Love Song Hall of Fame
The media player above samples great love songs from across a variety of musical styles:
- Opera and Orchestral
- Broadway Musicals
- The Oldies
- For Friends & Family
- For Everybody Else
Don’t see your faves here? Talk or text your friends to create your own Top 10 list.
A Short History of Love Songs
A long time ago, some Egyptian scribe scratched these lyrics into a clay tablet:
I am sick inside.
My limbs are weak,
My body fails.
When the doctors come to me,
My heart refuses their remedies;
The magicians can do nothing,
My sickness is unknown.
But only say “She is here” and I revive.
About 3,500 years later, rocker Elvis Presley sang out a similar sentiment:
Saw the fortune teller
Had my fortune read
She sent me to the doctor
Who sent me straight to bed
He said I'm lonesome and I’m lovesick
I've got my mind on lipstick
Will you kiss away my cares and woe?
I gotta know, gotta know, gotta know.
Falling in love never ceases to feel amazing and new—and maybe a little queasy in the stomach. But the more the world changes, the more people stay the same. Put some guitar riffs and a hard-driving backbeat to those Ancient Egyptian lyrics and it could be a hit love song today.
From poets Sappho in Ancient Greece to Ovid in Ancient Rome to Spanish and French troubadours of the Middle Ages to songstress Taylor Swift today, the dizzying wonder of romance has always inspired songwriters to put “I love you” to music.
From Desire to Romance
From Desire to Romance
The oldest surviving love songs date back about 4,000 years. They come from the ancient kingdom of Sumer, an area found in the country of Iraq today. The words were pressed into clay tablets that survived to modern times.
Most of these songs—and many songs of other ancient civilizations—sing devotion to their gods or God. But the lyrics are often, er—steamy? Let’s just say there was a whole lot of smooching and goo-goo eyes going on. Get a load of some lyrics from the Ancient Sumerian song My Honey-Sweet:
My dearest, my dearest, my dearest, my darling,
my darling, my honey of her own mother,
my sappy vine, my honey-sweet,
my honey-mouthed of her mother!
The gazing of your eyes is pleasant to me;
come my beloved sister.
The speaking of your mouth is pleasant to me,
my honey-mouthed of her mother.
The kissing of your lips is pleasant to me;
come my beloved sister.
(Eww! you might be saying. Kissing a sister? It probably helps to know that “sister” was another way of saying “girlfriend.”)
Many, many of the songs of the Ancient Sumers, Hebrews, Greeks, Chinese, Romans and others were very flirty and even suggestive. (Totally and completely and nothing like today’s popular songs. Ahem, cough, cough.)
In Europe during the Middle Ages, though, the tradition of lovey-dovey songs came under attack. This period lasted from the late 400s into the 1400s. During this time, the religion of Christianity took hold there, and love songs were sent to the catacombs. (That’s the church basement where they put dead bodies.) Church leaders considered songs of human love “the devil’s handiwork.” They restricted composers to religious chants, prohibiting any words, rhythms, or music that might excite listeners into thinking of anything besides heavenly devotion.
The tradition of earthier love songs survived in Spain, parts of North Africa, and the Middle East, however. Like songwriters before them, Arab, Jewish, and Berber musicians there often concealed racy lyrics in songs praising God.
After the year 1000, love songs began a slow comeback in Christianized Europe. At first, they were carried here and there by traveling troubadours. These have-lute-will-play-for-love-or-money performers—both male and female—risked Church punishment by again singing of love and desire. The modern love ballad can pretty much trace its roots to this time.
But it was the Renaissance in Europe when the art of the love song came out of hiding for good. This remarkable period of scientific and artistic exploration lasted from the 1300s into the 1600s.
The bawdy song remained a favorite at rowdy parties and noisy taverns. But new themes had also found a voice: Songs of true love—a connection of mind and spirit as well as lips and hips. This was the essence of romance, and it has lived and breathed in love songs ever since.
All Kinds of Love
Lost Love and Breakup Songs
Love has inspired more songs than could ever fit on an mp3 player. What runs a close second? Songs about what happens when relationships end—breaking up, broken hearts, and lost love.
When our hearts are hurting, sometimes hearing the ache in a singer’s voice can help us feel like we’re not alone—and let us know that somehow, some way, we’ll survive to love again.
“Love” might seem like a short, sweet, simple word, but it is rich with multiple meanings. In fact, the ancient Greeks came up with several terms to cover the wide range of feelings that can fit under the umbrella of “love.” (It helps to know that, in their definitions, these terms often overlap and have also changed over time.) They include:
eros (pronounced AIR-ohs)—this is the romantic, physical attraction kind—kissing and all that jazz.
agape (pronounced ah-GAH-pay)—this is the powerful, “got-your-back” love felt in a deep friendship and the love of God.
philia (pronounced FILL-ee-yah)—this involves loyalty and trust, like between dear friends.
storge (pronounced STOR-gay)—this is the deep affection felt within a family.
So why should lovers get all the love on Valentine’s Day? Use the media player above to hear some famous love songs that reach out to family, friends, and even the whole human race.