When David Bowie wrote the music for his 1992 wedding ceremony to supermodel Iman, he knew that the couple would last; they were still married when he passed away in 2016. “Writing brought my mind around to what commitment means,” he revealed to The Boston Globe. “What I really wanted from now on.”
June Carter felt similarly when she wrote 1962’s “Ring of Fire” about her budding attraction to Johnny Cash. “No way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns,” she wrote at the time, even as her love interest became a volatile handful to be around. And when Paul McCartney wrote “Maybe I’m Amazed” for his wife Linda in 1969, he sang of beholding a powerful, lasting new love — and practically trembling in awe.
These love songs endure not just because they’re relatable or universal, but because the artists who wrote them meant them. Some of the canon’s finest devotionals are about earned, long-term satisfaction — often penned by an artist who stayed with their partner. In honor of Valentine’s Day 2019, here are 15 songs that are all the more romantic because the couple pulled through to the end.
Johnny Cash, “Ring of Fire” (1963) The Man in Black borrowed his signature song from his wife, June Carter, who co-wrote it with Merle Kilgore while on tour in 1962. The original inspiration came from a book of Elizabethan poetry owned by June’s uncle, A.P. Carter; she lifted the line “Love is like a burning ring of fire” and applied it to her smoldering new relationship with Johnny. The idea of mariachi horns came to Cash in a dream; that added oomph turned “Ring of Fire” into a blustery hit.
Paul McCartney, “Maybe I’m Amazed” (1970) By all accounts, Paul’s new marriage to Linda McCartney dug him out of his post-Beatles depression. By his telling, he mostly lay around his farmhouse drinking Scotch and feeling depressed. “We used to liken it to the army where you’d been army buddies for a few years, and now you weren’t going to see them again,” he told Rolling Stone. Linda got him out of bed and back into music by being his collaborator and encourager; “Maybe I’m Amazed” is his majestic ode to dawning love.
John Lennon, “Oh Yoko!” (1971) On his solo album Imagine, Lennon gently explored his feelings as a married man as if he was singing from a therapist’s couch. “Oh Yoko!” is a light and breezy ode to his wife — just a few cycling chords and Lennon calling Ono’s name. Things weren’t as peachy two years later, when John ran off with their assistant, May Pang, on his infamous Lost Weekend. But the purehearted joy of “Oh Yoko!” was proof they could work out the kinks, as they eventually did.
Jessi Colter feat. Waylon Jennings, “Storms Never Last” (1975) Country legend Waylon Jennings’ addictions took a dark turn in the 1970s, culminating in his 1977 arrest. This chaos threatened to subsume his marriage to Nashville songwriter Jessi Colter; rather than understandably pack up and leave, she wrote “Storms Never Last” about overcoming their marital tempest. He eventually overcame most of his bad habits; the couple duetted “Storms Never Last” until his death in 2002.
George Harrison, “Dark Sweet Lady” (1979) The Quiet One overcame an ebb in his solo career with 1979’s George Harrison, a peaceful, blissful work inspired by his wife, Olivia. “Dark Sweet Lady” is his “Maybe I’m Amazed,” in which he expresses thanks to his supportive partner for dredging him out of his doldrums. “You came and helped me through / When I’d let go,” he sings, perhaps about meeting Olivia as an A&M Records employee in his troubled Dark Horse days.
Pat Benatar, “True Love” (1991) “We’re pretty much sharing one brain,” commented Pat Benatar on her long partnership with guitarist Neil Giraldo. “He’s really cute, so it’s good. He gets away with murder.” These partners-in-crime went from bandmates to lovers to husband and wife in the early 1980s, and “True Love,” a co-write between the couple, sums up their marital bliss. Best of all is Benatar sloughing off Netflix and chill 20 years before it existed: “I called the man at the video store / Cancel my membership, I won’t be needing it no more!”
David Bowie, “The Wedding Song” (1993) In 1990, David Bowie asked out his future wife, Iman, by nervously inviting her to afternoon tea after being introduced via their mutual hairdresser. This quotidian meeting story is classic, considering it’s one of rock’s most legendary figures meeting one of the world’s most glamorous women. Bowie composed much of the music for their future nuptials, including “The Wedding Song,” which appears on his 1993 album Black Tie White Noise. His lyrical images of silver wings, golden eyes and floating clouds suggest a dreamy, archetypal union.
Amy Grant, “Happy” (2003) A true believer who made waves in the 1980s contemporary Christian genre, Amy Grant got pushback from her devout fanbase for divorcing fellow worship singer Gary Chapman and marrying the country star Vince Gill. Despite this perceived violation of Mark 10:9, Amy and Gill have been a power couple in both genres since their 2000 wedding. She makes her critics eat crow on “Happy,” a domestic-bliss anthem from her 2003 secular album Simple Things.
George Benson, “Johnnie Lee” (1996) George Benson recorded scorching jazz with Miles Davis and Jack DeJohnette before settling into a mellow, mature R&B vein. His stirring instrumental “Johnnie Lee” is named after his wife, whom he married in 1965 and has been with ever since. And although he is largely an interpreter rather than a writer, their half-century-and-change marriage rings true in hits like “Give Me the Night” and “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You.”
Beyoncé ft. JAY-Z, “Crazy in Love” (2003) Before married life, before Blue Ivy, and way before unwelcome interpolations from “Becky with the good hair,” there was this classic puppy-love duet between Beyoncé and JAY-Z. The Carters have had their triumphs, struggles and forks in the road since “Crazy in Love,” but despite all this public pressure, they’ve reliably stuck together in sickness and in health.
Kanye West, “Bound 2” (2013) “Close your eyes and let the word paint a thousand pictures / One good girl is worth a thousand bitches.” Compared to some of Ye’s even more uncharitable lines about women, “Bound 2” is practically a feminist dissertation. Still, the Yeezus single remains his sweetest devotional to Kim Kardashian, abetted by its gloriously green-screened video with scenes of Monument Valley and Yosemite National Park.
Elton John, “A Good Heart” (2016) This co-write between Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin carries a dual meaning. “I think we have a mirror image on that because we both have young kids,” explained Taupin. “We’re such radically different characters, but the one thing that ties us together is the kids.” John, however, interprets the song as being for his husband, David Furnish, who he entered into a civil partnership with in 2005 and married in 2014. The Rocket Man is currently in the midst of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour so he can stay closer to Furnish and their two sons. “My priorities in my life are now my children, my husband and my family — I want to be home,” he explained when announcing the tour.
David Crosby, “Things We Do For Love” (2016) The former Byrd and Crosby, Stills and Nash singer squandered most of his solo years with lukewarm albums and bad behavior. But Croz’s unfortunate history doesn’t overshadow his most beautiful solo album, Lighthouse — it illuminates it. It’s a twilit, largely acoustic album about being grateful to be alive. “Things We Do For Love” is a misty, ethereal highlight — and a gorgeous tribute to his wife of over 30 years, Jan Dance.
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, “The Rest of Our Life” (2017) Country music had arguably never seen a more high-profile power couple than Tim McGraw and Faith Hill when the two married in 1996. They’ve released a slew of singles in honor of their commitment — Hill’s version of “Just to Say That You Love Me,” McGraw’s rendition of “Just to See You Smile” — but didn’t release a true collaborative album until The Rest of Our Life. The title track is a gem because it focuses on the bumbling, quotidian reality of being wed for life: “If one gray hair shows/ If my waistline grows/ I’ll be fine.”
Garth Brooks, “Stronger Than Me” (2018) In a 2018 interview with Billboard, Garth Brooks described a song that seemed to came out of nowhere — but summed up his feelings for his wife, Trisha Yearwood. “Nobody had heard it, just the five guys, the engineer and myself,” Brooks remembered. “I thought, ‘This is what I’d say to Trisha.’” He delivered the song solo and unadorned at the 2018 CMA Awards, evoking an emotional reaction from his wife of 13 years. “Every now and then she just wants me to hold her/ But that don’t mean she’s weak,” sang Brooks in his stirring ballad. “Stronger Than Me” is an ode to resilience — and proves sticking together for life often produces the most lasting love songs.