It’s February, and everyone who has to leave their house for any reason knows what that means: Valentine’s Day. It’s on the radio, it’s in the stores, it’s all over. Valentine’s Day serves two purposes: it reminds people to pay special attention to the people they love, and it gives the radio DJs an excuse to play more love songs than usual.
For your consideration, I give you my Top 10 Romantic Songs. Some are overplayed, some are classic, most are beautiful pieces of music. But they’re all about love. And yeah, I like to complain about Valentine’s Day as much as the next person, but you have to admit: a day about love (even a day commandeered by Hallmark) can’t be 100% bad.
1 – Gotta Have You (The Weepies)
No amount of coffee, no amount of crying
No amount of whiskey, no wine
No, no, no, no, no, nothing else will do
I gotta have you
This indie-folk band has practically written the book on songs filled with gentle longing. The simplicity of their lyrics and their music work to convey one of the most complex emotions we’re capable of feeling–love. More specifically, the hopelessness that comes with love.
The Weepies are also the perfect band to start off this list because they have achieved what most people think is impossible: a happily married couple that produces great music.
2 – Fearless (Taylor Swift)
So baby drive slow, ’til we run out of road
In this one horse town, I wanna stay right here
In this passenger seat, you put your eyes on me
In this moment, now capture it, remember it
Taylor Swift gets a lot of flack for being a rather two-note artist. Either her songs are about love or they’re about breaking up, with the exception of that one song about her mom. However, given her themes, I couldn’t write a list of the Top 10 Romantic Songs without giving Taylor a slot. I chose “Fearless,” because it’s not overplayed like “Love Story,” and “You Belong With Me,” but it’s just as cute, in that bubblegum C&W pop way. And around Valentine’s Day, what’s better than bubblegum pop music?
3 – Always (Bon Jovi)
I’ll be there till the stars don’t shine
‘Til the heavens burst
And the words don’t rhyme
And I know when I die,
You’ll be on my mind
And I’ll love you, always
I couldn’t help it. I had to include Bon Jovi. And when I examined all the Bon Jovi songs on my computer, only one song made sense. “Always” isn’t the kind of song couples dance to at their wedding, but it’s still a love song (and a good one at that). The longing in the lyrics is tangible. Is it an example of silly 80s music? Yes. Does that stop it from being a classic? Not even close.
Let’s be honest: you can’t compile a list of romantic songs without including The Beatles. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is my second favorite Beatles song (after “Let It Be”), because the message is so simple: I love you and I want to hold your hand.
5 – The Luckiest (Ben Folds)
And where was I before the day
That I first saw your lovely face?
Now I see it everyday
And I know that I am the luckiest
Some songs “read” nicely as prose, even though they sound equally good set to music. The Luckiest is one of those songs. The third verse is a perfect example of this. “Next door there’s an old man who lived to his nineties / And one day passed away in his sleep / And his wife; she stayed for a couple of days / And passed away / I’m sorry, I know that’s a strange way to tell you that I know we belong / That I know / That I am the luckiest.”
It’s a strange song, but it summarizes a slightly quirky relationship beautifully. This is a slow song–it takes its time to get where it needs to go, because it knows that, like the old man, it has time.
6 – You and I (Ingrid Michaelson)
Don’t you worry, there my honey
We might not have any money,
But we’ve got our love to pay the bills
Maybe I think you’re cute and funny
Maybe I wanna do what bunnies do with you
If you know what I mean
Ingrid Michaelson’s voice is sweet, and her lyrics are even sweeter. Her songs embody young love and the not-quite-innocent innocence that goes along with that. “You and I” isn’t mainstream, but it’s easily as sweet and loving as anything Taylor Swift has ever produced. There’s a playfulness in Ingrid’s songs that makes them light-hearted and sweet.
The chorus is my favorite section. “Let’s get rich and buy our parents homes in the south of France / Let’s get rich and give everyone nice sweaters and teach them how to dance / Let’s get rich and build our house up on the mountain / making everyone look like ants / from way up there / you and I, you and I” Talking about money in that way… it could come across obnoxiously, but Ingrid’s voice and her music give it the same dreamer quality all new lovers seem to possess.
7 – Faithfully (Journey)
They say that the road
ain’t no place to start a family
Right down the line it’s been you and me
And loving a music man
ain’t always what it’s supposed to be
I’m forever yours, faithfully
Popularized by Glee, this Journey ballad (I had to include at least one ballad on this list–it’s the law) is hauntingly sweet in its promise. “Faithfully,” like “Love Song” can be interpreted to be not quite as romantic as I’m passing it off to be (does anyone else sense that this is a musical version of “sorry I cheated on you” flowers?). In spite of that, I think that it’s sweet and a little mournful.
The duet-ized Glee version is sweet and cute–so sweet that it is one of the exceptions to my “always listen to the original before the cover” music policy.
8 – The Way You Look Tonight (Frank Sinatra)
Some day, when I’m awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you…
And the way you look tonight
Just like I couldn’t compile a list of romantic songs without including The Beatles, where would we be without Frank Sinatra? This song, and Frank himself, have been romantic staples for decades, and for good reason. The lyrics are sweet, the tune is easy to dance to, and the message is simple and lovely.
9 – Such Great Heights (The Postal Service)
I am thinking it’s a sign
That the freckles in our eyes are mirror images
and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned
And I have to speculate that God himself
Did make us into corresponding shapes
Like puzzle pieces from the clay
This song is about missing someone when they’re gone, but knowing that, despite the distance, you’re still made for each other. The cover by Iron and Wine is haunting and the original is sweet and slow. All in all, this is a good slow dancing song, even if you’re just slow dancing with your sweetheart in your apartment.
There are a couple covers to this song (the Iron and Wine one is particularly popular), but the original is (and always will be) my favorite.
10 – Romeo and Juliet (Dire Straits)
Juliet, when we made love, you used to cry
I said, “I love you like the stars above,
I love you ‘til I die”
And there’s a place for us,
you know the movie song
When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong, Juliet?
I can’t do the talk like the talk on the TV
And I can’t do a love song
like the way it’s meant to be
I can’t do everything but I’d do anything for you
I can’t do anything except be in love with you
Romeo and Juliet, as your 8th grade English teacher will tell you, were the greatest failed romance in the history of literature (second, perhaps, to Paris and Helen). Dire Straits captured their story with a subtle modern twist. And unlike Taylor Swift, they recognized that the story did not, in fact, have a happy ending. (If you look closely, there’s a bonus Bon Jovi homage lyric in there. A cookie to the person who finds it!)