Love. Love. Love.
Love may be a many splendored thing you can’t get enough of, but what would you pick if you wanted to build a Spotify playlist for Valentine’s Day, the only proviso being that the chosen slush puppies must end on that four-letter word, title included.
And as YouTube is also celebrating its 15th anniversary, we’re bringing you the Top 20 in sound and vision, in no particular order. Welcome aboard pop pickers.
1. Genius Of Love (1981)
Opening this much sampled corker with that deliciously squelchy six-note riff, over gorgeously floating harmonies Tina Weymouth, Talking Heads bassist and lead vocalist of the side project that is the Tom Tom Club, is asked what she plans to do after finishing her jail sentence. She answers that she’s going to get down on it with her fella, who in real life happened to be another 25% of Ver Heads, drummer Chris Franz.
The bass line, inspired by Zapp’s 1980 hit More Bounce To The Ounce, was tailor-made for roller discos. “That song had a nice laid-back funky groove, as opposed to the more frenetic cocaine-inspired dance music at Studio 54,” Frantz says. Add some hand claps—and lyrical references to George Clinton, Bob Marley and Smokey Robinson—and you’ve got the hip-hop equivalent of a Sequoia. The hook’s so popular because it’s so distinctive but so simple, like a nursery rhyme. Indeed, the early reaction from at least one of Weymouth and Frantz’s band mates was pure envy. “I remember when Jerry Harrison first heard it, he said, ‘God, I wish I’d thought of that,” Frantz says.
Ironic without being estoeric, only James Brown’s The Funky Drummer can beat Genius Of Love for ubiquity. As long as people are making danced-based music, someone will be sampling it. Let’s not beat around her bush, football-faced Mariah Carey’s Nineties No. 1 Fantasy is really a cover version with semi-altered lyrics, even if she did mix out Adrian Belew’s scratchy guitar. Oh, that sounds like a cue.
2. Soul Love (1972)
Largely peripheral to the overall concept, Soul Love is significantly perkier and somewhat underplayed than nearly all of the more portentous songs on David Bowie’s landmark The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.
A bittersweet reflection on the implacable and often brutal nature of love itself, it sparkles with gorgeously under-stated Mick Ronson guitar details, Bowie’s light and reedy sax break and an inspirational lyric highlighting love’s all-pervasive carelessness.
Interestingly, other than the odd gem like Absolute Beginners, the Thin White Dame rarely revisited pretty vocal harmonies after this, which unfolds as a three-act play each presenting a different facet of human love and the consequences for those involved: Stone Love, New Love, and Soul Love. Talking of soul…
3. Crazy In Love (2003)
Well, it wouldn’t be half the song without that horn-blasting hook sampled from a Seventies soul record by The Chi-Lites, but the whole shebang is still way greater than the sum of its parts.
And the assembled components include lyrics that describe a romantic obsession that causes the protagonist to act out of character and a rap bit from hubby Jay-Z, so it’s all good. Very, very good in fact.
Probably the defining song of its era, Beyoncé’s first solo single is a body-rocking dancefloor-destroying howitzer of a pop song. With queen of the wind machine Bey’s hip-grindingly fruity delivery riding the infectious R&B rhythm with grace and mid-range seduction, the funk-soul sister bagged herself the first stone cold classic of the millennium that still sounds absolutely timeless.
4. Friday I’m In Love (1992)
“Friday I’m in Love is a dumb pop song, but it’s quite excellent actually because it’s so absurd. It’s so out of character — very optimistic and really out there in happy land. People think we’re supposed to be leaders of some sort of ‘gloom movement.’ I could sit and write gloomy songs all day long, but I just don’t see the point.”
It’s nice to get that counterbalance, cheers then Bob. Robert Smith, portly perennial moper and our fave Boots No.7 goth, has a difficult relationship with this witty jaunty take on rock’s traditional love of the weekend because its popularity was a double-edged sword for him. Many who discovered them via MTV, where the video was in the constant rotation, mistakenly supposed that The Cure were a New Wave pop band, forcing Smith to slate his new followers: “The people who like Friday I’m in Love aren’t actually fans of The Cure. They’re not the ones who buy my records.”
Nonetheless, with all the happy naivety the song imbues, it still feels authentic. It’s largely what makes it resonate. And whoever these army of record buyers were that had that Friday feeling, they took the single to No.6 hit in the UK and reached 18 in the States, the band’s last American Top 40 hit to date.
5. I Want Your Love (1978)
Chic’s smooth, up-tempo follow-up to their searing disco epic Le Freak, I Want Your Love was a chart-topper in its own right in early 1979 and the combo’s highest placed 45 in Britain, reaching No.4.
And while it may not have been as commercially heart-stopping as the former, it was a stunning slower-burning example of just how easily the meisterduo of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards could magic a song together.
Simple, yet extraordinarily textured, this is Rodgers’ autobiographical and bittersweet lament of an unrequited festering love. Dominant here is the song’s four-note riff, which plays out across the intro on bells before being swept up in the lilting strings which ultimately drive the melody. Echoed by both horns and vocals, the slightly melancholy refrain “I want your love, I need your love” was the passionate repetition that made the song so endearing an unending circle. A sonic jewel.
6. Fastlove (1996)
Deftly described by Billboard as a “sleek groove that is a direct descendant of Good Times by Chic”, George Michael often sang songs about commitment in love, but in this saucy sugar pumper he takes a different tack, making it clear that this encounter is not one that’s meant to last. “Baby, I ain’t Mr. Right,” the ex-Whamster warns.
Switching between slinky secretion and full-bodied euphoria, the R&B-based banger is built on a porntastic seductive sax riff swiped from Patrice Rushen’s ‘80s anthem Forget Me Nots. Pumping up the volume with the utmost style, his velvety vocals are sparsely (but effectively) deployed over a thick bubbling bass line and G-funk-borrowed synth whine as he sings a soulful celebratory ode to one night stands, and if I can paraphrase his former band, he chooses to cruise over the dangers in emotional ties.
Fastlove’s forthright message sowed the seeds for (even further) speculation around George’s sexual orientation, but really, for finely tuned ears the song and its predecessor Jesus To A Child were his coming out records a good couple of years before venturing Outside to Beverly Hills thrills. The closing call out said it all. “Oh, you really oughta get up now!” Clearly an instruction to a partner that can only be male to rise to the occasion, Yog was even clever enough to leave a perfectly timed pause for the listener to wonder “Did he really say that?” before confirming with a devilish grin
Get it? He certainly did.
7. Make You Feel My Love (2008)
It would’ve been cool to see Adele Adkins reborn as a digifunky dance-pop diva for five minutes, but it’s not surprising that she decided to rearrange Fastlove into a string-drenched ballad for her in memoriam performance to George at the 2017 Grammys.
A decade earlier, the only track on her debut album 19 not to bear her handwriting was something her manager suggested; a decade-old Bob Dylan tune that had first been released by Billy Joel and most recently covered by Bryan Ferry, whose arrangement Adele’s closely resembles.
A stately and fairly unadorned ballad in which the narrator pledges their unconditional devotion, her yearning, passionate vocals shine over a melancholic piano and beautifully understated strings, easily making the song her own. In fact, British radio station Heart Radio made Adele’s recording the UK’s number one song of all time in its Hall of Fame Top 500. Before she started oversinging on 21, like. Something you could never accuse this next lady of doing.
8. The Book Of Love (2007)
Twenty-one years ago, Boston band The Magnetic Fields released an ambitious and eccentric triple album that does what it says on the tin, almost. Initially conceived by Stephin Merritt as a theatrical revue performed by drag queens, 69 Love Songs retains its mystique as a beloved pillar of American indie pop, even if, according to its author, “is not remotely an album about love.”
No matter, because volume one, track number twelve is the beautiful The Book Of Love, the sprawling set’s best known track. Indeed, it’s brought great rewards Merritt’s way in the form of endless covers from everyone from Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn to Catherine A.D. to Peter Gabriel, the latter’s two recordings being used widely in TV and film.
The song, which Merritt told The A.V. Club was “exploring the way the different clichés interact,” works its way into your heart because its openly romantic, whilst also harbouring a level of cynicism through citing love as ‘dumb’ and ‘boring. For me, it’s a toss up between the achingly earnest Gabriel and Thorn readings but I think the latter’s melancholy piano balladeering just edges ahead, although Merritt once praised Gabriel’s gravelly string-laden version for allowing him to make the down-payment on a house. How fucking romantic.
9. The Look Of Love (1967)
With its chic jazzy lounge groove and quietly smouldering sax arrangement, The Look Of Love is quintessentially ‘60s. It’s calm, it’s sensual, it’s sexy, with breathy voluptuous vocals that caress and tease. The moment the violins hover in on top of the immaculate vocals it’s like angels floating down to pick you up and take you for a ride in the clouds.
Mind you, with a voice as beautiful as hers, Dusty Springfield could serenade you over that perfect dinner date singing about suet pudding and it would still sound seductive. First issued on the soundtrack to the unofficial James Bond spoof film Casino Royale, this came out just before the so-called Summer of Love, when the late Sixties’ counter culture and psychedelic acid rock began to overwhelm the music scene. It felt like there was little interest for old-fashioned, pretty pop melodies sung by slightly matronly women in evening gowns and bouffant hairdos. To hammer home the point, in her homeland The Look Of Love was, inexplicably, only issued on 45 as the B-side to Springfield’s single Give Me Time.
Now regarded as a standard, it’s been tackled by everyone from Shirley Bassey to Nina Simone to Scott Walker’s slightly kitchy version (released the day after I was born), though none quite match Dusty’s rendition, though I do have a soft spot for the Motown version by Gladys Knight & The Pips, no stranger to a taste of bitter Part Time Love. Because they’re so intricately assembled like a Swiss watch, Bacharach and David’s songs rarely lend themselves to soul interpretations, but with Gladys’s formidable set off pipes she gives it a damn good go.
10. Digital Love (2001)
Featuring the vocodery vocals of Thomas Bangalter, Daft Punk’s Digital Love is an innocent portrayal of unsettled tenderness and romantic longing, prominently featuring a sample from George Duke’s I Love You More, which forms the basis of the track’s main theme, one where the unresolved chord progression mirrors the track’s lyrical theme.
Wonderfully retro electro-disco with a typically Gallic twist, the techno twinned house robots cleverly crafted something simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic that tipped a knowing wink to their influences, sounding as it does like a parallel universe Kraftwerk covering soft and synthy pop tarts like the bubblegum Video Killed The Radio Star by Buggles.
Then again, it could just be about laying and staring at your ceiling waiting to get the courage to ask that hottie out that you’ve been daydreaming about. Why does this feeling of togetherness aways scare so many away?
11. Native Love (1982)
I reckon Divine probably scared a few sensitive folk back in the day, don’t you? Not to mention dogs struggling to poop. That outrageously outsized American female impersonator and performance artist that made his name in John Waters’ mucky movies wasn’t the most gifted of singers, but what Divi lacked in vocal prowess (s)he more than made up for in mirth and, well, a little girth.
In the first half of the Eighties Divine was reinvented as a dancefloor diva, making a series of absolutely flabulous singles with Bobby Orlando (followed and emulated by Stock Aitken Waterman) that helped popularise the Hi-NRG disco coming out of the gay clubs and into the charts. Messrs Burns, Tennant & Lowe were taking notes.
“Who cares if he sounds like a dog chewing a bone, every song is a dance floor classic,” reads one review on Amazon. Woof. Like a rush of poppers-induced euphoria, Native Love, Divine’s first disco hit, can be a mind blowing experience when heard for the first time. It’s campy and kitsch but really makes you shake your jungle thing. Just don’t mention I Feel Love.
12. I Feel Love (1977)
Come on, how could I possibly have left this out? Utilised for the futuristic segment of I Remember Yesterday, Donna Summer’s concept album where each song represented a different era in musical history, I Feel Love was written almost as an afterthought — as a mission to imagine the music of the future.
“One day in Berlin. Eno came running in and said ‘I have heard the sound of the future.’ And he puts on I Feel Love. Eno had gone bonkers over it, absolutely bonkers. He said ‘This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next 15 years. Which was more or less right.” — David Bowie, 1989
Uber-producer Giorgio Moroder was one of the key architects of its sound, which features an entirely synthesized backing track with what soon will be termed techno, shattering the listener with the maniacal precision of its grid-like groove of sequenced synth-pulses and reverb-heavy hypnotic pulsations. It’s the sound of the ground… being broken into little pieces everywhere.
Although it was a soaraway No.1 hit for Summer in the summer of ‘77, the minimal synth soundcape is not something she explored extensively on later recordings. Everyone else certainly did though. As influential as it was innovative, I Feel Love was a watershed moment in music that inspired waves of electronic pop for decades to come. Quite literally, dance music started right here. Even now, long after discophobia has been disgraced and rockism defeated, there’s still a mischievous frisson to staking the claim that I Feel Love was way more important than other epochal singles of the 20th Century. I may be gushing, but the Patrick Cowley Megamix that took the song back in the charts in 1982 is literally a vinyl orgasm.
13. Slave To Love (1985)
Bryan Ferry’s sepulchral yet so seductive vocals have been many a folks’ balm companion in the wee small hours when the world seems pretty meaningless and screwed up.
The lounge lizard’s first offering since Roxy Music’s (second) split, Slave To Love was the lead single of his Boys And Girls album, released a month before Live Aid and, as it happens, the first album I bought with my first pay packet.
True, this artful sophisticate’s music has often been melodramatic and sometimes painfully showy like Bowie (gosh, that rhymes), but still, much of his catalogue is as devastatingly romantic as ever, and Slave a truly beautiful song of the sensuality of relationships.
For me, Ferry will always be Britain’s greatest lyricist of the 1970s and ‘80s, before the writer’s block set in and he was reduced to employing Squeeze’s Chris Difford to be his payroll wordsmith. Oh, look who it is.
14. Labelled With Love (1981)
As with Slave To Love, this song would prove to be the act’s final appearance of a 45 in the Top 10 of their homeland. They’re called Squeeze and sadly they cancelled the Australian tour that was due to take place this month (I was all set to see them in Sydney tomorrow, in fact). Oh well.
Difford met Glenn Tilbrook in Blackheath in 1973, after Tilbrook answered an advert for a guitarist in a “recording and touring band: influences The Kinks, Lou Reed and [erm] Glenn Miller”. This unlikely combo turned out to be an imaginary group that Difford had dreamed up in his bedroom. But once his lyrics were paired with Tilbrook’s flair for composition, their band struck pop gold, and the vast Squeeze songbook documents a changing Britain as effectively as any historical drama.
With its country tinged production by Elvis Costello, Labelled With Love is a song with a narrative heart tinged with a downbeat sentiment, but enhanced with a plaintive delivery. What I really like about this song is the full range of imagery that Difford & Tilbrook have displayed in the narrative.
You can almost feel the cold chill of an English winter as this poor old dear — the sort of lady people grimace at and quickly walk past in the supermarket before they get a whiff of Eau De Pee Pee — her empty struggles through each year, pawning her valuables to keep the electric on. And when she reminisces about having been a war bride and moving to America, you can feel the desert heat and see the trailer they probably lived in. There’s nothing left for her in life apart from her memories, unlocked with a cheap bottle of whisky.
15. Satellite Of Love (1972)
“I’ve been told that you’ve been bold with Harry, Mark and John.” What a line. Covered by everyone from Beck to Eurythmics to Morrissey, Lou Reed’s Satellite Of Love was first released on his standout album Transformer, but its wonky melodic magic was originally written during the final days of proto-punk noise merchants The Velvet Underground.
Reed’s solo career was given an almighty boost when Team Bowie, enjoying huge success as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, decided to work with the ex-VU mainman. Bowie and Ronson (with a little help from producer Ken Scott) had given their New York anti-hero a new lease of life. Being the most accomplished musician in the room, Ronno played both piano and recorder on this track.
Over thirty years later, dance DJ outfit Groovefinder got their Dab Hands on the track and inexplicably, the song became a huge club hit in the summer of 2004, giving Reed only his second solo Top 10 single in the UK after Walk On The Wild Side (plus the all-star BBC version of Perfect Day in 1997, giving him a Transformer triumvirate in Britain). You can hear a lot more of The Dame’s emotional high-end backing vocals in the mix too. Epic.
16. All Is Full Of Love (1997)
She’s a little ‘eccentric’ (OK, a lot) and if you try and strike up a conversation with her in the gym after she’s been for a run on the treadmill in her boyish blue boiler suit she’ll look at you like you’re completely crazy (I know, I know, but at least she didn’t hit me). But hey, Björk is still one of the most innovative artists of our times.
By 1997, when she released her third international solo set Homogenic, the former lead singer of Iceland indie miscreants The Sugarcubes had been a familiar face to pop fans for a decade or more. Homogenic was Guðmundsdóttir’s first conceptually self-contained album, where all her wildly experimental and avant garde leanings came to fruition.
The majority of songs on the album have lyrics about love and failed relationships. With lyrics inspired by Ragnarök of Norse mythology, Björk called All Is Full Of Love a song about “believing in love” and that “love isn’t just about two persons. It’s everywhere around you”. Haunting, sinister, cold and yet somehow tender and heartfelt at the same time, the spliced harp and chilly strings faintly mimic the brooding, burbling pulses of Steve Reich.
All Is Full Of Love was the fifth and final single extracted from Homogenic, and also the world’s first DVD single, which features the Chris Cunningham-directed promo video where (Björk) is a robot who meets her twin (also Björk) and in creepily narcissistic fashion they get together and make out. Sounds weird? Well it is. But it’s also a visual and visceral feast. More than that, it’s art. Simple in its complexity and its complexity so simple, it’s starkly, shockingly beautiful. A bit like this next one.
17. Hounds Of Love (1985)
“It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”
The title track off of Kate Bush’s mid Eighties masterpiece, like a lot of her songs, Hounds Of Love looks faintly ridiculous on paper (the hook is provided by backing vocalists barking like dogs), but the reality is sublime. Impressionistic melodies, fragmented rhythms, it’s the culmination of all her talents underpinned by superb pumping strings and some of the most joyous vocals Bush has ever recorded, the musical equivalent of speaking in tongues.
It might be her most perfect single, and there are few more thrilling, literate, and ambitious works of popular music. It’s hard not to be spellbound by it.
And the lyrics? They’re about being afraid to fall in love, for fear of being torn to shreds by the chasing pack. The moment when its mood of pregnant fear finally shifts into one of gleeful surrender – “Don’t let me go, hold me down” – is one of the most jubilant in this utterly unique artist’s catalogue.
18. Ever Fallen In Love (1978)
Produced by future Visage and Human League helmsman Martin Rushent, Buzzcocks’ most recognisable song was this spiky, punky perennial, all seething guitars and clenching beats. Though the title was inspired by dialogue directed at Marlon Brando’s character in the movie musical Guys And Dolls, Pete Shelley wrote this effortlessly quixotic topic about a man closer to home, literally (reportedly Francis Cookson of the Tiller Boys, who he was living with).
The lyrics owe less to adolescent self-pity than the more adult realisation of how much being in love can hurt – and how little one can really do about it. Shelley sings like a man whose entire existence hangs by a single frayed nerve. It’s a tribute not only to the notion that punk can be a thoughtful expression of naked feeling, but to Buzzcocks’ idiosyncratic embrace of the finer points of classic pop songcraft.
The track reached No.12 in the charts and was an even bigger hit for the Fine Young Cannibals in 1987, climbing to ninth position and giving Shelley his only Top 10 single in his lifetime.
19. Everlasting Love (1967)
This is one of those songs when it’s actually perfectly fine to shout “tune!” when it comes on the wireless. Seriously, even I’ve done it.
The original and best known version of Everlasting Love in the US was recorded by Robert Knight in 1967, as a Motown style stomper referencing the Four Tops and the Temptations. Later the same year, the song was a huge hit across the pond by one of the great, all-too-unheralded pop bands of late ’60s Britain, The Love Affair, who were not a million miles from The Small Faces and in Steve Ellis they had a blue eyed soulful belter who more than gave Steve Marriott a run for his money, despite looking about twelve in the video.
Typical of the wall of sound that dominated the pop hits of the day, Ellis fronted a session ensemble comprising a 40-piece orchestra, rhythm section and a chorale including Madeline Bell, Kiki Dee, and Lesley Duncan. It worked, and the 45 topped the charts in early ’68.
The perfect example of an uplifting feel good song that crossed and recrossed the line between soul and pop, it’s been covered so many times it would be easier to list who hasn’t sung it, but, alas, thanks to versions by everyone from Gloria Estefan, Carl Carlton, U2, Sandra, Jamie Callum et al, Everlasting Love is one of only two songs to become a Billboard Top 40 hit in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s… and the only song to become a UK Top 40 hit in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, always – with the exception of the Eighties – reaching the Top 20. Classy, unlike some people.
20. Justify My Love (1990)
You didn’t really think I was going to ignore the woman who inspired this article did you? Probably the most radical single of her career, Justify My Love went so far against the pop establishment that it is a testament to Madonna’s dominance that it still went No. 1 in her homeland.
A spoken-word ode to releasing your inner freak that grinds to the sleaziest of beats is not supposed to justify such mainstream love. But this Public Enemy-sampling song — co-written by Lenny Kravitz, who also moans orgasmically in the background — was so hot that not even MTV’s banning of the Jean-Baptiste Mondino-directed promo clip could stop it from climaxing.
The black and white film toyed with S&M, group sex and even some bare breasts in an outfit reminiscent of Dirk Bogarde’s Nazisploitation flick The Night Porter — but all filmed with a gorgeous, gauzy, dreamlike Euro art-house vibe. “This one is not for us” said MTV executives in a statement. Ever resourceful, Madge spun the controversy into the best-selling video single of all time and cackled all the way to the bank. The tart.
BONUS: As it was his 70th birthday yesterday here’s that Peter Gabriel take on The Book Of Love, and it’s the first version as used in the 2004 Susan Sarandon, Richard Gere movie Shall We Dance?
BONUS 2: Love is Garbage
In case you were wondering, here’s a few more that really made the grade. Almost
Show Me Love (Robin S)
How Deep Is Your Love (Bee Gees)
Hot Love (T.Rex)
You Got The Love (The Source ft. Candi Staton)
Power Of Love (Frankie Goes To Hollywood)
Don’t Talk To Me About Love (Altered Images)
Somebody To Love (Queen and/or Jefferson Airplane)
Big Love (Fleetwood Mac)
Cry For Love (Iggy Pop)
Tainted Love (Soft Cell)
Baby Love (The Supremes)
Why Can’t This Be Love (Van Halen? Crikey)
Freeway Of Love (Aretha Franklin)
What Time Is Love (KLF, sadly not on Spotify or any digital services)