Valentine’s Day is almost here, and if you’ve procrastinated figuring out what to do for your sweetheart, just remember there’s nothing more old-fashioned and romantic than listening to records. Here’s a list of the 10 most romantic rock and roll love songs to listen to with your loved one — preferably on vinyl. As Jack White once said, “Digital in the car, vinyl in the bedroom.”
1. ‘Visions of Johanna,’ Bob Dylan
Another song from 1966′s Blonde on Blonde, “Just Like a Woman,” is a more typical answer you’d get when asked what Bob Dylan’s most romantic song is, but the 7-plus minute fever-dream of “Visions of Johanna” contains lovelier poetry and doesn’t have the slightly condescending tone of “Just Like a Woman.”
The narrator spends most of the song describing the charismatic Louise, but it’s the elusive Johanna that he can’t get out of his head. “In this room the heat pipes just cough / The country music station plays soft / But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off / Just Louise and her lover so entwined / And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind.”
2. ‘Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,’ The White Stripes
“Soft hair and a velvet tongue / I wanna give you what you give to me / Every breath that is in your lungs / Is a tiny little gift to me,” Jack White sings on the intro track to White Blood Cells, the album that made the White Stripes famous.
This is one of the Stripes’ most straight-forward love songs not covered in grade-school child-affection weirdness. After another 13 years of hyper-productivity in a variety of different acts, “Dead Leaves” stands as White’s greatest love song.
3. ‘Crazy,’ Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline’s version of “Crazy” is one of the most well-known and beloved love songs of all time. The song was written by Willy Nelson and recorded by Cline in 1961. It went on to catapult Cline from an Opry favorite to a household name. It’s an ode to the irrationality of love that has been covered by many, but none can match Cline’s silky voice and heartbroken delivery.
The song compares being love to being crazy, predating future scientific research that has shown romantic love and mental illness cause similar chemical changes in the brain.
4. ‘Something,’ The Beatles
This George Harrison-penned tune is generally thought to be the Beatles’ most romantic song, and the group has a plethora of tracks that could easily have made it on this list. Harrison has been famously reluctant to say who he wrote the song about, only that it wasn’t for his wife at the time. “Something” was released as a single from 1969′s Abbey Road, the first and only Harrison contribution to top the charts in the U.S.
It was praised by Lennon and McCartney as one of the the Beatles’ best songs and remains one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. “I think that’s about the best track on the album, actually,” Lennon said in 1969.
5. ‘Hot Knife,’ Fiona Apple
“If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife / He makes my heart a Cinemascope screen / Showin’ the dancin’ bird of paradise,” sings a chorus of Fionas in one of her most ecstatic love songs, filled with typically offbeat lyrics but not tinged with her normal bitterness.
The timpani accompaniment mimics the sound of a beating heart and is spare enough to showcase Apple’s harmonies with herself and her sister Maude Maggart, who sings with her on the track. This is the best song on 2012′s excellent Idler Wheel.
6. ‘Hey, Good Lookin’,’ Hank Williams
The hillbilly Shakespeare is perhaps more famous for writing songs about being heartbroken, but he had to fall in love in the first place to reach the lows of “Alone and Forsaken” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
Williams wrote many of his most heartbroken songs about his wife Audrey, who is generally reviled for being manipulative and blamed for ruining his life, but this song reminds fans that he actually liked her at one point. “Hey, Good Lookin’” is Williams’ most famous and upbeat love song.
7. ‘Goodnight, Irene,’ Leadbelly
This folk standard was first covered by Leadbelly in 1933 and was subsequently recorded by a plethora of artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, and Jack White. But Leadbelly’s version, with all the suicidal fantasies left intact, is the most powerful. The complicated song at first seems like a someone singing a sweet goodnight to their beloved — until it’s revealed that the sleep the narrator is talking about is death.
“I love Irene, God knows I do / Love her ’til the sea runs dry / But if Irene turns her back on me / I’m gonna take morphine and die,” Leadbelly sings, as living is unfathomable without his beloved Irene.
8. ‘Perfect Day,’ Lou Reed
This track from 1972′s Transformer shows a rare moment of Lou Reed getting openly sentimental. The track discusses a “perfect day” in which the narrator does perfectly average things with his beloved including going to the movies, the park, and heading home early. “It’s such a perfect day / You just keep me hanging on,” Reed sings over a soaring string accompaniment. “You made me forget myself / I thought I was someone else / Someone good.”
While there is some debate as to whether the song is about Reed’s first wife Bettye Kronstad or the other love of his life, heroin, it is a beautiful ode to how even the most monotonous aspects of life can become “perfect” when shared with someone you love.
9. ‘Gigantic,’ The Pixies
This track from the alternative icons’ album Surfer Rosa is at its heart about voyeurism, but the melody is so damn catchy that the chorus of “gigantic / a big, big love” could just as easily be about the love of the couple that’s being watched as it is about the man’s sexual organ. This poppier song from the Pixies catalog was co-written by bassist Kim Deal and frontman Black Francis.
Francis told SELECT magazine that, “I’d had the word ‘gigantic’ in my mind just because the chord progression seemed very big to me.” The song’s melody makes watching two people have sex in the woods and admiring their love seem sweet — showing that love should be appreciated even when it doesn’t personally involve you.
10. ‘One Way Or Another,’ Blondie
Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry was inspired to write this song about a former boyfriend who stalked her, according to biographer Cathy Che. The song was the fourth single from 1979′s Parallel Lines and retains more of the band’s original punk swagger from their CBGB’s days than the first hit “Heart of Glass.”
Sung from a beautiful woman’s perspective, the song seems less stalkerish and more about sexual obsession — after all, who wouldn’t want Debbie Harry to stalk them?
Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!