, by rock primitivists The Troggs, is far superior and almost unspeakably magical, an utterly charming and heartfelt lovesong with a lullaby-like simplicity and a violin accompaniment that sounds like a flight of lo-fi angels.

12. ‘Running Up That Hill’ by Kate Bush

Not every love song has to be sexy! There are far friskier songs in Kate Bush’s later work, but her 1985 smash remains one of the greatest and strangest love songs of all time. Over that unmistakable electronic drum figure, synths that swoop like alien birds and Bush’s keening vocals work so harmoniously together that the song works more impressionistically than literally. But the ‘deal’ she describes is love, an annihilation of the self as she dreams of literally becoming the object of her affections so that she can better understand them.

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‘Wonderful World’ by Sam Cooke

13. ‘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.

‘My Girl’ by the Temptations

14. ‘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. 

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‘You Got Me’ by the Roots
©DR

15. ‘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!

‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ by Percy Sledge

16. ‘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 jerk, in other words. Oh, also: When you’re under its spell, it’s the absolute greatest thing in the world.

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‘I Say a Little Prayer’ by Aretha Franklin

17. ‘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.

18. ‘The Ship Song’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Sure, Nick Cave has written a large number of extremely violent songs that would probably get the police called on you if incorrectly deployed in the process of wooing. But it’s clear to anybody who has spent a lot of time with his work that the Prince of Darkness is an old romantic at heart. And ‘Ship Song’ is the most overwhelming expression of this, a full-throated, unabashedly melodic piano ballad in which he describes trying to rationalise his feelings for a lover before abandoning the attempt in glorious surrender: ‘we make a little history, baby, every time you come around’ he roars, framing what might just be a fling like some epic poem of old.

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‘Temptation’ by New Order
Foto: Factory Records

19. ‘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.

‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’ by Stevie Wonder

20. ‘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.

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21. ‘I'm On Fire’ by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s vast repertoire of poetic, politicised blue collar anthems leaves surprisingly little room for romance. But there is, of course, one great romantic jam in Broooce’s ouvre. Over sultry layers of synth and a heartbeat drum machine, the narrator of ‘I’m On Fire’ is consumed with an almost unbearable desire. ‘Hey little girl is your daddy home, did he go and leave you all alone?’ he coos and there’s an ambivalence to it: are his lyrics simply in the idiom of ‘50s rock’n’roll? Or is there something forbidden about the character’s desires? The video strongly suggests the former, but there’s an undeniable element of danger to his love – nay, obsession. 

‘Eye Know’ by De La Soul
Photograph: Courtesy DCASE

22. ‘Eye Know’ by De La Soul

Via a sweet hip-hop sentimentality, 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.

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‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ by The Flamingos

23. ‘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.

‘Countdown’ by Beyoncé
Image: Columbia Records

24. ‘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.

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‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’ by Nina Simone

25. ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’ by Nina Simone

Though Nina Simone recorded her definitive version of this standard 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 love song, in a sense, to its own values.

‘It Had to Be You’ by Harry Connick Jr.
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy

26. ‘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.

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‘Hallelujah I Love Her So’ by Ray Charles

27. ‘Hallelujah I Love Her So’ by Ray Charles

Ever had a neighbor you can’t stop flirting with? Ray Charles knows the feeling. Of course, the next-door neighbors in his debut single, ‘Hallelujah I Love Her So,’ certainly go beyond being cordial and friendly. Between Don Wilkerson’s tenor sax solo and the sweet lyrics about the quiet kindnesses of romance (bringing coffee to each other, coming at a moment’s phone call) the song captures in its entirety a love that comes from a perfect understanding. When Charles sings that he knows she’ll be there for him, despite people’s doubts, because ‘she told me so,’ it becomes crystal clear that this is the kind of connection that’s meant to be.

‘I Will Always Love You’ by Dolly Parton
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

28. ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton’s farewell to her long-time partner and mentor, country legend Porter Wagoner, when she decided to pursue a solo career, became quite the sensation in 1974. It’s hard to think of a better song in pop culture that captures the ‘if you love something, set it free’ sentiment. While few of us—save Whitney Houston—can belt those high notes like Parton, that doesn’t stop us from wanting to sing along with the chorus, with all the same pent up passion.

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29. ‘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.

30. ‘At Your Most Beautiful’ by R.E.M.

Since it was released in 1987, many have taken R.E.M.’s breakthrough single ‘The One I Love’ to be a love song, completely wrongly: it’s actually a brutal dismissal of a former lover. A decade later, though, they penned this absolutely radiant Beach Boys homage, that brims with the uncomplicated magic of being purely in love. Over melodious piano and a lush bed of ‘doo doo’ backing vocals, Michael Stipe’s breathy, wholesome declaration to his lover that ‘I found a way to make you smile’ sounds like the most swoonsome thing on earth.

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‘I Want to Break Free’ by Queen
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

31. ‘I Want to Break Free’ by Queen

Though more often recognized as a song about breaking free from oppression—and for its amazing music video starring members of the band in drag—there’s an undeniable love story also included here. The narrator has ‘fallen in love for the first time’ and they know ‘this time it’s for real.’ How that love will blossom as that person finds their freedom to make it on their own is unclear, but hey, it’s a start.

‘Sea of Love’ by Cat Power

32. ‘Sea of Love’ by Cat Power

Just how many times did this song appear on mix CDs made for dorm-room crushes in the aughts? We’re too busy to do the math, but we’re guessing…a lot. Cat Power’s bare bones take on Phil Phillips’s classic, like many of the tracks on her 2000 LP ‘The Covers Record’, imbues the much-loved song with a dose of longing and vulnerability. 

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33. ‘Be My Wife’ by David Bowie

Although his ultra-melodic Motown thumper ‘Modern Love’ is big at weddings, you don’t really go to David Bowie for sincere feelings. But there are exceptions, foremost this astonishing song. Taken from his pioneering electronic opus ‘Low’, it’s paradoxically one of Bowie simplest songs: a furiously hammered, almost oompah piano over which he plaintively begs ‘please be mine, share my life, stay with me, be my wife’. It is absolutely not a sexy song, but the desperate sound of a man clinging on to a lover like they’re the last refuge from the storm is itself intensely romantic. Also great if you’re looking for a very literal proposal song.

‘Hit’ by The Sugarcubes
©DR

34. ‘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.’

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‘Vision of Love’ by Mariah Carey

35. ‘Vision of Love’ by Mariah Carey

Any number of Mariah Carey songs could claim a place on this list, but her stunning debut single remains irresistibly romantic. Released in 1990, it’s a gorgeous, gospel-tinged pop-soul ballad that builds towards a thrilling climax featuring Mimi’s signature whistle notes. Carey would go on to write and perform more sophisticated love songs, but ‘Vision of Love’ captures that butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling with a giddy sense of bliss. 

‘You Make My Dreams’ by Hall & Oates
Image: RCA

36. ‘You Make My Dreams’ by Hall & Oates

You don’t even need to listen to the songs lyrics—just that upbeat melody—to understand that this one is all about that love that makes you want to twirl as soon as you step outside under the sun and skip down a city street. While most of the duo’s soft rock and smooth-jazz-esque ethos lended itself to diddies about a more stained and complicated romance, ‘You Make My Dreams’ is pure optimism.

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‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ by Otis Redding
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

37. ‘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.

‘The Book of Love’ by the Magnetic Fields

38. ‘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.’

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‘Love Hangover’ by Diana Ross

39. ‘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 song law in style by sending away any doctors boasting a cure for her sweet hangover.

‘Bound 2’ by Kanye West
Image: Def Jam

40. ‘Bound 2’ by Kanye West

Don’t be turned off by the over-stylized video or the lyric ‘Step back, can’t get spunk on the mink’—in our opinion, 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. It may be over now, but hey, we’ll always have the memories.

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‘Friday I’m In Love’ by the Cure

41. ‘Friday I’m In Love’ by the Cure

While we actually enjoy getting super-sentimental to Robert Smith’s voice—and typically can’t stand to listen to so-called ‘happy music’—this love song’s catchy-as-hell hook and upbeat tempo serve as a good counterpoint to all those other straight-up tear-inducing Cure tunes. Plus, who doesn’t love Friday? 

‘Cheek to Cheek’ by Ellla Fitzgerald

42. ‘Cheek to Cheek’ by Ellla 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.

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43. ‘To the End’ by Blur

Blur aren’t exactly what you think of as a romantic band, even if their album ‘13’ is one of the all-time great heartbreak records. But then there’s this absolutely delightful ballad. ‘To the End’ is in fact about the end of a relationship, but frankly it makes the end of a relationship sound incredible. Over waltzing music and dreamy, half muttered French backing vocals from Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier, Damon Albarn’s soaring declaration that ‘you and I, just collapsed in love’ contains not a jot of remorse, just pure joy that the relationship flourished, if only for a while.

‘The Power of Love’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

44. ‘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.’

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45. ‘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?

‘Hello’ by Lionel Richie
Courtesy of the Artist

46. ‘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 love 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.

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‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ by the Ramones

47. ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ by the Ramones

Simply stated, plainly sung—no one can accuse Joey Ramone & Co. of overdoing it. It was drummer Tommy who wrote this ditty, which appeared on the group’s 1976 debut, and, as far as proposals go, it’d serve as a fine love letter to anyone you’d like to attach yourself to, as long as they aren’t too keen on extended verbiage. This song gets the job done in something like eight lines, a quarter of which are also the title. Short and sweet.  

‘Cherish’ by Madonna
© DR

48. ‘Cherish’ by Madonna

Because we tend to think of her as pop’s ultimate envelope-pushing chameleon – something she definitely is – it’s easy to forget that Madonna can also be sweet and tender. This infectious love song from her classic ‘Like a Prayer’ album is a case in point: ‘Cherish’ is a charming and heartfelt update of the ‘60s girl-group sound right down to the perfect loved-up couplet: Romeo and Juliet / They never felt this way, I bet.’

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‘Day Dreaming’ by Aretha Franklin

49. ‘Day Dreaming’ by Aretha Franklin

Franklin’s near-flawless 1972 album, ‘Young, Gifted and Black’, shifts into this love song with a dreamy jazz flourish before cutting to the legendary singer’s soulful this-is-how-it-is voice. The refrain of ‘Day Dreaming’  might be all about fantasizing about getting away with your man, but the verses are about trying to change and do everything to be the right woman for him. Though this might seem submissive for a powerful woman, she does say that he ‘Turns me right on when I hear him say / Hey, baby, let's get away,’ so maybe that fantasy is worth it. 

‘Eternal Flame’ by the Bangles
Courtesy of the Artist

50. ‘Eternal Flame’ by the Bangles

The Bangles started out as a Beatles-influenced garage-rock band before gradually becoming glossier and poppier as the ’80s barrelled on. Co-written and sung by group member Susanna Hoffs, this treacly power ballad topped off with a shameless key change was controversial even within the group. Still, it topped the charts worldwide in 1989 and remains pretty much impossible to resist, thanks largely to Hoffs’ genuinely lovely vocal.

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‘Ain’t Nobody’ by Rufus & Chaka Khan

51. ‘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.

‘This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)’ by Talking Heads

52. ‘This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)’ by Talking Heads

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.

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‘Everywhere’ by Fleetwood Mac
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

53. ‘Everywhere’ by Fleetwood Mac

Oh, you thought chillwave was some blogger invention of 2009? Take a dip in Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tango in the Night’ album, on which Buckingham, Nicks and McVie invented—no, perfected—the sound in 1987. On standout track ‘Everywhere’, McVie stacks and stacks her blissful sighs atop darting, shimmering Buckingham arpeggios and a breezy drum gallop. Eat your heart out, Beach House.

54. ‘You’re More Than a Number in My Little Red Book’ by The Drifters

Legendary vocal group The Drifters’ very long and very confusing career came to a climax of sorts when they decamped to the UK in the late ’70s and scored a final slew of hits. The last and best of them was this irresistibly brilliant love song in which the song’s narrator pledges his all to a girl he’s just hooked up with. And you totally believe him: the song’s sheer, giddy momentum gave the veteran doo-wop group a hit at the height of punk – no wonder it remains flawless to this day.

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‘Nothing Even Matters’ by Lauryn Hill
Photograph: Katie Kanazawich

55. ‘Nothing Even Matters’ by Lauryn Hill

‘Nothing Even Matters’ might not have received as much recognition on Hill’s critically acclaimed The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill as other singles, but, looking back, it was a near perfect showcase for two of the ’90s foremost neo-soul artists. For two singers who reached the peaks of musical achievement through astounding ambition and innovation, this restrained and simple love song shows just how talented each was beneath it all. Hill and D’Angelo trade sensual verses with a smooth, tenderness in a stripped down ballad that might just make you want to strip down as well.

‘Teenage Dream’ by Katy Perry
Photo: Capitol Records

56. ‘Teenage Dream’ by Katy Perry

Love is rarely as carefree or thrilling as when you’re a teenager, which is why Perry’s 2010 pop stomper never loses its appeal. Whether you’re 25 or 85, there’s something about the pay-off line ‘you make me feel like I’m living a teenage dream’ that hits hard every single time. When you find that person, don’t let them go.

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‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ by Michael Jackson
Image: Epic

57. ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ by Michael Jackson

MJ’s chart-topping Bad single finds the King of Pop in full-on cupid’s-arrow love-struck mode (contrast with the seedy depictions of romance in the equally compelling ‘Billie Jean’ or ‘Dirty Diana’). It’s a plea, in a sense, for love unattained—but the body-moving, carefree approach leaves little doubt to the singer’s sincerity.

58. ‘Stay Together’ by Suede

By some measure the most romantic of the Britpop bands – indeed, arguably the only romantic Britpop band – Suede’s tales of doomed love aren’t for all, but if you get it then ‘Stay Together’ is the absolute apotheosis of their work. Eight minutes of murky grandeur, frontman Brett Anderson paints a picture of gaspingly intense love in a ruined world - ‘we will dance in the poisoned air’ - while soon-to-depart instrumentalist Bernard Butler conjures up an astonishing sonic world that builds from the faintest twinkling of guitar to a roaring barrage of horns. Romance at its most overwhelming.

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59. ‘Bartender’ by Lana del Rey

Lana del Rey’s world is, for the most part, one of cynical sex and jaded desires. Which is what makes ‘Bartender’ so affecting: it’s a wild but also very touching fantasy of running away from her fame and baggage, buying a vehicle the paps don’t recognise, and starting a simple, pure relationship with a man who appreciates her for who she is. ‘I bought me a truck in the middle of the night, it’ll buy me a year if I play my cards right’ she keens. Is the bartender a real guy? Who knows! But it’s her shining, radiant love of freedom that really shines through.

‘Home’ by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Photograph: Kenny Rodriguez

60. ‘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.

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