25. “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” – The Smiths.
It’s been said that death is something we ultimately all must face alone. As such, it’s particularly serendipitous that “There is a Light that Never Goes out” ended up hand-in-hand with “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” on our countdown, because both songs embrace the idea that there is no greater expression of love than to share the experience of death together. While Morrissey certainly wasn’t shy about sharing morbid thoughts his lyrics, this song uses the idea of dying together as a much sweeter sentiment; the narrator has found themselves at the side of someone so indescribably wonderful that there is simply nothing in the world that could diminish his joy at that moment – not even being crushed by a double decker bus. — Zack Dennis
24. “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” – Death Cab for Cutie.
When it comes to demonstrating just how much you love someone, it doesn’t get more hardcore than following them beyond the material plane and into the realm of death itself. Just as Orpheus pursued Euridyce, just as Robin Williams followed his wife in that awful movie where everything was a painting and his son turned out to be Cuba Gooding, Jr, so do Death Cab for Cutie make the ultimate promise: “If there’s no one beside you/When your soul embarks/Then I’ll follow you into the dark.” If the sentiment carries an air of junior-high earnestness, the tune itself is unfussy and ably captures a sentiment you might find yourself thinking, yet unable to put into words without sinking into cheesiness. How many mix CDs have been graced by this song? We may never know. — Dan Wiencek
This is, simply put, the sound of two people falling in love. While Hansard wrote and recorded “Falling Slowly” no less than twice before — once with his band, The Frames, and a second time with Irglová on an album that preceded the film Once — it wasn’t until the version recorded for the film that the song truly captured its heart. — Parr
22. “Just Like Heaven” – The Cure.
It’s the ultimate Cure song: love and happiness were there, once, but alas, poor me, they were just a dream, or just like a dream, or perhaps, as a friend once called me at 4 in the morning to point out, the girl that melted Robert Smith’s gothy heart was now dead, or possibly never even existed. Poor Robert Smith, he just can’t win, but when it was happening it sure was nice—and isn’t the fleetingness of happiness with an infectious beat what the Cure is all about? –Brian Boone — Boone
21. “Higher and Higher” – Jackie Wilson.
It doesn’t always have to be mortal, mournful or painful. Sometimes love is just transcendent joy, it gets you on your feet, it moves like the Holy Spirit on the waters, it gets you doing cartwheels through the gospel choir. Jackie Wilson somehow managed to sing a little song with nothing but “hallelujahs” and never actually utter the word. Sure, the love Jackie’s singing of is not the spiritual kind, not with phrases like “quench my desire and I’ll be by your side forevermore,” but you would be hard-pressed to find anything but sheer holiness in this song. And frankly, if you asked, I think God himself would shake that tambourine as Jackie lifts higher and higher. — Dw. Dunphy
20. “Constant Craving” – k.d. lang.
k.d. lang pulls a unique stunt with “Constant Craving” – it’s the only song on this list that isn’t directed towards a specific person. It stands to reason that in order to write a song about love, and its tendency to consume one’s thoughts, one would need a muse, someone who inspires the profound sense of ache and longing that pours out of every single note of “Constant Craving.” And to be fair, there was indeed someone who inspired this song cycle, if the rest of the album that spawned “Craving,” 1992′s Ingenue, is any indication. For this song, though, the mere thought of love, and how it’s worth waiting for, was enough. The musical and lyrical textures may come from a lonely place, but it carries a thread of optimism as well, and in the hands of lang and her clear-as-a-bell voice, even the darkest parts of “Constant Craving” end up soaring. — Medsker
19. “Unchained Melody” – Righteous Brothers.
Written for the soundtrack to a mostly forgotten 1955 prison film, “Unchained Melody” is grand and melodramatic in an unapologetically dorky sort of way — the kind of song that can either sweep you up or trigger a cynical giggling fit, depending on the context. But that’s what makes it so perfect: It’s all about longing with no end in sight, and when are we ever less cool than when we’re reduced to mooning for the one we love? Only when we’re writhing over a pottery wheel while Whoopi Goldberg naps in her trailer. — Giles
18. “Bizarre Love Triangle” – New Order.
I don’t know about you, but I rarely spend too much time pondering New Order’s lyrics. There’s just so much else going on, you know? But I have always wondered why the third member of Bernie’s bizarre love triangle is never discussed directly — if indeed the triangle involves three people at all, rather than perhaps two people and a swirling, burbling synth. (Those multiple synth lines are quite irresistible…) In any case, “Bizarre Love Triangle” earns its place on this list with an infinitely relatable (and even touching, if you can quit dancing for a minute!) lyric about two people whose mutual affection dare not speak its name — at least not yet. Newt Gingrich, for one, indubitably knows where Bernie is coming from … and there’s the first and last time those two names will share a sentence, so you’re welcome. — Cummings
17. “These Arms of Mine” – Otis Redding.
Redding’s very first (!) Stax single was longing personified, a shy come-on made immortal by the finest of southern soul voices. Just two verses in length, the song gives Redding just enough space to tremble (whenever he sings the word hold) and testify (in the closing seconds, when tentative timidity gives way to brash demands). For fans of the movie Roadhouse, though, it was the soundtrack for Patrick Swayze stand-up-fucking Kelly Lynch in his apartment. So, you know, the song works on a bunch of different levels. — Rob Smith
16. “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” – Stevie Wonder.
I don’t know that we’ll ever understand the depth and breadth of Stevie Wonder’s artistic output. It’s astonishing that he’s put out so many classic records and songs, and yet a track like this can realistically be considered a “deep cut.” His hits are so great that even his lesser-known cuts are songs that might be career highlights for a lesser artist. Here he sings strong, defiant, standing certain in a love he believes will last forever. — Springer
15. “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell.
It’s been spun by so many DJs, covered by so many artists, and abused by so many ad campaigns that its melody barely registers and its chorus sounds like a hackneyed shrug, but don’t be fooled — “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” is two minutes of perfect poetry, loaded with sharp rhymes and sharper truths. And oh, the way the song dives at “No other sound” before rising back up with “is quite the same as your name,” then builds to that crescendo on “Let’s stay together”? Textbook Motown — lab-engineered to hit the listener where it counts, and arriving right on target every time. — Giles
14. “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” – Aretha Franklin.
I’ve listened to this song more times than I can remember, and I still can’t decide which is more perfect — the song itself, or Jerry Wexler’s production. It might have a sex-specific title, but “Natural Woman” has a universal message, and there’s just something about this recording that makes it feel like the lyrics — it sounds like a contented sigh, a private moment of reflection, and a triumphant ode to joy, all in less than three minutes. — Giles
To listen to Albert Hammond’s recording of his song “The Air That I Breathe” is to understand the line by Francis Reader of the Trashcan Sinatras when he tells someone, “I like your poetry, but I hate your poems.” Lyrically, it’s a beautiful sentiment – I need nothing in the world but you. And oxygen, obviously I need oxygen – but his arrangement of the song begs comparisons to the guy with the acoustic guitar on the basement steps at the Delta Tau Chi toga party. “I gave my love a cherry that had no stone…” Enter the Hollies, who turn the exact same words into the post-coital bliss it was meant to be. The Hollies are by no means a tough band, but Allan Clarke’s vocal sells the lyric in an entirely different manner than Hammond did. He’s no sensitive minstrel who just feels lucky to score – he’s a man’s man, but he also realizes that nothing else really matters in the end but the girl. Hammond gave “The Air That I Breathe” a soul, but the Hollies gave it a libido. — Medsker
12. “Don’t Worry Baby” – Beach Boys.
Most people hearing the Ronettes singing “Be My Baby” might think that love songs simply don’t get any better than that. Brian Wilson begged to differ, and set out to top, or at least tie, Phil and Ronnie Spector’s masterpiece with his own statement of pure, unabashed devotion. For the tightly wound and perpetually frazzled Wilson, this translates into a promise of comfort: love means never having to say you’re worried. With a lyric steeped in the girls-and-cars tropes of the Beach Boys’ early singles, “Don’t Worry Baby” doesn’t quite achieve the universality of its inspiration, but for sheer melodic gorgeousness, it is every bit its equal. — Dan Wiencek
11. “Never Tear Us Apart” – INXS.
Recently, I tweeted that when I was a preteen, I thought this was the greatest love song ever written and that part of me still thinks that’s true. This sparked a conversation between Jeff Giles and I that I believe led to this list being created. So, in my mind, this song is #1. I received the cassette of Kick for a Christmas present in 1987 and I used to rewind and play “Never Tear Us Apart” on repeat over and over, imagining that one day, some boy would make me feel the way Michael Hutchence feels in this song. The lyrics are simple and heartfelt and, to me, perfectly encapsulate the idea of meant-to-be, everlasting love without being treacly and eyeroll-inducing. And the mix of swelling strings, bluesy guitar, 60’s doo-wop backing vocals, and a cheesy sax solo shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s one of the most straightforward and sincere love songs to come out of the 1980s and I’m hoping that, one day, some boy and I will consider it “our song.” — Kelly Stitzel
10. “Maybe I’m Amazed” – Paul McCartney.
Love is patient, love is kind, and love sometimes just can’t believe its own good luck. Shaken and depressed in the wake of the Beatles’ breakup, Paul McCartney wrote the first great song of his solo career as a tribute to his wife Linda, who had been his support during that difficult time. And what a tribute it was: of all the love songs McCartney would write, “Maybe I’m Amazed” may be the most heartfelt. Macca rightfully gets dinged for overindulging his musical sweet tooth, but there is nothing sentimental or overwrought about this song, just honest emotion, perfectly expressed. — Dan Wiencek
9. “My Girl” – The Temptations.
“I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day / When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May.” If you’ve ever wondered why Bob Dylan referred to Smokey Robinson as America’s greatest living poet, look no further than that couplet, which takes the soaring thrill of love’s first bloom and boils it down to 20 perfect syllables. What can make me feel this way? “My Girl,” every time I hear it. — Giles
8. “Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green.
If you came of radio-listening age when I did – the early to mid ’70s – there was “Let’s Stay Together,” and then there was everything else. The embodiment of romantic soul at a time when lust was creeping in all over the dial, the song didn’t want to ravage you in bed (like “Let’s Get It On”) or overpower you with man-musk (see Barry White’s entire catalog). It just wanted to keep you around, whether times were good or bad, happy or sad. And let’s face it, who’s gonna say no to Al Green? Has it been politicized a bit recently, thanks to a certain loverman-in-chief’s crooning during a fundraiser? Perhaps, but I’d humbly suggest it takes some presidential cojones to sing “Let’s Stay Together”(and not badly!) with Green in the audience. — Cummings
7. “Something” – The Beatles.
This is a Beatles song the way “The Ballad of John and Yoko” is a Beatles song, which is to say not at all. This is a George Harrison joint, so pure and beautiful and strong that it couldn’t have been corrupted by other Beatles as the group was falling apart. Frank Sinatra, he himself a famous singer of famous love songs, famously singled this out as one of the new modern/rock songs he was amazed by. That’s because Harrison tapped into that highly cultivated spiritual side to compose this song, feeling love on a preternatural, otherworldly level to create a masterpiece, a deeply moving signature song. (He may or may not have written it for his then-love Pattie Boyd; he told her it was about her, but he half-jokingly also has said it was about how the music of Ray Charles makes him feel. If that’s true, then I need to go write a song about how “Something” makes me feel. — Boone
6. “Your Song” – Elton John.
“It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside…” Not the most effusive opening couplet for a classic love song. But “Your Song” works precisely because it’s never effusive. There’s an intimacy to Bernie Taupin’s lyrics and Elton John’s melody and vocal that rings sincere even after forty-plus years of overplay across the radio dial. Though it’s led by Elton’s unforgettable piano riff, don’t miss that sprinkling of light acoustic guitar and one of the great Paul Buckmaster string accompaniments. It’s not showy or grand; it doesn’t soar or declare. It’s a simple statement of a simple feeling, one that’s comforting in its familiarity. — Springer
Etta James’ recent passing occasioned, for many, a fresh look at a brilliant vocalist whose work mostly languishes in undeserved obscurity. This song, however — this glorious, timeless paean to the mixture of ecstasy and relief that attends the finding of a soulmate — still hovers over the rest of her ouevre, as well as the entire canon of R&B balladry. Has it become politicized a bit, due to its ubiquity during the Obama inauguration? Perhaps, but ecstasy and relief were the emotions at hand, so they couldn’t have picked a better song. — Cummings
4. “Can’t Help Falling In Love with You” – Elvis Presley.
There’s a reason that love is often compared to the changing of the tides, or the passage of time. And there’s a reason that it’s called “”falling”” in love – we simply find ourselves at the mercy of a force as irresistible as gravity itself. First recorded by Elvis Presley for his otherwise forgettable film Blue Hawaii, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” served as just one of many examples of why women couldn’t seem to help falling in love with the King himself. And while it’s been covered by every musician under the sun – and movies have even been named for its simple sentiment, Elvis’ original version reigns supreme as a testament to the way that love can overcome us, despite our best efforts to resist, and despite any objections our wisest friends might raise. It simply can’t be helped. — Zack Dennis
3. “Be My Baby” – The Ronettes.
That beat. That voice. That WALL. “Be My Baby” is one of the few truly otherworldly moments in the history of pop music. It takes what has come before and manipulates it to such a magnificent degree that it’s hard to imagine the result actually emerged from a human brain. Yet at its heart, it’s remarkably simple–Ronnie Bennett (later Spector) pleads for love, for connection, for a warm embrace that will engulf her the way her voice is nearly engulfed by the song churning around her. Phil Spector is a pathetic man, but his work stands tall as the culmination of a singular vision executed by impeccable musicians at a formative moment for pop. Brian Wilson famously wanted his recently-released SMiLE to be “a teenage symphony to God.” He must have known he’d already been beaten to that punch; he once declared this song “the greatest pop record ever made.” Hard to argue with that. — Springer
2. “In Your Eyes” – Peter Gabriel.
From the moment that Say Anything director Cameron Crowe made the decision to replace Fishbone’s “Turn the Other Way” — what actually played while filming — and The Smithereens’ “A Girl Like You” with Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” during the iconic scene where John Cusak’s lovable loser Lloyd Dobler raises his boombox over his head has entrenched the song forever in the heart of anyone that has ever watched the film. A love song for the ages, it is the final stanza — or prelude, depending on what version you are listening to — that sums up the humble glory of love. ”Accepting all I’ve done and said / I want to sand and stare again / until there is nothing left out / oh, it remains there, in your eyes / whatever comes and goes / oh, it’s in your eyes.” — Parr
1. “God Only Knows” – Beach Boys.
“God Only Knows” is a musical collision. It is the naivete of youth in sunny, summery arrangement and the shadow of awareness all at once. When the line of “What good would livin’ do me” appears in the wonderland that had just been rolled out before the listener, it is easily dismissed as the overwrought voice of a young man who, golly gee, just thinks you’re swell and would die right there if you ever left. And yet, he’s considered it. “I may not always love you” is, after all, the very first line of the tune. This person has seen relationships grow and die, he’s seen the loveless fossils stand as a dim reminder of the full-blooded something originally filling the shape. He knows what he feels, it’s as real as the pores of his own skin, and yet he’s been looking at it all with open eyes. The young heart collides with the hard world. “God only knows what I’d be without you.” Believe it: he’s been thinking that one over. — Dw. Dunphy