My earliest memories of Valentine’s Day are from back in elementary school. They revolve around ugly white, pink and red carnations, Peanuts cartoons with Snoopy covered in hearts, chocolate, candy, and crying girls. Ahh…the romance. Truth is, these types of Hallmark holidays don’t really make me feel the love, and to this day I’m definitely not considered your stereotypical “romantic”. So of course it makes perfect sense that I volunteered to write a post about love songs. Guess I love the sound of a challenge. And the chance to spread the love about what some may consider non-traditional love songs.
I started thinking about which songs I would pick by going through my personal album collection. I was immediately beyond overwhelmed. Music has always been the love of my life, and choosing a handful of songs out of a collection of thousands and thousands ain’t easy. These days, I do most of my listening while driving in the car. I never listen to the radio, with the exception of Internet radio, that is. So I always keep a varied mix of music on my phone’s playlists. I decided to make it easier on myself and limit my choices for this post to those tracks.
Love is way more than tacky gifts, contrived phrases, and fairy-tale endings to me. It’s quite a complicated and tumultuous emotion that spans a lifelong journey in exploration of oneself more than anything else. The songs I chose are listed in no particular order and represent the totality of the emotion – encompassing fear, longing, and regret right alongside passion and playfulness. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, so you tell me, can you judge a true romantic by his playlist?
Non-Traditional Love Songs, Untangled
Please Don’t Go by Stevie Wonder
Genre: R&B, Motown, Soul
Favorite Line: “‘I’ll break down and cry a river of tears. With just the thought of you not here in my life.”
Possibly my favorite musical artist of all time, it seems fitting to start things off with a little Stevie Wonder. It’s hard to believe I was only three years old when he released Fulfillingness’ First Finale in 1974. He was still in his early twenties and had already released what I would consider five or six epic albums – most notably – Innervisions, the year before. Please Don’t Go is classic Stevie, an uplifting mix of Gospel infused Motown and R&B soul complete with harmonica and his patented chord progressions. He literally “takes it to church” at the end of this one with a full-on Sunday morning throwdown. It’ll knock you off your feet.
Love Me Like a River Does by Melody Gardot
Genre: Jazz, Acoustic
Favorite line: “Love me like a roaring sea swirls about. Love me like a roaring sea, wash me out.”
I have Pandora radio to thank for introducing me to Melody Gardot when she popped up in a mix of my Billie Holiday station. This song is from her insanely good debut album, Worrisome Heart. The album was released independently in 2006 then picked up and re-released by Verve a couple of years later. She is a talent beyond her years, writing, composing, and performing every song. This one sort of speaks for itself, with an almost haunting and simple plea for a slow, all-encompassing love (which may or may not be sexual). Either way, this track is HOT!
Excuse Me Miss by JAY-Z
Genre: Hip Hop, Rap
Favorite line: “I know my past ain’t one you can easily get past but that chapter is done.”
Anyone who knows me well knows my love and appreciation for JAY-Z and his music has been bordering on obsession for over two decades. Since my playlists are filled with his unbelievably impressive body of work, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to include him. I’d classify this as a radio hit, one of his many successful collaborations with the mega-commercial-hit-producing Pharrell. Released in 2002 on The Blueprint 2, this album also contains his first duet with then girlfriend Beyonce, who was just starting her solo career. Though they denied it at the time, Excuse Me Miss paints a clear picture of the beginning of their relationship and of a man opening himself up to fall in love like he never has before.
Preciosa by Marc Anthony
Genre: Latin, Pop
Favorite line: (N/A – I’m not entirely sure what he’s always saying.)
If anyone questions whether or not music is the international language of love, point them to this song. My Spanish is not so good, but I can tell with confidence that Preciosa is an expression of a deep love for Puerto Rico. You can feel it throughout the music without understanding a word. (OK fine, the “yo te quiero Puerto Rico” lines may have also given it away.) I’m a fan of Latin and salsa music for the rhythms, and I especially love that big band feel. This one delivers. Marc Anthony belts out an incredible amount of passion and power as this song exquisitely works its way to a crescendo of strong Latin beats and horns.
Someone Like You (Live) by Adele
Genre: Soul, Pop
Favorite line: “Sometimes it lasts in love, sometimes it hurts instead.”
I was a late bloomer to Adele. For awhile I had only been exposed to her over-exposed radio play and wasn’t too excited about any of it. But then Kat turned me on to her live album recorded at Royal Albert Hall in 2011, and I was like WOW, how old is this girl? The combination of raw honesty and talent she puts forth is undeniable, especially in live performances. Someone Like You is obviously about loving a person that has moved on…but the character and strength of the love that was/is still there is so real you can feel it through every single note and line. To me it’s a testament to the meaning of real love. Plus the audience joining in to sing at the end gets me every time. (Sorry, preview of the live version isn’t available to stream.)
You Taught My Heart to Sing by McCoy Tyner
Favorite line: (N/A – there are no lyrics, the piano speaks for itself.)
Twice in my life I’ve had the privilege of witnessing McCoy Tyner play live. To this day, every time I think about it my eyes tear up a bit…in fact I’m off to grab some tissue right now. What Mr. Tyner does with 10 fingers and 88 keys is nothing short of miraculous to me. This particular version of You Taught My Heart to Sing was released in 2008. I wish I had more info available about the venue. Of all the versions he has recorded, I picked this one because it’s one of the longest. Sort of like a fairly-tale kinda love itself, I simply never want this song to end.
Want by Rufus Wainwright
Genre: A little bit of absolutely everything, for real.
Favorite line: “Will you settle for love?”
True story, my love of dogs turned me on to Rufus Wainwright’s music. A lifetime ago I dog sat for a friend who started dating a guy with a dog named Rufus. I asked where the name came from, and voila. Rufus’ music is unlike anything I’d ever heard and his levels of talent really just blow my mind on a non-stop basis…I’d almost consider him a modern day Mozart. This title track from his Want One album was released in 2003. It’s often hard to interpret his lyrics and this track is particularly elusive. But in an artificial world endlessly chasing likes, followers, fame, and fortune, this notion of finding someone who will simply “settle for love” is strange and beautiful to me. Plus, he has a line about Jane Curtin, I had such a crush on her!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.