Another trip around the sun, another Valentine’s Day in February… There are just as many clichés to celebrate this holiday as there are myths about its origins. In the run-up to the holiday, we asked musicians, composers and songwriters about the most effective love songs in their opinion. What makes a good love song? What is the story behind it and what is it that’s so touching? Answers were given by BIPOLAR FEMININ, ANNA ANDERLUH, CLARA LUZIA, JULIA LACHERSTORFER, ALFREDO OVALLES, MAVI PHOENIX, SOPHIE ABRAHAM and many more. Click here for the playlist on YouTube.
“Haifischbaby” – France Gall
“A song danced to, many nights with many loved ones. A hit at every party and an icebreaker when confessing love with another. Lyrically, it may not describe the healthiest form of relationship, but that’s forgivable if you’re a shark-baby, baby baby baby.”
“Laura” – David Raksin
“One of my favorite love songs is ‘Laura’ by David Raksin. It’s the title track of a 1944 movie (which I admit I haven’t seen) in which a detective becomes more and more entranced with the murder victim during the investigation. Jonny Mercer wrote the lyrics to it afterwards. ‘Laura is the face in the misty light. Footsteps that you hear down the hall’. Everywhere the protagonist sees Laura, whom he doesn’t actually know, and in the end the dream shatters. I like these crushes, which are often more exciting in fantasy than in reality. The melody meanders around beautifully and never seems to arrive, always remaining mysterious. I highly recommend the version by Jeanne Lee and Ryan Blake.”
“Now You Know” – Anais Mitchell
“In it, she draws a circle of life in a lyrically unpretentious and un-kitschy way and, in all the greatness of a human life, still lets the ‘you’ be what everything ultimately revolves around. Great art in my eyes.”
“I mecht landen“ – Maria Bill
“For me it was spontaneous choice: ‘I mecht landen’ by Maria Bill (lyrics & music: Maria Bill, Christian Kolonovits). My love for the song is certainly related to the fact that I associate so much with Maria Bill’s voice – my sister and I still know ‘Valerie und die Gute-Nacht-Schaukel’ by heart, that’s how often we heard it in our childhood.
But I also find the lyrics so delightfully unpretentious, and so on point! The interpretation is also so immediate, powerful and touching – I can just say, it gets me. My favorite line from the text is: ‘Host du a Ahnung, sicht ma mir an, wos mi do überschwemmt? Du worst für mi wie i für di, bis vorhin no a relatives Hemd.‘ [Translation: ‘Do you have any idea what’s going on here? Can you see what’s flooding over me? Till recently you were the best choice I had.‘] I especially love this 2-part 80’s electric guitar intro and the chord turn from the bridge. And the part when the chorus then shifts harmonically, my heart really starts pounding! So good!”
“Vielleicht bist es eh du“ – Felix Kramer
Mixtape by Alfredo Ovalles (in no particular order):
- Portishead – “Glory Box”
- Foo Fighters – “Everlong”
- Fleetwood Mac – “The Chain
- Led Zeppelin – “Since I’ve been loving you”
- Pearl Jam – “Black”
- Tool – “Pushit”
- Whitney Houston – “I Have Nothing”
- Seal – “Kiss from a rose”
- ABBA – “The day before you came”
“The subject of songs and songwriting is very close to my heart – even when it comes to rating them and discussing their merits. In making my selection, I thought I’d put together a mixtape like I would have had when I was younger: Ten songs that represent love in different ways. From the experience of being a woman in Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’ or Whitney’s ‘I Have Nothing’ to poetic imagery as in ‘Kiss From a Rose,’ heartbreak or completely dysfunctional relationships – all is in there.
To me, a great love song is one that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, that isn’t too specific – also a song that doesn’t necessarily treat the subject of love in a superficial way, and sometimes addresses the not-so-shiny side of it: it’s beautiful, but it can be messy, it can hurt, it can be unrequited, and it will always be complicated. Having said all that about lyrics, love songs should have a catchy chorus – although at least two songs from my selection don’t have a traditional chorus.”
“Liar” – Marie Byrd Land
Her tears are fake, her smile, her smell
Being with her is being in hell
One thing she says is true
That she… loves you
“A waltz with unnecessarily glorious bells, which in a way reflects all this fake glamor and smiles. That’s how the song starts. I suppose, for me, anything to do with love has to be twisted. That’s the nature of love. Ironically, for me, one of the most annoying habits of people is to be pretentious. However, in the song ‘Liar,’ I describe a creature whose existence is based only on lies, but whose feelings are genuine toward the person she loves. I think there is something romantic about knowing that you can trust an untrustworthy person about one thing – that they love you.
“Alanech fia dii” – H.C. Artmann / Willi Resetarits
“For me, a beautiful love song is the number ‘Alanech fia dii’ by H.C.Artmann/ Willi Resetarits in the version with Sabina Hank on piano and Willi Resetarits’ voice. What touches me most about this song are the simple, poetic comparisons of what love means when you love someone unconditionally. To then set this brilliant Artmann poem to music in such a gentle and beautiful way is absolutely magnificent. The simplicity of the chords, the quiet delicate beginning, up to polyphony, then again a withdrawal of the voices, again only the lead voice, quiet in the heights, vulnerable and cautious. The Viennese dialect makes the song even softer, linguistically more flowery and brings the mood to the point.
Love songs, in which there is polyphony, touch me especially. The voice hides nothing, it is for me the direct access to the soul. I especially like it when voice and piano are heard alone, then the expression is very direct and pure. A really good love song touches and catches you the first time you hear it. There are goosebumps immediately. Nothing dazzles or shows off, it is simply what it is. That’s how I feel about ‘Alanech fia dii’, because Willi Resetarits sings this song full of honesty, from the heart.”
“Wooden Bag” – Richard Dawson
“What I love about this song is that it’s actually about a bag and its very detailed contents that the protagonist can’t throw away, and thus indirectly expresses a very deep love for a person who is no longer there.
At the very end there is only a ‘How I miss you, I can feel it in my molecules’. I also love the special and raw sound of Richard Dawson’s guitar paired with his sometimes incredibly tender and then again screaming and suffering voice, but always genuine, which really gets under the skin. I also feel that the lyrics as well as the melody are completely equal and together tell the story – full of unusual melodies, poetic images, surprising moments and heartbreaking and ingenious lyrics that I think everyone who has ever lost a loved one or a beloved animal, in any way, can relate to.”
“Gibraltar“ – Bilderbuch
“I think a great love song has the ability to make it feel as if it was written for your own personal situation. It catches you off guard and helps you tap into your emotions and maybe realize that you still have unresolved feelings for someone.
For me Gibraltar from Bilderbuch is an amazing love song as it is really touching and heartbreaking but never cheesy. I remember touring with this special band in 2017 and hearing this song live for almost 2 weeks every night. I totally fell in love with it and it still brings back good memories and nostalgia when listening to it now.
Musically and production-wise it is has all components of a classic rock ballad but then again there are elements in the instrumentation, lyrics and vocal delivery that are very uncommon for its genre – which makes it a true evergreen for me.”
“Don’t leave“ – Ane Brun
“To start, something personal: This song accompanied me in an important phase in my life. It fueled a still-almost unconscious infatuation of mine in such a way that I fell head over heels and hugely in love with someone in Amsterdam. I received the ‘Changing of the Seasons’ album in the mail from her. We had half a year of correspondence before we met for the first time. Then something like a personal big bang happened to me. And luckily not only for me. We decided to exchange Amsterdam and Graz for a common Vienna, are now married and have two very cool kids. But enough personal stuff!
About the song… At the beginning the lyrics lead into a different direction than expected:
Don’t ever leave
It’s like the singer is saying this to someone. But, no, it continues:
That is what you asked of me
Do you know what it means
When you plead?
Don’t you ever leave
That is what you said to me
Do you know what that can do
To someone like me?
It won’t do us no good
This text describes something we all need in a healthy love relationship: freedom, trust. Ane Brun’s lyrics are never smooth – they are real. And so is her music. Simple yet never predictable. I’m always a fan of when the performer is also the composer and text poet.
I have no plan to be
Anywhere else to but here
Or to become someone that leaves
I didn’t even know there was an exit here
Darling, don′t you try
To capture me
I am here now
I′m right here by your side
I’ll lay my hand on the couch next to you
You can hold it if you would like to
It will do you good“
“Suzanne” – Leonard Cohen
“Many songs can be effective when you are head over heels in love. For me, however, the best ones are the ones that can trigger it when you don’t feel like it. For example, ‘Darkest Dreaming’ by David Sylvian. The credo here is definitely ‘less is more’. A simple melody, a few chords and flawless combination of timbres and harmony sequences that whisper oxytocin in your ear. Amira Medunjanin’s version of the Bosnian sevdalinka ‘Ah što ćemo ljubav kriti’ has a similar effect.
Most Austrians will not understand the lyrics. But that is not so important, because the music is so powerful. Often, especially in folk music, you can find such simple but effective love songs. They exist all over the world, and in principle it is the most beautiful product of the concept of ‘folk’.
If you are Ennio Morricone, you don’t even need the singing voice to achieve the desired effect. The ‘Love Theme’ from Cinema Paradiso also works instrumentally. Or you can just loop (with a few reverbs back and forth) the chorus for two minutes. That’s the case in ‘Se Telefonando,’ which he composed for Mina.
The favorite from my circle is definitely Felix Kramer with ‘Vielleicht bist es eh du’. Love is anything but perfect here, and we should all integrate that in our consciousness. And Jelena Popržan and Rina Kaçinari as Catch-Pop String-Strong with their cover of ‘Srela sam se s njim’ (originally from 1973 sung by Croatian singer Josipa Lisac) – here it is really pity that not everyone understands the lyrics. In this one the focus is not on pain, but on joy. I personally prefer that in love songs.
And lastly, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne.’ One of the most romantic songs about the attraction of the spirit, dedicated to a real Suzanne. As far as the Internet can be believed, he never actually managed to pick her up. Nevertheless, she got the song from him. One of his best. Love is a mental thing, and those who know that make (and get) the best love songs.”
Translated from the German original by Arianna Alfreds.