Happy Valentine’s Day, and thank you for spending part of it with Michael’s Record Collection. Yes, this week’s issue comes to you two days early because the topic is more timely if I release it on Valentine’s Day than if it went out on its usual schedule.
This Hallmark holiday has me thinking about great love songs and their place in the musical landscape. I’ve also selected five of my favorites to talk about and then presented a short list of honorable mentions that nearly made the list.
And finally, embedded near the bottom of this issue is my conversation with a pair of fellow music podcasters, where we discuss the five love songs that each of us brought to the conversation, so we’re talking about 15 tracks in total, and some of them are not quite what most people think about when discussing love songs.
I hope you enjoy your day and this issue. Let’s get to it.
Every year around Valentine’s Day, I’m reminded of my college days in the early 1990s. While I was still in school, I used to have a job delivering pizzas in Upper Arlington, Ohio — on the northwest side of Columbus. Within our delivery area, about a mile from the pizza shop where I worked, there was a small radio station building tucked away in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
That station was WSNY — better known as “Sunny 95” — and every weeknight there was a radio program called “Love Songs and Nothing but Love Songs.” The host of the show, John Symons, had one of those silky, smooth voices that made him perfect for announcing dedications and introducing love songs.
Each night when I was delivering pizzas, I would typically listen to Herb Score calling Cleveland Indians games on the car stereo. But when the team was rained out, had the night off, was playing later on the west coast, or I just couldn’t take the losing streaks anymore, I would often listen to Sunny 95. Hearing those slow jams and ballads somehow lessened the stress of traffic and the pressure to get someone’s food to them while it was still hot so I could rack up good tips and keep the managers from yelling.
Occasionally, Symons would order a 7-inch personal pizza, and I’d deliver it to him. You had to knock on the side door and sometimes wait for a few moments while he was introducing a song before he could get away and answer. I always got there quickly, was friendly, and tried to chat him up about something I liked from that night’s show. That guy never tipped me. Not once.
Still, Symons was a good on-air personality for that kind of program, and I loved the show. Having grown up as a short, skinny, awkward kid, who was easily intimidated by the thought of approaching women, and had frequently struggled in relationships during high school and college, I found hope and comfort in many of the callers who rang up the station to make their requests and send their messages to the people they loved.
The songs Symons played during those couple of hours each night could be from the 1950s through the latest hits on the radio at that time. There were so many great songs, and I learned that there are many different ways that artists express love in a song.
Such songs can be about romantic love, the physical act of love making, lost or broken love, or unrequited love. They can have have varied tempos, from the kind that are great for slow dancing to something more peppy and upbeat, like “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops.
Many of them are told from a first-person viewpoint, but they can also be sung by third-person narrators, weaving vivid love stories about two other people (think: John Cougar’s “Jack and Diane” or “Romeo & Juliet” by Dire Straits). Some of them can have a tragic ending, like the Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowning),” although that didn’t come out until many years after I delivered my last pizza.
There are also many love songs in which one person is in love and the object of that affection doesn’t even know it. Sarah McLachlan’s “I Love You” always struck me as that kind of song.
Some love songs are creepy when you think about the lyrics, like Benny Mardones’ “Into the Night.” If you don’t know that one, all you need to know is this couplet:
She’s just 16 years old
Leave her alone, they say
Yes, leave her the hell alone, Benny! I swear, that Benny Mardones song got played on Symons’ show every single night. I don’t know if he had an audience that skewed young, if there were a lot of creepy people in the broadcast area, or if people just don’t pay close attention to lyrics. Maybe it was a combination of all those things.
There are even love songs about places, such as “Lights” by Journey and Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” or about inanimate objects (Queen’s “I’m in Love with My Car”).
Anyway, the approach of Valentine’s Day had me thinking about love songs and reminiscing about those Donatos Pizza delivery days, listening to Sunny 95 with the smell of sizzling pepperoni and banana peppers filling my nostrils. So, I thought I’d pick out a few of my favorites that would typically be played on that “Love Songs and Nothing but Love Songs” show, plus a few honorable mentions below, and invite you to share your favorites with me. Many of the songs you’ll read about here were on one or more mix tapes/CDs over the years that I made in my fumbling attempts to woo various women.
What can I say? Music has always been an important part of my life and every time I shared songs that I loved with someone, I thought I was paying them the biggest compliment. After all, I was baring my soul to them, although I don’t know if anyone ever thought of it quite that way.
Five Great Love Songs
All of these were played either as frequently as every single night or at least a few times per month on that Sunny 95 show. I present them in no particular order, but in a strange coincidence, three of the songs were released in the same year.
Commodores — “Oh No” (released Sept. 1981 from the album In the Pocket)
This is the lone song about unrequited love on my list of five great love songs, but it’s the perfect example. Written and sung by Lionel Richie, the song details the narrator’s love for someone who is involved with someone else. Hey, we’ve all been there at some point. The song features lush strings, melodic piano, and wonderful lead and harmony vocals that blend together nicely to produce a song that sounds much richer than the simple composition it is. The beautiful strings were arranged by James Anthony Carmichael, who co-produced the In the Pocket album with the Commodores, and who went on to win two Grammy Awards three years later as Producer of the Year (Non-Classical) for 1984’s Album of the Year, Can’t Slow Down — Richie’s second solo album.
The song was used to devastating effect in the 1982 movie, The Last American Virgin. It wasn’t on the soundtrack album, but it was used effectively in the film, along with other songs such as “Just Once,” by Quincy Jones, featuring vocals by James Ingram. “Oh No” reached no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 5 on both the R&B and adult contemporary charts.
Foreigner — “Waiting for a Girl Like You” (Oct. 2, 1981 from the album 4)
The 1980s were a time for rock bands to embrace their softer sides. Power ballads became en vogue and several arena rock bands — and later, hair metal bands — included a ballad or two per album in an effort to broaden their appeal. One of the best was Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” Lou Gramm’s stellar vocal performance, excellent keyboards — by guest musician Thomas Dolby — big backing vocals, and lush production from Mutt Lange made this a standout track in the band’s catalog. The arrangement of the backing vocals alone would make this an amazing song, but the layered keyboards, Gramm’s emotional vocal delivery, and underrated performances by both drummer Dennis Elliott and bassist Rick Wills take the song into the stratosphere.
Lyrically, the song seems to be about the start of a new relationship. The narrator is worried about getting his heart broken again and is taking precautions not to jump in too fast.
Maybe I'm wrong
Won't you tell me if I'm coming on too strong?
This heart of mine has been hurt before
This time I want to be sure
But later in the song, just before the fadeout, Gramm sings the line, “Won’t you come into my life?”, which suggests maybe all of this has been inner dialogue — someone fantasizing about a relationship taking off, but perhaps too shy or afraid to take the chance. Or maybe that line just sounded good in the room. Either way, it’s a great song. “Waiting for a Girl Like You” reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 1 on the mainstream rock chart, and no. 5 on the adult contemporary chart.
April Wine — “Just Between You & Me” (Feb. 1981 from The Nature of the Beast)
April Wine is a Canadian rock band that should have become much more popular in the United States than it did. The quintet’s 1981 album, The Nature of the Beast, is as good an early 1980s rock record as you’ll find. Some folks will remember the album’s second single, “Sign of the Gypsy Queen,” a hard rock cover of a 1973 song by Lorence Hud. It’s an amazing song, but the album’s third single, “Just Between You and Me,” is a gem of a power ballad.
The lyrics are more confident than the two songs mentioned above. The narrator of the song discusses the frequency of other couples’ breakups and how often others are hurt by “love gone astray,” but expresses faith that:
Just between you and me
Baby I know our love will be
Just between you and me
Always I know our love will be
April Wine was a great guitar band and the lead guitar lines in this song have an amazing tone in the song’s intro, just prior to the second verse, and in the solo. “Just Between You and Me” was the band’s most successful single in the United States, peaking at no. 21. Although power ballads became somewhat cliché and formulaic through the 1980s, April Wine’s has an honesty and authenticity to it. It’s a sweet and uplifting love song that says, “This love stuff can be pretty messy but, by golly, you and I are gonna make it!”
Mike Reno & Ann Wilson — “Almost Paradise…Love Theme from Footloose” (March 1984 from the Footloose soundtrack)
Former Raspberries vocalist and solo artist Eric Carmen wrote the music for this famous love song from the Footloose movie soundtrack, with Dean Pitchford contributing the lyrics. This song is one of the great duets in popular music history, combining the talents of two iconic 1980s voices — Mike Reno from Loverboy and Heart lead singer Ann Wilson. Their vocals intertwine beautifully and both artists convey equal measures of power and emotion. Legend has it the two vocalists sang the song together while facing each other, using a single, hanging microphone, and nailed it in a single take. Producer Keith Olsen played bass and acoustic guitar on the track.
Adding to the mystique of the song, Wilson reportedly broke her wrist in a fall the day before recording the song. She has said in interviews that she didn’t ever perform while impaired and did not take any pain killers prior to the performance.
Lyrically, the song fits well into the story of the film, discussing a new love depicted on screen by Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer. It’s not a perfect love in the film or in the song (hence lyrical phrases like “almost paradise” and “it’s getting closer, closer every day”).
“Almost Paradise” reached no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart.
Genesis — “Follow You, Follow Me” (March 1978 from the album …And Then There Were Three)
It’s no surprise that most of this list is from the 1980s. I was in high school in the early 1980s and the songs that you fall in love with during those formative years stay in your DNA forever. This song is the lone exception on this particular list, although it didn’t come out too much earlier than the three picks above from 1981.
As many readers of this newsletter are no doubt already (painfully) aware, my favorite band of all time is Genesis. The band didn’t dive too deeply into the ballad pool until the departures of Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett turned the group into a trio. The best of the band’s love songs comes from the appropriately titled …And Then There Were Three album in 1978.
The first single from the record was “Follow You, Follow Me,” which features an unusual (for a ballad) shuffle rhythm from drummer and vocalist Phil Collins. Keyboardist Tony Banks provides the main musical melody, while Mike Rutherford adds some color with guitar, but he mostly helps Collins produce a rock-solid, bottom-end rhythm on bass. Banks’ tasteful solo is a highlight, along with Collins’ smooth vocal performance, as well as the aforementioned shuffling drumbeat.
All three members of Genesis contributed to the music in the song, while Rutherford wrote the lyrics. He claims to have written them in about 10 minutes. It’s a warm, hopeful love song about wanting to pledge yourself to that special someone. Although the words highlight all of the good things, there’s at least an acknowledgement of realism in that there are bound to be the odd bumps along the way. Rutherford expressed a confidence that the hard times would be few and far between.
Just one single tear in each passing year there will be
“Follow You, Follow Me” was the band’s most successful pop song to that point, giving Genesis its first top 10 song in the UK and first top 40 hit in the United States. It peaked at no. 23 in the U.S. and climbed all the way to no. 7 on the UK singles chart.
The following songs would be great additions to a love song playlist, but some wouldn’t necessarily be on a romance playlist. This is by no means comprehensive, but these are some of my favorites:
Air Supply — “Making Love Out of Nothing at All”
Bad English — “When I See You Smile”
The Beatles — “And I Love Her”
Billy Joel — “Just the Way You Are”
Boston — “Hollyann”
Bryan Adams — “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”
Chicago — “You’re the Inspiration”
Fleetwood Mac — “You Make Loving Fun”
Franke & the Knockouts — “Sweetheart”
John Denver — “Annie’s Song”
Kansas — “All I Wanted”
Little River Band — “Lady”
Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard — “Suddenly”
The Outfield — “Shelter Me”
Patty Smyth — “The River Cried”
Paul Davis — “I Go Crazy”
Rick Springfield — “Still Crazy for You”
Tony Carey — “For You”
What are some of your favorites? Let me know!
To help me tackle the subject of love songs, I enlisted the help of fellow music podcasters Jon Lamoreaux (The Hustle) and Ben Montgomery (Records Revisited). It was a fun topic because I simply asked them to select five great love songs and put no other restrictions on the topic. They came back with some interesting suggestions that were quite different from my standard light rock radio fare from my days of listening to Sunny 95.
I hope you enjoy our discussion and the good-natured jabs we exchanged along the way. If you prefer, you can listen to Episode 98 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast and hear some short clips from each of our selections.
Thanks again for your time. Please consider sharing this issue of the newsletter with the music lovers in your life via the first button below, or sharing Michael’s Record Collection (in general) with the second. And be sure to check out the podcast version of MRC at your favorite podcast dispensary. I invite you to visit my website at michaelsrecordcollection.com and to take a look at the membership levels on my Patreon site at patreon.com/michaelsrecordcollection to find out how you can support independent writing and podcasting for as little as $2 per month (that’s only 50 cents per week!).
April Wine's "Just Between You & Me" was the last song my wife and I had played at our wedding over 25 years ago!