From a new crush through to devastating heartbreak, pop music is one of our most thorough mediums when it comes to pondering the limits of the human heart. This Valentine’s Day Dr Jadey O’Regan, resident pop expert takes us through her top 5 love tunes of all time.
Listen to the playlist while you read.
1. The Beach Boys: God Only Knows (1966)
God Only Knows(1966) is perhaps the Beach Boys’ most well-known love song (even Paul McCartney has said that it’s his favourite!). However, it is a complicated love song – after all, the opening line sings ‘I may not always love you’ before qualifying that she’ll ‘never need to doubt it’. The second verse is vulnerable and restless, admitting that without her, ‘the world would show nothing to me, so what good would living do me?’ Supporting the melody is Brian Wilson’s sparkling arrangement of horns, strings, pianos, organs and woven vocal parts, making the song rich and beautifully textured. Carl Wilson’s vocal so effortlessly combines the hopefulness of young love, and the loss of innocence as we grow into adulthood – a theme that carries through the rest of the Pet Sounds album.
2. Stevie Wonder: You are the Sunshine of My Life (1973)
Talking Book’s opening track You are the Sunshine of My Life is one of Stevie Wonder’s most gentle and sweet declarations of love. While the lyrics celebrate the simplicity of new and giddy love, the music underneath showcases Wonder’s trademark of harmonic and melodic complexity. From the gentle percussion, the close-harmonies of the backing vocals, to the joyous leaping of the melody, You Are the Sunshine of my Life seamlessly combines sophistication and accessibility, and unsurprisingly, the song shot to #1 on the US Billboard charts.
3. Weezer: Buddy Holly (1994)
Weezer’s Buddy Holly is the perfect love song for nerds, and in 1995, Rivers Cuomo was essentially King of the Nerds in the world of alternative music. The song’s sweet nostalgia, crunchy guitars, and wry sense of humour is a perfect enmeshment of the sound of power pop in the mid-1990s. The song also features a cute and clever Spike Jonze film clip which sees the band insert themselves quite seamlessly into an episode of Happy Days– even The Fonz likes this song, so what higher praise do you need? This song was so infectious it broke through to the mainstream, reaching #17 on the US Billboard charts, and #12 on the UK singles chart.
4. Beyoncé: Love on Top (2011)
Beyoncé’s Love on Top is a love song that acknowledges both the work that goes into maintaining a relationship, while also celebrating the kindness and joy that comes with long-time love. The song’s sound is a loving pastiche of late 1980s/early 1990s R&B sounds, while also remaining quintessentially ‘Queen Bey’. The way Beyoncé uses her impressive vocals talents in this song makes it impossible for a listener not to feel the rising elation in her melodies, in part supported by the four dizzying key-changes as the choruses repeat. It may not be one of her biggest hits (reaching #20 on the US Billboard and Australian ARIA charts), but it is certainly one of her best love songs.
5. Carly Rae Jepsen: I Really Like You (2015)
While not as successful as the gloriously poptastic (that’s a proper academic term, right?) Call Me Maybe (2011), I Really Like You is a love song that explores the always giddy and often awkward stage between the crush and the relationship. The song uses all the hallmarks of clever top 40 pop – the slick production, the word repetition, the washy synths – and when combined with Jepsen’s coquettish vocals, makes for a sugar rush that’s as sweet as first love.