There’s nothing more romantic than holding your significant other close, putting on a romantic song, and gently swaying to the music. Or, for some songs on this list, experiencing an endorphin rush of love that makes you want to dance. Whether you’re a slow dancer or heart pounding couple, we’ve got you covered in the music department.
Here are some of the best love songs ever written, in chronological order.
“Earth Angel” – The Penguins (1954)
There’s a timeless element to “Earth Angel” that just seems to cross generations. Maybe that’s due to its feature in Back to the Future or its innumerable cover versions that have circulated over the years (pretty much everyone from the Four Seasons to New Edition to Elvis have taken on the song). Or maybe it’s due to the romantic simplicity of its message, which never falters or waivers or even tries to get complex. It’s a basic ode and nothing more, but it can mean the entire world when it hits your right.
“At Last” – Etta James (1960)
I’m convinced that there hasn’t been a single wedding over the past 60 years that hasn’t featured “At Last”. It’s a ubiquitous love song for a reason: sweeping strings and melodramatic melodies belie a sort of bittersweet element to the song. You really feel the tension and longing when James sings lines like “My lonely days are over”. James was all about powerful high notes (no one ever really matched her power in that regard), and so they match up perfectly to a romantic waltz with your significant other.
“When a Man Loves a Woman” – Percy Sledge (1966)
Speaking of powerful high notes, Percy Sledge sweats and strains to get every last bit of emphasis out of those syllables of devotion. Set against the gentle sway by the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, “When a Man Loves A Woman” is a straight shot of faithfulness and fidelity that never grows old. Just don’t attempt it at karaoke night.
“Something” – The Beatles (1969)
It’s all about simplicity with George Harrison. The small things: the way she moves, her smile, her style, just in the way she knows that he’s not going anywhere. There are only 50 unique words in the entire song, but Harrison knew that anything superfluous would have just gotten in the way. In that way, “Something” remains the perfect song for a gentle slow dance, or even just to catch a fleeting moment of romance among an otherwise chaotic time.
“Maybe I’m Amazed” – Paul McCartney (1970)
Is it cheating to have two songwriters in the same band back to back on a list like this? Maybe, but the great thing about this is that there are no rules, and I couldn’t really justify making this list without “Maybe I’m Amazed” on it. Paul McCartney got a reputation for his ballads and goofy wholesomeness that sometimes turned into schlock, but his greatest love song has an undeniable power to it. It twists and turns but always finds its way back home, just like the best kinds of relationships.
“Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green (1972)
If you ever feel the foundation of your relationship faltering, here are some useful tips from Al Green: express your commitment, be flexible in your desires, remember the good times, observe the faults of other couples and don’t repeat their mistakes. Some might say that there’s a difference between love songs and anti-break up songs, but I don’t think anti-break up songs get any more romantic than “Let’s Stay Together”.
“You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” – Barry White (1974)
What’s a good list about dancing without mentioning a Soul Train line? The concept is simple: two rows of couples clapping along to a song while each pair makes their way down the middle one at a time. You’ve seen it, you may have even been a part of one at some point, but you need a pretty sick groove to make it work. There’s no groovier, cheesier, bombastically disco-adjacent artist who devotes his entire catalogue to real love than Barry White’s collection of horny dance songs. “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” is just simply the best of his whole oeuvre.
“Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper (1983)
I’ve ranted about this before, but how come the slow dance during the Snow Ball at the end of season two of Stranger Things has the characters dancing to “Every Breath You Take” by The Police instead of “Time After Time”, the song they literally played less five minutes before? It doesn’t make any sense to me. None. “Every Breath You Take” is super creepy, and “Time After Time” is absolutely perfect for that ending. Whatever.
“I Would Die 4 U” – Prince (1984)
Most love songs are slow waltzes, impassioned ballads, or otherwise goopy slower tempoed shuffles. Leave it to Prince to make his most straightforward and passionate declaration a dancefloor banger. If you’re going to dance to this song with your significant other, you’re probably going to need a choreographer, some leg warmers, and either a lot of caffeine or a little bit of cocaine. But it’s so much fun that it’s totally worth it.
“Lovesong” – The Cure (1989)
If you and your significant other aren’t really into all these goofy, hammy slow-dance prom-esque songs but are still very much in love, chances are you’ll be looking for alternatives. “Lovesong” is definitely the greatest combination of straight-forward dedication and heady doom-and-gloom courtesy of goth rock god The Cure. Robert Smith had plenty of love songs, so if “Just Like Heaven” or “Friday I’m In Love” is more your speed than more power to you, but only one song was romantically charged enough to get a cover from Adele.
“I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston (1992)
Oh man, the goosebumps. You know exactly where they are. After three minutes that includes an a capella intro and a sweet sax solo, there’s a brief pause before BAM that drum hit and that key change. It’s so good. To be fair, this isn’t even a love song. It’s a song about splitting up and growing apart. But who the hell is listening to anything other than that chorus, especially when Whitney reaches for those mind-bending high notes, only to change the key and hit EVEN HIGHER mind-bending high notes. It’s a masterclass in song arranging and the most bittersweet of all slow dance songs.
“We’re Going to Be Friends” – The White Stripes (2001)
Jack White has a famous aversion to straight forward love songs. Most of his work with the White Stripes can come off as slightly misogynistic when looked at in the wrong context: “I’m Finding It Harder to Be A Gentleman”, “You’re Pretty Good Looking (for a Girl)”, “You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket” and “There’s No Home for You Here” are all noteworthy examples, but he is capable of compassion. “Hotel Yorba” gives off a fairly innocent vision of love, but “We’re Going to Be Friends” is a relative rarity: a platonic love song. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for more romantic dances, but the beauty of it is that it doesn’t have to be explicitly romantic. It’s still among the great love songs of all time nonetheless.
“Come Away with Me” – Norah Jones (2002)
The title track of Norah Jones’ debut is a quiet storm, filled with complexity and longing while staying highly romantic at the same time. There aren’t any big sweeping romantic gestures here, only small moments to steal away: riding a bus, walking on a cloudy day, listening to the rain. It’s easy to get bombastic and ridiculous when writing a love song, but Norah makes sure to keep things understated throughout, giving us a real-world love song without gigantic Romeo and Juliet-like implications.
“Love Story” – Taylor Swift (2008)
…and now we get the gigantic Romeo and Juliet-like implications. Not to judge, since Taylor Swift was 19 when she wrote “Love Story”. Everyone at that age is going to romanticize Shakespeare’s Veronian tragedy. But “Love Story” works so well despite its cliched comparisons because the music doesn’t stop building, first from banjos and guitars, to drums and strings and, yes, a key change. What ever happened to key changes? We should bring back key changes.
“All of Me” – John Legends (2013)
Chrissy Teigan and John Legend just seem like they’ve got their shit together, don’t they? Legend can mention Teigan’s smart mouth, her curves, and her craziness, and it comes off as just insanely passionate. I like to call these the “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” songs, because I am both a doof and approximately 100 years old (22 going on 200), because they list the flaws of someone in a seemingly not very romantic way, but end up doubling back by saying these flaws are what they love. If there’s a better way to serenade your partners while shit talking them at the same time, they don’t get much better than “All of Me”.
“Adore You” – Harry Styles (2019)
And of course, they don’t all have to be slow songs. We’ve seen a couple dancefloor bangers on this list, but Harry Styles is the modern master of the artform. “Adore You” doesn’t add anything particularly new to the world of love songs, but it is insanely catchy and really easy to dance to, with an almost-disco like beat that makes it positively propulsive. You’ll be swaying to it with your significant other for an all-too short three and a half minutes.