Love is not love without rock music, and rock music is not rock music without love.
From the ’60s to the ’80s and beyond, sweet romance has been expressed beautifully through rock music.
Here, we count down 10 of the all-time greatest rock songs about love, from 1960s classics to modern spin-offs.
Fleetwood Mac, “You Make Lovin’ Fun”
It’s the soap opera of the rock world: infidelity, heartbreak, and wheelbarrows full of booze and blow all produced Fleetwood Mac’s top-shelf classic, Rumors. And it’s on this funk-rock-lite groover that Christine McVie, recently divorced from bassist John McVie, coos about a new affair with the group’s lighting director, Curry Grant. It’d be tough to sing (or sing harmonies to, in John’s case) lyrics like, “You, you make loving fun / I don’t have to tell you but you’re the only one.” Lesson learned: Love is… complicated.
The Beatles, “Something”
In 1969, the increasingly discontent Fab Four released “Something” as a single, the first time a George Harrison tune led the A-side. John Lennon was insistent, and considering the track — a gliding tribute to the two loves of Harrison’s life, wife Pattie Boyd and God — to be the Quiet Beatle’s best work. It turns out Boyd was one lucky lady. Meanwhile, Eric Clapton was writing “Layla” for her, too. The romantic travails would become rock lore, but “Something” could not be topped. It hit No. 1 in the U.S. and has since been covered by hundreds of top artists, from Sinatra to Phish. In short: It’s the best love song from the best rock band, ever.
Foo Fighters, “Everlong”
It’s the hair-raising, electric love ballad from that guy who was in Nirvana… right? Remember, back in ’96, Grohl had only quietly released the Foo’s self-titled debut. But now signed with Capitol Records, the band’s second LP, The Colour and the Shape, was considered their proper coming out party. The main attraction: This beautiful, melodic rocker inspired, like much of the LP, by the implosion of Grohl’s first marriage to photographer Jennifer Youngblood and his newfound romance with Veruca Salt’s Louise Post. The music video, a funny-trippy parody of The Evil Dead directed by Michel Gondry, was in constant MTV rotation and helped make this arguably the band’s best-known song, loved by, well, just about everybody.
Heart, “Crazy on You”
It’s a gypsy-dust rock tour-de-force: It’s folk. It’s hard rock. It’s metal. It’s pop. It’s wow. Starting with an acoustic, Spanish-flavored riff, the Seattle quintet’s track then heads into Eagles/AM-rock radio strumming, before a sinister electric guitar brings the devil horns down. Singer Ann Heart’s sensuous whispers and hear-me-roar wailing is for Heart guitarist Mike Fisher, her lover who had fled to Vancouver, BC, to avoid the military draft and protest the Vietnam War. Lyrically, it’s is full of juxtaposing imagery: She sings of bombs, carnage, and devils, then the love that is her escape: “My love is the evening breeze touching your skin / The gentle sweet singing of leaves in the wind.”
Harry Nilsson, “Without You”
Is there a more desperate song? It’s written by British rockers Badfinger, but Harry Nilsson’s rendition is best-known for good reason: The Los Angeles crooner lets it rip, unleashing his smooth pipes on the soaring piano ballad. The sentiment is grave: “I can’t live if living is without you / I can’t live anymore.” The strings sail; Nilsson emotes; the drama is high. And its back story is tragic: Badfinger’s Pete Hamm and Tom Evans co-wrote the tune, with Hamm penning the sentimental verse and Evans the chorus, inspired by his future wife briefly leaving him during their courtship. Both Ham and Evans later committed suicide; Evans’ death was linked to a dispute over songwriting royalties for “Without You.” Still, the song endures and is a globally recognized plea for love.
The White Stripes, “Fell in Love With a Girl”
For their third album, 2001’s White Blood Cells, the Detroit duo of Jack White and Meg White — are they married? Are they brother-sister? Oh, they’re divorced — dropped this garage-blues blaster as the second single. “Fell in love with a girl / Fell in love once and almost completely,” Jack barks. “Come and kiss me by the riverside / Bobby says it’s fine he don’t consider it cheating.” Oh, she’s taken — rough. A music video from Michel Gondry, showing the candy-colored duo in Lego animations, made this an early White Stripes favorite. Weird Al soon imitated it with a polka jam — and when Al honors you, it’s a right of passage to success.
Led Zeppelin, ”Whole Lotta Love”
These British rockers excelled at sex appeal and heavy guitar riffs, and this track has both in spades. While the lyrics were lifted from blues legend Willie Dixon, who brought a lawsuit in 1985 that was settled out of court, the track is pure Zepp: The rhythmic riff chugs as frontman Robert Plant huffs and puffs about wanting to “give ya my love / way, way down inside.” Over the psychedelic middle section of theremin and percussion, he evens mimics orgasmic oh, oh, oh, oh, ohs. Is it getting hot in here?
Radiohead, “House of Cards”
It’s the sexiest song in the Oxford, England brainiacs’ 23-year-deep catalog. It’s a tale of two secret lovers, bound by other marriages and blocked from advancing their relationship. It’s full of domestic imagery — “Throw your keys in the bowl / Kiss your husband goodnight” — and the protagonist throws all hesitation aside, comparing his family life to a house of cards that could come tumbling down: “I just want to be your lover / No matter how it ends.” It’s forbidden — “dddeeennniiiaaalll,” Thom Yorke sings — but the song’s jazzy guitar flicks, kinetic atmospherics, and lost-in-the-ether vocals will have hearts melting.
The Rolling Stones, “Wild Horses”
This dusty tune is the Rolling Stones at their most country — it’s even played in “Nashville” guitar tuning. It’s the product of Keith Richards’ drug-buddy friendship with country diehard Gram Parsons, whose band Flying Burrito Brothers would release a version of “Wild Horses” a full year before it arrived on the Stones’ 1971 LP Sticky Fingers. But the Jagger/Richards version is far more touching: first Keef’s sketch demo about missing his newborn son while on tour, Mick’s yearning vocal made “Wild Horses” a dedication of steadfast love, possibly to Jagger’s struggling girlfriend Marianne Faithfull. Recorded at Alabama’s Muscle Shoals Sound Studios December 2-4, 1969, just days before the Altamont tragedy, the song stands as perhaps the Stones’ most vulnerable moment, free from their trademark cockiness and swagger.
U2, “All I Want Is You”
What. A. Tribute. Written for singer Bono’s wife Ali, this evocative ballad opens with soft acoustic guitar strumming and the Irish frontman making grand and direct statements of love: “But all the promises we make / From the cradle to the grave / When all I want is you,” he sings over slowly swelling orchestration. The Edge adds twinkling guitar work up ‘til the song’s climax, when he unleashes fireworks over sweeping strings from Brian Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks.