By John Schaefer
When we noticed that Valentine’s Day was coming up fast, the Soundcheck staff did what any group of starry-eyed, incurable romantics would do: we decided to make our listeners do our work for us. The challenge to you was to nominate what you thought was The Most Romantic Song Ever—and to make a case for why your answer was right and all the hundreds of other songs people were suggesting were somehow wrong.
Of course, there were no wrong answers. If you find a song romantic, then it is romantic. And lucky you if your significant other finds the same song romantic. Of such things are long relationships made. Or at least really hot dates. [We made a stream out of all of your nominations, check it out.]
After going through your many calls, comments, and tweets, I’ve compiled a list of the twelve great, and sometimes unexpected, romantic songs. A dirty dozen, if you’re lucky. I’m not claiming that these twelve are more romantic than someone else’s dozen—only that some of you made really convincing cases for these songs.
Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane •
“My One And Only Love”
Several commenters cheated on our project by giving us whole lists of favorite romantic songs, and this classic jazz recording appeared several times. But one anonymous voice mailer singled this track out, and in an attempt to explain why, was reduced to “I mean, come on.” The amazing thing is, this isn’t even the best song on the album—check out their version of “Lush Life.” I mean, come on…
Etta James • “At Last”
No surprise here. An American classic, but the smoldering heat of Etta James’ recording makes this a no-brainer. Several listeners called in, urging us rather passionately to include it. Listener Sophia from Broad Channel even reported singing it to her husband at their wedding a few years back.
Talking Heads •
“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”
Now this one was a surprise. But as commenter L Dean in Brooklyn points out, “it says it the best, it says it simply, it has a great beat, and very little of the dysfunctional codependence a lot of love songs have. And the moment that I feel that you feel that way too, is when I fall in love with you.” One caller actually requested Shawn Colvin’s cover of the song, but I’m gonna go with the Talking Heads original.
The Smiths • “There Is A Light…”
For every listener who thinks The Smiths’ frontman Morrissey is tragic, romantic figure, there’s another who thinks he’s a dour, self-centered poseur. It’s hard to argue about the songs though—especially this one, the subject of a long voice mail that convinced me I had to either include it here or get a restraining order.
Oscar Hammerstein & Jerome Kern •
“All The Things You Are” (Performed by Frank Sinatra)
Many of the most romantic songs ever written can be found in what is nowadays called The Great American Songbook, so when I walked into the studio the other day and found legendary radio host Jonathan Schwartz toying with our piano, I didn’t throw him out. I didn’t knock that goddamn Boston Red Sox cap off his head. Instead, I asked him for the most Romantic Song Ever. He replied by reciting the opening verse and chorus to this song. Case closed.
Dusty Springfield • “The Look Of Love”
Several of you mentioned this iconic recording. As commenter Douglas from New York says, “This Bacharach/David song, sung by Dusty Springfield stands out. ‘The Look Of Love’ has been done by many and few versions disappoint because it is such a great song, few singers can screw up. It deserves its place in my own list as the top love song ever.”
Al Green • “Let’s Stay Together”
Green and White—I lost count of how many listeners mentioned Al Green and Barry White. Often along the lines of “Anything by Al Green.” But Barbara, via Twitter, got a little more specific, and zeroed in on the song once performed by our President. “The most romantic song must be sung by Al Green! I could listen to him all night long… my vote is ‘Let’s Stay Together.’”
The Righteous Brothers • “Unchained Melody”
I didn’t need much convincing on this one—who would? But it might just have been the most-often nominated song in this whole project. Molesh wrote, “I agree that there are a lot of very romantic songs, but my number one is ‘Unchained Melody.’ The lyrics are such a powerful evocation of love and desire. The first lines alone—Oh my love! My darling! I hunger for your touch, the long, lonely night—as the Righteous Brothers sing it, it gives me goose bumps every time.”
Lou Reed • “Perfect Day”
No doubt about it: this song is having a moment. Even before Lou Reed’s death in late October, it was popping up on TV ads. Now, it appears here, thanks to Kelly from Bloomfield, N.J., who suggested two songs: “‘Fly Me to the Moon’ regardless of who sings it, but I walked down the aisle to the Sinatra version. And ‘Perfect Day’ by Lou Reed. Not the most conventional one, but it’s the song that reminds me of the first whole day I spent with my now husband. It was such a perfect day, and still is.”
Adele • “Love Song” (Originally by The Cure)
At the beginning of the week, when we launched this campaign on the air, I put together a quick medley of romantic songs, including such obvious choices as “Unchained Melody” and “And I Love Her” and “The Way You Look Tonight”—but ended it with “Lovesong” by The Cure, just to suggest that the late 20th century still had something to add. CP from Virginia was one of several listeners to agree… up to a point.
“Oh, hands down it is ‘Lovesong’ written by Robert Smith of The Cure, but performed so perfectly by Adele. ‘Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again. You make me feel like I am young again. You make me feel like I am fun again. However far away, I will always love you…’ What else could you ask for?” Okay, I’m convinced. Adele goes on the list.
The Flamingos • “I Only Have Eyes For You”
Pianist Benmont Tench, founding member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and pianist to Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and seemingly everyone else, suggested this recording, and if he didn’t, I was going to. And for the same reason: this is one of the great arrangements of all time. As Benmont put it, it’s like hearing a love song beamed from another planet.
David Bowie • “Heroes”
Since Benmont Tench took my pick, I—in my role as judge, jury and executioner—get to pick another. What makes a song romantic? How about love against all odds? Personal difficulties (“you can be mean, and I’ll drink all the time”) and much larger ones (“I remember standing by The Wall; the guns shot over our heads”) won’t keep this couple from being heroes, of a sort, even if just for one day.
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John Schaefer hosts WNYC’s @Soundcheck. All month long, we’re streaming 145 of the most romantic songs, ever. And if you like what you’re reading, you should definitely subscribe to the Soundcheck podcast.