Rock love songs may seem like a dime a dozen, many of them intrinsically lame, but there are some true gems out there worth noting. As I did my research through my vast CD collection (my dad says I have more CD’s than God), I found that I had more than enough to make a top 20 list of what I consider to be the greatest rock love songs of all time. Ironically, while there may be some happy tunes here, I found that most of my favorites on this list were actually sad. Some songs capture the pain of love or of a love lost that they ended up beating out so many others that you would probably expect to hear on a “soft rock” radio station.
As I have done with several of these lists recently, the songs here will be presented in no particular order. All these songs I love equally, and I cannot find the patience to separate them apart. The numbers beside them are there so that I make sure I include 20 and don’t miss one. Also, I don’t want to lose track and end up counting how many I have written so far. That just drives me crazy as I’m sure it does you. So, without wasting anymore time, let’s get ready for love!
1) “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel
Actually, this may be the cream of the crop as it is also my all time favorite Peter Gabriel song. Many know by now that the song was written about Peter’s one time girlfriend Rosanna Arquette, after an attempted reconciliation ended in failure. The song provides the best of both worlds in that it starts off with a somewhat mournful tune as the pain of love just tears him apart. Then the song goes up when he recaptures that elusive love he wants so much. Love songs don’t get much better than this one, and none of us will ever forget the way it was used in “Say Anything.”
2) “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns ‘N’ Roses
I gotta tell you, playing this song on Guitar Hero was a pain in the ass, and that’s just in the easy mode! Slash makes the guitar’s main lick and his solo look so easy to pull off, and it perfectly matches the sincerity of Axl Rose’s lyrics perfectly. It was written about Rose’s then girlfriend (later his wife for a short period), Erin Everly. Actually, I sense a theme occurring here; are all the best rock love songs brought about by couples being torn apart so painfully? Well, let’s look at the list to find out.
3) “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield
This is a song about one of the seemingly endless frustrations in our lives, unrequited love. This is not mention jealousy among other things, of your best friend having something that you desperately want for yourself. Of trying to hide away feelings that you dare not bring to the surface. But of course, repression really just messes you up more than anything else. Pretty much anybody can relate to this classic Rick Springfield song, and it is still great to rock out to. It’s also a great song to do on karaoke night.
Once again, pain and frustration seems to lead to great love songs, let alone rock love songs!
4) “Silver Springs” by Fleetwood Mac
Originally cut from the album “Rumours,” this song took on a whole new life when the band reunited for the MTV special called “The Dance.” Stevie Nicks apparently got the idea for the song when she was driving with Lindsey Buckingham through Maryland, and she saw a sign that said “Silver Spring, MD” on it. She thought the name was so beautiful that she put it into a song. Of course, while this is indeed a beautiful song beyond all repair, it really encapsulates the tortured love affair that was Buckingham and Nicks. After all these years, you can’t help but feel that there is still something between them. There is heartbreak and a strong sense of vengefulness throughout the song and of how some love affairs will never just end. While some get jilted and treated like they no longer exist, Nicks makes it clear that she is not even about to be forgotten by anyone. Well, we haven’t forgotten about her at all.
Here we go again; love and pain combine for one of the most beautiful of rock love songs.
5) “You Make Loving Fun” by Fleetwood Mac
One Fleetwood Mac song on this list is not enough. Christine McVie is the driving force behind this particular classic from the “Rumours” album. It turns out that “You Make Loving Fun” referred to an affair that Christine ended up having with group’s lighting director. Indeed, it’s not hard to see why she and John McVie ended up getting divorced. Still, it’s a groovy beauty this song. This one is not dominated by pain, but by an exaltation of finding one you cannot get enough of, and of one who lifts you above the routine of your daily life. It is still a great song to listen to a good 30 years after its release.
6) “One Of These Nights” by The Eagles
I love the harmony sung by all the band members in this song, and I never cease to be moved by it. Don Henley may be at the vocals, but this is one of the signature songs by this band, and every band member makes their mark on it. Glenn Fry, co-writer of the song with Henley, said that the song is about how we keep putting things off, and of how that whenever that someday comes is completely up to us. Wouldn’t you know it? It’s a beautiful love song about procrastination! Truly one of the evil monsters of our collective lives, you can only delay certain things for so long before you realize with horror just how much time has passed you by. Talk about a realization that can seem so incredibly unfair!
Maybe that’s why I still love listening to this song; I’m still looking for that special someone and the search feels far from ever being over.
7) “Possession’ by Sarah McLachlan
I instantly fell in love with McLachlan the singer when I first heard this song, and her vocals touch at deep vulnerabilities and pains that made me pay attention in a way that I usually don’t when my car radio is on. “Possession” is written from the point of view of an obsessed fan. Hearing this song makes it seem more frightening, but every bit as passionate. McLachlan brilliantly captures a passion that will not be held back, and it digs deep into our collective desires to fall so hard for someone in our lonely lives. Sarah has an incredible voice, and it remains incredible so many albums later.
8) “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor
I was always under the impression that Prince had written this song for O’Connor, but it turns out that he actually wrote it for The Family, a funk band that was brought about to give an outlet for his musical output. But Sinead brilliantly made this song all her own, and it feels impossible to imagine someone else doing it. While she may have been a queen of controversy for a time in the public enemy, Sinead does indeed have an incredible voice, and she makes you feel her painful yearning as she mourns a love lost. The video of this song is powerful in its simplicity as it focuses on her face, and the tears that stream down her face are not faked. Prince is a hell of a songwriter, and this song is proof of that.
9) “With or Without You” by U2
This is definitely one of the key rock love songs on this or any other list, and it is one of the most definitive U2 songs. Overly emotional in its structure, it pictures love that is almost too strong for two people, and it treats it as an addiction that is not worth quitting. Love can certainly feel like that at times, and that’s even if feelings are not returned (damn it). Bono sings this one ever so powerfully, and he is more than matched by the Edge’s brilliant guitar playing. According to Bono, this song was actually inspired by Scott Walker’s “Climate of Hunter” album. I will need to check that one out sometime.
10) “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen
With this particular song, we get to add some more rockability to this list of rock love songs. When all is said and done, love is a crazy thing that is impossible to control, so why try to control it if it feels good? Freddie Mercury has said that he composed the song on the guitar in about five to ten minutes, and it is said that the band recorded the song in only a half hour (c’mon, seriously!). There’s not too much to this song but a good rocking beat that is infectious as is the rest of “The Game,” the album the song comes off of. Listening to it makes me want to meet a woman that leaves me in a cold cold sweat.
11) “Woman” by John Lennon
An ode to his wife Yoko Ono, John Lennon does love songs like no other. This makes his eventual murder back in 1980 all the more tragic and sad. You can’t listen to it without forgetting how he was taken from this world, and “Woman” is one of many examples of how incredibly beautiful his music was. John admits his endless love to Yoko while laying bare his faults, and brings it all together with a number of reasons why he was so lucky to have her in his life. John had said that “Woman” was basically a grown up version of “Girl,” a Beatles song from the “Rubber Soul” album.
My dad always reacts strongly to this song when he hears it on the radio. Over the years, he has said to me that the day John Lennon died was the saddest day of his life because it was so senseless. I wish I knew John Lennon the way he did before he died because he never came into my consciousness until after his death.
12) “Love Hurts” by Nazareth
Darn it, I always thought that this was an original song by Nazareth, but it is on point of fact a cover. It was first recorded by the Everly Brothers back in 1960, and Roy Orbison later covered it in 1961. But when Nazareth took it on, they made the song their own, and the other versions became a distant memory. It’s a great song that gets at the universal truth of love in that it really hurts. This song may turn out to be necessary listening when you have broken up with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Dan McCafferty doesn’t have to emote any of the lyrics because the words themselves say it all as he wails away at the painful ways of romance.
13) “Waiting For A Girl Like You” by Foreigner
Aren’t we all? Here’s a nice slow rock song to add to this list, and it’s one of the best songs by Foreigner. It’s almost exists as a B-side to The Eagles’ “One Of These Nights” in that this man has finally stopped procrastinating, and he has found that one he has been endlessly looking for to lift him out of his lonely existence. The song features a distinctive synthesizer theme that was played by (of all people) Thomas Dolby. I loved it when it was briefly used in “Footloose” as we see Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer slow dancing together in that bar across the state lines. That moment in the movie was way too short for my taste.
14) “This Is Love” by PJ Harvey
Where many of PJ Harvey’s deal with darkness and despair, this is one of the most jubilant tunes that she has ever written and performed. After listening to this song, I desperately wanted to feel the same way she does when she sings. Some people are luckier than others I guess (damn it yet again). Harvey seems to find an exuberant sense of life from doing “This Is Love,” and it’s something you want her to feel more often. Of course, we might not get the same brilliant music we typically get from her.
15) “Love Is A Stranger” by Eurythmics
This is still my all time favorite song by the Eurythmics, and it’s about the obsessive nature of love and of how much of a drug it can be. The lyrics that Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart provide a specific imagery that gets right under your skin, taking you from the heights of love to its hopelessly inescapable bottoms that almost keep us from falling in love in the first place. While some may label this as a New Wave or Electronic, it is a rock song in all sense of the term in its uninhibited state of love and with all those sexual sounding “uh!” grunts from Stewart.
16) “Patience” by Guns ‘N’ Roses
Another great one from Gins ‘N’ Roses in their rock and roll prime. Like many other songs on this list, it is motivated by romantic breakups and troubled relationships. Some say that is inspired by the failed marriage between Axl Rose and Erin Everly, who herself has inspired “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” Others say that Izzy Stradlin wrote it about his ex-girlfriend at the time. “Patience” wanders in a sad state, but near the end it brings about some hope that maybe these broken relationships can be healed. It is one of the most beautifully subdued songs by Guns ‘N’ Roses, and one of their most memorable songs.
17) “What It Takes” by Aerosmith
Aerosmith has written so many ballads, but this one stands as one of their most memorable. Unlike some of their later slow songs which seemed to be more about emulating certain song styles, this one is definitely all Aerosmith. Dealing with a breakup (here we go again) of a relationship that Tyler can’t let go of so easily, he sings of what he should do with a heart so wounded by things gone wrong. By the end of the song, the repeated refrains of “let it go” represent the direction he knows he must take, otherwise he will wallow in self pity which would be just pathetic. Pain creates another great rock song that closes out my favorite album by Aerosmith, “Pump.” This is the band at their best.
18) “Without You” by Motley Crue
In retrospect, I don’t think I have ever been as big a fan of Motley Crue, and the only album by them that stands out in my mind is “Dr. Feelgood.” As a whole, it holds together really well, and it features one of my favorite power ballads from my junior high school years, “Without You.” It’s really one of the best songs they did, and it is nowhere as cheesy as many of the other ballads they did later on. According to the linear notes of the album, the song is said to be about Tommy Lee’s relationship with Heather Locklear (they were briefly married long before Tommy got in on with Pamela Anderson). By the way, Mick Mars plays a great slide guitar solo in this song which adds to its lovelorn power.
19) “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton
This is one of several Clapton songs that was inspired by his love affair with Pattie Boyd (“Layla” is another one). Clapton said he wrote it for Boyd while he waited for her to get ready for a party they were going to later. Boyd said that the song was illustrative of what was great about their relationship, but after her marriage to Clapton broke down, she couldn’t stand to listen to it anymore. It’s a song that is as lovely as it is gentle, and Clapton’s effortless guitar playing shines right through.
20) “Save Me” by Aimee Mann
This is a great song to close this list out to. Mann wrote this song for the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson movie “Magnolia,” and she received an Oscar nomination for it. The fact that she and the South Park guys (nominated for “Blame Canada”) lost out to Phil Collins for his love song from “Tarzan” still seems like such a tremendous insult. “Save Me” is a wonderful love song for those who feel like outcasts in the wilderness of society. Quietly pleading for acceptance from someone, hoping that this person can break through an existence where they have sold themselves short, this is one of those Aimee Mann songs that make her unique in the world of independent music. It’s a great song that stands as one of her very best.
So, what do these songs in general say about love? Well, it is said to be a drug that can take you to amazing heights and horribly depressing love. It can seem like it screws you up more than anything else, but it can also make you feel more alive than ever before. Love is a big risk as the odds seem likely that you will get your heart broken, but deep down, we all want to experience it at least once in this lifetime. Here’s hoping that we all find that one in the world meant for us. Happy trails!