Welcome to my Spotify playlist. This list is all about the one thing that unites us all and makes the world go ’round – love. There was no greater era for love songs than the 1950s and ’60s, and most of these tunes fall into that time, with a few notable exceptions. Grab that special someone, turn the lights down low, and slowly sway to the following tunes…
1: Sleepwalk – Santo and Johnny
It’s been almost 60 years since Sleepwalk was recorded in 1959, and if there ever was a more perfect song, I would love to hear it.
Sleepwalk is easily the most beautiful song ever put to tape. I consider it a love song, because it’s just so expressive. I get goosebumps thinking about it. Love, loss, longing… it’s all part of the sleepwalk to me. The melody of this song is so beautiful and sad that you don’t even notice how simple it is.
2: Something – The Beatles
This song may be the late George Harrison’s greatest musical contribution ever. Something is such a dreamy tune from 1969’s Abbey Road that I can’t help but relive every single instance of puppy love in my lifetime when I hear it. Just the intro guitar melody alone is enough to trigger long lost feelings.
It’s subtle, soft-spoken, and incredibly powerful. The simple guitar line that wraps up the verses carries the full weight of the song in just a handful of notes.
3: Sea of Love – Phil Phillips
Do you remember when we met? Sometimes all it takes is a simple declaration of love to start swooning all over again. Hearing this song from 1959 makes you want to walk hand-in-hand along the shore of the Sea of Love with your sweetheart – heads full of dreams underneath a starlit sky.
4: In the Still of the Night – Five Satins/Boyz II Men
The Five Satins put this song on the map in 1956. I don’t know where they were on ‘that night in May’, but they passed on their hopes and prayers for love in the most exquisite way. As much as I love this Five Satins’ version, it was Boyz II Men that brought this song to the next level in 1991 and made it a masterpiece. Check that version if you get a chance.
5: You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me – Gladys Knight
Ever stop to appreciate just how fortunate you are to have found the love of your life?
This 1973 release starts so softly, fondly remembering the ups and downs of life and love. And let’s face it – all loves have their share of trials and tribulations. But, going through them together is what makes love – and this song – so strong. It was hard finding a Gladys Knight and the Pips version on Spotify, so this is as close as I could get to the original.
6: Crying – Roy Orbison
Who hasn’t cried over lost love? Crying is the quintessential torch song – pining over a former lover who is forever out of reach. “I was all right for a while,” Orbison starts in this 1961 classic. We’ve all been there, and Crying perfectly captures that first time fresh wounds open up after lost love.
That, and nobody has a voice like Roy Orbison. Nobody.
7: Etta James – At Last
I guess 1961 was a banner year for love songs.
While James’ voice is what carries the tune itself, it’s the lazy, hazy string section that really injects the romance. When you find true love – when you know you have found your soulmate – at last the long wait is over. There is a reason this is played at every single wedding.
8: I Won’t Stand In Your Way – Stray Cats
I’m not sure if this counts as a love song so much as a leave song. However, Brian Setzer’s incredible vocals on this 1983 offering make it an anthem for love gone cold. Like a lot of Stray Cats’ tunes, I Won’t Stand In Your Way captures the essence of the 1950s. Note the guitar solo – you can feel the reluctance and the liberation in letting go of love as it builds up toward the refrain.
9: I Only Have Eyes For You – The Flamingos
This song has been around since the ’30s, but The Flamingos’ 1959 recording is the definitive version. It swoons and swells just like new love. The massive amounts of reverb on the vocals also add to the haunting beauty of it all. Sh-bop, sh-bop!
10: Dream a Little Dream – Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong
Recorded in 1950, this song lives up to its name – it’s a warm, blowing breeze that penetrates the heart and leaves a lasting sweet impression. There have been many versions of this song over the years, but Fitzgerald and Satchmo have the chemistry that makes this one the best. It’s soulful and jazzy and magical. Couples that scat together stay together, I guess.
11: Foolin’ Myself – Billie Holiday
How can you help but sound amazing when you have the one and only Count Basie band backing you?
Foolin’ Myself is such a great song because it captures the strange compulsion we all have to pretend that we’re beyond love. We all start off jaunty and cocky, but in the end we’re all sappy at heart. For a song recorded in 1937, it speaks to a feeling that lasts throughout the ages.
12: We Belong Together – Ritchie Valens
Like Sleepwalk, We Belong Together also came out in 1959 using that same tried and true 50’s chord pattern. The song isn’t even two minutes long and yet, it speaks to eternity. The major/minor change in the middle eight is a staple of the times, but Valens pours out his soul over a mournful guitar to make it truly timeless. Check out the Los Lobos version of the song from the film La Bamba (1987) for a great homage.
13: Donna – Ritchie Valens
Ritchie Valens is the only artist to appear twice on my list and for good reason – I fell in love with this 1958 song because of the movie La Bamba, and it’s held a special place in my heart ever since. If your special someone has a two-syllable name, you can customize this song to suit your own romantic needs.
14: Earth Angel – The Penguins
Ah, the days when falsetto was king. The lead vocal on this 1954 song flutters like a young lover’s heart. The accompanying vocals on the chorus and middle eight really make this song something special. Before autotune and vocoders, there was a magical movement called Doo-Wop. The Penguins manage a full orchestral sound with nothing more than their voices singing in perfect harmony.
15: Only You – The Platters
So classy. So romantic. Again, that bleeding-heart falsetto dominates the song while at the same time sounds incredibly vulnerable. First recorded by the Platters in 1955, Only You is a great example of a love song that sings directly to the object of desire, letting them know in no uncertain terms – it’s you and only you.
16: Ben – Michael Jackson
Who says love songs need to be about romance? A young Michael Jackson recorded this song in 1972 for a film of the same name. Like all good ballads, it starts soft, builds up to an emotional climax, and resolves slowly and sweetly. To all the Bens out there… you have a friend in me.
17: Thank You For Being A Friend – Andrew Gold
Another purely platonic love song, most people recognize this as the theme song to the Golden Girls. Released in 1978, this yatch-rock classic shows a different side of dedication. However, ask anyone who is deeply and truly in lifelong love and they will tell you – their partner is their absolute best friend. Sometimes, you just have to show some gratitude.
18: Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight
Sometimes love manifests itself in the most mundane ways. For Clapton, it’s getting ready for the party, and quietly going home at the end of it all. While this 1977 song is already great due to the lyrics and melody, it’s the dreamy guitar riff that lingers long after the song stops playing that makes Wonderful Tonight so memorable – just like in Something.
19: Cupid – Sam Cooke
Another shoutout to 1961, Cupid is different than any other love song on this list because it’s not really for or about the singer’s love. It’s a direct plea to Cupid to help him win over the object of his affection. I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t felt they were in love with someone out of their league, and Cupid manages to capture that pining perfectly. And nobody – NOBODY – can sing like Sam Cooke… not even Roy Orbison!
20: The Oogum Boogum Song – Brenton Wood
I’m straying from the ballads for this one. The Oogum Boogum Song is a single from 1967 that really introduced me to the soul sound. It was one of my favourite 45s as a kid, and received heavy play as soon as I learned how to drop a needle. It’s cute and sweet, and just like the subject of the singer’s affection, The Oogum Boogum Song casts a spell on me whenever I listen to it.