“I love rock n’ roll / So put another dime in the jukebox, baby / I love rock n’ roll / So come and take your time and dance with me” — Joan Jett.
Trying to create a playlist of rock ‘n’ roll songs driven by love is always quite a tricky task to undertake. Though the genre was founded on sex and drugs, that doesn’t often leave much room for the pure emotion of love in all its gloopy, saccharine goodness. As such, any attempts to include the blissful feeling of being bonded with another can feel forced and inauthentic. Below, we’ve got 20 songs that not only tell the story of love with the gilded expertise of a superbly experienced teacher but do it with honesty.
It’s easy for a band or artist to get drawn into writing a song about love. For most of the fifties and sixties, it was the only theme anyone cared about, and most certainly the only theme that sold records. Teenagers across the world would save up their pennies to pick up a piece of groovy plastic and, invariably, on those grooves would be another tale of pure pop puppy love, perfectly crafted to make swooning an inevitability. Thanks to the subject matter being such a big seller, it encouraged countless acts to try to write and record a love song.
So much so, in fact, that by the time rock ‘n’ roll really landed it tried to subvert the traditional love song. Those acts turned love into lust and made parents angry by doing so. As the years passed by, rock bands found brand new ways to integrate the songwriting trope into a brand new sound and with every passing genre, we got a new classic love song.
Below, we’ve gathered up our favourite rock ‘n’ roll love songs including tracks from Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and so much more.
The 20 best rock and roll love songs:
20. Fleetwood Mac – ‘You Make Lovin’ Fun’
A Christine McVie triumph sees the funky notes of ‘You Make Loving Fun’ take love to a new level. An unstoppably infectious groove is only trumped by Lindsey Buckingham’s expert use of the guitar. It’s a mark of the band’s undying best quality—their converging talents go together with sumptuous ease.
Songs like this are what Rumours is all about. Though not the most famous song on the LP, far from it, in fact, the song is still a robust, romantic and altogether rhythmic encounter that can transport you from your stereo to a brand new plain.
19. Ramones – ‘Baby, I Love You’
The New York City punks have long been dab hands at turning a cover into something so unique to their sound that you’d think they wrote it. Perhaps our favourite in a long line of similar songs, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy take on The Ronettes classic ‘Baby, I Love You.’
This one kicks out the gates like a rabid stallion and never really slows down. Three chords is all the group ever really needed and they deliver a triumph on this song. It’s a cover like no other and deserves its place in your alternative Valentine’s day plans.
18. Paul McCartney – ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’
Linda McCartney was the muse behind a great chunk of the former Beatles’ work and ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ is a song about his adoration for his wife. While most tracks like this are drenched in sweeter than candy sentiments, this one captures his complete awe for her following the break up of The Fab Four and how she guided him through to pastures new.
The Beatles break up had hit him hard even though he knew it was inevitable but Linda remained his rock throughout this dark period and her guidance made him stay strong through a time of such uncertainty. “Maybe I’m amazed at the way you love me all the time, Maybe I’m afraid of the way I love you,” McCartney sings on the track straight from the heart.
‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ was his way of rethanking Linda for pulling him through the split of The Beatles and is a song that captures his love for her, which gave him a reason to still be happy despite the thing that had previously been the only constant in his adult life.
17. Harry Nilsson – ‘Without You’
There aren’t many things that Harry Nilsson could sing and leave us disappointed. In fact, we’d bet he could sing a Chinese food menu and we’d have all lapped it up like a kitten with a saucer of milk. Fitting then that when he takes on Badfinger’s classic ‘Without You’ he makes it as smooth as butter.
Nilsson was a famed songwriter and his compositions were known for their sardonic wit and acerbic style. It means when he took on this track, a notably saccharine number, he not only offered a blended smooth tone to the song but provided it with an edge too.
16. ‘Nick Cave’ – ‘Breathless’
Taken from his 2004 album Abbatoir Blues, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds reputation for being murderous rockers was given a shaking down on ‘Breathless’. The song is achingly beautiful and catapults the group into any alternative love playlist you can find.
Released as a double-A side with ‘There She Goes My Beautiful World’ — another contender for our list — the song is touching and tender. It allows Cave’s baritone to provide all the authenticity one needs when it comes to this potent track.
15. Led Zeppelin – ‘Whole Lotta Love’
Following the astronomical success of their debut record, Led Zep wouldn’t waste any time before they would re-assemble and get back into the studio at London’s Olympic Studios just five months later. Page would take up the reigns as a producer on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and used his genius experimental ideas with pioneering recording techniques that would elevate the track.
Though not a traditional love song by any means, the track has become a lover’s anthem thanks to its context. Shared during the ongoing sexual revolution, the intensity of Robert Plant’s wail often soundtracked hot and heavy nights. It continues to be used for such events to this day, no matter the age of the participants.
14. Bob Dylan – ‘Shelter from the Storm’
Bob Dylan is notably welcomed as one of the greatest lyricists of all time. However, considering his desire for artistic purity, the freewheelin’ troubadour has created his fair share of love songs too. This one, ‘Shelter From The Storm’ is perhaps his most pure effort as it not only reflects on the tumultuous society around us but the need for a safe haven and the difficulty of losing it.
Dylan reflects on the break-up of his and his ex-wife Sara: “Now there’s a wall between us, something there’s been lost/I took too much for granted, got my signals crossed/Just to think that it all began on a long-forgotten morn/’Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm.’
13. The White Stripes – ‘Fell in Love With A Girl’
It was on White Blood Cells, and most importantly, the song ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ which announced The White Stripes as the uniformed saviours of rock and roll.
While The Strokes had arrived with an all-style little substance approach, The White Stripes were the full package. Not only did they have an effortlessly artistic style but the band were backed by one of the greatest guitarists of his generation. This is where Jack White showed the world that he was different.
Ever since the song was released it has acted as a welcomed respite from the saccharine love songs that permeate this Hallmark holiday.
12. Radiohead – ‘House of Cards’
Not necessarily the first band one thinks of when they think of love, Radiohead have often preferred to operate more resolutely in the mind rather than the heart. But on 2007’s In Rainbows, the Oxford group added ‘House of Cards’ to the tracklisting and provided one of their most sincere ballads.
Reflecting on the song’s warmth, Yorke once replied: “I’d guess one doesn’t really need reminding of the ice outside at the moment, do you? It’s maybe a good thing to try to make music that feels reassuring in some ways – something that’s got a good feeling, a good vibe about it.”
11. Buzzcocks – ‘Ever Fallen in Love’
Released in 1978, ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ is largely regarded as one of the finest punk rock songs ever written. Composed when Pete Shelley happened to turn on Guys & Dolls while flicking through the television channels.
It went “Have you ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have” and it set a spark in Shelley’s mind, the following day he would write the lyrics in a van outside the post office for ‘Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve).
In an interview, Shelley said that the song was about a man named Francis that he lived with for about seven years. It’s a vital piece of punk iconography and certainly one of the best love songs Buzzcocks or any other punk band produced.
10. Arctic Monkeys – ‘505’
Following on from the band’s magnetic debut album, Arctic Monkeys were shaping up for a career like no other when they released Favourite Worst Nightmare and the record was packed with gems and saw the band break out of their mould. One such song to typify this was ‘505’ a song that Alex Truner confessed was his first love song.
Written about meeting his girlfriend in room 505, the song has gone on to be one of the few proper ballads the group have ever written. It’s not schmaltzy or too sweet, the track still possessing the edge the band had sharpened in their first effort, ‘505’ is one of the band’s most beloved songs of all time.
9. The La’s – ‘There She Goes’
One of the most iconic songs of the britpop boom, The La’s and their enigmatic frontman Lee Mavers managed to perfect a timeless sound that provides the listener with both a refreshing refrain and a classic love song sound.
There may be a good reason for the nostalgic sound, recorded using vintage equipment, Mavers reportedly demanded the equipment not be cleaned and the dust that had accumulated for the previous decades be left alone.
Whether that had an effect on the sound, one thing’s for sure; this song is bound to be a wedding dancefloor filler for years to come. Sweet and touching without ever feeling overpowering, it’s the perfect concoction of wit and wonderment.
8. Foo Fighters – ‘Everlong’
Perhaps one of the most widely-adored Foo Fighter’s tracks, ‘Everlong’ showcases Dave Grohl’s fine ability to write an epic tune, with a lot of dynamics, musically speaking, that tie nicely into the lyrical story of the song. While also making it a searing love song.
Grohl knocked the song around for a few months before he was able to finish it. Due to Grohl going through a divorce at the time, he had to crash on the floor of a friends place, around this time, he was finally able to finish the track.
It has since become an anthemic moment in any set from the Foo Fighters and the performance of it will usually see slow dancing breaking out across the mosh pit. A new age wedding staple.
7. David Bowie – ‘Heroes’
Though there are moments across the singer’s incredible canon that are more artistically pure or perhaps more daring and, therefore, in keeping with Bowie’s drive, there’s something about this song which is just utterly arresting, captivating and sparkling in all manners of speaking.
The LP’s title song, and perhaps one of Bowie’s most loved songs, was written after the Starman caught a glimpse of Visconti and his mistress hugging on the wall itself. It was a startling message of unity written about something so divisive and became part of the reason Bowie performed it in the city over a decade later, even pointing the speaker toward East Berlin.
It is a song which has seen not only people connect to and enjoy one another but also to hold hands while bringing down those who oppress them. It has become the montage sequence of Bowie’s entire career.
6. The Cure – ‘Just Like Heaven’
The track was written in 1987 and released on Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me seeing the band become more popular than ever across the globe. However, the foundations of the track come from a little closer to home and show off just how illustrative a writer Robert Smith is.
“In 1987, my wife Mary and I lived in a small two-bedroomed flat in Maida Vale in North London,” Smith recalled. “The other room was my music room, Just about the only discipline I had in my life was self-imposed. I set myself a regime of writing 15 days a month, otherwise, I’d have just got up in the mid-afternoon and watched TV until the pubs opened, then gone out drinking.” It was a trope of rock ‘n’ roll that sadly too many great artists have fallen victim to.
However, with the help of Mary, an unwavering force for good in Smith’s life, the singer managed to put his mind to something meaningful and commit himself to songwriting. Eventually, the seeds were sown and the shoots of ‘Just Like Heaven’ grew into pattern chords that Smith instantly saw for their value. “I knew as soon as I’d written it that it was a good pop song,” he said of the track
5. George Harrison – ‘If Not For You’
Bob Dylan shared a real affinity with The Beatles — after all, few acts could have a comparable story to tell. But there was one Beatle whom Dylan cherished more than others; George Harrison. The freewheelin’ troubadour even helped Harrison find his feet when the Fab Four didn’t offer him the songwriting platform he deserved.
It seems fitting then that when Harrison recorded his breakthrough solo record All Things Must Pass Dylan would lend the former Beatle one of his songs to kick things up a notch.
Famed for his sometimes confusing compositions, Harrison took this Dylan piece and turned his gentle vocal towards the song. It provided Harrison’s album with a tender and more touching moment than it previously had and, with this performance, Harrison offered up the sweetest moment on the record.
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Maps’
There are few moments on Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeahs Fever To Tell which one could land on and call touching or loving. The songs on the record are pure fire-breathing brilliance, slathered in indie sleaze and thrown out on their ass like so many vagrant sin leathers. The New York art punks are fury and fear with every punch, but this is closer to gentle warmth than it is burning passion.
‘Maps’ is now regarded as one of the most touching love songs indie rock has ever produced. Thanks in no small part to Karen O’s perfect vocal performance, the refrain of “Wait, they don’t love you like I love you,” is about as pure as it can get.
A song which will always leave a few people crying in the corner, ‘Maps’ is rightly seen as one of the most connective love songs of modern music.
3. The Rolling Stones – ‘Wild Horses’
Taken from their 1971 record Sticky Fingers this track may be the furthest from traditional Rolling Stone fodder but it still packs a punch beyond its seemingly stripped-back arrangement.
Instead, the lyrics of Jagger are cut through the atmosphere and provide one of the band’s most vulnerable moments. It’s a been a song heavily covered by other artists and that is entirely down to the connection Jagger lays out for all to feel.
In the 1993 Rolling Stones compilation album Jump Back, Jagger states of ‘Wild Horses’: “I remember we sat around originally doing this with Gram Parsons, and I think his version came out slightly before ours. Everyone always says this was written about Marianne but I don’t think it was; that was all well over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally.”
Richards later said of the song, “If there is a classic way of Mick and me working together this is it. I had the riff and chorus line, Mick got stuck into the verses. Just like ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Wild Horses’ was about the usual thing of not wanting to be on the road, being a million miles from where you want to be.”
2. The Beach Boys – ‘God Only Knows’
Brian Wilson’s songwriting in the early days of The Beach Boys inevitably included cars, surfing, and always the pursuit of girls, California or otherwise. The combination of those lyrics with the band unique rhythm made for perfect pieces of great American candy-pop for us all to rot our teeth with. But it was on 1966’s Pet Sounds, Wilson’s masterpiece, that his ultimate love song appeared in the form of ‘God Only Knows’.
The track would be covered by many artists following its release as generations continue to find and discover the intricate beauty of Brian Wilson’s songwriting. While certainly, Brian would happily share the credit for this track with Asher and his brother, Carl, the song remains to this day as a beacon of his genius, the moment he cultivated his sound into the ultimate love song.
Wilson once described the track as “a vision … It’s like being blind, but in being blind, you can see more. You close your eyes; you’re able to see a place or something that’s happening.” The ideas he conveyed in ‘God Only Knows’, he said, “summarised everything I was trying to express in a single song.” From Wilson, that’s high praise indeed.
1. The Beatles – ‘Something’
When artists such as Frank Sinatra pick out your work and label it as “the greatest love song of the past 50 years,” you know you’re doing something right. ‘Something’ will forever remain a special track for George Harrison. Not only was it the first song he was able to releases with The Beatles as a fully-fledge single, but it was also the first song for The Beatles to reach number one that wasn’t suffixed with “written by Lennon-McCartney.”
For that reason alone the Abbey Road number became a moment of utter pride for the guitarist who had struggled to impose his songwriting will on the Fab Four. But the song also worked as a clear indicator of Harrison’s bright solo future away from the band and his chaotic life at the time of writing.
Many people have toyed with who the song might be ‘for‘. Whether it was written for Pattie Boyd or for the universe as a whole is up for debate. But Harrison said: “Everybody assumed I wrote it about Pattie. The words are nothing, really,” while reflecting in 1969. “There are lots of songs like that in my head. I must get them down. Some people tell me that ‘Something’ is one of the best things I’ve ever written. I don’t know. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong. It’s very flattering though… It’s nice. It’s probably the nicest melody tune that I’ve written.”
It’s quite simply gorgeous.
Below, you’ll find the perfect playlist for your rock and roll Valentine’s Day.