When it comes to love songs, music fans are well-versed in the classics. From our first 8th grade slow-dance to K-Ci & JoJo to our latest karaoke tour de force on “You Are So Beautiful To Me,” we’re taught to understand the musical language of love. But not all songs that drip with romance have to be about, well, LOVE. Here are our favorites.
“Dancing on My Own,” Robyn
Swedish hit machine Robyn is a master at approaching the typical club banger from an unexpected angle. Her songs could easily soundtrack the entire span of youth (and they do, if you’ve seen “Girls”). Her bright production and catchy beats are like a skating rink party for your ears. But if you listen a little more closely, you’ll realize her songs often deal with characters caught on the wrong side of love, looking in at all the moony-eyed saps inside the bubble. “Dancing on My Own” is a triumph for jilted sad sacks everywhere. As we witness Robyn in the club, “all messed up, and so out of line,” trying to catch the eye of the ex who left her in the dust for another girl, it’s hard to not to feel the romantic ache in her voice, and to realize we’re not the only ones who have lost love.
“Everlasting Arms,” Vampire Weekend
Sometimes when a relationship falls apart, you realize you’re better off without it. In “Everlasting Arms,” singer Ezra Koenig seems to embody the confidence Robyn is only playing at in “Dancing on My Own.” Betrayed by someone he trusted, he feels alone, but eventually learns he was made to live without his ex. In other words, it’s an insanely catchy song about losing someone and realizing independence can promise just as much as romance as sharing your life with someone else.
“Yeah! Oh Yeah!” Magnetic Fields
This Stephin Merritt original is kind of like an Andy Capp comic distilled into a 2-minute pop symphony. Merritt’s lyrics drip with the animosity, both thinly-veiled and outright. It’s Archie Bunker and Edith meets Sonny and Cher. But beneath the gallows humor and clever wordplay, there is a sense that these two bickering spouses are soul mates. Once the threats subside, they’ll be back snuggling on the couch in time for Game of Thrones. It’s one of the most heartwarming songs ever written about threatening your significant other with a knife.
“Glory Days,” Bruce Springsteen/Basia Bulat
In the 70s and 80s, Bruce Springsteen had a knack for writing the most incredibly depressing songs you could ever hear on a stadium PA during the wave. “Glory Days,” in particular, is a total downer. And yet, if you dust it off at karaoke you’ll whip the crowd into a frenzy every time. This is a song that recognizes there’s an expiration date on everything, especially romance, but decides that maybe it’s best to live the lie that the good times will last forever. It’s a rough and strangely romantic one. This cover by Basia Bulat strips away the tough, “life’s hard, but no big deal” exterior of the original and goes right to the vulnerable core.
“The Official Ironmen Rally Song,” Guided by Voices
Sometimes you can pine for a crush, and sometimes you can pine for an idea. Bob Pollard of Guided by Voices uses “Official Ironmen Rally Song” to express a longing for the lost dignity of the abandoned working class. In one of his most passionate vocal performances, Pollard finds the romance that drives the rat race, and it’s just as powerful a force as the one that would inspire us to walk 500 miles to a long lost love.
“Same Love,” Macklemore
This is not a traditional boy-meets-girl-and-makes-twinkly-eyes-over-milkshakes love song. It’s about the realities of love, and the limits society sometimes tries to place on it, specifically in terms of marriage equality. Macklemore isn’t talking about one love; he’s talking about all love, and the right we all have to experience our own version of it. He argues that everyone’s love story is a grand epic that deserves to unfold. What’s more romantic than that?
This 16-minute opus by Eluvium has no lyrics and a vague title. There’s no telling what the musician’s intentions are with the song, or if it’s technically a song at all. So ultimately it’s a bit of a musical Rorschach test. Maybe we’re just lovesick fools, but to us this track is pure romance. The hypnotic, sweeping drone reminds us of secrets told on summer nights and kisses shared on wintry beaches. Yep, we’re total saps. Sue us.