My best friend Evan and I have discussed our favorite love songs for over twenty-five years. Many of them made mixtapes to old girlfriends and potential paramours, often over-analyzed and scrutinized for their timelessness and sheer emotional gravity and weight. Today our digital devices have replaced our old mixtapes, but a list is still a list. Evan suggested that we pick ten songs, any genre, to celebrate the Hallmark card holiday that most Americans celebrate on February 14th. I wasn't sure I was the right romantic for the job, but what the hell, I'd give my love jones a spin. Omissions are easy when it's a list this short, but I hope you'll still find my song selection devastatingly emotional and uplifting.
- "Have A Little Faith" - A perfect musical moment. John Hiatt's simple, evocative acoustic piano and vocal ballad helped me through my first tragic love break up in the late '80s. I wore out my vinyl copy as I played it over and over and over again as I desperately looked for reasons why my relationship had failed. Even today, I am still flooded with those raw emotions whenever I hear it.
- "God Only Knows" - There are many almost-nailed-it covers but Brian Wilson's original on The Beach Boys Pet Sounds crushes them all. Religious epiphany for me and probably many others. "Good Vibrations" may be my favorite pop record, but as far as sheer emoting, this can not be topped. And the song's production and arrangement is equally breathtaking. A tour de force on so many levels.
- "Love Reign O'er Me" - I recently happened upon this Quadrophenia cover while surfing YouTube. Already a huge fan of Daltrey's vocal take and one of my favorite Who songs, I was floored watching soul singer Bettye LaVette lay bare her soul at the 2008 Kennedy Honors ceremony; dramatic to say the least. It can also be found on her last album, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook.
- "It's A Sin When You Love Somebody" - Jimmy Webb is one extraordinary songwriter and I was really hard pressed to decide which version of this extraordinary song about love and all of her trappings I preferred. I really hail Glenn Campbell's cover but Joe Cocker's cover on I Can Stand A Little Rain got the nod as it's the version that made more mixtapes. Plus Mr. Webb wrote an extremely moving arrangement for the album.
- "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" - What can I say that the title doesn't? This Bee Gees pop classic stands the test of time. However, I picked Al Green's mournful, soulful version off of his 1972 Let's Stay Together for this list. He simply makes the song his own. A master class in emoting.
- "I and Love and You" - The sheer emotional urgency convened by the music and the production nearly render the lyrics inconsequential. The Avett Brothers have written a timeless classic. It's as much about the loss of innocence as anything. I can't think of a modern love song that rivals it.
- "All In Love Is Fair" - Few American pop songwriters can top Stevie Wonder's output from the early/mid '70s. This gorgeous love ballad is from his 1973 masterpiece Innervisions and one of his most dynamic vocal performances ever captured on tape.
- "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" - Back in his youth, like many of us, Tom Waits was a hopeless romantic. This simple acoustic guitar Boho ballad from his 1973 debut Closing Time has made more mix tapes to old girlfriends that I can count.
- "A House Is Not A Home" - I don't know how Luther Vandross could bare so much of his soul with every vocal breath he breathed into his music; awe inspiring. He makes you believe that he lived every single line that he sings on this Burt Bacharach-Hal David classic. From his 1981 debut Never Too Much.
- "Into Temptation" - Another mixtape staple. This haunting pop-rock chestnut from the New Zealand pop-rock quartet Crowded House never fails to deliver the requisite emotional sucker punch. Lead singer Neil Finn remains one of my favorite modern day songwriters.
And let me add one more song, though it doesn't have lyrics but I can't help but mention that the Gershwin classic "Rhapsody in Blue" takes my heart on a journey every time I hear that opening two-and-a-half octave solo clarinet glissando. Originally composed for two pianos, Gershwin was immediately hailed by critics as "the man who brought jazz into the concert hall." I shall never grow weary of listening to the 1959 Leonard Bernstein/Columbia Symphony Orchestra version. It makes me swoon.
I could continue but I promised to keep my list to ten. I would invite you to share your comments and selections with me and the readers below.
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 4 solo CDs, and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.