What are the best and worst love songs of all time? Are there any that have special meaning to you (whether positive or negative)? Why?
Now THIS is a fascinating question! I would suppose the best love songs of all time aren't the ones who are overloaded with smarm or treacle or are trite or esponse a juvenile view of love. These songs are the reason why for a long time, I really didn't care for love songs in general. But if you look beneath the surface and push past all the ridiculousness, there are great love songs out there. I'm particularly partial to "I'll Be Your Mirror" by the Velvet Underground, which has been close to my heart for quite a few years. In fact, I remember once composing an LJ entry (in an older, now defunct LJ) in 2004 that basically expressed that the kind of love I was looking for at the time was the kind expressed via Nico's gentle, fragile vocals and Lou Reed's genuinely sweet lyrics. So it's fascinating to me to consider that these days I have a genuinely personal connection to this song that exists... well, I can't really say more, but it exists, and it's amazing. Another great love song is Howard Jones's "What is Love?", which everybody thinks is about doubting the existence of love, but in fact is about the kind of love that's built to last. In it, he expresses that it's ok to question what love is because the kind of love that's present in this relationship he's singing about is strong enough to withstand questioning. The song's good enough to use as a first dance at a wedding reception!
Then there are the worst of the worst love songs, the songs that yammer on about "baby baby baby" in a manner that makes me feel the singer doesn't know a thing about love, the songs that are overtly trying too hard to "charm" but in the process end up in Sleazeville, and the songs that are so unbearably sweet that you develop diabetes just listening to them. The only one of the third I'd excuse completely is Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You", because it's not a traditional love song but a love song to a baby, which makes all the difference in the world. The way she sings the song is perfect for a lullaby, and in fact she composed it to her little girl Maya Rudolph (better known these days for her work on "Saturday Night Live") shortly before cancer took her away from her husband and daughter, so there's a heartbreaking element to the song. Some genuinely horrible love songs are the ones that once were great but have become horrible with overuse, such as Heatwave's "Always and Forever" or "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers. Then there are all the "love" songs sung by stupid teen idol acts, which suck as a matter of principle. There are the "love" songs which have nothing at all to do with love, such as The Police's "Every Breath You Take", which is in all fairness not Sting's fault. He himself expressed horror at the fact that couples are using it as "their" song and dancing to it as their first dance at wedding receptions.
Then there's the worst "love" song of all, a song so utterly and completely wrong that its wrongness twists my brain into unnatural shapes and it takes me forever to get it back in place. I am surprised "Into the Night" by Benny Mardones didn't end up causing him to be taken down to the station to answer some very serious questions. It bears no resemblance at all to another "jail bait" song, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap's "Young Girl", because in that golden oldie from the '60s, the narrator pleads with the underage girl to return to her family and get as far away from him as possible once he finds out what her true age is. "Young girl, get out of my life/My love for you is way out of line/Better run girl/You're much too young girl." Benny Mardones doesn't beg his young girl to get out of his life; in fact, he pleads with OTHER PEOPLE to understand that the "love" he feels for her is very much IN line and that he's not going to stop going down the path to wrongness. While Gary Puckett sings that the eponymous girl in his song is "just a baby in disguise" and too young "to give [him] love", Benny's practically whisking his underaged love interest away to get married and produce many babies for him. Mardones's song is practically the soundtrack to child predator Phillip Garrido's life! And the fact that it actually got recorded and released on a major label and many millions of people actually bought the single disheartens me greatly.
And now I have to go scrub my brain clean after having to think about that horrendous song again. Perhaps I'll listen to another great love song, an unexpected one this time. I love those songs, the ones that are chipper and cheery that, once you pay attention to them, turn out to be great songs about love. Real love, love that actually exists in this world and isn't prosecutable by law. I'm thinking about The Swingers's "Counting the Beat". Come enjoy with me!