From Emeli Sandé to Jack Savoretti: we ask musicians to choose their favourite love songs
While some people will use Valentine's Day as an excuse to crack out their favourite romantic songs, musicians have never needed a specific calendar date as a reason to dwell on matters of the heart. We asked some to select the love songs that mean the most to them, and why. Whether for good reasons or bad, nothing says 'I love you' like a song, and here are the ones that have inspired.
Fast Car, by Tracey Chapman
"I remember when I heard Fast Car by Tracey Chapman, it was the first time I really felt like love was properly captured. It was about escapism, an us-against-the-world attitude, it was romantic but in a very deep way, it was grounded in real life, and it made me feel that I could understand what love might be. My mum and dad, they’d gone through so much, being a mixed race couple, I had seen their struggle, and it kind of made sense to me that that is actually what love is."
Close To You, by The Carpenters
"I’m actually quite a miserable person. I like my love songs sad. Close To You is not sad, though it’s got a yearning quality. It is really quite magical. I’m a huge fan of Karen Carpenter’s voice. She’s my benchmark, I just aspire to be as good as her. Close To You has a gorgeous melody and a lyric that is almost surreal. It’s not trying to explain a situation in a blunt way, it’s kind of dreamy and surreal. It is almost like someone is making you high. l just love the lyrics : ‘The angels got together and decided to make a dream come true / They sprinkled moondust in your hair of gold / And starlight in your eyes of blue’. Obviously nothing like that ever happened, it’s super-magical, but the way Karen sings it, you want to believe her. It is that kind of moment when you meet someone and think ‘Oh, I like you more than I like other people, and that’s strange, cos I don’t know you.’ It’s kind of cosmic."
Still Crazy After All These Years, by Paul Simon
"That was my first kiss in the basement of Michael Dean’s house, during the saxophone solo. So that was an epic one for me. I’m a sucker for a one-that-got-away, love-never-dies song. Anything that plays on the heartstrings of the bittersweet aspects of love is sure to get me. So meeting an old lover in the grocery store, that’s right up my alley. Anything that reminds you of the equal amounts of pain and pleasure that comes with a deep love affair always gets my attention. I’m fascinated by the musical changes in that song, the bridge out of nowhere. Sonically and musically, it is really spellbinding. Lyrically, it just wipes me out."
Tom Fleming, guitar and vocals for Wild Beasts
You Are My Sister, by Antony & The Johnsons (feat Boy George)
"Whether you hear this as a down-the-line romantic love song, or as a hymn of devotion to a friend (or a sister), the nursery rhyme beauty of this song always reduces me to rubble. The idea of being protected and raised up by someone, and you wanting the same for them in return is a way deeper sentiment than you would hear in most places, and was way too much for me to get my head around when I first heard it. Gorgeous sentiment, sung in voices that sound beaten and not broken, it's a devastating recording."
"Gilderoy an 18th-century ballad that I learnt from Henry Burstow, a cobbler from Horsham in Sussex, collected by Lucy Broadwood in 1903. I sang it on my 1978 album For As Many As Will. With an exquisite tune, it is a poignant, tender affirmation of love stronger than death. He is my sovereign heart’s delight, my handsome, bold young Gilderoy".
Katie Stelmanis from Austra
Crying, by Roy Orbison
"I suppose this is more of a breakup song but I think it is one of the most raw, emotional performances ever put to tape. The entire song is built around a short and simple interaction but communicates the intensity of what that moment feels like on the inside for Orbison: monumental."
Memories, by Leonard Cohen
"I don’t know if it’s really about love, probably more about lust and youthful longings. But nothing reminds me more of those first feelings of teenage love and confusion than this song. Doing sport in the high school gym praying that you get picked to be in his team so you can hopefully seduce him with your sporting prowess."
I'm a Fool To Want You, by Billie Holiday
"This song moves me so much, I close my eyes and feel like I’ve gone back in time and I’m in a smokey bar listening to the lovely Billlie Holdiday . She takes me through her journey with her and I start to put myself in her shoes, it's a powerful story about how she runs back to a love that isn’t good for her, incapable of managing the withdrawal symptoms every time she tries to leave."
Dave Barley (lead singer) from Glass Animals
God Only Knows, by The Beach Boys
"God Only Knows comes in at two minutes and fifty-five seconds long. Its hard to imagine that so much can be said in such a short space of time. It takes longer to make a cup of tea! All sides of love and romance are shown in the lyrics, the chords, and the sounds. There is desperation, doubt, truth, innocence, intimacy, anxiety, helplessness, tenderness, sadness, joy….all presented with a cheeky honesty. So much depth, but at the same time its fantastically simple and effortless. You don’t even think about the fact that all of that is being said. It all blends together and you just sort of…feel it. And understand the complexity of love and romance...all at once...as the song pulls on your heartstrings."
Drew MacFarlane, guitar and vocals for Glass Animals
So Good At Being In Trouble (acoustic version), by Unknown Mortal Orchestra
"I used to sing this song to a girl I knew in Milwaukee. The first time we met she took me climbing up the side of the Pabst Brewery, onto the big neon sign suspended a couple hundred feet above the road. You could see the whole city. We were up there for a while when suddenly there were flashlights everywhere and the police appeared, which was suboptimal, given our relative state of undress. They arrested us. We made it out before the tour bus left though, miraculously, but with $1000 of fines. Good at being in trouble..."
Waiting in Vain, by Bob Marley
“It is not really a celebration of love so much as just hoping that love comes your way. There’s a lot of pathos in the song, it really evokes a feeling of longing. I know the story of waiting for someone, and you think it’s reciprocated, but they keep you hanging on, dilly dallying with you. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know that feeling, from the teenage angst of young love to someone who is a lot older and afraid of being left on the shelf, we’ve all been there. I love how Bob manages to make that sound quite upbeat and chirpy, even though there is nothing remotely upbeat about it. The chords are sprinkled with major sevenths, quite jazzy chords, and I love the way he sings it, the very plain language he uses. It’s a happy sadness. I am not waiting in vain anymore. I am happy and content. But it still has the same effect when I hear it. It makes me feel, ‘oh Bob, don’t worry, you’ll get her in the end.’”
Oli Bayston from Boxed In
Just Like Heaven, by The Cure
"Perhaps not the most obscure choice, but it resonated with me on same many levels when I first listened to it. It was the soundtrack to many house parties during the blossoming months of my relationship. I relate it exclusively being young and in love without a single care in the world. It's beautiful, wistful and indulgent. Just how romance should be. Dinosaur Junior did a great cover of it too."
Kieran (lead singer) from Circa Waves
Everybodys Gotta Learn Sometime, by Beck (cover of the Korgis)
"I like my Romantic songs melancholic, this tune is no exception. It scrapes back the fluffy exterior of a relationship and shows the interminable desperation love can sometimes create. “i need your lovin, like the sunshine” To say your love gives me life is to say that love is intrinsic to our existence. It’s just about one of the most heart breaking things you could say. The melodies sweep round in the most haunting way and with Beck’s unique voice, the song becomes transformative."
Nobody Cept You, by Bob Dylan
“It’s a Bob Dylan song that he never actually released. It eventually came out as part of the Bootleg Series. I was working in LA in a studio that belongs to one of my heroes, Jackson Browne, and it was full of Jackson’s junk. And one of the engineers said you’ve got to hear this song, and he played me an acoustic live version of Bob Dylan singing Nobody Cept You (Dylan only played the song eight times in concert, in 1974). And it really just slapped me round the face. It was at a time in my life when I needed to be told how special certain people in my life were, and how insignificant other things might be. I think I was taking a lot for granted. And it became the reason I proposed to my wife.
"Sometimes a song can snap you back into reality. It kind of gave me the courage, the guts, the balls to realise that when you have something special, you should probably hold on to it and fight like hell not to lose it. I play that song every night on the road, and I do it because it’s like taking away something that belongs to somebody you love, taking a scarf when you go on a trip so that you can still smell them on you. This is our song. When I play it, I always think of myself and my wife when we were pretty naïve, and this song kind of snapped us out of it.”
To Make You Feel My Love, by Bob Dylan
"To me, it seems like love is the closest thing within us we can ever get to the divine. And music is another way of approving divinity. Both vital things, inspiring each other, giving each other life. 'To make you feel my love' by Bob Dylan explains love to me in a beautiful way. Unselfish. And pure."
Clem Burke from Blondie
Love Will Tear Us Apart, by Joy Division
"My favorite love song has got to be "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division. As someone once wrote, love hurts and I think that pain is aptly portrayed in the song. I know it's not what might first come to mind when thinking of songs of love, but as we all know, love can have its darker moments. Sometimes it is a thin line between love and hate. The song portrays disfunction along with disappointment in a relationship that sees the two lovers moving in different directions but yet still caring for one another. In reality, an unconditional love, a true love. Perhaps a very realistic take on many people's love lives? Happy Valentine's Day!"
Caramel, by John Grant
“It’s just like honey dripping, a beautiful, absolutely gorgeous song. I love the lyrics. “His smile’s an elixir that heals the wounds of my darkest tears.” You want somebody to sing that to you. I went to see him in the Royal Albert Hall and it nearly killed me listening to it. It was just him and the piano and his voice soared up to the roof. He said “I wrote this for the wrong person and I’m now singing it for the right person.” I thought that was beautiful, the way things can change but songs remain, and that you can feel like that again for somebody else. If you’re reading this now, and you are madly in love and wondering what song to send to somebody, that would be the one, to completely melt the object of your desire. It’s pure liquid gold.”