Let’s take a look at some of the most beautiful love songs ever written. The songs featured in this rundown are guaranteed to pull on your heartstrings.
The list includes soulful ballads, Motown classics, and iconic 50s, 60s, and 70s pop hits to take you through an entire era of romance.
Here are some of the most-memorable and best old love songs of the twentieth century.
25. Fever – Peggy Lee (1958)
Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’ is the most sensual song on this list. Originally written in 1956, Peggy Lee’s arrangement is the most popular and beloved version.
Lee’s version is known for its bassy intro paired with echoing snapping fingers. The singer’s voice enters with a spine-tingling clarity, every word clear. When listening to ‘Fever,’ you conjure an image of Peggy Lee in a dark, smokey room, a single spotlight shining on her creating an intimate space that reflects the mood and lyrics of the track.
Although only peaking at No. 8 on the US Billboard Hot 100, ‘Fever’ remains a classic love song.
24. When I Fall In Love – Doris Day (1952)
‘When I Fall In Love’ is more a song about wanting to fall in love rather than already being in it. Doris Day’s note-perfect voice makes this song feel both happy and sad. It has a wishful quality of hope tied together with the feeling that she’s been hurt before, declaring it will “be forever or I’ll never fall in love.”
The song was originally written by Victor Young and Edward Heyman as an instrumental. The first vocal recording was performed by Jeri Southern, an American jazz singer and has been recorded by many since. However, Doris Day’s was the first hit version.
23. I Want To Hold Your Hand – The Beatles (1963)
‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ was the first Beatles song to catch on in America. Their first three US singles flopped despite their success in England. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ came along and Beatles-mania finally spread to the States.
During the Beatles’ early days, their songs were much more simplistic – not branching off into their wacky crypticism just yet – and this track is no different. In this old love song, the protagonist modestly asks their partner if they can hold their hand, claiming they feel happy when they do so.
Today, the sentiment may seem rather juvenile. But the young ladies of the 60s went mad for it, lapping up every word of the Liverpudlians.
22. Dream A Little Dream Of Me – The Mamas & The Papas (1968)
‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ is an old love song that has captured the hearts of many for almost a century. Written in 1931, it has since had sixty versions recorded, most notably by The Mamas & The Papas.
“Mama” (Cass Elliot) initially suggested covering the song to John Phillips, the group leader. Despite a few hiccups in the recording studio, I’m sure Phillips was glad he agreed as the song remains a staple in the group’s discography.
In the UK, the track reached No. 11 while also making the top ten in both Ireland and South Africa. However, in Australia, a single version of the love song spent 2 weeks at No. 1 and was one of the biggest hits of 1968.
21. I Can’t Help Myself – The Four Tops (1965)
During the height of Motown, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, and Eddie Holland wrote ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ for the Four Tops, creating one of the foursome’s biggest hits.
The song is inspired by Dozier’s childhood when staying with his grandmother. She owned a beauty shop and Dozier’s grandfather would playfully flirt with the patrons calling them “sugar pie” and “honey bunch.”
‘I Can’t Help Myself’ became the first No. 1 US hit for the group, remaining at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 2 weeks and topping the R&B chart for an outstanding 9 weeks.
20. Happy Together – The Turtles (1967)
‘Happy Together’ may be the most intriguing song on this list. Not only do the verses feature a minor key, creating an uneasy atmosphere, but the song is also about unrequited love.
The lyrics imply that our protagonist simply imagines a life with the person they love, not living it. During the repetition at the end of the song, the question is asked “How is the weather?,” and the singer realises the two of them will never be more than passing acquaintances who share empty small talk.
The Turtles’ classic reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and achieved gold certification in the States and the UK.
19. Just The Way You Are – Billy Joel (1977)
Billy Joel wrote ‘Just The Way You Are’ about his first wife, Elizabeth. In the song, he is reassuring her that she doesn’t need to change anything about herself to please him.
Some interpret the song as Joel not “allowing” his partner to change but this is a misunderstanding of the words. He loves her as she is, as she was, and as she could be.
Artists from Frank Sinatra to Billy White have released covers of this love song, thus extending its mass appeal. It became Joel’s first No. 1 and gold certification single in the US and was awarded 2 Grammys for Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1979.
18. Come Fly With Me – Frank Sinatra (1958)
Frank Sinatra is known for his effortlessly smooth, charming vocals (and of course his blue eyes). ‘Come Fly With Me’ matched Sinatra’s debonair image and a jet-setting lifestyle.
The track came at a perfect time in America while the country was picking up the pieces after the war and needed to focus on living the good life.
‘Come Fly With Me’ focuses less on Sinatra’s love interest as a person, but more on the exotic locations they can visit together. It delivers a break from a more traditional woeful love song and captures a feeling of exciting young love instead.
17. A Sunday Kind Of Love – Etta James (1960)
Etta James manages to tap into something we all can relate to – a love that lasts past Saturday night. In ‘A Sunday Kind of Love,’ James is longing for a romance that feels like a Sunday (assuming you don’t have to work on Monday, I’m sure) – cosy, calm, and easy.
Written in 1946 by Anita Leonard and Stan Rhodes, the classic love song was already established in the jazz world. It has been covered by multiple artists such as Louis Prima and Ella Fitzgerald but Etta James’ is the one we most associate with the song.
16. I Say A Little Prayer – Dionne Warwick (1967)
Recorded in 1966, Dionne Warwick’s ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ was intended to convey the troublesome mind of a woman whose man is serving in the Vietnam War – a theme that resonated with many wives and girlfriends at the time.
However, the upbeat tempo and joyful melody make this old love song feel much more wholesome, especially to our war-free contemporary ears.
Upon its release, the track gained significant radio airplay and encouraged Scepter Records to release it as a single. It was a hit, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling a million units, gaining gold certification.
15. Wouldn’t It Be Nice – The Beach Boys (1966)
‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ tells the innocent story of a young man who is deeply in love. Infatuated with the woman, he proclaims how grand it would be if they were of age to marry – but he’s happy to spend all his time with her while they wait. Writer, Brian Wilson wanted to appeal to a teen audience explaining why the lyrics implied the couple was too young to marry.
With its joyous melody, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ also plays with the theme of freedom. This young couple are excited to see what their love will be as adults, away from the constraints of youth.
14. L-O-V-E – Nat King Cole (1965)
‘L-O-V-E’ is a very simple yet endearing song. The lyrics spell out ‘love’, associating each letter of the word with an ingredient of romance. Nat King Cole’s charming vocals are paired with an upbeat swing band, concluding with a trumpet solo performed by Bobby Bryant.
The love song has been recorded in multiple languages by various artists and has featured in the intro to multiple films including Sleepless In Seattle and The Parent Trap. This universal love for the track has made it a staple love song, and manages to rise above the initial cheesiness it may exhibit to some.
13. I Will Always Love You – Dolly Parton (1973)
Although many will be more familiar with Whitney Houston’s iconic 1992 cover, this love song belongs to everyone’s favourite country singer, Dolly Parton. Houston’s rendition flexes her vocal ability, but Parton’s original has a sweeter, gentler quality that in turn makes the lyrics feel more sincere.
Interestingly, ‘I Will Always Love You’ is not a love song in the traditional sense. Parton wrote the track about her friend and mentor Porter Wagoner with whom she worked before becoming the global superstar we know now.
Upon its release in 1974, the song became one of the best-selling singles of the year and peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
12. My Girl – The Temptations (1964)
The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’ delivers a soft interpretation of love with smooth vocals and gentle musicality. Although simple, the lyrics explain that nothing can be wrong as long as “my girl” is by their side. It’s as if summer is bottled up into a song.
The track became the first US No. 1 single for the group and also became the first No. 1 hit on the reinstated Billboard R&B Single Chart, cementing it as the group’s signature song. After the height of Motown, ‘My Girl’ became one of the genre’s most loved and most successful singles and was therefore inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
11. Put Your Head On My Shoulder – Paul Anka (1959)
Paul Anka was, without a doubt, the most successful teenage singer of the 1950s. He wrote ‘Put Your Head On My Shoulder’ when he was just 17 and already had a two year-long career containing a No. 1 hit.
The lyrics of the track contain an innocent notion of young romance – putting your head on your partner’s shoulder or holding their hand. Anka’s age probably had an influence over the PG theme of the song and yet it still warms the hearts of young and old.
The track is still relevant today with Doja Cat sampling the opening bars for ‘Streets,’ a much more adult song.
10. Stand By Me – Ben E. King (1961)
‘Stand By Me’ tells the story of two lovers who, no matter what they face, will get by as long as they stay by each others’ sides.
Originally a gospel song written in 1905, the song made the rounds in churches in the southern states of America, which many gospel acts adapted into the version we know today.
Using the song in the film of the same name reignited interest in the Ben E. King classic, introducing it to a new generation of people. The re-ignition of the track saw it hit No. 9 in the US and No. 1 in the UK.
9. God Only Knows – The Beach Boys (1966)
Featured in Christmas blockbuster Love Actually, ‘God Only Knows’ is a sweet and sentimental song that came to co-writer Brian Wilson after gaining interest in spirituality.
The track opens with the line “I may not always love you” – an unusual way to open a love song – but it carries on to say that “as long as there are stars above you,” his love will continue.
The Beach Boys’ classic, now considered a landmark for the group, was initially brushed over in the United States, peaking at just No. 39. Luckily, the UK were more switched on where it peaked at No. 2, just behind The Beatles.
8. Something – The Beatles (1969)
Written by underrated Beatle (at the time) George Harrison, ‘Something’ is considered by many the best love song that the group ever released, with Frank Sinatra himself calling it “the best love song ever written.” Big words!
The way Harrison delivers the lyrics offers a sense of wonder – he can’t believe his partner is with him and he’s captivated by everything she does. However, the Beatle later claimed the song was written about his devotion to Lord Krishna, originally writing “something in the way he moves.”
The concept of a love song inspired by spirituality rather than an individual gives ‘Something’ a uniqueness amongst others in this list.
7. Unchained Melody – The Righteous Brothers (1965)
The Righteous Brothers’ ‘Unchained Melody’ is like watching a sunset – pay too close attention to it and you’ll probably start crying.
Bobby Hatfield leaves you in awe with his vocal performance on his track (If you haven’t I highly recommend watching a live performance). His vocals, along with the music, reach a crescendo at the end with Hatfield hitting a world-shattering high note on the last chorus.
Although The Righteous Brothers’ version is the most remembered today – beating roughly 670 other artists who have recorded a version – it wasn’t the most successful. Les Baxter’s version reached No. 1, while the Brothers’ only hit No. 4. But as we know, chart success does not equal good.
6. Be My Baby – The Ronettes (1963)
‘Be My Baby’ shook the music world and became a major influence on music titans the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Many songs have tried to replicate the drum phrasing, originally played by Hal Blaine, which was influenced by Latin stylings.
Its signature intro and sweet lyrics made this song an instant classic. The track tells the story of a girl trying to convince a guy she’s infatuated with to give her a chance. She’s been interested since they met and is certain it was love at first sight.
‘Be My Baby’ is The Ronettes’ biggest hit, reaching No. 2 in the US and No. 4 in the UK and is considered by many one of the best love songs of the 60s.
5. Everybody Loves Somebody – Dean Martin (1964)
‘Everybody Loves Somebody’ was initially intended for fellow Rat Pack member Frank Sinatra but his original failed to gain any traction. Peggy Lee and Dinah Washington also took a swing with disappointing results. Make way for Dean Martin who managed to take this song from obscurity to the classic we know today.
With resentment for contemporary rock n’ roll, Dean Martin drove the Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ off of Billboard’s No. 1 slot, ‘Everybody Loves Somebody’ taking its place. It also remained at the top of the Pop-Standard Singles chart for 8 weeks. Clearly we couldn’t let go of traditional pop just yet!
A legendary old love song that has gone down in history.
4. The Way You Look Tonight – Fred Astaire (1936)
Fred Astaire’s ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ is the oldest song on this list and the impact it had on later love songs meant I simply couldn’t leave it out. The lyrics to the song, although uncomplicated, are the words that so many people want to hear from their partners, captured in a delightful melody.
‘The Way You Look Tonight’ was written for the 1936 film Swing Time starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, with Astaire serenading Rogers at the piano. The song, written by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, won an Oscar for Best Original Song. The track has been covered by multiple artists with Frank Sinatra’s version being a favourite among many.
3. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman – Aretha Franklin (1967)
‘You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman’ by the legendary Aretha Franklin was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King in a single evening. Songwriting geniuses perhaps?
Recorded with Franklin’s sisters, Erma and Carolyn, on backing vocals, ‘A Natural Woman’ features the soul singer’s incredible, expressive voice backed by an orchestral arrangement that you feel deep in your bones.
Although only reaching No. 8 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, and earning silver certification in the UK, Aretha Franklin’s 1967 track remains one of the most powerful love songs in contemporary history.
2. Can’t Help Falling in Love – Elvis Presley (1961)
The more frequently you attend weddings, the more likely it is that you’ve heard Elvis’ classic ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ as a happy couple’s first dance song. Who can blame them?
With simple lyrics, the love song expresses how even if people don’t believe in your love, as long as you both do, that’s all that matters. Elvis’ velvety voice adds a tear-jerking depth to the track that aids in making it a truly classic love song.
In 1962, the song topped the UK charts, spending 4 weeks at No. 1 and sold over 1 million copies. In the US, the song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 but reached No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
1. All You Need Is Love – The Beatles (1967)
The Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’ is more dedicated to the love of life rather than being focused on an individual.
The catchy hit proclaims that all we need in this world is love, whether that be romantic or otherwise. ‘All You Need Is Love’ was born out of the idea that a song should be written that would be understood by all people all over the world.
Led by John Lennon’s message and passion for peace, the track was easy to play and easy to remember. Its legacy remains with many considering it the “theme song” for flower power and delivering a strong political message.
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