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The 50 best love songs of all time

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

Photograph: Tony Duran

Writing a love song should be easy, right? As Cole Porter wrote in 1928, "Birds do, bees do it, even educated fleas do it.…" But while we’re the first to admit that falling in love can be as easy as falling off a log, the business of writing a love song—one that’s not cheesy or obvious—is a challenge that the greatest songwriters have wrestled with since the first caveperson grunted a serenade to their 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 Al Green is in there), get down like you’re at a wedding disco with some of the smoochiest party songs ever recorded (thank you, Madonna!), and feel a smile spread across your face when you croon one of the best karaoke songs while thinking of your own number one sweetie. No breakup songs in sight: Bring on the love songs!

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50 best love songs of all time

1
“God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys

“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

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2
“Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke

“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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3
“Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers

“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

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4
“I Say a Little Prayer” by Aretha Franklin

“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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5
“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green

“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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6
“Something” by The Beatles

“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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7
“One and Only” by Adele

“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

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8
“Your Song” by Elton John

“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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9
“My Girl” by the Temptations

“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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10
“At Last” by Etta James

“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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Listen to Time Out’s 50 best love songs playlist on Spotify

Listen to Time Out’s 50 best love songs playlist on Spotify

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Comments

14 comments
Vikrant J
Vikrant J

Hey it is one of the awesomest article I have come across.

I have a list of bollywood's romantic rainy songs.

link : http://bit.ly/29Pgs10

I wish you like it.

Cheers! 

John H
John H

What about Johnny Rivers', "Slow Dancing". Or how about the Bellamy Brothers', "Let Your Love Flow"? Seems to me you missed a bunch.

devesh k
devesh k

how 'bout gone gone gone by phillip phillips????? i for one find it pretty amazing.....

Kerri Z
Kerri Z

My 3 favorite love songs are the last 3 songs on my album Heartfelt (see KerriZak.com). The last one, "All Of Me" was a wedding present I recorded for my husband. It was played as our second dance as husband and wife. It truly expresses how I feel and I wanted everyone to know it. That's actually how the album came to be... I then recorded "Loved me Back To Life" which is what my husband did for me. Next comes my wedding procession song which was "A Thousand Years". {The first three songs are break up songs that describe my heartbreak earlier in life, followed by the anthem  "If you're not in it for love (I'm outta here)", all of which were part of my journey to happily ever after.} ~ Kerri Zak


Shammah A
Shammah A

There's a lot better love songs than many on this list.  'At Last' is rightfully in the top 10, but where is Dylan's 'Just Like a Woman', Train's 'Marry Me', Clapton's 'Wonderful Tonight', Heatwave's 'Always and Forever',  The Purify Cousin's 'I'm Your Puppet', Garth Brooks 'The Dance', Marley's 'Stir it Up', Alan Jackson's 'Remember When', Dave Mathew's 'Crash into Me', Donavon's 'Catch the Wind', Jack Johnson's 'Gimme some Lovin', Extreme's 'More than Words', Dusty Springfield's 'Son of a Preacher Man', VAST's 'Flames' and about 50 others I can name off the top of my head.  How the heck did Bill Withers get left out?  I notice Country music is conspicuous in its absence.  What about instrumentals like Santana's 'Samba Pa Ti' or Mozart's 'Elvira Madagan'.  Some of the choices made have better by the same artist.  'Hello' is great, but 'Stuck on You' is more romantic.  For an 'Ever Made' list, it is notorious in its ineptitude.

mathew g
mathew g

this stinks I cant watch them my scool wont let me

Sandy N
Sandy N

This list has a lot of crap songs on it. The Twelfth Of Never by Johnny Mathis. I Can't Help Falling In Love by Elvis Presley. Mostly anything by Nat King Cole.

Jonathan R
Jonathan R

Can't take my eyes off of you Frankie Valli and the Four 

seasons.


Dylan S
Dylan S

Whole Wide World by Wreckless Eric.  

William N
William N

how is "wonderful tonight" by Eric Clapton, not even on the list. It should be Number 1!!

Kitty K
Kitty K

I don't know how the Association "Never My Love" did not make the list, but Kanye did. 

Matt W
Matt W

How in the world did Kanye West make the top 50? I almost ditched the entire list after seeing that on the first page, I feel sorry for whatever woman falls in love with the man who thought a song with lyrics like "I wanna f**k you hard on da sink, then I wanna give ya somethin ta drink" is even remotely romantic. Why no country songs? Just off the top of my head, I cross my heart, by George Strait comes to mind and there are literally hundreds of other country songs that are MUCH better than Kanye's drug induced rabble, this is a disgrace.