‘I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day. When it's cold outside, I've got the month of May' – is there, in all honesty, any other opening lyric that gives you such a spring in your step as this?
Well, it turns out, yes – and plenty of them. Whether it’s The Las’ happy-go-lucky harmonies of ‘There she goes’, or Bob Marley’s smile-inducing remix of ‘Is this love?’, the string of chart-toppers expressing how love really does ‘lift us up where we belong’ is seemingly endless.
Yet, alongside that cheery array of feel-good anthems comes an equally lengthy list of solemn heartbreak hits. Just when you think it can’t get more agonising than Elvis Presley’s regret-filled ballad ‘Always on my mind’, Sinead O’Connor comes along with the painfully raw and vulnerable ‘Nothing compares 2 U’. And we’re running out of tissues.
So, dim the lights and get the candles burning, or curl up on the sofa and sob into your ice cream, as you make your way through our pick of the 100 best love songs of all time.
The best love songs of all time
1. Lay Lady Lay: Bob Dylan
Featuring Dylan’s deeper and softer vocal range, this poetic and seductive ballad was originally written for the soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy.
2. Come Away With Me: Norah Jones
Jones's silken tones and smooth piano build a seductive picture in this soft and intimate number. The title track from her debut album.
3. Always a Woman to Me: Billy Joel
Joel’s hymn to inscrutable femininity was inspired by his drummer’s wife. The piano man was so tormented by their affair that he attempted suicide by drinking furniture polish.
4. There She Goes: The Las
The short, sweet and simply structured song’s summery guitar riff and happy harmonies make it a perfectly formed indie anthem. Although it has been rumoured to be an ode to heroin…
5. Heartbeats: The Knife
The first single from this Gothenberg duo’s 2003 album ‘Deep Cuts’. ‘To call for hands of above to lean on / Wouldn’t be enough for me, oh’ Singer Karin Dreijer Andersson’s vocals cut sharply across the electro track.
6. Always On My Mind: Pet Shop Boys
Unbelievably, the wry electro-pop duo took on an Elvis number and came out of it okay. Like all the best covers it goes in a completely different direction from the original.
7. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out: The Smiths
Although never released as a single, this song from their finest album, 'The Queen Is Dead', became one of The Smiths' definitive numbers and a fan favourite.
8. Into Your Arms: Nick Cave
Showcasing Cave’s poetic writing and gravelly voice. ‘I don’t believe in the existence of angels’ opens the second verse, ‘but looking at you I wonder if that’s true’. Unapologetically religious about love, Cave reportedly performed it at his friend’s funeral.
9. I Want Your Love: Chic
Disco kings Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards marry a propulsive, addictive groove with desperate, melancholy lyrics and even chiming church bells to get the tears dripping on the dance floor. Killer line: All alone in my bed at night/ I grab my pillow and squeeze it tight.
10. Your Love is King: Sade
The Nigerian-British model took her smooth jazz stylings to the top of the charts both in Britain and across the Atlantic, and this was her slick calling card.
11. Back For Good: Take That
Chiming guitar strums, piano chords and swooping strings waltz in blissful pop union as Gary Barlow forlornly pleads for his lover to come 'back for good'. Take That have never topped it.
12. You Make Loving Fun: Fleetwood Mac
Among the turmoil and recriminations of the decade’s biggest break-up album, the warring band came up with this gentle slice of laid-back Californian romance. Killer line: I never did believe in miracles/ But I’ve a feeling it’s time to try.
13. Ain’t Nobody: Chaka Khan & Rufus
When Quincy Jones heard the plaintive keyboard intro to this he wanted to give it to Michael Jackson. Luckily, Khan had first dibs and turns in one of her most soulful vocals.
14. Northern Sky: Nick Drake
In 2004 the NME declared this gently awed tribute to the transformative power of love the “greatest English love song of modern times”.
15. Is this love?: Bob Marley
In British exile, the reggae king resurrected an old 60s tune and turned it into a soft, stoned love poem. Killer line: We’ll be together with a roof right over our heads/ We’ll share the shelter of my single bed.
16. You’re the Best Thing: Style Council
After breaking up the Jam, Paul Weller wanted to stop shouting about the world and instead turned out a beautiful homage to his motown heroes.
17. My Girl: The Temptations
The romance of this 1964 number one is far more innocently optimistic than many others released on the Motown label at the time. But the sweet spot in The Temptations song comes in the steady pitch climbing of its chorus, which echoes the perfectly pentatonic bassline of the verse riff. Sweetness itself.
18. Valentine: Jessie Ware & Sampha
A xylophone solo opens this synthpop love song, which was released on Valentine’s day 2011 on heart shaped vinyl. ‘Baby, you’d be terrified / of all the secrets you were wishing you won’t ever find’, Ware’s vocals warn.
19. Zoom: Fat Larry's Band
Drummer Fat Larry Jones and his band nearly hit No 1 in the UK with this innocent ode to falling in love. Killer line: Zoom – just one look and then my heart went boom/Suddenly and we were on the moon/ Flyin’ high in a neon sky.
20. Spoons: Rudimental
Soulful vocals are layered over a upbeat electronic baseline. Featuring MNEK and Syron, the voices are progressively layered over eachother, falling ‘deeper and deeper’ over and over. From Rudimental’s debut album ‘Home’.
21. Missing: Everything But the Girl
Tracey Thorn’s softly brittle vocals and Missing’s pulsing synth beats make it possibly the ultimate tears on the dancefloor track. The 1994 hit marked the gateway to Everything But the Girl’s move into electronic music, and is equally well-remembered as both the original album version and a more upbeat dance remix.
22. Up Where We Belong: Jennifer Warnes & Joe Cocker
A power-ballad for the end of time. Movie producer Don Simpson wanted to cut this from An Officer And A Gentleman, but he didn't and it won an Oscar.
23. Don’t Let Go: En Vogue
When this Oakland, California quartet belt out 'There’ll be some love-makin’, heart-breakin’, soul-shakin’' over a seductive bass, it sounds like an order, not an observation.
24. Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love: Tom Waits
Not one to listen to with a heartbreak, but Waits' brutally tender acoustic ballad cuts a much-needed dash through the overwraught sentimentality that can come with love songs.
25. Nothing Compares 2 U: Sinead O’Connor
Originally written by Prince, Sinead O'Connor truly made this forlorn song of heartbreak her own with a slight Irish burr and defiant, yet vulnerable, tone. A few years on from the shoulder pads and guitar riffs of the power ballads, O'Connor's synth-driven track must be taken in video format: shaven headed, singing into the camera, a single tear runs down her cheek.
26. Retrograde: James Blake
The lead single from Blake's second album Overgrown his soulful, echoey vocals are the star of the show, accompanied by a steady percussive beat, gentle piano and distorted electronics.
27. Ex Factor: Lauryn Hill
Topping even the Fugee’s Killing Me Softly, Hill’s tug-of-war epic perfectly updates the template for classic Seventies soul ballads with some of hip-hop’s nonchalance and head-nodding beats, including a smart sample from the Wu Tang Clan. None of which detracts from the powerful, romantic anguish captured in Hill’s songwriting and delivery, apparently aimed at former bandmate Wyclef Jean.
28. Say Hello, Wave Goodbye: Soft Cell
Great tune, gripping lyrics, heroic vocal by Marc Almond - not bad for a li'l ol' synth duo.
29. Enjoy The Silence: Depeche Mode
This electronic group from the Eighties were renowned for creating gems of lush gloom-pop. ‘Enjoy the Silence’ darkly celebrates the wordless emotion of love. If you’re wearing goth guyliner when this song comes on, it might wise to leave the dancefloor and reapply.
30. Wonderwall: Oasis
The nuance of this leviathan of Britpop love songs may be lost during beery, heartfelt renditions at festivals and clubs, but Wonderwall remains resilient for a reason. Thanks to Liam Gallagher’s Manchester twang, it’s not a beautiful track, but its simple lyrics of love’s saving powers make it a quietly moving one.
31. Night Nurse: Gregory Isaacs
Although it eventually became synonymous with a certain brand of cough medicine, this reggae original is actually a desperate plea from one of the maestros of lovers' rock.
32. Wild Horses: Rolling Stones
A love song tinged with pain, Mick Jagger sounded like he was singing about Marianne Faithfull but Keith Richards said in 1993 that it was a song about being on the road.
33. Georgia on my Mind: Ray Charles
‘Just an old sweet song’, originally written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell, Charles’ vocals and piano brought it fame. It was made the official state song of Georgia in 1979.
34. Ever fallen in love: Buzzcocks
Rather than drowning in tears, Pete Shelley gives a misguided triste a fighting punk edge that makes it almost sound like fun. Killer line: We won’t be together much longer/ Unless we realise that we are the same.
35. Bizarre Love Triangle: New Order
At the peak of New Order's powers Bernard Sumner penned this electro-disco paean to the pains of love. Its meaning may be elusive but its power is undeniable.
36. Cherish: Kool & the Gang
The Gang's bittersweet and surprisingly metaphysical ballad must be the epitome of Simon Bates' long-lost Our Tune. Killer line: If you receive your calling before I awake could I make it through the night?
37. Because the Night: Patti Smith
Springsteen may have written it but punk’s high priestess makes this power ballad her own with defiant, rabble-rousing passion. Killer line: Love is an angel disguised as lust/ Here in our bed until the morning comes.
38. Name of the Game: Abba
Moody, enigmatic and dramatic; Abba grew up on this stately ballad of hope and insecurity. Killer line: If I trust in you, would you let me down?/ Would you laugh at me, if I said I care for you?
39. Teenage Dream: Katy Perry
A fun and catchy power-pop record from Perry’s album of the same title. It’s an anthem of youthful, carefree euphoria, confidently chanting ‘you and I will be young forever’. The song earned Perry her third Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2011.
40. It Must Be Love: Madness
The Nutty Boys showed they were lovers as well as dancers with their deliciously optimistic cover, replete with timeless video, of the Labi Siffre classic.
41. Stay: Rihanna
Featuring guest vocals from Mikky Ekko, this R&B ballad was a stand-out track on Rihanna’s eleventh studio album, Unapologetic. The song is lead primarily by a stripped back piano part, the emotion carried in Rihanna and Ekko’s voices.
42. I Adore You: Miley Cyrus
Released in December 2013 the third single from Bangerz, Miley’s third studio album, was credited as being one of the more conservative tracks on the album, claiming ‘you and me, we’re meant to be in holy matrimony’. The accompanying video which simulates a sex-tape was more risque.
43. You And Me Song: The Wannadies
Built around a bossa-nova verse which suddenly explodes into a surging, heart-melting power-pop chorus, this Swedish band had a UK hit after it was used in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet remake.
44. I’ll Love You More Than You'll Ever Know: Donny Hathaway
A slow burning dedication of real, hard earned and well travelled partnership from a lost golden voice of soul. Killer Line: I’m only flesh and blood but I can be anything that you demand / I can be king of everything or a tiny grain of sand.
45. You Send Me: Sam Cooke
A gently meandering bassline and crooning backing singers made You Send Me debut chart topper for Cooke, and inspired considerably more romance on the dancefloors of mid-Century America.
46. Inside My Love: Minnie Ripperton
Despite the double entendres, Ripperton’s is pleading for a spiritual connection rather than a roll in the hay but it still sounds like she is in five-octave ecstasy. Killer line: Two people, just meeting/ Barely touching each other.
47. Come Into My Life: Joyce
Sims Sims, a classically trained pianist, teamed up with electro-funk producer Kurtis Mantronik and kept her vocals relatively restrained for a ballad. Killer line: Because I can brighten up your day/If you’re feeling bad, I put a smile on your face.
48. Just Kissed My Baby: The Meters
A slow swaggering slab of 'wah-wah’ New Orleans funk, sweetened by an infectious, joyous ode to smooching. Killer line: Feel like a king, yeah/ Well, I just kissed my baby.
49. Fade Into You: Mazzy Star
A dreamy track by alternative west coast duo Hope Sandoval and David Roback. Twanging guitar and echoey vocals make for a psychedelic portrayal of an unrequited love, the lyrics ‘I think it’s strange you never knew’ fading out at the end.
50. I Need Love: LL Cool J
The ladies already loved one of rap’s first pin-ups but he cemented his reputation as a sensitive bad guy with this shot from the heart.
51. What's Love Got to Do With It: Tina Turner
Out from under Ike's shadow this was the number that launched Tina Turner as the wild-haired senior soulstress who could sell by the million.
52. Strangers in the Night: Frank Sinatra
A 1966 chart topper with an elegant string arrangement, Sinatra even manages to make a verse of ‘dooby dooby doo’ sophisticated and romantic.
53. Bed's Too Big Without You: Police
Sting yelps the anguish of abandonment into angular guitar chords echoing like empty rooms against an off-kilter reggae beat.
54. Unfinished Symphony: Massive Attack
Bristol collective Massive Attack pioneered a desperately romantic, noirish tone on their second single, mixing a driving breakbeat with orchestral strings and a vocal from Shara Nelson that sounds like she’s on the edge of a breakdown.
55. Try a Little Tenderness: Otis Redding
Three decades after it was written, Otis Redding gave Try a Little Tenderness a definitive makeover: a jittery, persuasive vocal which builds after Wayne Jackson’s slow, soulful trumpet solo for an intro.
56. Falling: Alicia Keys
Keys’s debut single, and still one of her most iconic. A heavy R&B rhythm featuring gospel arrangements and strings, the track was produced, written and performed by Keys when she was just 20. It samples James Brown’s It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.
57. Think Twice - Donna Marie
A cover version of the love song by Celine Dion, the Canadian’s second biggest selling single ever. Created by Bucks Fizz writer Andy Hill with former King Crimson member Peter Sinfield, the song has proved remarkably durable. In Dion’s fluttering hands, it is a country-soul power ballad, complete with a metaphor-heavy video involving men in dungarees sculpting ice blocks.
58. Never Gonna Give You Up: Barry White
A surfeit of the Hamster of Lurve can provoke a diabetic coma, but the big man's plush sound upholstery spells 'Valentine's Day'.
59. Always On My Mind: Elvis Presley
Neglectful husbands the world over give thanks to Willie Nelson’s classic apology from the king of careless regrets. Killer Line: I guess I never told you / I’m so happy that you’re mine.
60. Something Changed: Pulp
Jarvis Cocker is best known as the laureate of unrequited love (Disco 2000) or disturbing obsession (Underwear). But this gem from their 1996 album Different Class is a pure love-song – string-soaked and heartfelt.
61. Your Song: Elton John
The conversational style and inarticulate grasping towards a declaration of love ground Elton and Bernie’s simple classic in real, emotional experience. Killer Line: I know its not much but it’s the best I can do / My gift is my song and this one’s for you.
62. How Deep is Your Love: Bee Gees
On the surface, slushy keyboards and smooth doo-wop harmonies; underneath, rivers of pain and confusion. Killer line: We’re living in a world of fools / Breaking us down / When they all should let us be.
63. Lego House: Ed Sheeran
‘Out of all these things I’ve done’ singer-songwriter Sheeran reflects, ‘I think I love you better now’. King of 21st century love songs, the lyrics and melody are catchy, familiar and sweet, with individual highlights including Sheeran rhyming ‘December’ with ‘mend ya’.
64. What a Difference a Day Makes: Dinah Washington
By the time Dinah Washington had a hit with this song in 1959, it was already a famous classic, having been played since the Thirties. Big but understated, and poised perfectly between a croon and loose jazz, it remembers the good times with a lost love.
65. Cannonball: Damien Rice
A touching folk-song about love just out of reach. The second track from his debut album O, it has been re-released three times.
66. Thinking of You: Sister Sledge
Still hugely infectious, because the Sisters' voices dovetailed perfectly with Chic's infinite groove machine.
67. God Only Knows: Beach Boys
A bittersweet ode to love in later life, Brian Wilson and Tony Asher's 1966 song doubles up as a being a textbook example of perfect lyrical musicology. Which is why it makes a lovely earworm.
68. Saving All My Love For You: Whitney Houston
The song that launched Whitney, also inventing a newly minted variety of globe-storming soul diva. Bobby Brown and crack cocaine were not even a twinkle in her innocent eye… Killer line: Though I try to resist, being last on your list / But no other man's gonna do / So I'm saving all my love for you.
69. Be my Wife: David Bowie
The ultimate romantic proposal, contrarily wrapped up in pounding piano, thrashing guitars and a cynical delivery. Killer line: Please be mine / Share my life / Stay with me.
70. Unchained Melody: The Righteous Brothers
Forget the endless X Factor covers, The Righteous Brothers’ megawatt version of Alex North and Hy Zaret’s 1955 song is a sumptuous, outrageously octave-spanning croon-fest.
71. My Baby Just Cares for Me: Nina Simone
Simone cut this song back in 1958 (although it dates from the '20s) but it shot into the British public consciousness when it was used in a TV ad and went to No.1.
72. Crazy Love: Van Morrison
The Belfast curmudgeon with a poet’s heart celebrates the kind of love that makes you want to burst into smiles. Killer Line: Yes it makes me feel righteous, yes, it makes me feel whole / It makes me feel mellow down into my soul.
73. Waiting for a Girl Like You: Foreigner
This power ballad spent a record-setting 10 weeks at number two in the US charts, without ever making it to number one.
74. Lovefool: Cardigans
A breezy soft-rock/disco crossover with a doleful lyric – perfect to dance and mope to. Nina Persson’s cooing vocal and piercing stare made a generation of teen boys wonder what on earth the errant man in question was thinking.
75. Is This Love?: Whitesnake
David Coverdale is one of rock's most testosterone-fuelled singers, invariably belting it out with as much chest hair on display as possible, and 'Is This Love?' is the nearest the soft metal lothario has ever come to wearing his heart on his sleeve.
76. Maps: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
A song about the relationship between lead singer Karen O and Liars frontman Angus Andrew. The critical hook ‘Wait! They don’t love you like I love you’, is sung delicately rather than in her more abrasive usual style, although the Yeah Yeah Yeahs characteristic raspy guitars still make an appearance.
77. Man with the Child in his Eyes: Kate Bush
The romantic hero of this song could have been looking at the preciously talented Bush – only 16 when she wrote this intimate portrayal of desire and confusion.
78. Since I Been Lovin' You: Led Zeppelin
Heavy Rockers have feelings too, you know. Plant gets down and testifies to his bluesy desire while Page’s guitar gently weeps. Killer Line: I love you, baby, how I love you, darling, how I love you, baby, how I love you, girl.
79. Love and Affection: Joan Armatrading
Opening with a cool stand-off, this first hit for the St Kitt’s born singer-songwriter slowly builds to a passionate, epic plea for real love. Killer line: I am not in love/ But I’m open to persuasion.
80. Amazing: Luther Vandross
Luther's best-loved moment was this exquisite soul soufflé. Makes you believe a man can fly.
81. Drove All Night: Cyndi Lauper
Lauper had long ceded the Queen Of US Pop title to Madonna but had one last moment in the Sun with this plaintive Roy Orbison cover. Killer line: I drove all night / Crept in your room / Woke you from your sleep / To make love to you.
82. Jimmy Reed: Honest I Do
This 1957 release of Reed's is a drawling blues number with the squeal of harmonica opening and interspersing the mere 10 lines of lyrics. Covered by the Rolling Stones seven years later.
83. Anticipation: Carly Simon
Pure, Valentines Day excitement in the song Simon wrote while nervously awaiting her first date with Cat Stevens; then less romantically used by Heinz to advertise ketchup.
84. I Will Always Love You: Dolly Parton
Written in 1973 for Parton's former partner and mentor Porter Wagoner. Released on her ’74 album Jolene, Parton sings with as much verve as Whitney Houston did twenty years later, but with just a piano and guitar for accompaniment.
85. How Bout Us: Champaign
A ballad that seemed to set the template for 80s love songs: gently throbbing bass, boy-girl dialogue, critical sax solo.
86. If You Were Here Tonight: Alexander O’Neal
The king of the slow jam at the peak of his career. O’Neal was playing in stadiums with a giant bed on stage on which he would invite ladies to join him.
87. To The End: Blur
At the time, this was Britpop stars Blur’s most ambitious song to date, a swooning baroque pop number complete with a gorgeous, tumbling orchestral accompaniment. French singer Laetitia Sadier provides the husky Gallic counterpoint to Damon Albarn’s mockney croon.
88. Sweet Love: Anita Baker
The definitive singer of the 'quiet storm' style of mid-Eighties soul, Baker was working as a secretary when this propelled her to fame. Killer line: Hear me calling out your name / I feel no shame / I’m in love.
89. A Case of You: Joni Mitchell
Mitchell's beautifully brittle guitar and crystalline vocals glow with the bitter sweet 'holy wine' of love.
90. Let’s Stay Together: Al Green
A 1972 R&B hit, the music was written by legendary drummer Al Jackson Jr. Green is rumoured to have disliked the falsetto parts on it.
91. Natural Woman: Aretha Franklin
If the song’s co-writer, Carole King, infused Natural Woman with the vibe of an earth mother, Franklin’s rendition is one of triumphant, flaming soul. Her soaring vocals are underscored with a fluting brass line and orchestral strings, as well as that grounding piano bassline.
92. Warm Foothills: Alt-J
A calm and almost choral ode to a woman’s landscape. As with many of Alt-Js experimental and electronic tracks, the whistling, percussive music is as evocative as the unique vocals.
93. The Look of Love: Dusty Springfield
A jazzy number composed by Burt Bacharach. The smooth brass, percussion, and Springfield's voice are utterly seductive.
94. Stand By Me: Ben E King
It's the bassline and string section make this 1960 classic such a memorable, beautiful song. Ben E King's moving message of solidarity in love became his zenith.
95. Hyperballad: Bjork
The Icelandic queen of the unusual love song, Bjork can create deep emotional landscapes from the strangest subjects and sounds. Beginning as a lone voice accompanied by warm-flowing harp effects effects, Hyperballad becomes a trance track about the vulnerable side of love.
96. Crazy in Love: Beyoncé ft Jay-Z
Although the song was written by producer Rich Harrison, it conveniently mirrored the then-burgeoning relationship between pop music power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
97. Something: The Beatles
George Harrison’s first composition for The Beatles impressed not only John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but the dozens of artists who covered it in the decades that followed.
98. First Time Ever I Saw Your Face: Roberta Flack
Voice slowly unfolding over delicate piano, the unsurpassable Flack brings a holy intimacy to Ewan McColl’s folk dedication of poetic ardour. Killer Line: I felt the earth move in my hands / Like the trembling heart of a captured dove.
99. Make You Feel My Love: Adele
Originally written by Bob Dylan, Adele’s cover strips back the sound to just piano and her intense vocals.
100. Love Cats: The Cure
Robert Smith's lyrics were enigmatic, to say the least, but this was the song where his wild-haired doom-laden goth persona suddenly bloomed into accessible pop stardom.