Songs about new attraction and lust pack every jukebox and radio playlist. Rarer are the songs that consider the long haul of enduring love.
What’s more intoxicating than new love?
When you first meet someone, your chest aches with desire, and you’re crushed by longing.
We find our muses when those sparks fly, and those feelings have inspired paintings, sonnets and songs that have lasted for centuries.
Art is also sparked by loss. How many of our favorite popular songs consider broken hearts, the pang of love for someone who doesn’t love us back? Start counting, if you have time.
But what about the long haul? In the most profound love, the first flush of lust is replaced by something less maddening, marked by trust, intimacy and commitment. People who’ve been happily committed for years often speak of forgiveness and apology, of patient minutes when they listened even when burned out, or when, at the end of an exhausting day, they let their lover go to sleep without getting to the end of their story. All of this is deeper, more complex than the thrill of the crush.
Yet we rarely hear about that kind of love in Rock n’ Roll or pop music, do we? How many songs do you know about marriage? Sure, we hear a lot of pledges of devotion, but how many songs are actually about all the years that come after the proposal?
So we, Gint and Joanna—both married for many years (not to each other!)—have collected 20 of the best love songs in popular music that we feel reflect what it really means to be committed.
The love of your life is about more than just meeting someone and falling in love. It requires more than just arranging a wedding. It’s about an intimate space, often with children, so multi-layered that descriptions fail to get to the heart of it. These songs, arranged in no particular order, take on the task.
Jack Johnson “Do You Remember”
Jack Johnson traces his relationship back to the day he first met his love, back when they were still in school. He locked his bike to hers so she couldn’t roll away. Next thing you know, it’s ten years later, and they’re still together.
I was crazy about you then and now
The craziest thing of all,
Over ten years have gone by
And you’re still mine,
We’re locked in time
Neil Young “Harvest Moon”
Those lucky enough to live in places with harvest moons understand the romance. The giant orange moon is, however, a signal of summer’s end, waning fertility, and the yellow color of the light seems to introduce autumn. Without saying so much, Neil Young captures mature, enduring love through this image as he longs for her to dance, certainly recalling her youth.
Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon.
Cowboy Junkies, “Anniversary Song”
The Cowboy Junkies have captured the joy of marriage—the simple happiness that comes from walking through life, shoulder-to-shoulder, with your partner.
And I don’t know how I survived those days
Before I held your hand
Well I never thought that I would be the one
To admit that the moon and the sun
Shine so much more brighter when
Seen through two pairs of eyes than
When seen through just one.
Adam Cohen, “What Other Guy”
Adam Cohen (son of folk-music god Leonard Cohen) has done something remarkable, capturing how incredibly sexy it can be to know someone profoundly, to anticipate how they smell, how they kiss, how they taste…
I know what you want by what you’re wearing
The kind of night you’re preparing
I know what your hands do when you’re kissing
Your number one and number two favorite positions
I know how your skin glistens… listen
I know where you go with your beautiful friends
I know what you taste like when the night ends
Brandi Carlile “The Story”
In the course of a lifetime with someone, your spouse will know your story without you having to tell it.
John Legend “Stay With You”
It’s not ironic or tragic. John Legend really means it.
And there will be heartaches and pains, yes it will
But through it all, we will remain
In this life, we all know
Friends may come, and they may go
Through the years I know
I will stay
And in the end I know that we’ll find
Love so beautiful and divine
We’ll be lovers for a lifetime, yeah
And I’ll stay with you
I will stay with you
Al Green “Let’s Stay Together”
This song from 1972 is still popular for couples to dance to at their weddings, and for good reason.
Everybody says, “Let’s, let’s stay together
I’ll keep on lovin’ you whether, whether
Times are, oh times are good or times are bad
Whether, whether good or bad, happy or sad
Ben Harper “Forever”
Essentially a critique of loose promises. Ben Harper notes that people use the word “forever” to mean intense feelings in a present when they have lost all sense of the sprawling future.
Not talkin’ ’bout a year
No not three or four
I don’t want that kind of forever
In my life anymore
Forever always seems
to be around when it begins
but forever never seems
to be around when it ends
So give me your forever
Please your forever
Not a day less will do
Mark Knopfler and EmmyLou Harris “This is Us”
Mature and accomplished artists pair for a song that chronicles a long life together. To some it may seem mundane, just the ins and outs of daily life, but to those who’ve watched a long life pass by them in a marriage, the romance resonates.
Ben Folds “The Luckiest”
And in a wide sea of eyes
I see one pair that I recognize
And I know that I am
I am, I am the luckiest
I love you more than I have
Ever found a way to say to you
Next door, there’s an old man who lived to his 90’s
And one day, passed away in his sleep
And his wife, she stayed for a couple of days
And passed away
I’m sorry, I know that’s a strange way
To tell you that I know we belong
That I know that I am
I am, I am the luckiest
Kenny Chesney “The Good Stuff”
Country music has always kept the story straightforward and simple, to immediate effect. In this song by superstar Kenny Cheney, a man wanders into a bar after an argument with his new wife, only to be counseled by an older guy who knows the secret to a good marriage: Apology and making up are the “good stuff”.
Dave Matthews “You & Me”
Dave Matthews, even in this song about endurance and a great-distance-traveled, provides a survey of double-entendres, his usual marijuana-inspired meditations on the finality of all things. For Dave, there’s always something beyond the end of the world.
We can always look back at what we did
All these memories of you and me baby
But right now it’s you and me forever girl
And you know we could do better than anything that we did
You know that you and me, we could do anything
Taylor Swift “Mine” (see video)
Jason Mraz “I Won’t Give Up”
One of the hardest things about being in a long-term relationship is having to face the worst sides of yourself, inevitable during rough patches. Jason Mraz won’t give up no matter the obstacle.
I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily
I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make
Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use
The tools and gifts we got, yeah, we got a lot at stake
And in the end, you’re still my friend at least we did intend
For us to work we didn’t break, we didn’t burn
We had to learn how to bend without the world caving in
I had to learn what I’ve got, and what I’m not, and who I am
Tom Waits “I’m Still Here”
There’s only one Tom Waits. This short tune, not two minutes long, trickling piano notes and a mere gesture from a distant violin, captures that moment perhaps all long-time lovers know: Hey, it’s you. Yes, it’s me. After all this time. What? You forgot? Waits composed this song with his wife, Kathleen Brennan.
You haven’t looked at me that way in years
Your watch has stopped and the pond is clear
Someone turn the lights back off
I’ll love you til all time is gone
The Pogues “Fairytale of New York”
Shane MacGowan knows the tragedy of love felt in the bones by a man simply too downtrodden, by choice and fate, to turn it into anything beyond a promise. He believes this promise, down to his bones and bowels, and his love is real, enduring, ever-present, in the drunk tank and the horse track where he hit the long-shot (if we believe him). He’s pathetic, yes, but the lass has stayed with him to her final days, that drip in her arm, the rasp in her voice. Only the naive believe this is their last Christmas.
You’re a bum
You’re a punk
You’re an old slut on junk
Living there almost dead
On a drip in that bed
You scum bag
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it’s our last
Indigo Girls “Power of Two”
You know the things that I am afraid of
I’m not afraid to tell
And if we ever leave a legacy
It’s that we loved each other well
Cause I’ve seen the shadows of so many people
Trying on the treasures of youth
But a road that fancy and fast
Ends in a fatal crash
And I’m glad we got off
To tell you the truth
Neil Young “From Hank to Hendrix”
Neil Young, again. If you make a list of great songs and you don’t have two from Neil Young, you’ve screwed something up.
The venerable Mr. Young speaks of a life-long love, measured in eras of music icons, that is about to end “in the big divorce, California-style” and he asks, “Can we get it together? Can we still stand side by side?”
Head and the Heart “Honey Come Home”
A song about regret, about how a marriage can fall apart, about realizing what really matters. If you pay attention to the lyrics, this song will gut you. Marriage can be hard work, and sometimes we must ask to be let back in the house.
The kids say hello
to us in our separate homes
Darling please come home
I’ve cleaned out the fridge
Wiped the counters off
and put away my clothes
Do you remember every block
Every minute of every walk we used to take
We were young so many years ago
And I think of all this time
that we have wasted with all our fighting and I cry
Just want to die with the one I love beside me
Paul McCartney and Wings “Maybe I’m Amazed”
It’s hard to separate the singer from the song in the case of “Maybe I’m Amazed”. Sir Paul is first and foremost a Beatle, but he also formed one of the strongest family units in Rock n’ Roll history. His marriage to Linda Eastman in 1969 was legendary, and despite the turbulent political times, Paul and Linda were married until her death from breast cancer in 1998. They have three children together and a legacy of photography, love, and music (she, too, was in Wings), .
You can’t hear this song without imagining Paul singing to Linda. And that’s what makes it a perfect song about marriage.
Paul and Linda: AP