What better companion is there than music? In celebration of Valentine's Day, The Outline’s staffers shared reflections on their favorite love songs.
D’Angelo — “Really Love”
Before D’Angelo sings any notes in “Really Love,” the first single from his masterpiece 2014 album Black Messiah, he’s introduced by two minutes and six seconds of procession. A woman’s voice echoes in Spanish as strings hum and swell in the background. Then, D’Angelo’s buttery falsetto pierces through the foreplay: “When you call my name / When you love me gently / When you’re walking with me / Doo doo wah, I’m in really love with you.”
On a recent date, this song shuffled on Spotify as I kissed a guy on my living room couch. The moment was tender, but almost too tender for how little we knew each other. About three minutes into the song, I stopped awkwardly and blushed as much as a black boy can.
“This song feels absolutely too serious for this moment, and I just want to make sure it’s not weird!” I said through a smile.
“You know, I’m actually glad you said that because I think so too,” he said. “But now that it’s out there, we can just enjoy the song.”
As we both gave in to the fantasy that our kisses meant more than they did, D’Angelo’s words were — without exaggeration — transporting. Maybe they should be reserved for true lovers. Listening to them feels like a contract. — Aaron Edwards
Stevie Wonder — “All I Do”
Some love songs become wholly entwined with a person or moment. That’s what happened when Nelly Furtado’s “Like a Bird” hit it big just as I was falling hard for a kid in my 5th grade class. On the all-too-rare occasions when I hear it, I still get flashbacks to a time when I was convinced no one had ever longed for someone as hard as I longed for Timmy, as I’ll call them.
But there are those other love songs that come into your life and simply give voice and sound to feelings you’ve long had, as if the words and music spring from your own heart. That’s how I felt when I first discovered Stevie Wonder’s “All I Do” a few years ago, just before me and my partner took off on a cross-country road trip, moving away from the only city we had ever called home together.
In an effort to not get too weepily personal, let’s keep it astrological. I’m a Scorpio; my love is furious and obsessive. That fury, that desire to not just have love, but have it smother you, is what Stevie gets at perfectly in the song. It’s about a love that could be scarily overwhelming if you didn’t find it so beautiful, a love that nevertheless anchors you in an even more furious storm. My partner didn’t complain that I sang the song at the top of my lungs, almost shouting at him, over and over again across the entirety of the continental U.S. When I hear it today, I sometimes revisit that car ride, but most often I just turn it up and sing at the top of my lungs, all over again. — Ann-Derrick Gaillot
Sam Cooke — “Bring It on Home to Me”
There’s a love song for every context — the tingly stage of a fresh romance (Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere”), the heartsick moment where a new courtship either becomes more serious, or falls apart (Fleetwood Mac’s “I Don’t Want to Know”), the bittersweet waning days of a once-great relationship (Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”). And then, there are songs that capture multiple facets of love, not just because of their lyrics but the way they sound. Sam Cooke recorded two live records, one at the majority-white Copacabana club, one at the majority-black Harlem Square Club, and the difference is astonishing. At the Copa, Cooke is reserved and casual in front of the presumably affluent white New Yorkers; he runs through some of his biggest hits, but keeps a steady, low flame through the performance. At the Harlem Square Club, he explodes. His band swings with every scream of the delirious audience; Cooke’s voice flutters and soars; the room drips with sweat.
“Bring It on Home to Me” is preceded with a nearly spoken word preamble about how he and his woman fuss and fight, before they make up over the phone. Here’s one of the great singers in his prime, almost messing around — he drops in a few lines from his classic “You Send Me” during this little speech — but when the full band enters along with the song, it’s one of the most cathartic drops I’ve ever heard. He pleads his lover to come back; he tells her he’ll be better; he acts hurt she stayed out all night before hoarsely shouting “I don’t care who you was with!” All the swollen pain of love is backed by musical triumph; he is a heart bared, vulnerable but not defensive, ready to absorb every feeling he can. It’s a towering testament to all of love’s vivid possibility. — Jeremy Gordon
Big Star — “Thirteen”
For me, a good love song must include two elements: longing and corniness. Big Star's “Thirteen” is an enduring classic because it balances those things perfectly, while also frankly admitting something that a lot of other love songs merely dance around, which is the fact that desire is fundamentally adolescent. Desire throws a tantrum when it can't have what it wants, and desire wants to get its ears pierced at the mall. "Would you be an outlaw for my love?" is an absurd and unreasonable question that would only occur to a teenager. It's also the only one worth asking. — Brandy Jensen
Björk — “Joga”
There is a fundamental difference between falling in love and being in love. Falling in love is easy. It’s a constant, overwhelming rush of positivity and exuberance and, more than anything else, interest in someone. Being in love — and staying in love once the novelty of a new romance wears off — is a lot harder. Björk’s “Joga” is, in my opinion, a song about both.
The song is technically about (and is named after) Björk’s best friend, not necessarily about a romantic partner. But the thing about love songs is that intent doesn’t matter, because the feelings are so clearly there. Björk’s voice is calm at first, like she’s reading a love letter aloud. By the time the chorus hits, the orchestra swells and her voice lifts and maybe you cry a little while listening to it. The beat drops midway through, because Björk was and has always been ahead of her time, and the song shifts from a ballad to something more urgent, like you love someone so much and tried to tell them calmly, but all your words came spilling out at once.
The lyrics themselves are corny in the way any good love song appears when placed on the paper. “Coincidence makes sense / Only with you.” “All that no one sees / You see what’s inside of me / Every nerve that hurts / You heal deep in side of me.” It would sound absurd coming out of anyone else’s mouth, but it’s fucking Björk. — Gaby Del Valle
Kraftwerk — “Computer Love”
Let’s talk about the proto-techno song where the German man sings about wanting to fuck a computer. The German man sounds subdued, his voice as close to robotic as a human voice can get. He spends his lonely nights, staring at the TV screen. The television is the cause of his social isolation; the television is the facile substitute for human interaction.
The Egyptian Lover, whose pioneering proto-electro songs were about fucking humans, has said that the Kraftwerk album that features the song about wanting to fuck the computer both inspired his entire sound, and caused him to meet his wife. This will never happen to the German man singing the song about wanting to fuck the computer, for he will never fuck the computer. The German man is alive and the computer is not; fucking it will not ease his alienation and it may even cause his penis to bleed if he tries. The German man wants to feel something, but he does not want to feel that. But he pledges his love to the computer regardless, for he has no one else.
This is not a song about love. This is a song about the future. — Drew Millard
Kimbra — “Call Me”
I got what you want, baby don't move, when they move along / Get tight, get it tough, everyone's fighting for the one they want
This song by Kimbra embodies what it means to be a Leo, which happens to be my sign — fire, passion, direct, and in control. When I hear Kimbra talking to this lover, we don't know if this person is new or old, reconnecting to the past or a subway meet-cute. The ambiguity is just intoxicating, and the production doesn't disappoint. Those chords, the triumphant chorus, the surprising dropouts, the way the trumpets and keys scream in a hyperactive helix mimicking the dopamine of seeing your love.
Every time I hear this song, I imagine just being blurry-eyed with the one I love, bouncing deliriously in a haze of romance. It makes my cynical heart grow warm. — James T. Green
The Drifters — “This Magic Moment”
The first time I ever heard this song was in high school. I was too young to drive, jam-packed with those emotion-intensifying teenage hormones, and on the first-ever date of my life. Somehow, after dinner and a bunch of flustered awkwardness, the guy and I ended up on the beach. We were walking barefoot on the dark shore when he, completely unprompted, decided to pull out his phone and start playing a song.
Like that flighty, heart-pounding moment before you kiss someone new, the first few seconds of “This Magic Moment” sound precarious. Strings shiver up and down the scale in ghostly glissandos, accompanied by the rhythmic strumming of a lone guitar. It’s overwhelming and exhilarating all at once. Then comes the buttery smooth voice of Ben E. King. “This magic moment,” he croons, “so different and so new / Was like any other / Until I kissed you."
A good love song verbalizes the feelings you didn’t even know you were feeling; it takes the subtext and makes it text. “This Magic Moment” encapsulates dreamy thrill of a new romance. It’s tender, yet exciting, and a little bit, well, magical. — Paris Martineau
Clinic — “Distortions”
A lot of my favorite love songs aren’t about love. They’re often about loners who can’t figure out how to get close to people, and nearly all of them have a sonically creeping undercurrent of dread. Does this say something about me as a person? Probably. “Distortions” by the British band Clinic is the song that my mind immediately goes to when I think about romantic music; four minutes of quiet, prowling organs and slight, electronic drums. Sitting atop the hum and buzz of a barely-there melody is a whispered admission from lead singer Ade Blackburn, at turns riffing on The Velvet Underground, “I’d like to know completely / What others so discreetly / Talk about when they leave me / Not that I notice when they’re gone,” and suggestions of a love so strong it’s possibly deadly, “You’ll never know her often / I’ve pictured you in coffins / My baby in a coffin / But I love it when you blink your eyes.”
When I was trying to make my wife, Laura June, fall in love with me, I put it on the first mixtape I gave to her. (It was really a mix CD, but that’s not cool to say.) I don’t know if she liked it very much, but she stuck around anyway, and sticking around is probably the most romantic thing you can do for another person. — Joshua Topolsky