Once upon a time, I gave you my top five underrated love songs (at the time). Once upon another time, I gave you my top five love songs (at the time). Notice a pattern? Like most “top 5/10/20 things” lists, my list of love songs is a many-splendoured, ever-changing thing. Certainly, I would keep some things, but not all, and others I would now add without a second thought.
Herewith, my top ten love songs. A few ground rules: no breakup songs. No Bryan Adams. No Air Supply. No Richard Marx (Dad, can you forgive me?) No Bette Midler. No Kenny Rogers. And no Lionel Richie. Absolutely no. Decidedly no. Uh-uh. Also, my mom will kill me if I put “Just the Way You Are” on here even though I kinda like that one. (Don’t tell anyone, I prefer we keep this between us.)
All right, now that we’ve got that out of the way, herewith, My Top Ten Love Songs As Of Right Now, c. Midnight on Valentine’s Day, 2017.
10. Thank You, by Keith Urban
I’m seeing for the first time
The stars, the sun and moon
They got nothing on the power
Of this love I give to you
This may not be Keith Urban’s melodically strongest moment, but it’s a vulnerable, heartfelt tribute to the love of his wife Nicole Kidman, who staged the intervention that broke his addiction to cocaine. Perhaps not too much should be made of the repeated references to “thanking God for grace and mercy,” but one shouldn’t make too little of it either.
9. The Border, by Mr. Mister
I can see it all so clearly now
I can hear your voice in a song
And it burns down inside my soul
Takes me down this winding road
We can find our way back home
Like “Thank You,” this is a grown-up love song, in the sense that it deals with things grown-ups deals with. The lyrics allude to some unspoken grief or wedge that has come between the speaker and the beloved. It doesn’t say explicitly that the couple is married, but the tenor of the lyric conveys the sense of a relationship with some years behind it, and roots that run deeply enough for the sadness that hangs over it now to carry real weight. It says “Too many of us have run out of the circle,” a possible allusion to divorce. There’s a question “Can we go on now, from what we have done now?” implying faults and indiscretions on both sides. The speaker doesn’t have answers for his questions, but he knows that the only way to find them is to continue walking “wherever people go who go on together.” And every step taken, every act of love made “gets us closer to home.” And this is where we start.
8. Dancing In the Minefields, by Andrew Peterson
So when I lose my way, find me
And when I loose love’s chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith, to the end of all my days
When I forget my name, remind me
I really see this as a continuation of the last song, or rather, the provision of a Christian context for it. It doesn’t promise that there won’t be more mines, toils or snares on the road homeward. But if God wills that our lovers should escape, he will provide a way. And if not, that’s what the promise is for.
7. She’s Everything, by Brad Paisley
She’s the voice I love to hear
And someday when I’m 90
She’s that wooden rocking chair
I want rocking right beside me
Okay. Enough heavy stuff. This is a perfectly written, perfectly executed love song. I have nothing to add. Slow clap.
They say that the road ain’t no place to start a family
Two strangers learn to fall in love again
I get the joy of rediscovering you
Oh girl, you stand by me
I’m forever yours, faithfully
This song is terribly sad to listen to when one knows that its writer, Jonathan Cain, actually did go on to divorce his wife (and wound up one day marrying… Paula White? who, what, huh??). But it remains an undeniable classic. I’ve written more about this song here.
5. Reminiscing, by The Little River Band
Now as the years roll on
Each time we hear our favorite song
The memories come along
Older times we’re missing, spending the hours reminiscing
Do I hear you crying foul, dear reader? “You banished all cheesiness from this list, what pray tell is THIS?” THIS, you impertinent young imp, is a classic. I shall brook no dissent. Away with you.
4. She’s Always a Woman, by Billy Joel
She’ll promise you more than the garden of Eden
Then she’ll carelessly cut you and laugh while you’re bleedin’
But she’ll bring out the best and the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself, ’cause she’s always a woman to me
The cooler, smarter, sexier, and yes, more romantic counterpart to “Just the Way You Are” (there, happy now?)
3. In My Life, by The Beatles (Lennon)
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life, I loved you more
I am not a Beatles fan. I own no Beatles vinyl, I am woefully ignorant of Beatles trivia, but blimey if this isn’t one of the finest, most poignant love songs ever written.
2. True Companion, Marc Cohn
So don’t you dare and try to walk away
I’ve got my heart set on our wedding day
I’ve got this vision of a girl in white
Made my decision, and it’s you all right
Nobody can craft a lyric like Marc Cohn. This isn’t just songwriting, it’s poetry. There’s a new thought on every line, and the rhyme scheme is meticulously attended to, with internal rhymes to boot. And the arc is perfectly formed, from the first spark of desire, to the kindling of the flame, to the last flicker, ending as all love songs should, but so few do.
1. I Will Be Here, by Steven Curtis Chapman
I will be here
And you can cry on my shoulder
When the mirror tells us we’re older,
I will hold you
And I will be here to watch you grow in beauty
And tell you all the things you are to me
I will be here
This has been #1 for a while now, and I really don’t see it being shaken from its throne any time soon. Some love songs may be more cleverly or impressively written, but this one is elegant in its plainspoken simplicity. Moreover, while many love songs are contrived in a vacuum with no particular woman in mind, this came from an authentic place. At the time, Steven was thinking about his own parents’ divorce and wanted to assure his wife that they would not follow in those footsteps. They’ve certainly been tested more than many couples. And still, the promise holds.
So, there you have it. Until next year!