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Love overload: 40 songs from and for the heart for Valentine’s Day

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 12, 2021

Music alters mood, according to a study by the Journal of Positive Psychology. That’s especially so for love songs, which have quite an impact on couples who can take a trip down memory lane courtesy of music.

“Love songs are a great way to trigger nostalgia,” psychologist Billie Tyler said from her South Hill office. “A song can take you back to certain moments that are significant in people’s lives. It can help reconnect two people. Songs can help put into words what you’re feeling.”

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, here are 40 love songs worth experiencing:

1. The Beach Boys, “God Only Knows” – Paul McCartney once said that “God Only Knows” is the most beautiful song ever written. Who can argue with him? “God Only Knows” is the greatest teenage symphony for God created by Brian Wilson, who is an absolute genius. The vocal by his brother, Carl Wilson, is heavenly. Just try not to shed a tear. The Beach Boys’ a cappella version is sublime.

2. Otis Redding, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” – Redding’s most soulful vocal, which is saying plenty. Redding co-wrote this masterpiece with Jerry Butler. The session players couldn’t be better with Booker T. Jones on keyboards, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and guitarist Steve Cropper, who produced.

3. Radiohead, “All I Know” – The most beautiful song of the century. Few love songs parallel the intensity of the dense composition. “It’s all right / It’s all wrong,” Thom Yorke sings as Phil Selway’s cymbals crash. That about sums up love.

4. Roy Orbison, “In Dreams” – Has there ever been a more dramatic and moving operatic ballad? Orbison’s unearthly voice hits notes so high and taps into emotions so deep.

5. P.J. Harvey, “To Bring You My Love” – Raw carnality. It’s evident what Harvey has on her mind when delivering the sensual track.

6. Radney Foster, “Godspeed” – The greatest love song to a child. Foster’s classic was inspired by his divorce, which separated him from his toddler son. So sweet and beautiful.

7. Ben E. King, “Stand By Me” – King was such an amazing vocalist who could wring emotion out of a subpoena. “Stand By Me,” which was co-written by King, is his finest work. It’s simply one of the greatest songs of the ‘60s. No wonder it’s been covered more than 400 times.

8. The Beatles, “Something” – My best friend’s mother revealed to me many years ago that she wants “Something” played at her funeral. At 10, I didn’t get it, but now I do. George Harrison at his finest.

9. Lou Reed, “This Magic Moment” – The fuzzy bass elevates this nugget to another level.

10. My Bloody Valentine, “When You Sleep” – One of the most perfect songs of all time when you examine the production, innovative guitar work and songwriting. It’s 30 years old but still sounds way ahead of its time. A lush, heartfelt love song delivered by MBV leader Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher. Love the muffled duet.

11. Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares to You” – You can always tell when a song is written by Prince. O’Connor, who unfortunately doesn’t receive the notice as a vocalist she deserves due to her many public outbursts, nails one of Prince’s finest compositions.

12. Etta James, “At Last” – The song was originally written for a musical, “Sun Valley Serenade,” and has been covered by myriad musicians, including Beyonce and Celine Dion. However, James recorded the definitive version.

13. The Beatles, “Golden Slumbers” – Another love song for a child. Who hasn’t sung this to their baby at bedtime?

14. Marilyn Monroe, “Runnin’ Wild” – It’s not surprising that the greatest sex symbol of all time fails to receive the credit she deserves. When Monroe was on, she was a terrific comedic actress and a more than capable singer. “Runnin’ Wild,” a sexy, jazzy gem, is featured in one of the many amazing scenes from “Some Like It Hot.”

15. Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together” – Not just one of the most memorable love songs, it’s one of the finest R&B tunes of all time, as well. Green’s falsetto, the brass and the sentiment. “LST” turns 50 in November.

16. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Maps” – A sincere song inspired by Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O’s real-life breakup. “They don’t love you like I love you / Wait, they don’t love you like I love you,” O sings while tears drip from her eyes during the video. Oh, the palpable pain.

17. The Beatles, “When I’m 64” – McCartney wrote this jaunty hit when he was just 16. It’s a tale of a young man wooing his girl that was inspired by the legendary songwriter’s love of ‘40s-style pop music.

18. Dom L’Amour, “It’s So Crazy” – The killer tune won’t see the light of day until May, but L’Amour crushes it with a soaring vocal on this gorgeous, infectious love song, which has smash written all over it and includes vocals by Samantha Aurelio.

19. The Sugarcubes, “Hit” – The quirky Sugarcubes wrote and recorded a number of love songs that are wild and surreal. When I asked Sugarcubes vocalist Bjork about such tunes a generation ago, she explained that I would understand if I was Icelandic. Fair enough. “Hit” is the most straightforward love song crafted by the Sugarcubes.

20. Radiohead, “Black Star” – A great Radiohead deep cut that is just gorgeous. “I get home from work / And you’re still standing in your dressing gown / Well what am I to do.” The solution follows as the protagonist delivers for his troubled partner.

21. Prince, “Purple Rain” – If anyone needs to be reminded of the brilliance of Prince as a composer of love songs, guitarist or performer, take eight minutes to indulge in “Purple Rain.”

22. The Ronettes, “Be My Baby” – Phil Spector is dead, but long live the Ronettes. Sweet, innocent and heartfelt. There’s never been a singer like Ronnie Spector.

23. Sam Cooke, “What a Wonderful World” – Cooke’s classic stands out in so many films (“Witness,” “Animal House”) for good reason. It’s simple sonically and as a story. A perfect love song.

24. New Order, “Temptation” – A lovely track from the best singles act of the ‘80s. Not just a great dance tune but a compelling love song, as well.

25. Sonic Youth, “100%” – A cacophonous love song to the band’s pal, Joe Cole, who was gunned down by a burglar.

26. Dolly Parton, “I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston enjoyed incomprehensible success with Dolly Parton’s composition, with 14 consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. But the defining version is Parton’s goodbye to her former partner and mentor, Porter Wagoner.

27. Cowboy Junkies, “Sweet Jane” – One of the all-time great covers and the inspiration for my younger daughter’s name. Curmudgeonly Lou Reed said this was his favorite version of his song, which was initially recorded by his Velvet Underground. “Heavenly widened roses seem to whisper to me when you smile.” Just beautiful!

28. The Beatles, “Here, There and Everywhere” – “Changing my life with wave of her hand,” McCartney’s heartfelt sentiment about then-girlfriend ‘60s It Girl Jane Asher. McCartney noted that the song was influenced by the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.”

29. Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife” – Apple at her most unrestrained. “If I’m butter, then he’s a hot knife / He makes my heart a cinemascope screen / Showing a dancing bird of paradise.” Too hot!

30. The Lemonheads, “It’s All True” – There was a time when the Lemonheads’ Evan Dando was the king of ’90s alt-rock. Dando wrote a number of slacker love songs, and none is finer than “It’s All True.”

31. A Flock of Seagulls, “Space Age Love Song” – The lone Flock of Seagulls song that resides outside an ‘80s museum thanks to Mike Score’s exceptional guitar line and the ‘90s cult film “Career Opportunities,” which features Jennifer Connelly roller-skating through the aisles of Target.

32. OutKast, “The Way You Move Me” – Drips with ‘70s soul and a great vocal turn by Big Boi.

33. The Roots and Erykah Badu, “You Got Me” – Philly’s finest with an assist from Badu delivering a shout-out to monogamy. Never forget that the Roots are much more than Jimmy Fallon’s house band.

34. Billie Holiday, “The Very Thought of You” – Lady Day’s otherworldly love song. “The very thought of you / I forget to do? Those little ordinary things / That everyone ought to do.”

35. Nina Simone, “To Love Somebody” – The Bee Gees, who wrote the classic, are trumped by Simone’s lovely version of their moving single.

36. The Posies, “I May Hate You Sometimes” – “I may hate you sometimes / But I always love you.” That eloquently sums up many relationships. The Posies went on to write a number of very good love songs, but never surpassed this cut from their debut album, “Failure.”

37. The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night” – There could be 40 songs by the Fab Four on a best love song list. “She Loves You,” “If I Fell” and “In My Life” are worthy. However, there’s something so magical about “A Hard Day’s Night.” Lennon and McCartney blazing a trail.

38. Wilco, “I’ve Got You (At the End of the Century)” – The title of the Wilco classic says it all. A clever and catchy tune that is wedding song material.

39. Brandi Carlile, “The Story” – When I witnessed Carlile belt out this magnificent love song in an intimate room at Austin’s Driskill Hotel atSouth By Southwest 15 years ago, the then relative unknown just blew the room away. “The Story” still generates goosebumps.

40. Cyndi Lauper, “When You Were Mine” – Lauper’s version of Prince’s brilliant under-the-radar gem is hopelessly encased in ’80s synth. However, Lauper, such an underrated emotive vocalist, is unleashed.

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