by Ben Shine
Then why do some love songs leave me -- and presumably you, too -- cold?
You can look all over the interwebs and find dozens of top however many greatest love songs. Almost all of them will contain "Unchained Melody," "In My Life," "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "God Only Knows," and "You Are So Beautiful."
Those songs are great, but in their success they've become Hallmark moments -- hollow, predictable, forced. They often suffer from at least one of two fatal flaws. Their ubiquity muddles their brand of love as a universal thing, something painted in such broad strokes that it just can't hit the specific chord that feels like love in the individual listener. Or, they become attached to something that has nothing whatsoever to do with an individual's love story.
One example: "Something" by the Beatles is a nearly perfect song. Sinatra could be right, it may be the greatest love song ever. (Though, he was wrong when he attributed it to Lennon and McCartney.) I've heard it so much that, in terms of evoking emotions, all I can feel is intense, overwhelming appreciation as a music nerd. George Harrison wrote a song that puts all the pieces together perfectly. I can't second-guess a single part, lyric or tone in that song. Perhaps the greatest 30 seconds of rock and roll begins at 1:15, and it makes me feel all melty and full of energy at once. Still, the romance isn't there for me as anything other than a lover of great songs.
And, another: "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers is a beautiful song. It has amazing vocals, honest lyrics, pretty strings and a simple message. And, of course, that is an unforgettable melody. But, then the movie "Ghost" happened to it. I don't know about you, but I'm not in a relationship with a specter. But if I were, man, I would get romantic with clay with said apparition. But this doesn't sound like my love story or any of the stories that didn't work out, either -- all because of its association with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze.
What people want from love is to feel something really special and really specific. Ubiquity and weird associations are the death of that kind of love. But it doesn't have to be that way. Just like there are millions of poems about love, there are also millions of songs. Thankfully, some of them are both very good and not worn to the point of being emotionally threadbare.
In an effort to jumpstart your date night playlists, here are my favorite love songs, each singular, distinctive and, typically, a little lesser known than the tracks on the "best (whatever number) love songs" online lists. In honor of my valentine, I kick it off with the song that played as my lady and I walked down the aisle -- together -- in 2006.
Happy Valentine's Day everybody. If these don't hit the spot, just go listen to Magnetic Field's "69 Love Songs," which has a song about nearly any imaginable love-related situation.
One final bonus track (unavailable on Spotify, thanks Drag City, along with all Beatles tracks):