Well it’s getting to be that time of year again – a time of little hard candy hearts with the word LUV on them not to mention the obligatory red heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Oh, and let’s not forget the decorated shoebox on the corner of your desk – covered in paper doilies and having a slot on top to accept all those valuable valentines from your class. Okay, maybe things are a bit different today – not only are you expected to bring home some posies and sweets, but someone decided you need to get a 2nd mortgage and roll out the fancy meal and gems attached to precious metals. Crazy – and all because of some biological process created by a flood of chemicals in your bloodstream you can’t control. Said biological process has given rise to most of the music to hit the pop charts over the years both good and bad (“Muskrat Love” anyone?). Assistant Meagan gave me the idea to list my favorite love songs (so blame her), but I couldn’t just stop there so you also get a top 20 of agonizing woe-is-me I’m-so-miserable life is awful screeds. Every so often, after all, one simply needs to exercise the tear ducts in indulgence of self pity . Frankly that’s a lot more fun than the mushy stuff (where’s that carton of Moose Tracks ice cream?!). By the way, some of my fave songs didn’t make the list as I couldn’t classify them on one list or the other. I’ll insert videos if possible.
1.You Know What I Mean – The Turtles
A U.S. #12 in 1967, this was written by Bonner and Gordon who had done the honors as well on the far more successful “Happy Together”. As on that song, the theme of wistful dreaminess still persists, but the tune and production feel more sophisticated to these ears. At times this has been my all-time fave song (no longer, but still top 5)
2.I Only Have Eyes For You – The Flamingos
Just about the most perfect doowop song ever recorded – great piano triplets and a dreamy tenor over ethereal background vocals singing…what? Doobop shubop? That’s my take – what’s yours? The original hit #11 in 1959 and still it remains the gold standard.
3.As Time Goes By – Nilsson
One of the most achingly beautiful versions of one of the classic songs of all time. Written in 1931 by Herman Hupfeld (who?) it became far more famous in the 1942 movie Casablanca. Harry Nilsson had a modest chart hit in 1973 (his last one) but it has stood the test of time due to his respectful reading and Gordon Jenkins’ gorgeous orchestral arrangement. We all wondered at the time why he (and Ringo as well) recorded an LP of standards – who knew it would become almost a cottage industry for folks like Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow years later.
4.Words – The Bee Gees
Oh my – the brothers Gibb were the undisputed kings of the orchestrated love song before disco reared its falsetto-ed head. This was a #15 hit early in 1968 and was a rarity in that there were none of the patented Bee Gees harmonies – only a Barry Gibb solo lead. It must have been quite the cross to bear for him to be so good-looking while singing gorgeous love songs (wonder if he ever got any female admirers?).
5.What Is Life? – George Harrison
Coming in at #10 in 1971 from George’s masterwork All Things Must Pass, this may be the most joyous love song ever written. Many would prefer his Beatles’ song “Something”, but this track really benefits from Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound that makes you smile as you crank up the volume. It never fails to give me goose bumps.
6.All The Way – Frank Sinatra
Hitting #2 in 1957, this Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn classic was from the movie The Joker Is Wild about Joe E. Lewis and his problems with the mob in the prohibition era – a fine film. This deservingly won the Oscar that year for best movie song.
7.God Only Knows – The Beach Boys
Rare is the record that even stripped of its vocals is still a beautiful piece of music, but such is Brian Wilson’s masterpiece that can be appreciated in various stages of completion on the 1997 boxset The Pet Sounds Sessions. When Carl’s lead vocal is added along with the harmonies, many consider this to be the greatest of all Beach Boys releases. Here in the U.S. it was actually the 1966 b-side to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” but has picked up acclaim as Paul McCartney’s favorite song Rolling Stone Magazine’s #25 song all time.
8.Let It Be Me – The Everly Brothers
Don and Phil had the perfect harmony blend as only DNA can create. This 1960 #7 hit was an English language adaptation of Gilbert Becaud’s French language original from 1955. Frankly it’s always a toss-up between this and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” – sort of like picking your favorite M&M.
9.Maybe I’m Amazed – Paul McCartney
From Paul’s first DIY solo album in 1970 comes this should-have-been-a-single that finally became a live hit for Wings years later. Paul truly is our generation’s Mozart or you name it. Frankly it would be fun to come back in 300 years and see how his music is being treated by future generations. With John Lennon he was at his best, but this is pretty close to perfect as well.
10.The Air That I Breathe – The Hollies
#6 in 1974 thanks to Allan Clarke returning to the band as lead vocalist after a short unsuccessful solo stint, this was written by Albert Hammond & Mike Hazelwood. Gorgeous harmonies over Terry Hicks’ grinding lead guitar and some great Bobby Elliott drum fills.
11.Grow Old With Me – Glen Campbell
When the Meet Glen Campbell album came out in in 2008, the rock and roll Dentist was floored as it marked not just a comeback for a nearly forgotten oldies act, but also one of the great albums ever. If producer Julian Raymond never did anything more, he would deserve our respect but he has also worked with Cheap Trick and Fastball among others. Sadly John Lennon didn’t live long enough to record the definitive version of his perfect wedding composition (only leaving a demo) so Glen’s version stands as the best so far.
12.Beside You – The New York Rock Ensemble
Why oh why this wasn’t a hit back in 1971 is inconceivable. I saw them with the Denver Symphony perform this and other tracks from the Roll Over album, etc. and wish I could find a video record of the old PBS special they did with orchestra as well. Dorian’s cello squawks a bit but Michael and Martin’s oboes are spot on to augment this wonderful love ballad. Sadly Mr. Kamen is no longer with us, but drummer Martin Fulterman has found far more success as composer Mark Snow (The X-Files, Blue Bloods, etc.).
13.Can’t Help Falling In Love – Elvis Presley
From the 1961 movie Blue Hawaii, this is the quintessential Elvis love song. This could only manage #2 against the onslaught of twist records at that time (though UB40 took it the #1 in 1993). The soundtrack album spent an amazing 20 straight weeks at #1 on the charts.
14.Darling Be Home Soon – The Lovin’ Spoonful
Back when the rock and roll Dentist had the long hair and mutton-chop sideburns, this was one of his faves to play and sing to anyone who would listen. John Sebastian need not have worried about being upstaged, however, as this ballad shows building to orchestrated climax. This was from the Francis Ford Coppola movie You’re A Big Boy Now and as a single reached #15 just prior to the summer of love in 1967. Mr. Sebastian’s voice is not up to the songs anymore, but he looks great in concert and tells fun stories about his music.
15.Thank You – Led Zeppelin
A very atypical Zep song with John Paul Jones’ Hammond organ taking the lead and Jimmy Page singing backing vocals while playing 12 string. The organ coda at the end can still raise the hairs on my neck. After purchasing Led Zeppelin II back in 1969, I hooked my acoustic guitar up to my heavily reverbed Vox amp and recorded to tape my own version which still sounds decent to me 47 years later (I’m still awaiting my recording contract, anyone).
16.Here, There & Everywhere – The Beatles
From the 1966 Revolver album, this is a Paul McCartney song that he says was inspired by the Beach Boys song “God Only Knows”. The posted video is not the well-known version, but the Beatles organization won’t allow their finished music on youtube apparently.
17.True Love – Bing Crosby & Grace Kelly
You simply can’t go wrong with a Cole Porter song and there are many great versions to choose from such as Shakin’ Stevens or Elton John with Kiki Dee. The 1956 movie High Society featured my fave version mostly sung by 53 year old Bing to 26 year old Grace Kelly (hmmm). It went all the way to #3 that year on the charts.
18.If – Bread
This beautiful ballad was composed by David Gates hitting #4 in 1971 here in the U.S. (oddly, Telly Savalas had the U.K. hit in mostly a spoken word version). Mr. Gates composed some of the greatest love songs ever which is interesting as early on he put out some great rockers and even produced “Diddy Wah Diddy” for Capt. Beefheart.
19.Secret Love – Doris Day
This song was in the 1953 movie Calamity Jane and won the Oscar for best original song. Day’s moving version hit #1 in February 1954. Somehow her casting as the title character seemed forced and this song didn’t seem like something someone named Calamity Jane would sing but in movie musicals details never got in the way of a great song.
20.Unforgettable – Nat King Cole
Nat’s 1951 hit is so smooth and dreamy you could cocoon yourself deeply in the emotion from his silky voice. While the 1991 remix with his daughter (long after his death) was moving, the original was the best. Written by Irving Gordon, the great Nelson Riddle did the arrangement. Frankly, today, it is sad to think there was a time in our country where the color of his skin kept his TV show from getting sponsors. Too bad cancer stole Mr. Cole from us before is 48th birthday in 1965.
1.Day After Day – Badfinger
If this isn’t my favorite all-time song, it’s #2 (“Please Please Me” by the Beatles alternates in my mind). When this came out late in 1971 from the amazing “Straight Up” album it perfectly fit my wintry mood up in Boulder at college. Leader Pete Ham’s suicide only a few years later over money woes followed by bassist Tom Evans is one of the most heartbreaking tragedies in rock and roll history. All the great songs that they may have written – gone.
2.Nights In White Satin – The Moody Blues
The eerie sounds of Mike Pinder’s mellotron with composer Justin Hayward’s aching vocals and Ray Thomas’ perfect flute line make this one of the greatest songs ever. You can hear the longing in every rotation of this 1967 single that inexplicably took a reissue in 1972 to finally hit a peak of #2 on the charts. The Days Of Future Passed album version is even better with drummer Graeme Edge’s composition “Late Lament” as a spoken word coda (done by Pinder). “Breathe deep the gathering gloom – watch lights fade from every room…”
3.Everything I Own – Bread
When this was climbing to #5 in early 1972, Humble Pie and Deep Purple had a lot more street cred with the guys while cruising for burgers than Bread. It may not have been cool but it’s a wonderful pop record and encapsulated all the feelings of lost love. Interestingly, Gates said later that it was actually about losing his dad.
4.Without You – Nilsson
Hitting #1 in early 1972, this was certainly the emotional peak of Harry Nilsson’s career thanks to Richard Perry’s moving production and some great singing. The Nilsson Schmilsson album also marked a crescendo with Harry seemingly attempting career suicide from then on with some odd moves. Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger had two different unfinished songs that when grafted together on the excellent No Dice album created one of the most lasting love songs of our generation which makes their suicides that much more poignant.
5.Can’t Get Used To Losing You – Andy Williams
A year before the Beatles invaded the U.S. this was a #2 hit (1963). It has a very interesting song structure with staccato strings bouncing up and down the register so it’s not a surprise that it was written by the legendary team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. They were responsible for so many great songs by the Drifters, Ray Charles, Elvis, etc. Back in the day, your humble writer used to play this on acoustic guitar which lends itself nicely to even that stripped down arrangement.
6.Chad & Jeremy – A Summer Song
Such a wistfully sad song with, perhaps, the ache reminding us all of the fling we met at summer camp and now can’t quite remember their name. While part of the British Invasion when this went to #7 late in 1964, the song (and the act today) are more folk oriented. Mr.’s Stuart and Clyde looked (and still look) the part with their Beatle hair and where often confused for another duo we shall visit in a few songs.
7.As Tears Go By – The Rolling Stones
Still my favorite song to sing and play on acoustic guitar, this was ostensibly one of the first Jagger/Richards compositions. It was originally given to Mick’s nearly 18 year old girlfriend Marianne Faithfull (who had a hit with it in late 1964) before Mick and Keith released their own version hitting #6 in their chart run into early 1966. Mike Leander (who arranged the strings on “She’s Leaving Home” for the Beatles and was later responsible for Gary Glitter) did the strings here as well.
8.All Of My Heart – ABC
1982’s Lexicon Of Love may the best ‘new wave’ album ever waxed due to the excellent Trevor Horn production, Anne Dudley’s strings and Martin Fry’s fantastic vocals. Lexicon Of Love II was my fave album of 2016, but it had nothing as powerful as this ballad of lost love.
9.How Can You Mend A Broken Heart – The Bee Gees
The Gibbs were some of the greatest songwriters from my generation. This was their first #1 U.S. hit in 1971 from one of their best albums Trafalgar. This was one of the first songs they said they wrote after Robin returned to the act rejoining Barry & Maurice.
10.Solitaire – The Carpenters
Karen Carpenter had such a strong warm voice that she could likely have sung names from the phonebook and made it sound great. Her brother Richard produced the music to perfectly augment his sister’s vocals not to mention securing great songs to sing. Their version of the Neil Sedaka/Phil Cody song was a #17 hit from their 1975 Horizon album. Her losing battle with anorexia is a sad coda to a great career.
11.I Go To Pieces – Peter & Gordon
Perhaps the better known British Invasion duo (over Chad & Jeremy), this was their first single not written by Peter’s sister’s boyfriend Paul McCartney (with credit to John Lennon as well). It was written by “Runaway” hit maker Del Shannon and hit #9 early in 1965 driven by ringing 12 strings recorded at Abbey Road studios by John Burgess.
12.Long Long Time – Linda Ronstadt
With lovely Linda’s pin-up good looks and 70s-80s chart dominance it’s hard to remember a time when she wasn’t well known. Ms. Ronstadt’s 1970 album Silk Purse yielded this #25 charter that was her first as a solo artist (after the Stone Poneys). It was written by Gary White.
13.Nights Are Forever – England Dan & John Ford Coley
Taken from the album of the same name in U.S.’s bicentennial year, this Parker McGee song charted at #10. Dan Seals continued in to the country field having a string of hits. This song benefited from a punchy chorus accented with slide guitars.
14.The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore – The Walker Brothers
These unrelated U.S. ‘brothers’ looked very British Invasion but actually sounded more like the Phil Spector produced Righteous Brothers with Scott’s highly emotive baritone over a bombastic wall of sound. In 1965 they took a year old Frankie Valli single (written by Crewe & Gaudio who did so many great Four Seasons hits) and pushed it to a worldwide smash hitting #13 on the U.S. Smash records label.
15.All By Myself – Eric Carmen
Following 4 outstanding albums leading the Raspberries, Carmen hit pay-dirt right away after going solo with his 1975 self-titled album. This song hit #2 and was based on a Rachmaninoff piano concerto. Jimmy Ienner’s overblown production fit the song perfectly.
16.Solitary Man – Neil Diamond
In 1966 songwriter Neil Diamond released this his first single on Bang records to mostly indifference only hitting #55. When he went on to bigger acclaim it later recharted (in 1970) at #21. This song talked about how so many ladies did him wrong (with a sympathetic Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich production). His 2014 album Melody Road was one of my faves from that year.
17.Yesterday – The Beatles
Of course the hit version featured only Paul McCartney on vocals and guitar along with George Martin’s strings. It may be the most covered song of all time with nobody improving on the original 1965 #1 U.S. hit. This video is an interesting group version of the song.
18.Alone Again (Naturally) – Gilbert O’Sullivan
A happy little #1 song from 1972 where our hero contemplates suicide after his bride-to-be stands him up. Later he questions if God exists since the almighty too had deserted him. With a sort of Paul McCartney-alike voice he remembers how his mom went into a tailspin following his dad’s death. Luckily Mr. O’Sullivan says this song was all fantasy.
19.I Honestly Love – Olivia Newton-John
Successful U.S. songwriter Jeff Barry & Aussie Peter Allen teamed for this song about a man and a woman in other relationships, but there is apparently an unspoken dangerous vibe between them. Doe-eyed ON-J had her first U.S. #1 hit in 1974 with her at times breathy/at times powerful reading.
20.You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling – The Righteous Brothers
Well what more needs to be said about this song often called the greatest pop record ever recorded. In 1964 in the teeth of the British Invasion, the tide was stemmed by U.S. producer Phil Spector with Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil who wrote one of the most successful songs ever (at least judged by successful covers). These unrelated ‘brothers’ had recently left the Beatles’ first tour of North America frustrated that nobody wanted to hear them. Of course just a few months later they had the #1 song in the U.S. and didn’t need to open for anyone.