Exclaim! Staffers Reveal Their Favourite Love Songs

Featuring Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Orville Peck, Donna Summer and too much Billy Bragg

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Feb 14, 2023

If you really think about it, most tracks can be considered love songs. Especially around this time of year, we tend to shed light on the ones that are purest in essence — romantic love at its highest self. Still, this fails to show the nuance behind music's most consistent topic. There are entreating breakup tracks with not-so-final goodbyes, as well as songs that detail love without being in it — from smouldering infatuations to the warmth we have for our friends and family.

The friendship shared between us Exclaim! staffers has led to a healthy debate or two about what a love song truly is. Though we've come to no real conclusions, we're all steadfast in what each of our favourite tender tracks are, shedding light on every possible meaning that four-letter word can have. 

Find our choices below, and scroll all the way to the bottom for a playlist with our selections.

Kaelen Bell, Reviews Editor

Mina - "Se telefonando" 
Pizzicato Five - "Baby Love Child" 
The Roches - "Hammond Song" 
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Soft Shock" 
Fleetwood Mac - "That's Alright"
Frou Frou - "Breathe In" 
Vistoso Bosses - "Delirious" 
Gerry Rafferty - "Right Down the Line"
Kate Bush - "The Morning Fog"
Sarah Mary Chadwick - "Full Mood"

This list features love songs from a couple different angles — the heartbreaking sweep of Mina's "Se telefonando," the sweet, dreamlike reverie of Pizzicato Five's "Baby Love Child," the sisterly devotion of the Roches "Hammond Song," the electrifying teenage pain of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Soft Shock" or the clear-eyed, empathetic goodbye of Fleetwood Mac's "That's Alright"  — but regardless of perspective, they're each driven by pure love's life-sustaining, heart-rending glory. 

Frou Frou's "Breathe In" is the lip-quivering push-and-pull between clashing but devoted lovers, while Vistoso Bosses' "Delirious" kicks off with a goofy Soulja Boy rap before becoming one of the most buoyant documents of first love ever committed to tape. Rounding it all out is the clear-eyed dedication of Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line," Kate Bush's love song to life itself — her mother and father, her brothers, the ground beneath her feet, and the morning fog — and the destabilizing hunger of Sarah Mary Chadwick's "Full Mood," a song that makes debauchery and collapse sound like the most tender thing in the world.

Sydney Brasil, Social Media Manager

Talking Heads - "This Must Be the Place"
Donna Summer - "I Feel Love"
Blur - "Tender"
Al Green - "Love and Happiness"
Cayley Thomas - "Sunshine"
Broadcast - "Tears in the Typing Pool"
Angel Olsen - "Shut Up Kiss Me"
Karen O - "Rapt"
Daft Punk - "Something About Us"
Faye Webster - "I Know I'm Funny haha"

Love is truly multifaceted, and it goes without saying that its many contours evoke different moods. Someone becomes home in "This Must Be the Place," which matches Cayley Thomas finding warmth in a good-humoured lover in "Sunshine." Of course, love isn't always that easy: all-encompassing crushes that inspire sensual, stomach-churning daydreams are captured in Angel Olsen's "Shut Up Kiss Me" and "Rapt" by Karen O. This lends itself to love's tricky dance that rarely keeps time, making the vocoder pleads of Daft Punk's "Something About Us" and the reflection in Broadcast's "Tears in the Typing Pool" so devastating.

All of this is worth the chance to find a love that'll "make you come home early" or "make you stay out all night long," like Al Green details — the former, perhaps, to the apartment your landlord doesn't know you moved into, as "I Know I'm Funny haha" puts it. Even when love's not as ecstatic as the cosmos in Donna Summer's "I Feel Love," in my experience, it's always been lucrative. To quote "Tender" by Blur, "Love's the greatest thing that we have."

Allie Gregory, Online Editor

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Hysteric"
Sylvan Esso - "Die Young"
Majical Cloudz - "Downtown"
Palehound - "Room"
Feist - "Any Party"
I M U R - "Case of You"
Orville Peck - "Drive Me, Crazy"
MUNA - "Silk Chiffon" 
Wet Leg - "Being in Love"
Amyl and the Sniffers - "Security"
Rebecca Black - "Girlfriend"
Altered by Mom - "Home Movies"

As Exclaim!'s resident Libra (the celestial-minded among us know), I love love. From the new-relationship, be-gay-do-crime energy of I M U R's "Case of You," to the established, trustful partnership in Feist's "Any Party" and Sylvan Esso resigning to live slow and die old in the eternal "Die Young," I've peppered in snapshots of different kinds and stages of love — even if some of their themes lean into toxic territory, because, let's be real, those loves have the potential to be extra fun [insert devil emoji]. Sniffers vocalist Amy Taylor's raucousness is a force for chaotic good as she tries to break past "Security" in her quest for drunken love, while Orville Peck and his truckin' lover are passing ships in the night on "Drive Me, Crazy" and things take a dreamy turn as Majical Cloudz's Devon Welsh sings of "Going downtown / 'cause we feel like running around" on "Downtown."

Speaking of classics, I had to include "Hysteric" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs; this track, from It's Blitz — arguably my favourite album of theirs — came out when I was 19 and still burning CDs to play in my 2004 Ford Focus. In my mind, there's a snapshot of me and my best friend barrelling down the highway singing "You suddenly complete me" to each other — and that's how I've remembered this song for 14 years now. Love is everywhere! Here's your reminder to kiss your friends' faces!

Alex Hudson, General Manager

Billy Bragg - "A New England"
Billy Bragg - "The Fourteenth of February"
Billy Bragg - "Greetings to the New Brunette"
Billy Bragg - "The Marriage"
Billy Bragg - "The Milkman of Human Kindness"
Billy Bragg - "Must I Paint You a Picture"
Billy Bragg - "The Price I Pay"
Billy Bragg - "She's Got a New Spell"
Billy Bragg - "St. Swithin's Day"
Billy Bragg - "Valentine's Day Is Over"

After spending a while trying to figure out which of Billy Bragg's love songs is my favourite, I went with my heart and chose him for all 10 of my picks. He covers all the bases: the single person searching for a partner ("A New England"), the confusing rush of new love ("Greetings to the New Brunette"), the breakdown in communication ("Must I Paint You a Picture"), the bitter kiss-off ("Valentine's Day Is Over) and the yearning for a long-lost love ("St. Swithin's Day"). And then there's "She's Got a New Spell," which has a lyric that instantly makes me smile: "One minute she says / She's gone to get the cat in / The next thing I know / She's mumbling in Latin / She cut the stars out of the sky / And baked them in a pie." As far as I'm concerned, no one does it better.

Megan LaPierre, Staff Writer

The Beach Boys - "God Only Knows"
Phoebe Bridgers - "Moon Song"
Jeff Buckley - "Lover, You Should've Come Over"
The Carpenters - "I Won't Last a Day Without You"
Tracy Chapman - "Fast Car"
Aretha Franklin - "You Send Me"
Don Henley - "The Heart of the Matter"
Carly Rae Jepsen - "All That"
Magnetic Fields - "I Don't Want to Get over You"
Train - "Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)"

Is there anything more humiliating (and vital) than love's singular ability to feel like the apocalypse of everything you once knew? Likewise, we've got a fair amount of sickeningly sweet, ooey-gooey classics that I consider timeless standards of the love song canon here: the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," "I Won't Last a Day Without You" by the Carpenters, Aretha Franklin's "You Send Me," "All That" by Carly Rae Jepsen and hell, even the journey through the soft-rockin' cosmos of Train's "Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)."

Easing into the more fraught side of things, there's the unquestionable No. 1 of 69 Love Songs — the deceptively cheery-sounding "I Don't Want to Get Over You" — and the tender acceptance of the end on Don Henley's "The Heart of the Matter." Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" harnesses the hope love instills to lift out of the bleak, while Phoebe Bridgers also yearns to lasso something impossible on the shuffling waltz of "Moon Song." Jeff Buckley's dizzyingly perfect "Lover, You Should've Come Over" grabbles through the empty dark, pleading for it to never be over — and at the god-tier length of six minutes and 44 seconds, I'm left doing the same in its pure melancholic life-affirming embrace; it's not too late.

Ben Okazawa, Editorial Assistant

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell - "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"
Aretha Franklin - "You Send Me"
The Commodores - "Easy"
Bonnie Raitt - "I Can't Make You Love Me"
Micah Edwards - "Girl From the Valley"
Daniel Caesar ft. H.E.R. - "Best Part"
J Cole - "4 Your Eyez Only"
Snoh Aalegra - "Find Someone Like You"
Sabrina Claudio - "Truth Is (Spanish Version)"
Anderson .Paak ft. Smokey Robinson - "Make It Better"

Love comes in all shapes and sizes — and so does this list. The 10 songs I chose represent different eras, different languages and different genres. Most importantly though, they portray different kinds of love. J. Cole takes his time to rap tenderly of a father's love for his child in a message to his late friend's daughter on "4 Your Eyez Only." The newly-hatched butterflies of a budding romance flutter gently on "Find Someone Like You," "Best Part" and "Girl from the Valley," before soaring on the classics "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "You Send Me." Anderson .Paak and Smokey Robinson blow desperately on the dying embers of love with "Make It Better," as Sabrina Claudio tells a past partner in her signature sultry tone that she wants them back in "Truth Is (Spanish Version)." In the final stages of love, failed romance is lamented heart-wrenchingly on Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," while Lionel Richie and the Commodores move forward on "Easy." 

Calum Slingerland, Print Magazine Editor

Sade - "Love Is Stronger Than Pride"
The Charmels - "As Long As I've Got You"
Stevie Wonder - "Golden Lady"
The Isley Brothers - "Voyage to Atlantis"
Joe Jackson - "Is She Really Going Out with Him?"
Erykah Badu - "Next Lifetime"
Curtis Mayfield - "Give It Up"
Joni Mitchell - "Hejira"
Gordon Lightfoot - "If You Could Read My Mind"
Neil Young - "Only Love Can Break Your Heart"
A love of songs doesn't make a list of love songs easy to keep within 10 selections, so much like my feelings upon carefully piecing it together, these picks speak to the dichotomy of pleasure and pain. On the former: the title track of Sade's Love Is Stronger Than Pride introduces the enveloping ambiance the band would perfect at album length on follow-up Love Deluxe, while "As Long As I've Got You" by the Charmels should be recognized beyond that famous sample flip for its soaring chorus. I absolutely became a more loving person after immersing myself in Stevie Wonder's classic period — while I probably should have given him the Billy Bragg treatment, we'll keep with "Golden Lady," the gleaming centrepiece of 1973's Innervisions that casts love as transformative. Before the Bee Gees asked "How Deep Is Your Love" in 1977, the brothers Isley already had the answer with "Voyage to Atlantis," parting still waters with that searing lead guitar. And while others have interpreted it as an angry song, Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" has, to me, only ever been a humorous account of times one exceptionally self-confident man looks at another and thinks, "How?"
Leaning into the latter: ever struggled choosing whom to love? If so, Badu ultimately suggests you give those feelings up to the universe. For Curtis Mayfield, "Give It Up" means regretfully letting go in identifying, "the invulnerable word, 'incompatible'" for one of the greatest breakup songs of all time. Meanwhile, the title track of Joni Mitchell's Hejira — an album all about physical and emotional unsettlement — sees the songwriter finding "comfort in melancholy," newfound solitude and the fretless bass of Jaco Pastorious. With its clear-eyed reflections on divorce and dramatic strings, Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" stands as one of the first sad love songs I heard in life, later followed by Neil Young's notes on the pitfalls of relationships that make up the plaintive "Only Love Can Break Your Heart."

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