The 50 best love songs of all time

Get ready to swoon, swing and sway to the best love songs of all time.
Adele
Photograph: Richard Isaac/REX/Shutterstock
By Sophie Harris and Time Out editors |
Advertising

Are you looking for the best love songs to soundtrack you own fairy tale romance? Every good Tinder or OkCupid story needs the appopriate tunes to go with it. Sure, a slew of modern classics (such as just about every Taylor Swift song) certainly do an enviable job, but believe it or not, people have been writing romantic paeans since long before the age of dating apps. Make no mistake—we not only surveyed the present day, but dug painstakingly through the archives to uncover the best love songs ever written. You'll find timeless ballads (i.e. your parents' favorite Al Green hit), the sappiest party songs a turntable ever done spun (thank you, Madonna!), and a selection of the best karaoke songs for you to belt out this Friday on your post-breakup bender.

Listen to the best love songs playlist

The best love songs of all time ranked

1

“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 purportedly 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.—Oliver Keens

Download on Amazon

2

“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

Download on Amazon

Advertising
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 there's 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.—Bryan Kerwin

Download on Amazon

4

“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

Download on Amazon

Advertising
5

“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

Download on Amazon

6

“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

Download on Amazon

Advertising
7

“One and Only” by Adele

Described by Adele as “the first happy song” she ever wrote and as a “daydream song” in separate interviews, “One and Only” captures that feeling of knowing you’re perfect for someone in your life, even if you’ve never been in a relationship with that person. The fear of taking the plunge with someone, either because of rejection or it going wrong, is all there, but seems worth it all the same. “I dare you to let me by your, your one and only/I promise I’m worthy,” Adele sings.—Tolly Wright

Download on Amazon

8

“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

Download on Amazon

Advertising
9

“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

Download on Amazon

10

“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

Download on Amazon

Show more

Looking for sexy songs?

Advertising
This page was migrated to our new look automatically. Let us know if anything looks off at feedback@timeout.com