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by Richard Gehr, February 6, 2008
According to Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," there's "no love song finer" than when you "can hear a lark somewhere, begin to sing about it."
No larks around this Valentine’s Day? Summon up an equally romantic atmosphere with the 10 loveliest love songs across the decades.
10. "No One," Alicia Keys
Who says they don't write 'em like that anymore? R&B singer-songwriter Alicia Keys released one for the ages as recently as last year. "No One," co-written with the Kerry Brothers, is simplicity itself--although Keys's kind of simplicity depends on a remarkable voice, the nostalgic scratch of sampled vinyl, a backward horn riff, and a brilliant finale.
9. "Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)," The Penguins
Arguably rock 'n' roll's first hit love song, "Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)" was released in 1954 as the B-side of the Penguins' first single. The doo-wop group's heavenly harmonies make up for slightly silly lyrics such as, "I knew the vision of your love's loveliness," as does Aaron Neville's angelic version from 2003.
8. "I Will Always Love You," Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton was in a deep funk in 1973 when she wrote "I Will Always Love You," her bittersweet goodbye and thank-you letter to her mentor and business partner, Porter Wagoner. Her single hit the top of Billboard's country chart the following year, and again in 1982 (as part of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" soundtrack). While it's probably best known as a vehicle for Whitney Houston's 1992 vocal gymnastics, Dolly's original version remains the most heart-wrenching.
7. "Let's Face the Music and Dance," Irving Berlin
"There may be trouble ahead," crooned Fred Astaire to Ginger Rogers, amid the Art Deco splendors of the 1936 movie Follow the Fleet, with war looming on the horizon. Irving Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance," remains a poignant celebration of moonlight and music and romance in the face of bad times. Frank Sinatra's and Diana Krall's versions kept hope alive, too.
6. "What the World Needs Now Is Love," Burt Bacharach, Hal David
From Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "What the World Needs Now Is Love" to the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love," the late sixties were filled with love songs that transcended romance and coupledom. The best of these was the Association's "Everything That Touches You," from their 1968 album, "Birthday." Terry Kirkman composed this glorious psychedelic symphony to a girl whose very existence transforms the ground and the air and, you know, everything, into L-O-V-E.
5. "Stand By Me," Ben E. King
Ben E. King's powerful "Stand By Me" was inspired by a 1955 gospel tune of the same title by Mavis Staples. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller gave it a pop makeover for King's 1961 single, which hit Billboard's Top 10 list again in 1986 with the release of the eponymous movie. John Lennon's 1975 cover is an R&B-flavored keeper.
4. "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)," Stevie Wonder
"I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)," the final track on Stevie Wonder's 1972 album, "Talking Book," begins as a prayer and ends as a dance party. Wonder sings it from an interesting perspective: a damaged soul imagines succumbing to someone he's not quite in love with--yet. Art Garfunkel and Michael McDonald didn't milk quite as much hope out of it as Wonder managed to.
3. "Something," George Harrison
Frank Sinatra deemed George Harrison's "Something" to be "the greatest love song ever written." The Beatle may or may not have written the romantic linchpin of 1969's "Abbey Road" for his then-wife, Pattie Boyd (also the pseudonymous subject of the era's other great rock love song, Eric Clapton's "Layla"). In either case, it's as notable for its wistful guitar line as for Harrison's delicious, laid-back melody.
2. "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," Cole Porter
Written for a 1944 revue, "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" offers one of the Great American Songbook's more magnificent musical moments. When the lyric observes, "but how strange the change from major to minor," whenever the couple must part, the music solemnly follows suit. I like Ella Fitzgerald's and John Coltrane's interpretations, but who hasn't sung this Cole Porter masterpiece?
1. "God Only Knows," Brian Wilson
"I believe that music is God's voice," said Brian Wilson, whose "God Only Knows," is on the 1966 Beach Boys album Pet Sounds. Love and spirituality blend in brother Carl Wilson's angelic falsetto. Accordions, harpsichord, and flugelhorns provide counterpoint to Tony Asher's underpromising couplets ("If you should ever leave me/Though life would still go on, believe me") and immediate reversals ("The world would show nothing to me/So what good would livin' do me?"). A heavenly choir seals the deal.
They may be many things, but silly these songs are not. And we would love it if you’d suggest your own favorites in the Comments section below.
Still in the mood for love? Join our Romantic Cooking for Two group in the AARP.org Community! And from chocolates to chilies, these eight aphrodisiacs will keep you healthy in the bedroom and beyond.
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