Over the course of my life I’ve listened to 50s rock, surf, Beatles and the British Invasion, classic rock, and heavy metal. Around the time I turned 50, I began appreciating the kind of vintage standards and contemporary ballads that my parents have always liked.
Don’t worry; I’m not going to go all John Boehner on you.
I still enjoy hearing Tom Petty’s “Free Falling,” or Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.” But I don’t automatically close my ears to the great melodies, heartfelt lyrics, and stellar arrangements to be found on the softer pages of the American songbook.
I did not consult the Internet when making this list. These are simply ten songs I came up with off the top of my head while sitting on the couch.
“Johnny Angel,” Shelley Fabares
Though I didn’t have a girlfriend yet, there was something about listening to this sparkling ode to young love on my elementary school playground that made me think I was going to have one soon. If that girl was anything like the angels who sang this song, I was going to be in seventh heaven. Few of us have not suffering over an unrequited love, and no sweeter chorus of voices has ever complained of it.
“Day of Wine and Roses,” Andy Williams
Most of us know the story about the alcoholism which ended this famous love affair. The song’s litany of promise and acceptance reminds us that shared addiction can create a wildfire of passion. Williams is at his plaintive best here, his pipes as smooth and captivating as the finest Napa Valley Chablis.
“Stand By Your Man,” Tammy Wynette
Nothing makes a man feel stronger than knowing that the woman he loves has got his back. Nothing gives him a Samson and Delilah haircut quicker than losing that. Wynette states her faithful case in no uncertain terms on this track, vowing with countrified conviction to see her guy through thick and thin.
“Strangers in the Night,” Frank Sinatra
There’s much to be said for relationships that stand the test of time. There’s also no getting over the idea of sudden attraction to a stranger. And there are no strangers we would love to get together with more than the couple in this song. By the time Frank sings, “Do-be Do-be do,” we’re in love with love, if nothing else.
“My Man,” Barbra Streisand
It’s that whole “Star is Born” thing, where the lovers are torn asunder by the success of one and not the other. Here’s a big time arrangement that starts with a tearful whimper and closes with one of the best all-or-nothing declarations in the history of love. Funny Girl Streisand leaves no doubt that when some people love people, it’s for life no matter how rough things get.
“Blue Velvet,” Bobby Vinton
Writers call it “putting it on the body.” When Vinton puts blue velvet on the body of the woman he’s singing about we feel it, see it, and wish we could touch it. You guys out shopping for Valentine’s Day gifts? Don’t jump the gun. It might be too early to put clothing on the woman you’ve just met. You’ll know when it’s time.
“Midnight Train to Georgia,” Gladys Knight and the Pips
Nobody belts out the pain and jubilation of true love like Ms. Gladys. A soulful anthem which impels us to follow our heart’s desire wherever it takes us. The silky soul of the Pips’ background vocals propels this celebration onto any scientific top ten love song list.
“I Wanna Be Around,” Tony Bennett
Getting left behind in the game of love can make Valentine’s Day seem like the saddest holiday of all. When Bennett sings about a man who’s touched fire and been burned, it’s not pretty, but it is gorgeous. You can just see him, singing at a small bar on some waterfront, a drink in hand, his woman run off with some high roller. But Tony comes up swinging, and so does the band on this remarkable track.
“I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Bonny Raitt
Love on the rocks. We’ve all been there, hope to never go there again, and yet… Raitt’s vocal is pulled from the feminine viscera, down and dirty in the throes of love’s end. As piano fills trill and cascade around the slow-moving organ we miss not a measure of her heartache. Songs like this help us understand the phrase, “it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”
“My Heart Will Go On (Theme from Titanic)” Celine Dion
Before a couple says, “I do,” they say, “’Til death do us part.” It is a sentiment which signifies the enduring quality of marriage, but love can live on in as many ways as there are lovers. Evocative guitar licks accent the simple lyric as a culminating orchestration moves the narrative beyond human love to something spiritual and eternal.