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What makes a love song? OUP staff have their say

The “love song” is undoubtedly timeless, pervading over the centuries–the themes of beauty, time, passion and heartache can be seen very early on in William Shakespeare’s sonnets, (among some of the first expressions of the love song), and with these universal ideas of love remaining ever-significant subject matter of popular music today.

But what makes a love song? We all respond to and interpret the love song in our own personal way, and romance was certainly in the air for OUP staff when we asked them to share with us their favorites; from the unique and obscure to the classic power ballads of the modern age. Be sure to share with us your own favorite songs and spread the love this Valentine’s Day.

Anna-Lise Santella, Grove Editor

It’s not a conventional love song, but my favorite song to play on Valentine’s Day is Jobim’s “The Waters of March.” So many love songs are about the moment of discovery, of new love, but this is a song about a life spent together, of secrets and inside jokes, joy and sorrow, the passage of time. All the domestic details leave only a vague outline of the story behind them, leaving you to fill in the gaps, like you’re in on the secret. There are dozens of wonderful recordings in both English and the original Portuguese, but I’m especially fond of Holly Cole’s version which trades in the traditional samba feel for a waltz.

Richard Carlin, Executive Editor, Music and Art

“Memories of You” by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf–a classic love song that calls for a singer with great chops. And a lovely sentiment.

Suzanne Ryan, Editor in Chief, Humanities

“Ich liebe dich” (aka Zärtliche Liebe). A sweet, direct, earnest statement– it’s one of the most genuine, uncomplicated expressions I’ve heard in song, and I always have to listen to it (or sing it) twice, once is never enough. Composed by 25 year old Beethoven, and amazing to hear this early work considering how his composing developed and is most commonly characterized. I like to imagine the young man in love for the first time with all the hopes of a happy future.

Jamie Kim, Editorial Assistant

Cheesy, but “The Nearness of You” rendition by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Celine Aenlle-Rocha, Marketing Coordinator, Academic & Trade Marketing

“It’s All Coming Back to me Now” is a power ballad written by Jim Steinman, and made famous by Celine Dion. Jim Steinman is one of the great ballad composers of the 80s and 90s. A lot of his songs are based on Wuthering Heights and about the passionate (if sometimes unhealthy) love of Victorian novels. This is my favorite cover of what I think is the most romantic song ever written.

Elena Jones, Marketing Assistant, Academic Central Marketing

“Tender,” because everyone loves a bit of Blur! This song can make me smile, laugh and cry in equal measure. “Tender” was inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night, the title of which was taken from Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats, a romantic poet.

Elanor Caunt, Music Marketing Manager

I am not really into love songs in a big way. However, I think my pick would be a modern love song, “I won’t give up” by Jason Mraz. This was the song I had for my wedding dance and totally captures the sentiment of that moment and nowadays, it also expresses exactly how I feel about my son. The lyrics sum up the endless, eternal nature of a love that never gives up but keeps on fighting and trying, even through all the twists and turns of life. I think the music that the lyrics are set to is perfect because it just allows the power of the words to jump out.

Erin Fegeley, Marketing Manager

My favorite love song is “Nothing can change this love” by Sam Cooke. My now husband was playing it when he proposed to me and it was the song we played for our first dance at our wedding this summer.

Katie Bennett, Marketing Assistant, Americas

I grew up listening to 50s and 60s music with my dad, then 70s Motown with my mom—they were 15 years apart, so the generational gap in music was really wide. From that 30 year period of music, I’d have to say my favorite love song is “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by the magical Stevie Wonder. Though I must say, I’m really loving this new version by an artist from my hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Steven Filippi, Marketing Assistant, Global Online Product Marketing

“Starlight” by British alternative rock band Muse is my favorite song, and it just so happens to also be about love. Or escape. Or forgetting about the problems of world. Or all of the above. It is emotional and catchy, and like much of Muse’s music, has lyrics relating to space and the unknown. However, unlike the dystopian themes of other songs, “Starlight” is Muse at their most hopeful.

Panumas King, Marketing Executive, Global Academic Marketing

“My Heart Will Go On” from the soundtrack to Titanic is sung beautifully by Celine Dion. This is a classic love song about how true love never dies no matter if the other person has gone and is no longer with you.

Elizabeth Furey, Social Media Manager

Elton John’s “Your Song” is my favorite. I’m really a lyrics person, and I think these lyrics are so charming. They don’t try too hard to impress—quite the opposite. The speaker is so humble and self-conscious about expressing himself, literally second-guessing himself in the lyrics, forgetting the color of his beloved’s eyes, etc. I’m also very much a sucker for any songs that are self-aware and “Your Song” is self-aware in such a sweet and perfect way.

Honestly, I think “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys is the greatest pop song ever written. The fact that it’s a love song is kind of secondary to it being a great song in general. It’s got a jovial, juvenile, carousel music aesthetic that is just irresistible. That aesthetic betrays the overall message of the song, which is pretty pessimistic and dramatic. But this betrayal only reflects the nature of love—yes it’s scary and risky but it’s also a joy.

Amelia Carruthers, Marketing Executive, Online Products

“Brandy Alexander” by Feist always reminded me of my partner (of nearly seven years)–my very own Brandy Alexander. It’s particularly reminiscent of the long times we used to spend apart, and the fun we’d have together. As the song says, “always gets me into trouble” and together we’ve got up to the best combination of mischief and adventures–touch wood keeping trouble to a minimum!

Pete Barklem, Senior Marketing Executive

“Absolute Beginners” by David Bowie. This is what happens when Bowie decides to sit down and write a fairly literal love song. Good job, and a great antidote to the previous year’s “Dancing in the Street.”

Hayley Ryan, Marketing Assistant

“Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. To me it perfectly describes what love is and how it feels–love feels like coming home and being with your person.

Lauralee Yeary, Editorial Assistant

I’ll always list a song by Arthur Russell as my favorite re: love. He understood the state/act so deeply, equally ebullient and painful. This track is probably his most widely known and was rerecorded several times until his death in 1992. It’s a simple but tender moment, elasticized over minutes – a couple on their way to a beach, talking mileage and the bliss of proximity. There’s also a fantastic documentary, Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, featuring Russell’s partner and stories about the love that inspired this song.

Katherine Byrne, Associate Marketing Manager

“A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square” is a classic, and is one that’s been performed by legends such as Vera Lynn, Nat King Cole, Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra and Rod Stewart. Every powerful love song should have a story to it, and this is my example of one that’s timeless.

“Your Hands are Cold” from Pride and Prejudice film soundtrack: What counts as a love song? This may test the limits slightly, as there are no words; however, I think this piece captures “falling in love” in Austen’s famous novel beautifully.

Jessica Green, Marketing Assistant (Humanities)

“Hoppípolla” which is Icelandic for “hopping into puddles” by the band Sigur Rós, whilst is not a directly a love song, always makes me think of the fluttering and momentous feeling of falling in love. The lyrics are not easy to dissect (they are quite nonsensical and my understanding of Icelandic few and far between!) however to me it sounds exactly how love (in its many forms) should feel.

I also often sway towards songs that refuse to sugarcoat love, and that are somehow as uplifting as they are poignant. I may be a little biased here because of my weakness for feel-good folk pop, but The Lumineers recent album “Cleopatra” highlights wholeheartedly the often bittersweet realities of love and relationships. The title track, “Cleopatra” is one of my favorite on the album – which can be interpreted in multiple ways, but for me it’s about the sentimentality of the lover’s lament; of chances missed, and opportunities for redemption in love – all timeless subject matters of the ‘love song’!

An OUP approved playlist for further listening:

Image Credit: Paper, Romance, Symbol, Valentine, Love by DariuszSankowski. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.

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