This afternoon, I was listening to some new music — “Lego House,” by Ed Sheeran — and I got to thinking about love songs. Being an incurable romantic (is there any other kind? romanticism is a chronic condition), every so often I go through a phase of listening mostly to love songs, followed by listening to breakup songs. And it seems to me that relationship songs fall into roughly four categories: there are love songs, and then there are breakup and “I hate you” songs, and then there are scary obsessive songs. (Leaving aside the “I really need to find someone songs” and the “totally helplessly infatuated” songs (think “The Girl from Ipanema”).) I am omitting show tunes and standards, because that would at least double the list (although “One for My Baby” deserves special recognition). Here are some of my favorites in each:
“Asking Us to Dance,” Kathy Mattea. The most romantic song ever written.
“And So It Goes,” Billy Joel. New, cautious love… giving your heart away even though you know the chances are things will not work out: “And you can have this heart to break.” My second favorite love song, after the previous one.
‘Fields of Gold,” Sting — although the Eva Cassidy cover is so much better — mature love which stands time, in many ways the antithesis of the Billy Joel song.
“In My Life,” The Beatles. Breathtakingly simple and direct.
“If I had a Million Dollars,” Barenaked Ladies. Love and puns. Who could ask for more?
“Deeper than the Holler,” Randy Travis. Love in the context of life lived.
“Love Only Knows,” Josh Groban. Desperately hanging on sometimes works. (Usually not.) Also, Groban has the perfect voice for love songs. It has some of my favorite lines: “You were the secret I loved to keep, the name I would only sing in my sleep,” and “How your arms pull me in like the tide pulls me under.”
“I’m on Fire,” Bruce Springsteen. Not so much a love song as a lust song. A jewel.
Breakup songs, “lover scorned” division:
“One More Minute,” Weird Al. My absolutely favorite breakup song. Ever.
“F*** You,” Cee Lo Green. A cathartic song for a variety of “you bastard” situations, even when the lyrics don’t quite fit. The name says it all. The clean version just isn’t the same.
“Done,” The Band Perry. I heard this for the first time recently — it is just great.
“Song for the Dumped,” Ben Folds Five. That must have been quite a t-shirt.
“Rolling in the Deep,” Adele. I don’t know who dumped Adele, but boy was she pissed off.
“Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” Kelly Clarkson. (Like I still need you, idiot…)
“Better Things to Do,” Terri Clark. (…nope, I don’t. Go away.)
“I Knew You Were Trouble,” Taylor Swift, although I much prefer the Michelle Chamuel version. (Self-destructive behavior 101.)
“Red Rubber Ball,” The Cyrkle. An oldie but goodie. (“If I never hear your name again, it’s all the same to me.”)
“Outbound Plane,” Suzy Bogguss. She’s not really scorned as much as disgusted and annoyed.
Breakup songs, “broken-hearted” division:
“Someone Like You,” Adele. (Don’t mind me… I’ll just be over here being miserable…)
“Let the Wind Chase You,” (Okay, I give up running after you — it’s not like you’re going to notice anyway.) and “The Song Remembers When,” both by Trisha Yearwood. (Gee, I miss you. I shouldn’t, but I do.) Maybe because these are both by Trisha, I think of them together.
“What You Didn’t Say,” Mary Chapin Carpenter and “Quittin’ TIme” (the acoustic version from Party Doll). Again, perhaps because they are done by the same singer, I think of them together.
“Rest Stop,” I love this song because I heard Rob Thomas explain that yes, this really happened to him, when his date kicked him out of the car three miles from a rest stop on I-75 south of Gainesville, Florida. I know the rest stop he was stuck at. It is in the middle of nowhere.
“Hallelujah,” by lots of different people. I can’t listen to the Jeff Buckley version; there is heart-breaking and then there is want-to-cut-my-wrists-despairing. My favorite is the Rufus Wainwright cover from Shrek.
“Every Breath You Take,” The Police. It sounds so romantic… until you realize that if you were faced with this guy, you’d be changing your phone number and calling the cops.
“Grenade,” Bruno Mars. On the surface of it, this looks like a “broken-hearted lover song,” until you really think about the lyrics: “I would take a grenade for you, put my hand on a blade for you”? Really? And you want me to do the same for you? Um, no.
“Layla,” the Derek and the Dominoes version. Unlike the cover that Clapton did of his own song later, the original feels uncomfortably possessive.
“Run for Your Life,” The Beatles. This song freaks me out so much that when I loaded Rubber Soul on my iTunes, I deleted it. I have this here not because it is a favorite but because it is such an exemplar of this category.
“Harder to Breathe,” Maroon 5. This would fall under the “lover-scorned” category, except for the threat of violence. It also falls under “I shouldn’t like this song, but I do” (see “Vehicle,” by the Ides of March.)
So, do you have any favorites?