10 Rock Love Songs From Dylan, Van, Elton + More

by
Share This:
Do you know what a love song is? We want to show you.
Van Morrison records 'It's Too Late to Stop Now' live at the Santa Monica Civic (CA) Auditorium on May 19, 1973. (Photo by Ed Caraeff/Getty Images)

Photo by Ed Caraeff/Getty Images. Courtesy Legacy Recordings

What is a love song? Is it a song about being in love, one that expresses love or perhaps of love lost? I believe it is all of these things as well as the feelings and emotions in between, though the purists out there would say otherwise. If you sing about unrequited love, is the feeling any less intense? What about the level of emotion personified by tears of joy as opposed to tears of sadness?

All I am saying is give love a chance. These 10 tunes, in many varying shades of tearjerk from joyful to anguished, prove the point in so many ways. And they span the rock scene from the ’60s drift of “Under the Boardwalk” and “Live With Me” to the ’80s funkiness of “Come On Eileen” to the eternal spotlessness of Van Morrison’s “Someone Like You.”

Of course, the love song has been a primary subject for popular music since its birth.

10) “Under the Boardwalk” by Bruce Springsteen & Friends

Bruce Springsteen & Jimmy Fallon, Billy Joel, Steven Tyler and other Friends Of Bruce get to wax nostalgic for this Drifters classic that Bruce appropriated back in the Asbury Park days. This version was performed at the Hurricane Sandy benefit telethon. How is it a love song? I’ll tell ya how – from personal experience. I scored quite nicely while this song was playing on a transistor radio “on a blanket with my baby” beneath that wood-and-splinters edifice in Far Rockaway one hot and sweaty summer in Brooklyn. And while Fallon has a lot of balls singing lead with these guys, Tyler got his back and it’s a jam. Notice Bruce doesn’t sing a note, sadly.

9) “Your Song” by Elton John

People hear this and it takes them on a journey to the stations of the cross they had to bear for a lost love, a deceased husband, a friend. Because while it’s subjectively their song, as the title states, it’s “Your Song.” In other words, cry me a river, baby. And while the original recorded version is probably better than this live one from the Royal Opera House some 20 years later, it takes me into my love song soap opera zone. Weep weep.

8) “I Want You” by Bob Dylan

Probably – and typically, for Dylan – the most over-analyzed love song by literary critics of the modern era. For instance, this scholarly analysis by Andy Gill: He observed that the song’s tension is achieved through the balance of the “direct address” of the chorus, the repeated phrase “I want you,” and a weird cast of characters “too numerous to inhabit the song’s three minutes comfortably,” including a guilty undertaker, a lonesome organ grinder, weeping fathers, mothers, sleeping saviors, the Queen of Spades and “a dancing child with his Chinese suit.” Around 2:40, “… because time is on his side and because I …” has a whole new meaning listening to it 50 years later, with the benefit of Mr. Gill’s speculation that “the dancing child” has been interpreted as a reference to Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, and his then-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg. Another Dylanologist, Clinton Heylin admits there may be substance to this because the dancing child’s “time was on his side” quote is a reference to “Time Is On My Side,” the Stones’ first U.S. hit. As always, Dylan has the last word on Mr. Jones (and Mr. Gill and Mr. Hevlin). He said back in ’66: “It’s not just pretty words to a tune or putting tunes to words… (It’s) the words and the music (together) – I can hear the sound of what I want to say.”

Don’t miss a post! Sign up for Best Classic Bands‘ Newsletter; form is on every page.

7) “Crying'” by Roy Orbison

On this version of his weeper from a date called Roy Orbison and Friends, A Black and White Night in 1988, the great be-focaled crooner is backed by Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, James Burton and Johnny Cash. Kris Kristofferson looks on approvingly as The Big O croons his heart out. And if any rock voice could express the many emotions within the feeling of love, Orbison’s was the one.

6) “Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners

The overalls! The fairy-tale Brit working class milieu – even though it’s 20 years ago, this is a real Romeo and Juliet scene. And with the arrangement and tempo changes, and the blue-jean Brixton choreography, this original music video from the ultimate ’80s tuneage – with banjos and accordions no less – is quite a production. The song says, “you in that dress, my thoughts I confess… are verging on dirty!” But you need to apply cultural context to appreciate what a love song it is. As to who is Johnny Ray? If you have to ask….

5) “Sara Smile” by Hall & Oates

Darryl Hall – in falsetto – acoustic guitars, John Oates slappin’ that six-string, T-Bone Wolk on the bass, what else can you say? “I said it many times owww!! before.” And the crowd in West Hollywood eats it up. Indeed, this performance at The Troubadour is a very soulful iteration of this jazzy, heartfelt tribute to love.

4) “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner

This power ballad made it to #1 for Foreigner in both the U.K. and the U.S, and is their most successful single. So if you are asking the same question I am, the answer is, you bet your booties they know what it is. But seriously, the power of the ballad is love.

3) “You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker

This 1983 version by a not-too-drug-addled Joe from Rockpalast, the German TV show, is simple, yet profound, full of emotion and sadness. Isn’t that the definition of a love song?

2) “Live With Me” by the Rolling Stones

Keith Richards on bass? Mick Taylor on lead? Both Nicky Hopkins and Leon Russell tinkling the ivories, and the late Bobby Keys on sax? And that’s not all. Many firsts on here: It was one of the first recorded contributions by guitarist Taylor, who joined the band in June 1969; the first time the Stones would record with tenor saxophonist Keys; and it was the first song on which Richards is credited as playing bass. After the sax solo, Keefers comes in with the main “intro” bass riff, just one more time, then stays on the A chord for the rest of the song. Motown cool.

1) “Someone Like You” by Van Morrison

This song gets played at a lot of weddings and there’s a reason for that. In fact, I can think of more than a few wedding videos for which this has been chosen as the soundtrack. That is also why this video version of Van’s all-time classic romance tune is used in the video for Bridget Jones’s Diary – Not only does it play a seminal role in setting the mood for that chick flick, it’s the soundtrack of many a tryst as well as many a journey to the altar.

Noe Gold

Founding Editor of Guitar World magazine and Creative Consultant to the Jimi Hendrix Foundation, Noe Gold has worked for Crawdaddy and The Hollywood Reporter, The Village Voice and the New York Daily News. His stories have appeared in GQ, USA Today, Rolling Stone, Premiere, The Movies and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. The author of articles and books on the music of Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Albert King, among others, his latest project is the forthcoming book, Hendrix Now! Backstory of a Legend, which features Mick Taylor, the late Alan Douglas and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Stevens, Joe Satriani, Leonard Nimoy and a few other Hendrix intimates and devotees in the ultimate followup to his seminal work started at Guitar World thirty years ago. Go to www.hendrixnow.com.
Share This:

2 Comments so far

Jump into a conversation
  1. George
    #1 George 20 July, 2016, 13:54

    #10 should be Billy Joel & friends. That was his band and his set.

    Reply this comment
    • Greg Brodsky
      Greg Brodsky 20 July, 2016, 14:16

      Thanks for taking the time to write. While it might have been Billy’s band, the point of the item was that this was a song which Bruce was known for.

      Reply this comment

Your data will be safe!Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person.