If music is the magical elixir of life, then love songs are the special sauce in pop music. Here, writers from around the web share their favorites.
Tesla, "Love Song"
Despite its title, Tesla's 1989 power ballad "Love Song" turns the conceit of the love song on its ear. It doesn't profess unrequited or tragically lost or enduring love; instead it's power-belted at you from the perspective of a friend offering comfort and reassurance in the face of doubt and loneliness. And it does so without any of the insipid whininess of James Taylor's "You've Got A Friend."
"Love Song" holds a special place for me because I saw it performed live at the Worcester Centrum in 1990 with a friend who many, many years later responded to the news that I'd ended a serious relationship by saying, "Sox game, tonight. I've got the tickets, you buy the beer." Which was, in our local dialect, the equivalent of saying, "Love is all around you."
Jolie Kerr is the author of My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag ... And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, 2014).
Jo Dee Messina, "Heads Carolina, Tails California"
By Valentine's Day, my frostbitten New York ears could fall for this one based on title alone. Come June, they're still listening to it because the titular choice—to which warm-weather state should Jo Dee and her boo run off—is only a red herring. Arriving at the end of the hook, the twist is obvious, and only sweeter for it: As long as the two are together, they'll be happy just about anywhere. Even Boston. In the second verse, she describes the pair as searchin' for the promised land, but when she returns to that hook and her voice can't help but leap into a higher octave, you realize she's already found it.
Nick Murray is a senior associate editor at The Village Voice.
"Promise" may be addressed to a "you," but the object of the song is immaterial; it's about Ciara (pictured above), what she wants from a partner, and what she brings to the table in a way that's idealistic, yet embraces all the beautiful contradictions of a real-life romantic relationship. She's looking for a prince, a knight, a superman and someone she can spoil like a baby (at the same damn time). It's sexy and self-assured, but at the same time honest and vulnerable in a way that can't help but make you fall in love. The Janet Jackson-inspired video even spurred a goofy, overcome Lil Wayne to declare his adoration in his own take on the song, and he summed up its universal appeal in the process: "Yeah I know that this is pretty awkward for me/ But I just act like you are talking to me."
Lily Benson is an R&B lover and internet user.
The National, "Apartment Story"
Is "Apartment Story" a love song or an ode to Seasonal Affective Disorder? No matter. It's a love song to me, one that makes the otherwise dark, confining claustrophobia of winter seem like something to savor in lieu of taking part in life outside your door. Hiding out, maybe getting drunk, and listening to records while you wait for some kind of unpleasantness to intrude on you, barring the door against not only the winter but the pretense of life, of going through the motions of facing the world as put-together human beings rather than the fractured people we are. Sleep in our clothes and wait for winter to leave has always struck me as romanticized agoraphobia, making "Apartment Story" a perfect love song for the frightened, the fractured, the weary and those we bring down into the abyss of our winters with us.
Michele Catalano is a civil servant by day, and a freelance-writer insomniac by 3 a.m.
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Norma Jean Wright, "I Like Love"
Most love songs are either about being in or out of love with someone, or having a person be in and out of love with you. But there's a woeful lack of songs that capture all of the rapturous joy one feels in the moment. Norma Jean Wright's "I Like Love" is as stupidly simple as one might imagine a song with that title to be, but it's also so dead-on in terms of the basic nature of love, a feeling that pretty much everyone—it's fair to generalize here—searches for. And yes, one can go on for over five minutes about how great love can be. Especially when the testimonial is paired with a disco-fueled combination of strings, piano, and groovy bass.
Tyler Coates is a senior editor at BlackBook. He's already picked out which Fleetwood Mac song will be played during his wedding.
This is what love sounds like: Feeling lost, but in an organized way, and with predictable misdirections. You can rely on your own potential to slip and crash to earth, universe compiling overhead. Voices and samples of voices drift in; someone sings, and it's nearly comprehensible: "I need sugar/ I need a little watersugar/ I get thoughts about you / and the night wants me like a little lost child." You are forever approaching the meaning of it; it is nearly in your mouth and communicable; but you can never quite say it—a loop unclosed. Synths that really sound like building air. Traffic signals blinking in a thousand unbroken arpeggios. A phone conversation you've already lost the content of. Nothing is absolutely an invisible all-encompassing something.
Brad Nelson is a writer living in Queens. His work has appeared in The Atlantic and The Village Voice.
Elliott Smith, "Somebody That I Used To Know"
I started a mix for a girl with Elliott Smith's "Somebody That I Used To Know." (You can date this story by the fact that I burned the mix to a CD that I handed to her.) We had a complicated relationship; she had recently broken up with me because I cheated on her, a fact she discovered because she broke into my e-mail account while I was out of town. But I was still making mixes for her, which is a testament to our complicated dynamic.
After I dropped the mix off at her house, I called her to tell her that the song was just a song I liked and that the hook was not a message to her about our relationship. I stand by this statement, although my therapist would not.
Elliot Smith killed himself by stabbing himself in the chest. Fuck Gotye.
Skinny Friedman is a DJ, producer, and writer living in Brooklyn.
Depeche Mode, "Somebody"
I took an acquaintance from a nearby school to my senior prom. He was sort of a professional prom date, I think, a curse of the approachable cute guy in glasses in the mid-'90s. We drank Bud Light and got to second base in a room at the Red Roof Inn near the airport. We talked about music the entire ride home. He told me "Somebody" was his all-time favorite love song, and he had it on a casette. I was floored. I had no idea how it had slipped under my radar, this song that seemed to accurately describe what I assumed was love—so gorgeously real and raw and all about being cynical and trying to reconcile this love bullshit with cynicism. The night was over and he had already gotten in my pants, so this was just two people sharing their existing mixtapes with one another, which is sort how you can describe any of those tipsy & talky all-nighters spent with an individual who seems to exist only in a certain moment. You end up having a lot more of those nights in college, in your 20s, and so on. And with most of them, you don't even get a song to take with you. But even us cynics know that one of those encounters can turn into something that resembles the romantic comedies we used to detest—and might almost like now.