Listing Love Songs: An Arts Reporter’s Top Twelve

Arts Reporter Belle Nahoom takes on the challenge of creating a playlist of her top 12 love songs just in time for Valentine’s Day.

By Belle Nahoom, Arts Reporter

Love songs. They’re pretty much everywhere. In fact, around 60% of songs written since the 1960s are devoted to the subject of love and relationships. Out of the thousands of romantic love songs out there, I’ve compiled a list of the twelve best ones. So if you’re trying to find the perfect song to tell your crush you love them or want to listen to songs with your significant other, or if you just like love songs in general, look no further because I’ve got some songs for you.

“Love, Love, Love” by Donny Hathaway

According to Rolling Stone, Donny Hathaway is one of the best vocalists of all time, and he is not without a discography of incredible love songs. But my favorite has got to be “Love, Love, Love.” Hathaway had phenomenal vocal tone and range, but more importantly he knew how to use his vocal abilities to his advantage. For example, Hathaway possessed the technique of “vocal crying,” which means he was able to make the listener feel the music deeply. This technique creates a personal connection between the listener and Hathaway. This song is actually a cover of J.R Bailey’s “Love, Love, Love,” but Hathaway’s inventive ad-libs and riffs keep it unique. My personal favorite lyrics from the song are “Day by day I’m falling more in love with you/ And that’s no lie, cross my heart and honey I hope to die.”

If you love this song, you may also enjoy “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” or “A Song For You,” both by Donny Hathaway.

“Give You the World” by Steve Lacy

Pretty much everyone has heard Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit” from his newest album Gemini Rights, but if you haven’t taken the time to listen to the entire album, you’re missing out on the gem that is “Give You the World.” “Give You the World” highlights Lacy’s unique voice by showcasing his falsetto and whisper register. Featuring smooth harmonies by background vocalists and an addictive, groovy instrumental, this song is full of soul. “Give You the World” isn’t your typical love song; rather, it’s melancholy and full of sorrow but speaks on the willingness to be open to love and the anxiety that comes with it. This is Lacy’s unconditional love letter; he ends the track with the lyrics, “Please, I don’t want to hate/ Instead, I’m gonna love you like you were new.” “Give You the World” is reminiscent of the Isley Brothers and André 3000, and I love it.

If “Give You the World” is up your alley, you also might like “Rom-Com Gone Wrong” by Matt Maltese or “Nobody But You” by Jorja Smith and Songer.

“Moody’s Mood For Love” by Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse was a musical genius who could write songs in one sitting given only a few minutes’ time. Her love songs are haunting. They tend to be on the darker side, usually speaking on topics like infidelity, alcoholism, and loss of passion. Her deep, contralto vocals express passionate lyrics with strong vocals. Although I adore her other love-related songs like “Take the Box” and “You Sent Me Flying,” her cover of “Moody’s Mood for Love” is the perfect jazzy song to listen to on Valentine’s Day. Although it’s a cover—it was written by Eddie Jefferson in 1952—Amy Winehouse puts her own special twist on this track with complicated rhythms and different vocal tones. This is a complex song technically, but Winehouse’s singing sounds effortless and full of romance. Going back to an earlier song on the list, Donny Hathaway was one of Amy Winehouse’s favorite singers, which explains why her music is so reminiscent of his sound. Her music is timeless, and this song doesn’t just make it into my top 12 Valentine’s Day songs but into my top songs of all time.

If you like the track, you should also check out “Stardust (Bossa Nova)” by Ella Fitzgerald.

“My Man” by Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl)

Barbra Streisand’s rendition of “My Man” from the musical Funny Girl is a passionate admission of unwavering love. The lyrics “For whatever my man is, I am his/ Forever more” may not be poetically complex, but touch on such deep feelings of connection. The track starts slow and melancholy but ends in a powerful, passionate belt. However, while the stereotypical musical theater song features a soprano vocalist who sings with beautiful, stylized vibrato, Streisand doesn’t sing “My Man” that way. She sings it with expression, passion, and power, as if she had no microphone. Streisand is a powerful vocalist, and she delivers every aspect of this track perfectly. Furthermore, because this song is so raw in how it expresses love and devotion, I was extremely disappointed when I found out they were not adding “My Man” to the current Broadway revival of Funny Girl.

“When I’m Sixty-Four” by The Beatles

The Beatles have so many love songs that choosing just one to go on this list was particularly difficult. “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Something,” and “Oh! Darling” are some other great options, but “When I’m Sixty-Four” is a fun, light-hearted song that you can listen along to with your significant other. It’s not dark and instead represents a quiet, ordinary, and domestic kind of love—the kind we need when we’re 64.

“When I’m Sixty-Four” is one of Paul McCartney’s songs written for the Beatles, so if you enjoy this love song, I would recommend some of the lovely romantic music Paul McCartney wrote with his later band Wings. My favorites include “Baby’s Request,” “Backseat of my Car,” “My Love,” and “Tomorrow.”

“Montego Bae” by Noname ft. Ravyn Lenae

Noname’s “Montego Bae” featuring Ravyn Lenae is an upbeat take on a love song. It’s less of a sappy track and more of a song that conveys excitement about the prospect of being in love. It’s not only a love letter to another person but also one to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Lenae’s voice on the track is sweet and smooth. Her lyrics about her partner are reminiscent of an ode: “Oh future husband, undress me under the moon/ Sweet bae someday will come soon.” These lyrics are an interesting play on the idea of Montego Bay (Bae) being both the perfect person and place. Noname’s lyrical flow is a great addition to the song as her rhythm changes express lyrical meaning. This is a fun yet still romantic song that can easily be played at any sort of Valentine’s event.

If you’re a fan of this track, you should also check out “Justine’s Interlude” by GoldLink and “Sweet Time” by Raveena.

“It’s Always You” by Chet Baker

Chet Baker, famous American trumpeter and innovator behind the album Cool Jazz, has some incredible vocal jazz albums that feature stellar covers of jazz standards. My personal favorite is “It’s Always You.” I see “It’s Always You” as a connector between Baker’s vocal and trumpet work. There is a sweet interlude between the verses featuring a trumpet solo that makes you want to dance. The song’s lyrics, as sweet as they are, are pretty similar to any other jazz standard of the time and are not the reason the track is on this list. Rather, this romantic tune is perfect to dance to. It’s also perfect to play in the background of a date night dinner.

If you listen to “It’s Always You” and love it, you also might like “Just Like Chet” by Laufey or “Like Someone in Love” by Chet Baker (another great version of this song is Bruno Major’s cover).

“Night and Day” by Everything but the Girl

This cover of “Night and Day” by Everything but the Girl is a unique 80s spin on a classic jazz standard. Something about this song sits right with me. The lead singer sings the lyrics with very little expression, as if the love between the individuals of the song is hidden in some way. The harmonies and guitar of this song add to it very nicely as well. The jazz standard version of “Night and Day” is so wildly different from this one. The original is upbeat, has tons of scatting, and calls for more vocal performance. This version of the track is calm and smooth, with a touch of bossa nova. Everything but the Girl made this song their very own.

Similar songs include “By Your Side” by Sade and “The Sea” by Morcheeba.

“Rock-A-Bye My Baby” by Haruomi Hosono

This song really speaks for itself. The vibe of the song is very 70s city pop. Haruomi Hosono’s vocals aren’t perfect—he has a raspy yet light tone—but they work well in this song. This love song, reminiscent of a lullaby with the lines “rock-a-bye my baby,” is calming and perfect to listen to anywhere! Haruomi Hosono has some other great music, but I think this is the best place to start with his discography.

If you like the track, you should also check out “Saravah!” by Yukihiro Takahashi.

“Excuse Me” by Jazmine Sullivan

Jazmine Sullivan is a powerhouse vocalist with the ability to make stellar breakup and love songs. Her R&B sound of the late 2000s and early 2010s is clearly influenced by artists like Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige. One of her love songs most deserving of praise is “Excuse Me,” which is about a woman who loves her significant other so much that she can’t put it into words or show it through her actions. The song displays Sullivan’s raspy sound at the top of her vocal register, which is both impressive and appealing to the ear. The emphasis she places onto her lyrics conveys a passionate feeling of love for her significant other. Her runs and riffs during the song are immaculate. Her talent is rare and impressive. This is a love ballad with dynamic vocals and expressive lyrics; it’s hard not to play it on loop.

Other songs you may like if you take a liking to “Excuse Me” include “Rain on Me” by Ashanti and “Soon as I Get Home” by Faith Evans.

“Spring Time Blues” by Marsandaras (M*A*R*S)

Marsandaras (M*A*R*S) is a small band self-described as convenience store pop. They have very few songs in their discography (and they seem to have stopped releasing music on the regular), but their most popular track, “Spring Time Blues,” is one worth a listen. This song has a nostalgic 2000s indie sound, which I believe is a mix of two aspects of the arrangement: the effect of the microphones used and the guitar strumming in the instrumental section. The track starts with the line, “Don’t say it’s not a-okay/ When you’re not here when the seasons change.” While these lyrics aren’t extraordinary, they get their point across in a beautiful manner alongside the music. This is the perfect song for someone yearning for their partner in a long-distance relationship.

If you love this tune, you might enjoy “mon cher” by Maddie Moon.

“Thank You” by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin’s released more than a handful of popular classics, but this song is a completely underrated ode to love. It truly deserves so much more praise. It’s the perfect song to round out this playlist.