Another Freaking LIST?

Ah, our fetish for rankings and lists: top tens; top forties; who’s number ONE, who’s number ONE? We all bemoan the artificiality of our “top ten” mania even while we rightly acknowledge that with so much stuff available to us, a well-considered list does help to filter the wheat from the weevils, thus saving us that most valuable of all our commodities, our time.

Here goes; in alphabetical order:

The Top 10 Romantic Songs:

  • “But Beautiful” – Jimmy van Heusen (music), Johnny Burke (words) (1948); recorded by Tony Bennett and Bill Evans (1975)

This song was written for a movie called The Road to Rio in which it was sung by Der Bingle himself, Bing Crosby. Bennett’s performance is magnificent. In fact, the two albums Bennett made with Evans are among the greatest albums of popular songs I’ve ever heard. No accolade is too high. Must. Own.

  • “I Get A Kick Out of You”- Cole Porter (1934); recorded by Frank Sinatra for Capitol Records (1953)

Porter wrote “I Get A Kick Out of You” for the Broadway show Anything Goes. Typical of Porter’s songs, it is as literate as Shakespeare and a smooth as a dry martini. No one sings Porter’s songs with more clarity, humor, and pure musicality than Frank Sinatra. No one. (Someone commented to Bing Crosby that a voice like Sinatra’s came along only once in a lifetime. Crosby’s response: “Yes, but why did it have to be in my lifetime?”)

  • “I Will Always Love You”- Dolly Parton (1973); recorded by Whitney Houston (1992)

Houston’s signature, iconic performance turns a mournful country ballad into a magnificent pop-gospel statement of loss and everlasting love.

  • “Let’s Stay Together”- Al Green (1972); recorded by Al Green (1972)

More a dance number than a romantic song per se, “Lets Stay Together” had to be on this list after Barack Obama’s, albeit brief, performance at the Apollo Theater in January 2012.

  • “Losing My Mind”- Steven Sondheim (1971); recorded by Cleo Laine (1988)

A GREAT, utterly heartbreaking song from the show Follies, sung by the incomparable Cleo Laine.

  • “Love Me Tender”- George Poulton (music), Ken Darby (words) (1956); recorded by Elvis Presley (1956)

This song is what is called a “contrafacta”: a pre-existing melody fitted with new words. The pre-existing melody is that of a song written in 1861 by George Poulton called Aura Lee, the new words were written for Elvis in 1956.

  • “Something”- George Harrison (1968); recorded by The Beatles (1968)

Who says only Lennon and McCartney could write great songs? Frank Sinatra, who was no great fan of rock ‘n’ roll, famously called “Something” “the greatest love song of the past 50 years.” Who are we to argue?

  • “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” – George Gershwin (music), Ira Gershwin (words) (1937); recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Oscar Peterson (piano)

The songs of George and Ira Gershwin are among the supreme works of American art, and Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s recordings of their songs are among the best available. Ella and Louis were both utterly sui generis, perhaps the definite interpreters of twentieth century American popular song. I cannot recommend the albums they made together too highly.

  • “Unchained Melody”- Alex North (words) and Hy Zaret (words), recorded by the Righteous Brothers Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield) (1965)

Jukebox heaven. Okay, this is most definitely a prom song. But how could it not be on the list?

  • “Wonderful Tonight” – Eric Clapton (1976); recorded by Eric Clapton (1977)

Classic Clapton. The song is about the English model and photographer Patricia Anne “Pattie” Boyd, who was at the time of its writing Clapton’s wife. (Boyd, who had previously been married to George Harrison, claimed to have also been the inspiration for Harrison’s “Something”. For which we all say THANK YOU MS. BOYD!)

Happy romance!


© 2012 Robert Greenberg, author of How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart


Robert Greenberg, author of “How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart,” is a speaker, pianist, and music historian. He has served on the faculties of UC Berkeley, California State University East Ba, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he was chairman of the Department of Music History and Literature and director of the Adult Extension Division. He is currently music historian-in-residence with San Francisco Performances and also serves as the resident composer and music historian to NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered. Click here for more information on the author, or follow him on Facebook.
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