Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects including education and creative writing.
Love songs are a dime a dozen. Frank Sinatra had some memorable ones as did Barbara Streisand, Air Supply, Barry Manilow and the Carpenters, to name a few.
But what about U2, Led Zeppelin or Madness? They may be popular acts, but they were not often known for creating music for this particular genre. Yet, some of the most honest and satisfying versions didn’t come from those that made a living writing and performing love songs.
They may have come from the realm of country, classic rock, alternative rock and hard-rock; however, they’ve belted out a few memorable odes to one of the most universal emotions in our lives.
To add, many of them went beyond platonic love and embraced deeply personal and spiritual forms of love and transcended the typical format of this genre.
The following are from popular or overlooked bands and solo artists. While some of these songs are familiar (while others are not), many were not appreciated for what they were.
Thus, here, in no specific order, is a list of the10 most underrated songs—and seven honorable mentions—from various artists across the spectrum of pop music. It's not a complete list and there are several glaring omissions. Then again, there's a lot of music out there, and this is merely a reflection of what's out there.
“With or Without You” by U2
The album The Joshua Tree was U2’s breakthrough album. And the first single to be released in the USA was this particular song. The long-sustained whine of the guitar, the understated vocalization of Bono, and the inclusion of lines such as “on a bed of nails she makes me wait…” or “You give it all but I want more and I’m waiting for you” gave it power, and solidified U2's emergence as an iconic act for years to come.
There is some debate that this was a song dedicated to Jesus Christ (considering that all but one member were devout Christians). Then again, the song can be applied to romantic love, as well the spiritual one.
“Thank You” by Led Zeppelin
There’s a great line in this song that has been lifted by other artists: “If the mountains should crumble to the sea…” U2 used this line in “The Unforgettable Fire” with great results. However this song also had other great lines like this one: “Little drops of rain whisper of the pain, tears of loves lost in the days gone by.” This song is typical - and not typical - of a Led Zeppelin song. It has the soaring hard riffs of Jimmy Page’s guitar solo, and Robert Plant’s delivery, but it also has a distinctively slower pace and some experimenting with “fading” at the end. It’s a very affective song to rock out to or fall in love with…and is one of the few Led Zeppelin tunes one can slow dance to.
“Slave to Love” by Brian Ferry
Ex-glam rock front man for Roxy Music knew a thing or two about writing love songs. He also knew how to make them appealing, stylish, and honest. This particular song was his first solo release in the mid 80s. It still stands to this day. From the starting line of “Tell her I’ll be waiting, in the usual place,” to the final clash of drums and choral singing, this song can put anyone in that romantic mood.
“Avalon” by Roxy Music
This was the title cut from Roxy Music’s final album. Brian Ferry fronted the band and created a classic. Some critics complained lyrics are a bit pretentious. This is seemingly based on the fact he attempted to equate the mythical place in the King Author legends to his lover in the song. However, this criticism rings hollow; the allusion to it is still effective.
"Avalon" is a nicely paced song that’s ideal for slow dancing. The song evokes some of the same images of Chris De burgh’s “Lady in Red", which came out later in the 80s.
Despite the reference to mythical place, the song is more about that one little moment that provokes memories of falling in love.
“Always on My Mind” by Willie Nelson.
Here’s a song that would probably make anyone’s list of great love songs. It deserves to be there. And it is possibly one of the most covered song on this list. Oddly enough, Willie isn't really known this style of music; honky-tonk and/or outlaw country? yes. but ove songs? You better believe it, especially with this classic.
This song is emotional and reflects those occasions when saying sorry to your loved one is too difficult, or you can’t find the right things to say. Sad? Yes. Uplifting? Yes, again. That’s the power of this song. When one listens to today’s country, it’s sad that most ,if not all, the songs in that genre , they fail to emulate.
In addition, this may be the greatest "I'm sorry" song.
“I’m On Fire,” by Bruce Springsteen
Some may say it's great ode to love. Others may consider it be Springsteen's creepiest. It is, however, a exploration of one's lonely quest for an unattainable love.
The Boss doesn’t get enough credit for writing songs like this one. As usual, he has great lines like “Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby Edgy and dull and cut a six-inch valley/Through the middle of my soul.”
This is possibly the shortest song on the list; however, it packs a lot in that allotted time.
“It Must Be Love” by Madness.
Some justice needs to be done for Ska music (known as Mod ska or second wave ska in the 70s and 80s). Like punk, it had its own sound, followings, dress-style and dance moves. However, history hasn't been kind to this genre, at least in the states.
England's Madness was one of the few bands to cross over to the states. Musically textured and laced with humor and exuberance, Madness had a huge following.
Their biggest hit was '"Our House (in the middle of the street)"; However, on the same ablum, was one of their best song. “It Must Be Love.” was simply a fun and catchy song to listen to. It was their second song off the album to be released as a single. However, it took nearly twenty years later to get more airtime when it was used in a Levi’s commercial.
“Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush
Many love songs like to state the "power of love" and "love is a wonderful thing", but very few illustrate the importance, encouragement and strength this emotion can give us. Count on Peter Gabriel to do just that.
This is one Peter Gabriel’s least known songs. It was on his ground-breaking So album. It's has a long play time (possibly the longest on this list) and is the only duet.
It never caught on like “In Your Eyes” or “Red Rain”. It’s a shame: this was a love song with an uplifting message. Peter sings about his travails in life and Kate Bush (an underrated artist in her own right) consoles and encourages him to be hopeful while declaring her love to him.
Isn’t that what we think of when we’re in love? Or better yet, isn't that the thing we expect from our partners? That is why this is a great love song.It's so good that you can overlook the fact that the music video shows Gabriel and Bush holding each other for eight minutes.
“Melt with You,” Modern English
Before Burger King attempted to ruin this song, this was a favorite at high school dances in the 80s and 90s. "Melt With You" was a big hit for Modern English (another underrated band), and it came it came from one of the best albums (After the Snow) of the 80s.
Still, the song is underrated. Teen love is not often taken seriously. But this song can be admired at any age. Now, if we can block images of char-broiled burgers from some fast food joint, this song could be really appreciated.
“Baby, I’m Amazed” by Paul McCarthy
Yes, I know, this is an extremely popular song, and it's hard to state it's underrated. However, when this powerful sound for the former Beetle does get lost by his other offering; especially one with lyrics about writing silly love songs (which was actually a jab at former band mate, John Lennon).
Sir Paul never sounded finer! This is a great song to dedicate to your loved one on Valentine’s Day, your wedding, or anniversary.. Everything about this song clicks: the singing, piano, guitar solos and, of course the lyrics. This song still sends goose bumps up your arm when you’re listening to it with your lover. So much so, that you may find yourself serenading to her with this particular song.
There’s the ten. Some songs are known others are hidden gems. Either way, they were all compelling or fun to listen to.
Here’s a list of other great love songs that didn’t make the list:
• "Landslide" – Fleetwood Mac
• "Stand By Me" – Ben E. King
• "Solace of You" – Living Colour (it can be interpreted as love song, inspirational, or political -- either way, the son of Danny Glover will keep you listening).
• "No Woman, No Cry" – Bob Marley and Wailers (actually it’s a political song, but still works as love song).
• "Hello" – Lionel Richie.
• Anything from Barry White
• "Love Me, Tender" and "Suspicious Minds" – Elvis Presley
© 2019 Dean Traylor