Nine Decades of Love Songs

How does one choose one love song to represent an entire decade, when such a huge percentage of songs written every year are love songs? It’s an impossible task, so I’m approaching it very subjectively (who can be objective about love or love songs?), and I urge all of you lovebirds out there to let us know your all-time favorite songs of love.

1928: “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (Jimmy McHugh-Dorothy Fields)–  Dorothy Fields, the most successful female songwriter on Tin Pan Alley, teamed up with Jimmy McHugh to create many popular standards, including “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Exactly Like You.”

1937: “My Funny Valentine” (Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart)— Of course I had to pick this one, one of the most beautiful melodies in all of popular music, with the bonus of having a clever approach to lyrics.  It’s from the Rodgers & Hart musical Babes in Arms. The song is often recorded by male vocalists, including Sinatra and Bennett, but was written for a female character to sing to a man, Valentine “Val” LaMar.


1941: “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)” (Stept-Brown-Tobias) — OK, the song was written in 1939, but the lyrics were revised in 1941 to make it applicable to the soldiers of World War II and their sweethearts back home. Definitely a love song of its time, courtesy of The Andrews Sisters.

1951: “Hey, Good Lookin’” (Hank Williams)—“Only You.” “To the Aisle.” “Unchained Melody.”  “Love Me Tender.”  Overwhelmed by the hundreds of great love songs from the fifties doo-woppers and rockers, I went the other direction and grabbed a catchy number from the king of country & western, Hank Williams. Sing it to your honey on Valentine’s Day: “How’s about cookin’ somethin’ up with me?” Go on, do it!

1964: “Chapel of Love” (Barry-Greenwich-Spector)—The Dixie Cups had the number-one hit of this song about wedding day bliss. It may be appreciated a little differently now than it was in its day, but I say “Gimme a little kitsch for Valentine’s Day.”

1970: “Your Song” (Elton John)— A conversational, confessional love ballad, full of ingenuous earnestness, from the singer-songwriter soon to become a flamboyant, boa-slinging showman. It was played for swooning, swigging lovers in every bar and cocktail lounge throughout the seventies. It’s a really good song, though, and earns its presumptuous title.

1987: “The Way You Make Me Feel” (Michael Jackson) — Michael Jackson was the one musical artist that everyone in my family liked: my wife and I are fans going back to the Jackson 5; our four kids, now grown, still listen to him; and my three-year-old grandkid is trying to perfect the moonwalk. This ecstatic love song was only one of five #1 singles from the album Bad.

1992: “I Will Always Love You” (Dolly Parton)—Dolly wrote and recorded this song in the ‘70s, but Whitney Houston covered it for the movie The Bodyguard, and her reach-the-cheap-seats vocal made it a huge hit, a romantic torch song for the nineties.

Editor’s Note: Steve turned in this list a few weeks ago, before we heard news of Whitney’s passing. We thought her 1994 Grammy performance of “I Will Always Love You” was a timely inclusion; if you haven’t seen Jennifer Hudson’s tribute performance you can view parts of it in the clip below.

2007: “La Vie en Rose” (Edith Piaf-Lois Guglielmi)—OK, OK, the song was written in 1946 and back then became the signature song of its co-writer Edith Piaf. But the 2007 Piaf biopic starring Marion Cotillard revived interest in the beautiful love song, and people of all ages started singing it again.

So, what love song always gives you chills?  Which decade had the best love songs, in your opinion?

— Steve, aka The Buy Guy