50. “I Will” – The Beatles.
We all know Paul has his lighter side. Sometimes he lets it run wild and the results are cringe-inducing. Other times he gets it just right, and “I Will” is one of those times. The lyric doesn’t bear much scrutiny — there are so many ifs and whens that it’s tough to decipher what the hell’s going on. No matter. Sung by Paul in a contented croon, “I Will” is warm and fuzzy and delightful, with a clip-clopping rhythm, ringing acoustic guitar fills and, in a classic McCartneyesque touch that’s both innovative and endearing, a sung bass line. Every detail seems affectionately seen to — a perfect valentine in song. — Dan Wiencek
49. “Day After Day” – Badfinger.
Badfinger gets a bad rap most of the time. As a band on the Apple label that often was the beneficiaries of the Beatles’ generosity (or the dumping ground, depending on how you feel about them), wherein walls of vocal harmonies, a little tricky slide guitar, and hooks that can take an eye out converged, Badfinger probably couldn’t help but get hung with the second-tier status. But how many bands can say they wrote one of Harry Nilsson’s finest vocal moments, crafted a template for power-pop (with “No Matter What” and “Baby Blue,” naturally) and took such a puppy-dog-waiting-by-the-window sentiment as is the crux of “Day After Day” and make it seem victorious? They did, it is, and if you feel a little light-headed during the oohs and ahhhs in the solo, that’s the point, buddy. That’s the whole shebang. — Dw. Dunphy
48. “Can’t Help Myself” – The Four Tops.
Screw you, Duncan Hines. You may have put a few extra shekels in the Holland-Dozier-Holland retirement fund, but you also made it so an entire generation can’t hear this song without remembering your stupid ’80s ad campaign, which sullied the legacy of the only song great enough to get away with using the words “sugar pie” and “honey bunch.” Who wants some cake, goddammit? — Giles
47. “Being With You” – Smokey Robinson.
“To hell with the rest of them and to hell with your past,” Smokey says, “I love you, you love me, and nothing else matters.” Of course, he puts it much more poetically than that, wrapping his sentiments in that silky voice, the one that says so much more than even his lyrics can convey. When he twirls around the line “One thing I know for sure, it’s really, really real,” the room melts away, and the listener is left smiling and nodding in the presences of pure, uncut soul. The sniping crowd might be correct—she might be ready to leave him—but that voice is so convincing, you have to believe it’s not true, that the two of them are good to go from this day forward. — Rob Smith
46. “Melt With You” – Modern English.
Skip the cover version in the Hershey’s ad: the original is all about the point where young lust becomes young love. New wavy without without too much synth, a little a capella section that’s not sweet, and a surprisingly mature view of the world. It’s only mesh and lace, but how worn? There’s enough optimism here to make it a dance song, and enough seriousness that it has outlasted most of the One Hit Wonders of its era. — Annie Logue
45. “Lovesong” – The Cure.
Disintegration is widely regarded as The Cure’s finest album, and a proper return to the dark gothic style that brought them early success. “Lovesong” is more accessible than most of the other songs on the album, and while the music falls into the same depressed vein, the lyrics actually portray a much more optimistic outlook. Permanent love. — Zack Dennis
44. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” – Stevie Wonder.
If there is one man who personified love in the 1970s it was Stevie Wonder. Every note, every word in this song is suffused with Wonder’s intoxicating, irrepressible joy. It should go without saying that this is Stevie at the peak of his powers, and a few years into the greatest artistic run in 20th century music. What makes this an especially lasting song is that it combines straightforward, earnest lyrics with Wonder’s typically nuanced arranging. It is simply impossible to not feel better after hearing this. — Chris Holmes
The power-pop classic “I Got You” may have served as teenage Neil Finn’s calling card as he bum-rushed his big brother’s band, but “Message to My Girl” crystallized the beauty and intricacy that would make him the finest songwriter of the last three decades. (Don’t even try to argue the point; resistance is futile.) It was the sound of a man reaching maturity, and yearning to “sing to the world” his realization that to become a man is to put away “empty self-possession” and open oneself, sincerely and whole-heartedly, to someone else. It was also the sound of a composer reaching maturity, from the opening piano flourish to the soaring chorus melody that resolves to a bittersweet minor key — a tactic that would become one of Finn’s trademarks, and that has never gotten old. For Finn, there was no going back to facile pop — “It’s no New Year’s resolution, it’s more than that” indeed. There are no Crowded House songs on this list — an astonishing fact, given the Popdose crew’s general Finn-worship — but it would be criminal not to take an opportunity to revel in that band’s finest love songs, from “Don’t Dream It’s Over” to “Fall At Your Feet” to “Distant Sun” and beyond. — Cummings
42. “Strange Currencies” – R.E.M..
From the opening power chords of “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth,” it was clear that R.E.M. was aiming for a vastly different sound on their 1994 album Monster than they had produced in their earlier efforts. “Strange Currencies” uses the same distortion-heavy guitar as most of the album’s other songs, but slows things down from the heady gallop of the album’s first few songs to a leisurely trot. Strange things take on value in a relationship, and the traditional rules of economics, supply and demand, appreciation and depreciation become meaningless and go straight out the window. Whether one sees this song as an apology or a desperate plea of unrequited love, “Strange Currencies” remains relentlessly, almost pathologically hopeful. It’s a nice digression from many of R.E.M.’s other love songs, which typically strike a more mournful tone, and that’s why it found its way into our Top 50. — Zack Dennis
41. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.
A perfect confluence of voices and songwriters (Ashford and Simpson, of course), “Ain’t No Mountain” is the perfect declaration of fidelity and persistence, played with all the danceable grace of the best Motown. Gaye can barely contain himself—his performance is all tension and determination; Terrell responds tentatively at first, then with increasing confidence as the two entwine and rise, soaring past the peaks of which they sing. — Rob Smith
40. “Everyday” – Buddy Holly.
So pure, so sweet, and yet so sophisticated. All the ingredients needed, and not one more, are here — Holly and his distinctive hiccuping vocals, backed by a spartan arranagement of acoustic guitar, standup bass, slap percussion, and celeste. “Everyday” was relegated to the B-side of the “Peggy Sue” single in 1957, so it’s hard to say how it would’ve fared on its own. But as an example of Holly’s songwriting acumen, it’s a damn good one. It’s difficult for me to listen to any of his songs without the shadow of that tragic February night in Iowa looming large, but “Everyday” is living proof that Buddy Holly’s legacy has rightly outlasted his brief time on Earth. — Chris Holmes
39. “Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper.
If Miles Davis covers your song, it’s gotta be cool. And underneath its dated ’80s production, “Time After Time” is a rock-solid monument to classic pop songwriting — not to mention an achingly simple ballad that blends poetry (“You say go slow / I fall behind / The second hand unwinds”) with an unconditional declaration of faith. Who hasn’t wanted to hear these words? — Giles
38. “I Walk The Line” – Johnny Cash.
The story of a bad man; maybe not truly bad, but certainly prone to the temptations, the high, the rage and the will to succumb to it without any analysis. All he needs is one angel to stand by him. She’ll put up with the darkness in his soul. It’s there in everyone but he is much more connected to it, and much more influenced by it, but she will put up with it — provided he try. Provided he is willing to attempt the sacrifice of the immediate for the retention of greater things and the grasp for less shopworn blessings, she will stay. That is why he will walk the line, not necessarily because he wants to, but because he wants his angel more. — Dw. Dunphy
37. “With or Without You” – U2.
When U2 plays a love song, you never quite know if the object is a lady or Jesus. The band is less overtly Christian than in its early days, they certainly advocate a Christian morality in the “”love your God with your whole heart, love your neighbor as yourself, the God I believe in isn’t short of cash”” sense that seems so very lost in the world. And, for rock stars, all of the band members have been able to maintain long-term relationships. Bono even remains married his high-school sweetheart some thirty years later. Whether you want to interpret “”With or Without You”” as a song to Christ or a song to Ali, it works. — Annie Logue
36. “To Love Somebody” – Bee Gees.
A ballad so great, it might have been Otis Redding’s crowning glory, had he gotten around to recording it as Barry Gibb reportedly hoped he would. A statement of unrequited yearning so powerful that even Michael Bolton couldn’t ruin it. “To Love Somebody” is a soul masterpiece trapped in the body of a gawky British-invasion (well, Aussie-invasion) pop song. It was also the first clue that someday these buck-toothed varmints were going to go all funky on us. — Cummings
35. “Such Great Heights” – The Postal Service.
When Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie decided to step out of his sonic comfort zone of indie rock for more blippy climes (but stay firmly within his thematic comfort zone of love, longing and general wistfulness) as The Postal Service in 2003, he and recording partner Jimmy Tamborello didn’t know they were about to release irresistible cover song fodder. In short order, the opening track of the band’s debut album “Give Up” found its way into the hearts and imaginations of a wide variety of musicians. The most notable cover of “Such Great Heights” is probably Iron and Wine’s achingly intimate acoustic version that finds the two-of-us-in-bed whispers below Gibbard and Tamborello’s synthesizer glow. Splitting the tonal difference, The Section Quartet gave “Such Great Heights” a swooning instrumental take on the album “Fuzzbox” a few years later. In whatever form it takes, “Such Great Heights” is an instant romantic classic. — Michael Sarko
34. “Crazy” – Patsy Cline.
For the follow-up single to her hit ”I Fall to Pieces,” Patsy Cline chose to record a song written by then-unknown singer-songwriter Willie Nelson; ”Crazy” would go on to become her signature song. A huge crossover hit for Cline, it further established her as a force to be reckoned with not only in the country music world, but in the pop world as well. Its melody is perfectly suited for Cline’s vocal style, and the arrangement by producer Owen Bradley, complete with tinkly piano and dreamy male backing vocals, is lovely. Cline initially disliked the song because the demo Nelson gave her had the lyrics more spoken than sung. It’s a good thing she finally came around because it is one of the most gorgeous ballads ever recorded. — Kelly Stitzel
Paul Weller may have developed the most famous case of boredom in rock history around 1982, when he abandoned the all mod cons of his old band, the Jam, and announced that he would henceforth be a jazz-soul-protest singer, or something. Singles emerged in a perplexing array of styles, while howls of protest reverberated from Melody Maker to NME, and even fans were left to wonder if there was any sincerity behind Weller and Mick Talbot’s faux-Parisian posturing and ever-changing stylistic moods. Such concerns were put to rest, or at least put on hold, by the unabashedly romantic “You’re the Best Thing.” Some jazzy guitar, a bit of bossa nova in the percussion, and a string section betrayed Weller’s musical dalliances — but the lyric expressly contradicted his by-then-renowned wanderlust, with talk of contentment and not “wanting more than I’ve already got.” Such a contextual reading was unavoidable in 1984 … but as time passed, and worries about Weller’s career path receded, the universal charms of “You’re the Best Thing” emerged triumphant. After all, it was my college girlfriend’s favorite love song, and she had no idea who the Jam even were… — Cummings
32. “Fade Into You” – Mazzy Star.
If Stanley Shoegaze and Debbie Dreampop got married, they’d hire Mazzy Star to play at their wedding. And the well-matched couple would request for “Fade Into You” to be played for their first dance. It’s the perfect song for lazily collapsing into your lover, celebrating the familiarity that makes falling asleep with the one you love into a natural thing. This is the only song that generated much widestream attention for the band, but it’s without question one of the finest love songs to have emerged from the relatively thin field of the 1990’s. — Zack Dennis
31. “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” – Spinners.
I was too young to know anything about love the first time I heard “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” on the radio, but I distinctly remember having a sense of what it felt like to be in it. The strings, the horns, and those reassuring female vocals in the chorus – Thom Bell’s finest work, as far as I’m concerned – the song sounded like love, and it made love sound fantastic. Other songs may offer deeper pledges to love, or bare their souls in an almost uncomfortable way, but “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” captures that mixture of euphoria, tenderness, and vulnerability that we know as love like no other. — Medsker
30. “I Only Have Eyes for You” – The Flamingos.
“I Only Have Eyes for You” had been around for 25 years and been recorded by everyone from Al Jolsen to Peggy Lee when it was given to the Flamingos in 1959 as a possible entry on their first LP, Flamingo Serenade. But to the group’s arranger and first tenor, Terry Johnson, the song as written was bland and he spent hours with his guitar, trying to puzzle out an arrangement. Eventually he fell asleep, and in his dreams he heard the song as it should be done, right down to the “do-bop-sh-bop” harmonies. He arranged a spare accompaniment of brushed drums, piano, guitar and bass, along with distant, heavily reverbed backing vocals that all serve to highlight Nate Nelson’s extraordinary lead. Whether by providence or the mysterious workings of the subconscious, Johnson got something out of “I Only Have Eyes for You” that no one else had: a performance that captures the moment when everything else disappears and nothing else matters except the one you love. If there’s a better, more utterly perfect song for a romantic slow dance, I’ve never heard it. — Dan Wiencek
29. “Always on My Mind” – Willie Nelson.
Go to YouTube and type in “Pet Shop Boys,” and the first auto-complete result is “Always On My Mind.” Now type in “Willie Nelson” and see what happens (spoiler alert: it’s the same thing). One’s a surging dance anthem to selfishness; the other is a straightforward sorrowful lament. When I was a kid, I thought the PSB version was sort of catchy and Willie’s was about the dumbest thing I’d ever heard; as a man approaching middle age, well…let’s just say I understand both sides of the story. — Giles
28. “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” – Barry White.
Let me confess my profound lameness by admitting that my introduction to Barry White was via Ally McBeal. I have no fond memories of the series, although I inexplicably enjoyed it at the time. What I do remember is the music, and especially the Barry White. I’m a musical child of the nineties so I had no previous exposure to the smooth, silky sounds of Mr. White. What grabbed me as Calista Flockhart cavorted on my dorm room screen was those soaring, almost manic strings–man, the disco era was so great for string sections, in the same way Stax soul was great for horn sections. If you’ve ever been in love, and I hope that you have, those strings chart in musical form the leaps your heart makes when you find the one you want and when he wants you back. Sublime. — Springer
27. “Let My Love Open the Door” – Pete Townshend.
For years following the release of this wonderful single, I thought of it less in terms of its sentiment than in terms of the poppish departure it represented from the Who’s trademark sound. Its message is, on first blush, cocky and insistent — a bit too insistent, I thought, worrying that the love being expressed was more the John Hinckley-for-Jodie Foster variety than something positive. But over time I came to appreciate the breadth of human experienceTownsend encompasses here, from youthful bravado to profound adversity. That last point was driven home, rather brilliantly I thought, in the film “Dan in Real Life,” in which Steve Carell’s widower quietly takes over the vocals for that last verse as he begins to open his own heart once more. Sure, it was manipulative, but in the very best way — the kind of moment we all remember, when a song’s worldview merges seamlessly with our own. — Cummings
26. “Here, There & Everywhere” – The Beatles.
Perhaps the most unabashedly romantic song in the Beatles’ catalog, and perhaps McCartney’s single most exquisite melody. The lyric flirts with a nursery-rhyme scheme, as so many of Macca’s do (for better or for worse) — but this time it’s definitely for the better. “Each one believing that love never dies / Watching her eyes, and hoping I’m always there … I will be there, and everywhere.” Perfection. — Cummings