14 Musicians Discuss Love Songs
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With Valentine’s Day approaching, greeting cards and little chalky, heart-shaped confections inscribed with “Be Mine” and “Kiss Me” are a nice gesture, but is there anything more romantic than a love song?
8. Michael Nau – Cotton Jones; Page France
One of Nau’s favorite love songs is “Magnolia Wind” by Guy Clark. Nau claims when he first heard the song, it “really struck” him. He especially likes the John Prine and Emmylou Harris rendition: “The duet version is beautiful. That song has a lot of great lines and it just kind of moves me.” Upon being asked if there are particular lyrics he favors, Nau says, “I really like the line ‘And I’d rather go hungry/Than eat lonesome stew.’ That whole song—I just feel like every line, start to finish, is really good.” Nau also names Bob Dylan’s “If Not for You” and The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” as favorites: “Those songs have always been true to me all through my life. There’s not much that can change the way those songs make me feel.”
According to Nau, everyone has a different opinion of what makes a great love song. He believes it’s easy for songwriters to over-think the theme. For him, the best love songs are the ones that are the most candid: “Like Dylan’s ‘If Not for You’ I feel the best ones just come out, just pour out and don’t even have to be written down.” He continues, “I would love to write a great love song but it has always been hard to not try to dress things up too much.” When asked about writing romantic songs himself, he responds, “it is tough for me to really write a romance love song and feel good about it and feel like I’ve done it in a way that has not been done a million times before.”
9. Caitlin Rose
Rose claims she doesn’t know how a person can have one favorite love song. But one in particular that has always meant a lot to her is Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine.” She says, “It doesn’t sound to be so much about wooing its subject as it is about reassuring them. It sounds like the ball is in no one’s court ‘cause there’s no game to be played. It’s not petty or selfish or pleading, but understanding and supportive. That’s what I like to think of love as.”
A second favorite song, which she describes as a “masterpiece,” is “Marie” by Randy Newman: “It’s got such direct and honest delivery that it shocks me. He starts off frozen in time ‘the night we met’ with this strong detail of her ‘hair piled up high.’” She continues, “It’s all so relatable and average. I get the feeling he was the only person that night to think she ‘looked like a princess,’ but what a perfect scene.” Rose notes listening to Newman’s self deprecation and pangs of conscience in the second verse, “after hearing ‘I loved you the first time I saw you/And I always will love you Marie’ is kind of like willingly dragging your heart through a minefield, but some might say that’s what love is all about, at least the love in this song.”
10. Olafur Arnalds
For the former metal drummer, Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds has always had an admittedly weird, but special place in his heart for the Joy Divison’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” saying, “I’m not sure if you can really call it a love song.” What makes it even more special is he recalls hearing it the night he met his girlfriend of two years: “I have a vague memory of hearing this song at a very late, dark after-hours bar in Iceland, in a drunken state. Seeing this cute girl and having a very corny, overly dramatic moment over this song,” which he discovered was also a favorite of his girlfriend. He continues, “It’s so dramatic in a way that it is almost comic I mean, it’s weird in the same way Richard Marx is weird. Nobody actually puts a Richard Marx song on the love-mix tape.”
When asked what makes for a good song, Arnalds replies, “Everything that ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is not.” And despite believing a love song’s lyrics should be more positive, “In the end it doesn’t really matter. I think a love song is simply a song that ties two people together in love.”
11. Chelsea Wolfe
For Wolfe, “The best kind of love is the kind that knocks you over and steals your appetite and your sleep.” Wolfe, who claims to compose tormented love songs, describes love as “hard and confusing and often really fucked up,” but notes that it is “also one of the most important things in this world.”
The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” is her favorite love song: “I think it’s the only good song I’ve heard of theirs, and it’s one of my favorite songs of all time. The arrangement and approach is really special and nostalgic and his voice carries the words perfectly.” However, she says she typically enjoys love songs that are not as direct as “Nights in White Satin”: “A song that I consider a love song but others may not is ‘Hawk’ by Broadcast. The lyrics speak to me in a way that defines a situation I’ve been in so I understand it as a love song, even though it’s very sad: ‘Speak your words/Define my grief for me/Out of reach/Some things just cannot be.’”
12. Russ Manning (Rush Midnight; Twin Shadow)
When asked about his own love songs, Manning says, “some of my new songs are about longing for someone who you begin to miss once it’s too late. He continues, “I tend to glamorize the past, and I like to sing songs about looking back in time and remembering the good moments.” For the Brooklyn-born and bred musician, the idea of growing up in a small town and how it would feel to lose your love to the big city is fascinating. Although he grew up in New York City, he went to college in a small town: “I encountered people there who had grown up in small towns and I always pictured suburban house parties like in the movies ”
Since nostalgia is a theme Manning tends to explore, it’s easy to understand why one of his all time favorite love songs is “Wild One” by Thin Lizzy. “In ‘Wild One’ [singer] Phil Lynott sings about his long lost lover like she’s a legend. She’s never coming back and he knows it.” His favorite lyrics from the song: “Away you’ll stray and never come back/To those who love and made you.”
13. Evan Way (The Parson Red Heads)
14. Brette Marie Way (The Parson Red Heads)
Husband and wife Evan and Brette Way realize their favorite love songs, The Beach Boys’ "God Only Knows,” and The Beatles’ “Something,” might sound cliché, but they say, “we can’t help it!” According to them, “These are two bands that were extremely formative for us, and for our band, and we really fell in love at the same time that we were really falling in love with this music, ‘60s music in general.” They maintain it’s hard to name just a few things that make these songs great. “The production, lyrics, perfect melodies, and perfect vocals are hard to separate one from the other. But they definitely spoke honestly about love, somehow avoiding cheese-ball stuff, and somehow avoiding sounding ‘confessional’ – just real stuff that speaks to the heart.” And since the songs were played at their wedding, they are extra special for them.
Evan believes it is important, if possible, to avoid sappiness: “real love isn’t a sappy feeling at all It’s a real powerful, completely life-changing, nearly supernatural thing.” He continues by saying, “There is a time and a place for a cheesy love-song, yes, but I don’t know if that is what makes a great love song, at least not to me.” So what makes a great love song? “Any song that deals honestly and directly with human emotion, in ways that are completely relatable by the listener. That is a great song. Oh, and a great love song is one that you can dance to in your living room alone, or with someone else!”
And Evan had something to say on the topic of anti-love songs: “They make me want to smack the singer and tell them ‘that’s not true—in a month, you’re not going to believe a word of what you’re singing right now.’” But he does acknowledge being a fan of sad love songs. ‘Donavan’s ‘Catch the Wind’ is one of the all-time greatest unrequited love songs. We love it so much that we had that played at our wedding, too, even though it is sad and about someone who can never be with the person they love! We didn’t care, Brette still walked down the aisle to it.”
A Rdio playlist of all the songs mentioned is available below.