Finally we are here, at the end of the list. I’ve worked on this Top 100 Love Songs list for much longer than I thought I would need to.
I’ve listened, researched, and written about these songs off and on for months, and I still have not tired of this pursuit. Music is persistent that way.
Since it all started back in May 26 with “Baby Love” (and even well before then, honestly), I’ve been unveiling my Top 100 Love Songs twenty at a time, and this time we will finally see the top of the class: my twenty favorite love songs of all time.
I tend to be partial to the classics, but I have tried to include as many genres and eras as possible without straying from what I deem to be a great love song.
Please note, this list is not attempting to establish the undeniable best 100 love songs of all time. There are too many great tracks out there for me to ever say that my list is definitive. These are simply my favorite love songs. Take it as you will.
Before I reveal the top 20, I’d like to take a moment to recognize a few other songs that were considered but could not make the final list. These six honorable mentions either did not quite meet my criteria as a “love song,” or they simply did not make the cut.
Can’t Fight this Feeling – REO Speedwagon
Keep on Loving You – REO Speedwagon
Burnin’ Up – Jonas Brothers
Home – Michael Bublé
Chasing Cars – Snow Patrol
Somebody to Love – Queen
For the record, I couldn’t quite qualify “Somebody to Love” as a proper love song. If it had been included, it would have surely been top 10.
Now, finally, please enjoy my favorite 20 love songs of all time.
Happy Together – The Turtles
“Happy Together” was offered to dozens of artists before being accepted by the The Turtles, and I believe it absolutely ended up in the right hands. There’s something magical about this song that doesn’t logically make sense. The lyrics aren’t anything special; in fact, they sound almost intentionally over-sappy and nonsensical. All the same, something about Howard Kaylan’s voice, the steady rhythm, the orchestral arrangement, and the simple rhyme scheme come together to create a masterpiece that you don’t mind having stuck in your head all day.
Anyone who wants to hear more about the story behind “Happy Together” can click here for an interview with lead singer Howard Kaylan.
“How is the weather?”
Time in a Bottle – Jim Croce
In December 1970, criminally talented singer/songwriter Jim Croce learned from his wife that she was pregnant with their son. In response to this news, Croce wrote his greatest hit, “Time in a Bottle.” It was released in an album in 1972 and was not intended to ever be released as a single.
A year later, however, Croce died in a plane crash. The message of “Time in a Bottle,” which is all about not having enough time to spend with the ones you love, suddenly carried even more weight. A few months later, the song was released as a single, and it helped catapult Croce to posthumous stardom.
“Time in a Bottle” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, and its lyrics are some of my favorite. If we as people could all live our lives with the perspective about time sung by this man who died far too young, the world would certainly be a much better place.
On a lighter note, this song was also used in one of the best sequences in the history of superhero films.
“If I could save time in a bottle/ The first thing that I’d like to do/ Is to save every day/ ‘Til eternity passes away/ Just to spend them with you”
“If I could make days last forever/ If words could make wishes come true/ I’d save every day like a treasure and then/ Again, I would spend them with you”
“If I had a box just for wishes/ And dreams that had never come true/ The box would be empty/ Except for the memory/ Of how they were answered by you”
Can’t Take My Eyes off You – Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
Throughout the publication of this list I have praised these songs as either serious love songs or fun love songs. Occasionally I’ve praised a track for being both at the same time. Not until now, however, has a love song on this list transitioned between being one and then the other repeatedly throughout the track. Many other factors contribute to “Can’t Take My Eyes off You” landing as a top 20 love song, but I think this unique back-and-forth between the slow and sweet verses and the ramped-up, finger-snapping good time of a chorus is what truly sets this Franki Valli offering apart.
“Pardon the way that I stare/ There’s nothing else to compare/ The sight of you leaves me weak/ There are no words left to speak”
I Have Nothing – Whitney Houston
Whitney hasn’t graced my list since the bottom 20, but “I Have Nothing” has been a shoo-in for a high spot since I first had the idea for this ranking. While “I Will Always Love You” might be slightly more iconic, it is this Whitney original that is by far her greatest contribution to the world of love songs, in my mind.
She uses the many highs and lows of her incredible voice to take the listener along the highs and lows of her love. Full of imperative verbs, “I Have Nothing” is a desperate and forceful challenge to a lover she can’t live without. Whitney takes control: “Don’t you dare walk away from me!” Then she turns around and makes herself vulnerable: “I have nothing if I don’t have you.” From a more aesthetic perspective, there’s something about the pace of that second verse that makes me stop what I’m doing and listen every time.
“You see through/ Right to the heart of me/ You break my walls/ With the strength of your love”
Photograph – Ed Sheeran
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Ed Sheeran is one of the most talented songwriters of our time. His best work comes out in his love songs, and his 2014 hit “Photograph” is no exception. The song’s creation began with a simple piano loop thought up by Snow Patrol member Johnny McDaid. He shared it with Sheeran while they were on tour together, and as McDaid played it, Sheeran started singing “loving can hurt, loving can hurt” to the loop.
With such a serious opening line, “Photograph” nevertheless turned into quite a hopeful song. As its genesis suggests, the song is quite realistic about the potential for pain involved in love. The message by the end of the song, however, is that love it still worthwhile, if for nothing else than the photograph-like memories created along the way. The lyrics are poetic without being pretentious, employing description and imagery in a way that draws in listeners rather than alienating them.
Sheeran said that he recorded 60 to 70 versions of the song with different instruments and arrangements before settling on one for the album. The end result seems perfectly tailored to the message of the song. Employing mostly acoustic guitar, piano, and drums, the music provides a very intimate feel as it slowly builds to an almost tear-jerking final minute. All in all, “Photograph” is a masterpiece of a love song, and it’s not even the last time we’ll see Sheeran on this list.
“Loving can heal/ Loving can mend your soul/ And it’s the only thing that I know”
Maybe I’m Amazed – Paul McCartney
We transition now from one of the greatest love song writers of this century to one from the last. I already sang McCartney’s praises back on “Silly Love Songs,” but “Maybe I’m Amazed” is on another level. For one thing, it is much more serious than its counterpart. Both songs were written about McCartney’s wife Linda, but in this one Paul admits some of his own securities and credits Linda for seeing him through hard times. This song was written while Paul was still a member of the Beatles, and he has stated that the song is partially about the events of the band’s infamous breakup.
McCartney has also been quoted as saying that “Maybe I’m Amazed” is “the song he would like to be remembered for in the future.” In addition to singing, he played every instrument in the song’s recording. While I might hold a handful of Beatles songs in higher regard, this track is certainly my favorite of McCartney’s post-Beatles career. It hits home on both a surface and deeper level, catching the ear and stirring the heart. No top 15 love song list of mine could be published without “Maybe I’m Amazed” making the cut.
“Maybe I’m amazed at the way you’re with me all the time/ Maybe I’m afraid of the way I leave you/ Maybe I’m amazed at the way you help me sing my song/ Right me when I’m wrong/ Maybe I’m amazed at the way I really need you”
Running Home to You – Grant Gustin
This is probably the least-known song in my top 20 (perhaps the entire list). If you’ve never heard of this song, let me tell you a story.
In addition to playing an incredible Barry Allen on the CW’s television interpretation of DC’s “The Flash,” Grant Gustin has an impressive musical background. The ex-Glee member was told early in his tenure as the Scarlet Speedster that he may one day be called upon to sing. As more and more musically gifted actors and actresses joined the CW’s DC universe, it was decided that March 2017 would feature a musical episode. Despite the star-studded crossover cast, the musical episode “Duet” was mostly a silly, poorly written disappointment. Until the final minutes, that is.
The “Flash” producers wanted to end the episode on something truly magical, so they brought in the writers from the 2016 hit movie musical “La La Land” to write Gustin a hit love song. As the musical episode reached its conclusion, Gustin, as Barry Allen, proposed to the show’s love interest Iris West by singing the newly written “Running Home to You” for the first time. I’ve never rushed to buy a song from iTunes so quickly.
As I’ve said before, there is something special about a talented male singer reaching into the upper register that, when done right, is one of my favorite things in music. Gustin perfectly delivers this beautifully written love song in such a way that it works equally well whether being played inside the TV show or by itself. “Running Home to You” tells the story of a man who has decided that, regardless of what trouble and pain await him in the future, he knows exactly where he wants to spend the rest of his life: beside the woman he loves. There’s nothing complicated going on here, but it couldn’t be sweeter.
I know a song written for a superhero television show sounds like the last thing that should be ranked this high in a love song list, but I promise I cannot oversell “Running Home to You.” Please give it a listen.
“Can’t say how the days will unfold/ Can’t change what the future may hold/ But I want you in it/ Every hour, every minute”
If – Bread
A 1971 top 5 hit and one of my favorite wedding songs on the list, “If” is the epitome of musical serenity. The calming music and David Gates’s beautiful and tranquil voice invite listeners to close their eyes and forget the world around them. I know I wrote a lot for these past few songs, but I really don’t know how to describe this one. It’s just beautiful, and it speaks for itself.
“If the world should stop with all things spinning slowly down to die/ I’d spend the end with you/ And when the world was through/ Then one by one the stars would all go out/ And you and I/ Would simply fly away”
Till There was You – The Beatles
Another great McCartney performance, “Till There was You” was originally from the 1957 play “The Music Man.” A cover of the song appeared in the Beatles’ first album to hit North America in 1964, and it was in the band’s set list as early as 1962. Watching a brand new band transition seamlessly between a lovely ballad like this straight into “Twist and Shout” during performances must have been an amazing thing to witness. For those my age who can only listen to recordings of the greatest band of all time, “Till There was You” is a delightful blend of Broadway sound and Beatles fun.
As usual, great versions of Beatles songs don’t really exist on YouTube. Although the one I’ve linked is better than most (and it’s very entertaining to watch the way a young Paul jiggles his head while singing), I still recommend finding the song on iTunes, Spotify, etc.
“There was love all around/ But I never heard it singing/ No I never heard it at all/ Till there was you”
Hey There Delilah – Plain White T’s
Of all my top 20, this song probably needs the most justification for its high placing, yet it is also one of the hardest for me to objectively justify. I don’t know much about the Plain White T’s, and it seems this song isn’t usually viewed in a very serious light by people today. All I know is that as someone who spent 3 years in a long-distance relationship of almost 1000 miles, “Hey There Delilah” was special to me. There was a point in my life where the lyrics fit my situation so well that I rewrote the song as a gift to my girlfriend, who is now my fiancée.
Of course, I have more than personal reasons to rank “Hey There Delilah” so highly. It was a 2008 Grammy Award nomination for Song of the Year. I greatly enjoy lead singer Tom Higgenson’s voice and emotional delivery of the song. It’s certainly one of the catchiest tunes on the list. I don’t know. I can’t really explain it any more than I have. It took everything I had in me just to exclude it from the top 10.
“A thousand miles seems pretty far/ But they’ve got planes and trains and cars/ And I’d walk to you if I had no other way/ Our friends would all make fun of us/ And we’d just laugh along because/ We know that none of them have felt this way/ Delilah I can promise you/ That by the time that we get through/ The world will never ever be the same/ And you’re to blame”
All of Me – John Legend
I can’t think of a better way to open up the top 10. The best-selling song of 2014, “All of Me” is probably one of the most well-known and universally liked songs on my list. John Legend wrote this song for his then-fiancée, now-wife Chrissy Teigen, and the music video ends with footage of their actual wedding. “All of Me” grabs attention from the opening piano notes and never lets it go. Legend’s smooth, soulful vocals combined with inventive and honest lyrics create something truly special. It’s a song of wonder, completion, and commitment, and I can hardly imagine a better love song. Well, I can. Nine of them, to be precise.
Fair warning: some images in the music video can certainly be considered inappropriate.
“You’re my downfall, you’re my muse/ My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues/ I can’t stop singing, it’s ringing, in my head for you”
I Still Believe in You – Vince Gill
“I Still Believe in You” is one of the very few songs that is so undeniably good that it can push past my hatred for country music. It’s the story of a man whose job demands so much of him that he has lost sight of caring for the one he loves. Gill pleads with his love to give him another chance to renew his devotion. It’s a real-life struggle to which millions can relate. Yet it’s also a very sweet song, as Gill pledges his love and asserts that it is stronger than ever.
I gave credit to the original performer, and as good as the original is, there is one version I like better and thought I’d mention. You can listen to it here.
Everything I Do (I Do it for You) – Bryan Adams
There are two things I know for sure about singer/songwriter Bryan Adams: he wrote an amazing love song, and almost every mother of people my age had a crush on him (or still does). Adams’s salt-of-the-earth, slightly gritty singing summons up distinctly American images in my mind, which is ironic since he is in fact Canadian. Perhaps that’s just the usual America-is-the-center-of-the-universe mindset bleeding through the cracks; regardless, Adams is an artist that makes you think of home. “Everything I Do” particularly makes you think of who home is. I’m a sucker for piano ballads, and this is one of the finest. I don’t care that it rhymes “for” with “for” and “love” with “love” a lot. I don’t care about the annoying several minutes of instrumentation at the end of the album version. After months of working on this list, I don’t even care that I’ve used the word “beautiful” to describe these songs way more often than I should. That doesn’t make it any less true.
“There’s no love like your love/ And no other could give more love/ There is nowhere unless you’re there/ All the time, all the way”
Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
A year or two into our relationship, my girlfriend burned a CD with several of her favorite love songs on it. “Thinking Out Loud” was a new song at the time, and she included it in the collection. I played the CD in the car the day I received it in the mail. It was the first time I’d heard the song; the first time, in fact, that I’d ever heard Ed Sheeran, outside of the incredible song he sang for the end credits of the second Hobbit film.
I was immediately struck by the genuine raw emotion in Sheeran’s voice. Along with his writing ability, this emotion has stuck out as the feature that separates Sheeran as an artist in my mind. He wrote “Thinking Out Loud” along with friend Amy Wadge in the span of 20 minutes at 2 in the morning. I could work my entire life and never produce something like that. Many of Sheeran’s love songs combine a realistic perspective of love with still-hopeful tones, but this song is much more the latter. He wrote it during “a really, really happy point” in a relationship, and it shows. The lyrics are wonderful, but apart from the sound of Sheeran seemingly pouring out his soul to the listener, they can’t reach their full potential.
If you’re sick of my gushing about Ed Sheeran (something I thought I’d never do a few years ago), I’m sorry, but I’m still not quite done yet.
“People fall in love in mysterious ways/ Maybe just the touch of a hand/ Me, I fall in love with you every single day/ And I just want to tell you I am”
Can’t Help Falling in Love – Elvis Presley
What even needs to be said? I’m only a passive fan of The King, but “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is undeniably one of the greatest pieces of music to come out of the last century. One of the most covered songs ever, it has become a staple at weddings and in all facets of the entertainment industry. Elvis’ voice is like a cold, smooth Dr. Pepper, and this song is the perfect drinking glass. You don’t have to examine the 23 flavors to know that you’ve got something special. You just sit back and let it fill you with pure delight.
“Like a river flows/ Surely to the sea/ Darling so it goes/ Some things are meant to be”
I See the Light – Tangled
Let me start by saying I proposed to my fiancée by rewriting parts of this song and singing it to her, so if there’s a time to be biased, that time is now. That being said, I do think this song is objectively great and can be appreciated by anyone.
Composer Alan Manken is a musical master, and as far as love songs go, “I See the Light” is his finest creation. Branching out a little from the usual Broadway-esque Disney musical, “Tangled” strove to integrate their songs a little more organically and go a different direction with how they sound. There’s still a little traditional musical in the duet “I See the Light,” but Manken also drew inspiration from the folk music of the 1960’s to create something unique.
But enough about the music. The real magic here comes from the lyrics and the voices. Mandy Moore not only has incredible range but surprising tenderness as she delivers her lines while still playing the role of an over-sheltered young woman just beginning to blossom. Zachary Levi may be the less impressive of the two, but I absolutely love the lyrics Manken wrote for him. I used his verse in my proposal song without any lyrical changes.
I’m going to stop here, but I cannot stress the quality of “I See the Light” enough.
“Now she’s here, shining in the starlight/ Now she’s here, suddenly I know/ If she’s here, it’s crystal clear/ I’m where I’m meant to go”
Perfect – Ed Sheeran
I’m only the tiniest bit sorry for the amount of Ed Sheeran songs on this list. Sheeran wrote “Perfect” with the sole intent of one-upping “Thinking Out Loud” from a few years prior, and I believe it does that… well… perfectly. “Perfect” takes all the sweetness and “first wedding dance” appeal from “Thinking Out Loud” and combines it with the descriptive imagery of “Photograph” to produce a love song experience on an even greater level than these previous attempts. I challenge any man (or woman) in a long-term relationship to listen to this song without feeling some sort of emotional stirring.
“Well I found a woman, stronger than anyone I know/ She shares my dreams, I hope that someday I’ll share her home/ I found a love, to carry more than just my secrets/ To carry love, to carry children of our own”
God Only Knows – The Beach Boys
The second song on this list from the amazing album “Pet Sounds,” “God Only Knows” is even more compositionally complex and impressive than the last. I’m no music student, but even I can recognize a beautiful arrangement of unorthodox instruments when I hear it. Lyrically, “God Only Knows” is a bit dramatic, but in a way that convinces you it’s not. I think the best way I can describe the effects of this song is that it sweeps you off your feet and floats you along for a scarce two minutes and fifty seconds of bliss. Now I’m the one being dramatic.
“If you should ever leave me/ While life would still go on, believe me/ The world could show nothing to me/ So what good would living do me?/ God only knows what I’d be without you”
Never Stop (Wedding Version) – Safetysuit
Aside from the Flash song, “Never Stop” might be the least recognizable track in my top 20. If you’ve never heard it, I beg you: please click the link. Nothing I can say is as worthwhile as just listening to this song. Safetysuit isn’t known for much else, as far as I can tell, and their original recording of it is actually more of a rock song. But when this rendition plays, none of that matters. “Never Stop” is a sweeping manifesto of love from a man to a woman, the most genuine and heartfelt declaration in my entire love songs list. I can’t imagine better lyrics to apply to a relationship, and they are so beautifully delivered in this version of the song.
The original rock version is actually really good as well, albeit with much less of a love song feel. You can find this version right here.
Literally all the lyrics are perfect. Just listen.
Faithfully – Journey
With a little more objectivity, this song is still somewhere in the top 20. My selection to put it as the greatest love song of all time, however, is a 100% subjective, personal decision. But I’ll get to that in a second.
As I’ve mentioned before, Steve Perry was gifted with one of the greatest and most unique voices ever. “Faithfully,” in my opinion, is the ultimate vehicle in which this voice is expressed. Written by keyboard player Jonathan Cain, the song tells of a musician’s devotion to his love while on the road. The lyrics expertly describe the effects of distance in a relationship. By the end of the track, Perry’s voice is soaring into the stratosphere, and all is right with the world.
I chose this song as No. 1 largely because of a few lines in the second verse. “Being apart ain’t easy on this love affair. Two strangers learn to fall in love again. I get the joy of rediscovering you.” My fiancée and I were long-distance for the first 3 years of our relationship, and these lyrics EXACTLY describe what it felt like to see her once every five or six months. I had forgotten how we worked together, what she truly sounded like (the phone doesn’t get it right), how short she was – everything that made her her. Every time we saw each other, it was two strangers learning to fall in love again. And that was hard. But the next line is true too. I got the absolute joyous privilege of rediscovering everything I loved about her all over again, almost like it was for the first time. It was all these things and more that led to a lasting relationship that I am confident, with God as my witness, will only end one way: faithfully.
Wow. It’s finally over. Months of sorting and writing and taking breaks and writing some more have finally produced a complete Top 100 love songs list. I hope someone enjoys it. Soon I will publish a post that includes the entire 100 songs in rapid-fire link format, so that readers can view the list in its complete form all at once. Be on the lookout for that. Thank you for making it this far with me. You can go now.