Our November/December contest winner Armida Lowe discusses her “top 5 favorite love songs” for the most recent issue’s “High Five” Contest.
“Take It With Me” by Tom Waits
This is Tom Waits at the height of his craft. “Take It With Me” has a structural simplicity that belies the emotional and spiritual depth of the story being told — both within the song, as an isolated work, and throughout the album “Mule Variations” as a larger work. The narrator of the song has grown old with his better half, and is savoring a moment alone with his beloved at the twilight of their lives. It’s a meditation on love and death, and, perhaps, the yearning for eternal life — the desperate hope that love will transcend death. At the climax of the song, Waits sings, “It’s got to be more than flesh and bone/All that you’ve loved is all you own.” It’s a line that never fails to get me weepy.
“God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys
This essential track from Brian Wilson’s 1966 magnum opus “Pet Sounds” is a perennial favorite of wedding planners and music journalists alike. A song that opens with the line “I may not always love you” might seem like a strange pick for a list of top-five love songs, but this acknowledgement — that love may be temporary — is what makes the song so believable and painfully human. The narrator’s uncertainty makes it clear that he is taking a risk by loving so deeply. It’s a prime example of a mature love song. Plus, there’s lots of neat harmonies and complex musical stuff going on. Or so I’m told.
“Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke
Amid the avalanche of schmaltzy teenage pap that came to dominate airwaves in the early 1960s, Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” stands out as a uniquely earnest and tender expression of young love. The narrator makes it clear that academia isn’t his strong suit, but he’s willing to hit the books if that’s what it takes to get the girl. The universally relatable theme and effortlessly singable melody make this song a timeless classic, even if the “slide rule” reference has become a smidge dated. (Cooke’s silky-smooth vocals and soulful delivery don’t hurt, either.)
“I’ve Just Seen A Face” by The Beatles
The frenetic tempo of this “Help!” cut captures the exuberant, wide-eyed joy of finding new love. The internal rhyme scheme propels the song forward with a breathlessness that evokes the thrill of tripping and catching yourself before you fall. Leave it to the Beatles to translate the physical sensation of falling in love into a perfectly-crafted pop song.
“A Case Of You” Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell employs metaphor with a level of sophistication and nuance that few can touch. “A Case of You” is Joni at her most vulnerable — a heartrending declaration of love in the wake of a collapsed affair. It’s a songwriter’s love song, in a way, because it grapples with the experience of love from an artist’s perspective. If love is “touching souls,” Joni reasons, then “surely you touched mine/’cause part of you pours out of me/in these lines from time to time.” Cue the waterworks.