Every year, Valentine’s Day brings with it a fresh crop of albums with titles such as 100 Best Love Songs, Greatest Romantic Hits and Now That’s What I Call Affection! These compilations pertain to feature realistic musical depictions of love, but anyone who’s ever sat through one will know that’s baloney. They’re packing nothing but rose-tinted, one-dimensional Richard Curtis fodder.
Where are all the songs that show love for what it really is: weird, complex, scary, potentially dangerous and occasionally very messed-up? With that in mind, we present our pick of the finest real love songs: the oddest, most twisted and brutally honest romantic odes ever recorded. Enjoy. And then go and have a cry in the corner.
1. Captain Beefheart - Ashtray Heart
If there’s a better line about romantic rejection than “You used me like an ashtray heart/Crushed me while I was burning out”, we’d like to hear it. But not experience it.
2. Dizzee Rascal - I Luv U
Essentially a lovers’ tiff set to music, Dizzee’s breakout single was an abrasive ode to the passive-aggressive sniping that peppers every relationship. Even the snare drums sound like they’re arguing.
3. Funkadelic - Some More
The group who brought us such tracks as Hit It And Quit It experience the sour end of the lovin’ spectrum here, suffering a “headache in my heart” and claiming no doctor can cure it.
4. Sir Lancelot - (Shame And) Scandal In The Family
A rollicking ska number tracking Trinidad’s least romantic family. The son tries to cop off with various women, only to be warned by his father, “That girl is your sister but your mama don’t know.” Finally, he tells his mother, who chuckles, “Your daddy ain’t your daddy but your daddy don’t know.”
5. The Modern Lovers - Hospital
Jonathan Richman treads a fine line between romance and creepiness here, with a canine-like loyalty to a lady who’s not interested. “When you get out of the dating bar/I’ll be here to get back into your life/I can’t stand what you do/But I’m in love with your eyes.”
6. Weezer - No One Else
Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo claims to have found a mathematical formula for the perfect pop song. But he’s not quite mastered love songs: “I want a girl who will laugh for no one else/When I’m away she puts her make-up on the shelf/When I’m away she never leaves the house.” Stick that on your match.com profile, see how far it gets you…
7. The Beatles - You Like Me Too Much
George Harrison wrote his fair share of twisted love songs, but none out-twists this one. “You’ve tried before to leave me but you haven’t got the nerve” sounds like something you’d hear yelled across the Queen Vic at closing time.
8. Dwarves - Everybodies Girl
Gloriously sleazy punk track about a chap whose girlfriend has been intimate with practically everyone he’s ever met. He even lists specific names, before proudly stating, “I’m in love with everybody’s girl.”
9. Tom Waits - Another Man’s Vine
This one features a sinister exploration of male jealousy and paranoia. A young soldier goes to war, and writes a letter back home to his wife every day. Suddenly, her replies all dry up, when the ever-sensitive Waits purrs, “I smell a red rose blooming on another man’s vine.”
10. Dolly Parton - Jolene
The ultimate twisted love song. Poor Dolly prostrates herself at the feet of a rival she knows could whisk off her man: “He talks about you in his sleep… I cannot compete with you, Jolene.”
11. Skip James - Devil Got My Woman
Luckless bluesman Skip lists possible reasons for getting dumped, concluding it was Satan: “She don’t drink whisky, ain’t crazy ’bout wine/The ol’ devil changed my baby’s mind.” He ends up muttering, “I could be right… Then again, I could be wrong.” It’s the second one, Skip.
12. The Count Five - Psychotic Reaction
In which a man becomes lovesick to the point of manic depression over a swinging Sixties beat.
13. Richard Hell - Love Comes In Spurts
Portrayal of the shock a man has on finding his view of love as harmless is naive; love not only “comes in spurts”, it also “murders your heart/They didn’t tell you that part.”
14. The Knife - Marble House
A monstrously grim look at the long-term effects of co-habitation: “I cut your nails and comb your hair/I carry you down the stairs.” It even goes as far as implicating unborn children in the whole miserable affair (“The seeds I sow will grow up prisoners too”).
15. Daniel Johnston - Man Obsessed
Kurt Cobain-inspiring Johnston offers this tale of unrequited love for a girl who works in a funeral parlour. He eventually decides “the only way you could get her to look at you is to die”.
16. Roxy Music- If There Is Something
Bryan Ferry’s permanently trembling vocal chords are put to fine use here, as Roxy explore the shrieking hysteria that can afflict the enamoured modern man. An increasingly desperate-sounding Ferry lists the various things he’d do to keep hold of his love, which range from impressive (“Walk a thousand miles”) to confusing (“Grow potatoes”).
17. Mouse and the Traps - A Public Execution
This is a blistering paean to ugly post-break-up bitterness, as Sixties band Mouse And The Traps try – in a completely unsuccessful fashion – to conceal their glee when an ex comes back begging for another chance, eventually concluding: “So, goodbye/Go on and have a real good cry!” Stay classy, guys.
18. The Righteous Brothers - You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
Known for its role in getting Tom Cruise laid in Top Gun, this is in fact an account of a relationship coming apart at the seams.
19. Elvis Presley - Don’t Be Cruel
The King transforms from knee-jiggling sex god to loser via pitiable lines, “If you can’t come around/At least please telephone.”