Top 5 Favorite Love Songs
Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s Valentine’s Day, the day when couples across the globe come together in a Hallmark-approved celebration of their love and bitter singles like me feel strangely compelled to remind everyone of the fakeness of the holiday and how if you really love somebody you don’t need a special holiday to make you show it. The central dilemma of Valentine’s Day is the conflict between true love and obligation – if you put on some big romantic display on this day of all days, are you really doing it because you love your partner or because you feel like that’s what you’re supposed to do every February 14th?
I don’t know, maybe I just look at Valentine’s Day this way because I’ve been single for it every year, so I feel like I’ve always been on the outside looking in and don’t know what it’s like to share it with someone. The highlight of my Valentine’s Day every year is getting my Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in the mail, the exception being last year because that’s the day Radiohead announced that The King Of Limbs would be coming out later that week.
But we’re not here to talk about any of that stuff, are we? Of course not! We’re here to count down my top 5 favorite love songs in honor of Obligatory Love Day. The fun begins as soon as you click “Read the rest of this page”!
Honorable Mention: Thrice, “The Weight”
This song hadn’t come out yet when I did this list on my radio show (I present my top 5 lists here as they had appeared on my show), but if it had there is absolutely no question that I would have included it. It may not sound like your typical love song, what with Thrice being a pretty hard-rocking band and all, but pay close attention to the lyrics. “The Weight” is a smart, heartfelt, and thoughtful song about serious commitment and devotion. It’s like wedding vows set to music, and not once does it ever come off as cheesy, saccharine, or unnatural. Just listen to how Dustin Kensrue sings it. You can tell he means every word of what he says:
A ring don’t mean nothing if you can’t haul the weight, and some of them won’t even try, but I won’t leave you high and dry. … True love is a choice you must make, and you are the one that I have set my heart to choose. As long as I live, I swear I’ll see this through.
If I ever get married, I think I’d like to have this song played at my wedding. No joke.
5. Snow Patrol, “Grazed Knees”
I’m sure I’ve said this plenty of times before, but I’m a sucker for pretty songs. And they don’t come much prettier than the gentle, understated beauty of Snow Patrol’s “Grazed Knees.” I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is probably the most beautiful-sounding song Snow Patrol has ever released, even more so than the soaring romantic anthems like “Run” and “Chasing Cars” that have become their signature.
Most people write songs about the big, defining moments in relationships – falling in love, falling out of love, getting engaged, getting married, getting caught cheating, things like that. Gary Lightbody likes to write songs about the things that happen in between those moments. You’ve heard of breakup songs? Well, this is a makeup song. “Grazed Knees” is about a couple that’s had a fight, but it’s not about the fight itself or even what they were fighting about. It’s about the fact that despite the fight, the narrator is still very much in love and eager to kiss and make up. He expects to be rejected (“I should’ve said I’d not come back here”), but he doesn’t care. He believes this girl is worth the risk and the effort to patch things up and get back to normal. And while he knows the fight has injured their relationship and will hurt for a little while, he thinks they’ll be able to heal quickly and move on. Why else would this song be called “Grazed Knees”?
4. Weezer, “Across The Sea”
Pinkerton is an album that’s all about crowning Rivers Cuomo as the king of all awkward hopeless romantics with the emphasis on “awkward” and “hopeless.” It opens with a song about how he’s scored plenty of one-night stands (it’s called “Tired Of Sex” – sounds like a nice problem to have, doesn’t it?) and establishes that he wants something more from his encounters with women than just meaningless nookie. He proceeds to fail miserably in just about every attempt to get that “something more.”
In “El Scorcho” he invites a girl to a Green Day concert, only to be shot down because she’s somehow still never heard of Green Day two years after Dookie conquered the world. In “Pink Triangle” he thinks he’s finally met the right girl, then sees the titular colored shape on her sleeve and realizes she’s a lesbian (in a sad yet kind of hilarious twist ending you don’t hear in the song, it turns out she was straight and only wore the pink triangle to show her support for gay rights). “Why Bother?” finds him contemplating giving up on love altogether because he thinks every relationship he enters is doomed to fail. And then there’s “Butterfly”… oh God, “Butterfly.” If you don’t find yourself wanting to give the guy a hug after listening to “Butterfly,” you have no soul. The album that began with Rivers Cuomo embarking on a quest for true love ends with his conclusion that everything he touches turns to shit.
So I guess it’s only fitting that the one person we meet on Pinkerton who actually admires Cuomo and reaches out to him is the least attainable of all his potential paramours. This brings us, of course, to “Across The Sea.” It’s about an 18-year-old Japanese girl who listened to Weezer and sent him a fan letter asking the sort of questions you might ask within the first couple dates – his hobbies, his favorite food, his birthday, you name it. He got the letter at a time when he was feeling lonely and depressed, and so he became infatuated with this girl to the point where he developed a bizarre pseudo-fetish for Japanese stationery. All the while he knows he’ll never meet her and feels ashamed of himself for obsessing over a teenager, so the only way he can express himself is to write a song for her. Like much of Pinkerton, “Across The Sea” is an ode to a hopeless crush that manages to be sad and funny at the same time. And yet I can’t bring myself to laugh at Rivers. I just can’t.
3. The Beach Boys, “God Only Knows”
Strange to think that one of the most celebrated love songs of all time begins with the line, “I may not always love you.” But that’s how things turn out sometimes, isn’t it? People break up and get divorced all the time. Plus, given the fact that nobody can actually live forever, it’s kind of impossible to actually love somebody until the end of time. But “God Only Knows” doesn’t really dwell on that subversion of the standard grand romantic declaration.
Instead, subsequent lyrics clarify that while loving someone forever is unlikely (if not impossible), Carl Wilson will love you for as long as he can, or until you don’t want him to anymore.The only ways your relationship will end are either until death do you part or you leave him, because he won’t leave you. God only knows what he’d be without you because he doesn’t want to imagine it and he certainly doesn’t want to find out. And if you do dump him, sure, he’ll try to move on. But you will leave behind an empty shell of a man who feels so incomplete he might as well not be alive – or at least he thinks so.
Jesus, when I describe it that way I almost make this song sound emotionally abusive. (You know, the whole “don’t leave me or I’ll die” thing.) I hope I haven’t actually done that.
Also, I have this half-complete fantasy where I’m playing “God Only Knows” to my hypothetical significant other while standing in front of a screen with letters appearing in random order, Wheel Of Fortune style, spelling out a marriage proposal. This could only work if she were a big Wheel fan or if I was in a band playing a show in a basketball arena, and it would probably blow up in my face and I’d never want to try anything like that ever again. And I’d never try it in real life anyway. That’s the kind of thing that only works in the movies. Movies like Say Anything, for instance…
2. U2, “All I Want Is You”
Ha! Subversion! You thought I was foreshadowing something, didn’t you?
Much like “God Only Knows,” this closing cut from Rattle & Hum plays around with traditional love song tropes and grand romantic gestures and promises. The lyrics actually read like a response to every love song ever written where the singer promises to shower you with gifts and treat you like you are their everything. Bono doesn’t care about any of that stuff. Just as the title tells you, he doesn’t want diamonds or gold or even “a highway with no one on it,” despite the tempting possibilities of having a life without ever being caught in a traffic jam again… all he wants is you. And also a permanent end to poverty in Africa, but let’s take things one step at a time here.
Of course, the way he sings the title at the climax of this song makes it sound like he wants something else…
But in all seriousness, the point of “All I Want Is You” is that when it comes to relationships, all we really need to offer is ourselves. Everything else – and I mean everything else – is just the whipped cream and cherry on top. And in a way, I find that more romantic than all the promises of all the sappy slow-dance ballads of all the boy bands in all the world.
1. Peter Gabriel, “In Your Eyes”
Ha! Double subversion! I actually was foreshadowing something! I got you so good.
I don’t know how Peter Gabriel did it, but he somehow managed to capture just about every aspect of being in love and the circumstances surrounding a relationship in one song. Sometimes being away from that someone leaves you feeling empty. Sometimes that person drives you so crazy you just have to get away for a while, even though you know you’ll come back. Sometimes you hurt each other or you feel like you’re doing too much of the heavy lifting to keep your relationship alive. Sometimes the outside world can be so stressful that there’s only one place, and one person, that makes you sane. And sometimes you feel so anxious about putting yourself out there that you don’t know if it’s worth it. But then at the end of the day, that person is still there to let you know that it is worth it, that you are loved, that it’s safe to let your guard down, allow all your instincts to return, and do away with the grand façade that you put on to impress other people and just be yourself. And once you do, the sheer strength of your connection makes you feel complete in more ways than you ever thought possible. That must be nice.
“In Your Eyes,” of course, is best known for its use in Say Anything. It pops up multiple times in that movie, but you know exactly which scene I’m talking about. Sometimes I wonder though… if a guy tried something like that in real life, would it still be romantic or would the girl notify the police about the creepy stalker in her front yard? Like I said before, gestures like that only ever seem to work in the movies.
But hey, all’s fair in love and war, right? Whatever it takes to get the girl, right? So to all you would-be Lloyd Doblers out there, get ready to crank up your boom boxes and hold them as high as you can, because it’s Valentine’s Day and that’s the kind of stuff Hollywood and Hallmark expect you to do. Just let me know how your night in jail went.