Dissecting the Love Song

Feeling crazy in love this Valentine's Day? If the answer is yes, his or her mix CD better include some great love songs. Recently dumped? Then you're probably listening to some heartbreak songs to help you wallow in your heartache. Or what if you love someone but can't let him or her know how you feel? That's what the tortuous, painful, find-a-hole-to-crawl-into torch song is for. Here's a helping hand if you're having trouble defining which one you need this V-Day.


What it's about: Falling in love or being just plain happy in love.

When to listen: The first six months of any good relationship. After that, the love song just serves as a reminder of what you thought you'd have.

Examples: "Unchained Melody" (the Righteous Brothers) and "My Girl" (the Temptations) might just be the two greatest love songs of all time. Also: "God Only Knows" (the Beach Boys); "Just Like a Woman" (Bob Dylan); "Lovesong" (The Cure); "Time After Time" (Cyndi Lauper); "Chasing Cars" (Snow Patrol); and the most frightening love song ever recorded, "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" (Death Cab for Cutie).

Note: The love song also generally includes all name songs, such as "Michelle" (the Beatles), "Amanda" (Boston), "Beth" (Kiss), and "Alison" (Elvis Costello).


What it's about: The painful loss of love by breakup or, worse, death.

When to listen: After your true love's told you s/he loves you but isn't "in love" with you or, if you're the narrator of "Last Kiss" (J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers or Pearl Jam), you just killed your girlfriend by accidentally crashing your car into a tree.

Examples: "I Fall to Pieces" (Patsy Cline) remains the most enduring heartbreak song. Also: "The Tears of a Clown" (Smokey Robinson); "I Will Always Love You" (Dolly Parton or Whitney Houston); "Love Hurts" (Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris); "Only the Lonely" (Roy Orbison); and, yes, even "My Heart Will Go On" (Celine Dion).


What it's about: The universal experience of unrequited love; the singer laments about someone who doesn't know he or she exists or who has, since their relationship, moved on to someone else. Torch songs also tend to be a bit tragic.

When to listen: Never. Writing a torch song is one thing; recording one is another. These serve emotional and commercial purposes for the artists. Listening, however, is no different from a weeklong drinking binge. No good will ever come of it.

Examples: "Against All Odds" (Phil Collins) first and foremost. Also: "I Can't Make You Love Me" (Bonnie Raitt); "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" (Dusty Springfield); if Diana Krall or Billie Holiday recorded it, it's probably a torch song; and "You're Beautiful" (James Blunt)