These songs are maybe not at first obviously love songs, but I find that the very best ones are like that.
“Walk Away Renee (Version)” by Billy Bragg. It’s hard to pick just one love song of Billy Bragg’s since all of them are pretty much love songs if they’re not about politics (sometimes, if you’re lucky, they’re both). I was tempted by “The Saturday Boy,” which is about his long ago love for a girl not old enough to shave her legs. But then there’s this one, which is a love story set to the tune of Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” and includes this line: “It was just like being on a fast ride at a fun fair. The sort you wanna get off because it’s scary and then as soon as you’re off you wanna get straight back on again.” Yup.
“I Miss You” by Kimya Dawson. Well, sure, this is obvious, but it’s just over 30 seconds long. And yet long enough to say this: “I don’t need to, but I want to. Sing with you. Cause I miss you.”
“Human Hands” by Elvis Costello. Though in general his aim is true, you couldn’t really call Elvis a romantic (“Do I have to draw you a diagram?”), but then at the end he says something kind of lovely: “Tighter and tighter I hold you tightly. You know I love you more than slightly. Although I’ve never said it like this before.”
“Strangers” by The Kinks. Is this a love song? I can’t really say, but it certainly seems like it: “So I will follow you wherever you go. If your offered hand is still open to me.” And it’s pretty much a perfect song.
“Hotel Yorba” by The White Stripes. I think “Fell in Love With a Girl” is probably more obvious (“I must be fine because my heart’s still beating”), but this one gets me every single time. I mean, is there any better way to propose: “Let’s get married in a big cathedral by a priest. Cause if I’m the man that you love the most you could say ‘I do’ at least.”
“Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song” by Jeffrey Lewis. The title probably sounds provocative, but it’s really a very sweet song about a missed opportunity with a girl in front of the Chelsea Hotel, the famous site of Leonard Cohen’s song of the same title. I happen to have a ridiculous crush on Jeffrey Lewis, who I like to think of as a permanent college boyfriend. Tied with this one is his song “Don’t Be Upset,” which includes the line “My baby came riding to meet me one time on the crowded last car of the downtown-bound 9.” (A song that mentions a defunct subway line is a love song for me no matter how you look at it.)
“You and Me” by Alice Cooper. What, you didn’t think Alice Cooper could write a totally earnest love song? Well, you’d be very wrong. “We share a bed, some loving, and TV.” I mean, when you get down to it, that’s pretty much it, right?