Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer Karen O
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The 50 Greatest Crush Songs Ever


This week, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O releases her debut solo album, and it happens to have a very specific theme that caught our attention here at Flavorwire HQ: songs about crushes. “When I was 27, I crushed a lot,” Karen O wrote in a note announcing Crush Songs a few months back. “I wasn’t sure I’d ever fall in love again. These songs were written and recorded in private around this time [2006-2007]. They were the soundtrack to what was an ever continuing love crusade. I hope they keep you company on yours.”

The lo-fi album definitely captures the pleasure and pain of walking around with your heart wide open, ready to crush and be crushed. But Karen O’s oftentimes sad, solemn songs only represent one side of the experience of having a crush. So we got to thinking: what songs about longing stick with us after the thrill of the chase turns into something deeper? Which serve as a salve when you find out that your crush isn’t mutual? What about the ones that give you the nerve to try and steal your crush away from someone else? Or how those that capture the thrilling promise of something new?

All of these oh-so-complicated scenarios are represented here, in our unranked list of the 50 greatest crush songs ever written. The list spans all genres throughout the last 50 years, as nominated by Flavorwire staff. — Jillian Mapes

Weezer — “El Scorcho” (1996)

Weezer’s sophomore album Pinkerton was full of all sorts of romantic longing, so it makes for some pretty epic crush songs. Still, “El Scorcho” is an all-time classic for its amusing specificity from singer Rivers Cuomo: he falls for a half-Japanese girl who’s never heard of Green Day but writes about Madame Butterfly in her diary. Cuomo spends the rest of the song trying to convince this woman that he’s perfect for her, despite the fact that he can’t even look her in the eye without trembling. — Jillian Mapes

Garbage — “#1 Crush (Remix)” (1996)

The Cardigans’ cotton-candy hit “Lovefool” got all the attention on Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet soundtrack, but Garbage’s “#1 Crush” was its black swan, an anthem for everyone who knows how dark and desperate a crush can get. Originally a b-side, it was remixed by Nellee Hooper and Marius de Vries for inclusion on the album. To Shirley Manson’s throaty insistence that she would die for the object of her affection, Hooper and de Vries added heavy-breathing beats and moans that suggested both pleasure and pain. As a result, “#1 Crush” was equal parts sexy and terrifying, and its lyrics surely got plenty of mileage in the teenage diaries of 1996. — Judy Berman

Violent Femmes — “Please Do Not Go” (1982)

Pretty much every Violent Femmes song (except the weird Christian ones) would do nicely here — rarely has a band better captured the priapic angst of being a teenage boy desperate for the object of his crush to notice his existence. “Please Do Not Go” is perhaps the best of the lot as far as crush songs go — it finds Gordon Gano confronting the dilemma of whether or not to confess how he feels, and quailing at the decision: “I wonder what she would say/ If I told her that I felt this way/ Might make her turn, might make her turn either way/ So all I can do is patiently pray, pray, pray, pray.” It’s melodramatic, it’s overwrought, and, truth be told, it’s kind of silly. It’s everything a teenage crush is, in other words. — Tom Hawking

Roy Orbison — “Unchained Melody” (1969)

Nobody does longing and heartbreak like Roy Orbison. We could make an entire list about the biggest tearjerkers in Orbison’s catalog, but there’s not enough space on the Internet. The Orbison version of “Unchained Melody” is not the version we think of with this song – that’s the Righteous Brothers – but his is the best. The strings! That voice! That crescendo! — Shane Barnes

The Smiths — “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” (1984)

The scene from Pretty in Pink featuring “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” captures its most essential usage: Duckie (Jon Cryer) sits alone in his bed, pining for his best friend Andie (Molly Ringwald) but knowing he’ll never have her. Morrissey practically made a sport out of chronicling the darker side of longing (see: “Reel Around the Fountain”), but “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” stands apart. Its sound is different — less rock, more minstrel — than any other song in The Smiths’ catalog, helping it stand singular 30 years later. — JM

Prince — “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (1979)

On his first hit single, Prince chronicled not only how much he wants to get with a certain special lady with poor taste in men, but also the things he’d do to her if he had the chance. At the time, the listening public had no idea that this particular subject matter — sexual longing — would come to be redefined in song by Prince in the following decade. The playful disco-funk of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” served as his perfect introduction on the subject matter. — JM

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps” (2003)

The song that put the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the map is also the song that spawned a million teen-boy crushes. Many of Karen O’s lyrics are at least a little incoherent, but when she sings, “Wait, they don’t love you like I love you anyway,” we know exactly what she means. — SB

Leonard Cohen — “You Have Loved Enough” (2001)

Like pretty much everything he writes, Cohen’s love songs are characterized by being multi-layered and open to various interpretations. This one finds him yearning after someone he can’t have — “I said I’d be your lover/ You laughed at what I said” — and also contains perhaps the most succinct description that music has to offer of the way you fall for someone: “I am not the one who loves/ It’s love that seizes me.” For better or worse. — TH

Portishead — “All Mine” (1997)

The scariest of Scary Crush songs. “All Mine” is an evocation of what happens when infatuation crosses the line into obsession, and listening makes you rather glad it’s not you who’s the subject of Beth Gibbons’, um, affection. “Tethered and tied,” she coos, “There’s nowhere to hide from me.” Lucky you, #1 crush. — TH

Carpenters — “Superstar” (1971)

From Bette Midler to Cher to Luther Vandross to Sonic Youth, many have made Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell’s “Superstar” their own, but none have truly owned it the way Karen Carpenter does. With total earnestness and desperation, the wholesome singer speaks of a groupie hopelessly in love with the rock star with whom she shared a fleeting tryst. It starts simply, with little more than the sound of a piano and romantic desperation, but by the time the big chorus comes around, the narrator trades in her realism for the promise of the next tour coming through her town. — JM

The Beatles — “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (1963)

Sometimes, with all the love given to the later half of the Beatles catalog, people forget that what John and Paul were best at were simple, sweet love songs. And, perhaps the most wholesome crush song on this list – or maybe even ever written? – “I Want to Hold Your Hand” gets right to the heart of it. The most salacious line, “When I touch you/ I feel happy inside,” was enough to melt the hearts of teenage girls while making their mothers swoon, which is just about all a rock ‘n’ roll band can hope to achieve. Well played, Beatles. Well played. — SB

Carly Rae Jepsen — “Call Me Maybe” (2012)

Most attention paid to Jepsen’s inescapable 2012 Song of the Summer focused on its earworm hook, and it’s easy to see why. But what gets lost is the hit’s weirdly perfect articulation of what lust at first sight feels like: “It’s hard to look right at you, baby” brings Greek mythology-level hotness to bear on a casual meet-cute. And “Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad” is sheer brilliance. All pop lyrics should be this good. — JB

Usher — “U Got It Bad” (2001)

8701 single “U Got It Bad” is about an ex Usher just can’t shake, but it also serves as a particularly potent salve for one of those inconvenient crushes you wish would go just away already. Whether it’s a long-burning flame for a pal who doesn’t feel the same way about you or an unrequited love from afar, “U Got It Bad” is only to be used when you’re feeling utterly crushed by the crush experience. — JM

R.E.M. — “Crush With Eyeliner” (1994)

Thurston Moore sings enjoyably doofy backup vocals on this featherweight single from R.E.M.’s poorly understood 1994 album, Monster. Coherent it isn’t, but it sure is a lot of fun. — JB

Prince — “If I Was Your Girlfriend” (1987)

“We don’t have to make children to make love,” Prince says in this classic from 1987’s Sign o’ The Times. “And we don’t have to make love to have an orgasm.” This song didn’t chart particularly well when it came out, maybe because of the eyebrow-raising title, but it’s actually one of Prince’s sweeter songs. He wants to wash his girl’s hair! He wants to cook her breakfast! Prince is so sweet, everybody. Hell, he’ll even go down on you. — SB

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — “Do You Love Me” (1994)

Nick Cave was never going to write something of the sweetly observed, “I got the hots for you” variety — even his love songs are very serious affairs, and his hoping-for-love songs are even more dramatic. “I met her of a night of fire and noise,” he begins, “Wild bells rang in a wild sky/ I knew from that moment on/ That I would love her ’til the day I die.” But does she feel the same way?! Nick deploys all manner of musical pyrotechnics in search of the answer. — TH

Joni Mitchell — “All I Want” (1971)

In the opening track on her classic album Blue, Joni Mitchell has a crush on a man with whom she has a history. Atop spirited strumming, Mitchell captures the emotional split that anyone who crushes easy will understand — hate and sorrow meets love and possibility. “Do you want — do you want — do you want to dance with me baby/ Do you want to take a chance/ On maybe finding some sweet romance with me baby,” she taunts. But the clincher of the deal has to be the preceding line: “I want to wreck my stockings in some jukebox dive.” With that kind of offer, who wouldn’t want to give it another go? — JM

Kylie Minogue — “Love at First Sight” (2002)

Sometimes crushes aren’t these long-simmering beasts. They can be spontaneous and mood-altering distractions, if you let yourself fall. Kylie Minogue dives right in on the third single from her 2002 American comeback album, Fever, matching the song’s fearless sentiment with a dose of disco and Europop revivalism. — JM

Clem Snide — “African Friend” (2000)

Questionable notions of the exotic aside, “African Friend” is a drowsily lovely song of jealousy, familiarity, and (as Clem Snide singer Eef Barzelay sings) forbidden fruit. It’s kind of a joke and kind of dead serious, breaking down the stilted interactions between two people who seem to want very different things out of each other into a series of vivid, emotionally resonant images. Fifteen years after I first heard the song, the lyrics “In a city of tanning salons and TV screens all shining bright” still come to me sometimes when I’m walking through New York at night. — JB

George Strait – “Check Yes Or No” (1996)

There’s not much to this song other than the fact that it is a George Strait song about writing love notes in elementary school. We’ve all been there, George. — SB

The Beach Boys – “Surfer Girl” (1963)

One of the Beach Boys’ earliest hits, “Surfer Girl” is the distillation of both crush songs and Beach Boys song: killer harmonies, tingly guitars, and a girl just out of reach. — SB

Robert Palmer — “Bad Case of Loving You” (1979)

Comparing intense love to an ailment has probably been a thing for as long as people have bothered to write about love, and Robert Palmer’s ode to his own doctor goes right to the source. With lines like, “You had me down 21 to zip/ Smile of Judas on your lip/ Shake my fist, knock on wood/ I’ve got it bad, and I got it good,” this is probably the the only song on this list to make such a bizarre, brilliant Biblical reference. — SB

The Velvet Underground — “Femme Fatale” (1967)

“Here she comes/ You’d better watch your step/ She’s going to play you for a fool…” And yet you can’t stay away, can you? This is gonna end badly, y’know. — TH

Frank Ocean — “Thinkin Bout You” (2012)

Frank gets cheeky with the double entendres on his lead Channel Orange single: exactly when has he been thinking about his romantic interest? Elsewhere, Ocean nails the kind of sarcastic dialogue one resorts to when trying to take flirtation to the next level. Musically, it’s cool and smooth — just how you should play it when trying to woo a long-standing crush instead of scaring him off. — JM

Taylor Swift – “You Belong With Me” (2008)

On her Fearless single “You Belong With Me,” Taylor pours one out for the girls who’re always the best friends, never the girlfriends. Those “so close yet so far away” kinds of crushes always hurt the worst, breeding the kind of gross feelings Swift chronicles when dissing her male bestie’s prissy girlfriend. Mimicking the emotions involved, Taylor shows off a balance of strength and vulnerability in her vocals, with guitar, banjo, and a drum machine echoing her every move. — JM

A Tribe Called Quest — “Bonita Applebum” (1990)

On Tribe’s debut single, Q-Tip sweated Bonita Applebum with startling swagger, name-checking “crazy prophylactics” along the way. Despite horny intentions, Tip’s focus is unbroken as he flexes hard for her affections atop a bevvy of funky samples. The song, off A Tribe Called Quest’s debut People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, is said to be about an actual girl from the Queens collective’s high school. — JM

Tegan & Sara — “Closer” (2012)

Heartthrob lead single “Closer” is easily the greatest crush song of the last decade for many reasons, but the fact that the music mimics the feeling of a crush sits at the top of the list. With a big ’80s pop sound in mind, the Quin twins used bubbling, twinkling, and fluttering electronic production to capture that feeling of romantic possibility. “Closer” is pure will-they-or-won’t-they, but with smooth lines like, “I won’t treat you like you’re oh-so-typical,” it seems more likely than not that these two will get together. — JM

Bob Marley — “Is This Love” (1978)

Awwwww. This is a contender for the loveliest song Marley ever wrote, and while over-familiarity may have dimmed its appeal, do your best to listen with fresh ears, and you may discover its charms all over again. It’s as plaintive a declaration of infatuation as music has to offer — Marley “throws his cards on the table,” and really, who could refuse an appeal like this? — TH

Katy B — “I Like You” (2014)

At least British dance singer Katy B is self-aware about her intense emotions. Throughout this album cut from this year’s Little Red, she uses the phrase “I like you a little too much” as a mantra. As the beat builds and the song’s synths spiral out of control, it’s though Katy finally succumbs to her feelings of lustful ecstasy and nervous agony. — JM

Jennifer Paige — “Crush” (1998)

The quintessential crush song of the ‘90s. The chorus (“It’s just/ A little crush”) has stayed with us ’til 2014, but we’ve probably all forgotten what the song is actually about: Paige is the willing recipient of a hard crush, but plays it cool, telling the boy to, “Let it be what it’ll be/ Don’t make a fuss and get crazy over you and me.” It’s rare for a female pop star to take such a strong stand on casual sex, and it’s a shame Jennifer Paige didn’t get more credit for it. — SB

Lil Kim feat. The Notorious B.I.G. and Lil Cease — “Crush On You” (1997)

As far as I’m concerned, Cease takes up way too much of this song’s running time, although it’s funny to hear Biggie spend the whole hook convincing us not to slut-shame him — and to ponder all the real-life sexual tension that comes through here. Anyway, it’s all worth sitting through to get to the moment when Kim finally gets her say: “The only one thing I wanna do is freak you/ Keep your stone sets, I got my own baguettes/ And I’ll be doin’ things that you won’t regret/ Lil Kim the Queen Bee, so you best take heed/ Shall I proceed?” As the ladies say, yes indeed. — JB

Best Coast — “Boyfriend” (2010)

Best Coast’s entire debut album is basically full of crush songs, but “Boyfriend” is the crush song in its most primal form. “I wish he was my boyfriend/ I’d love him to the very end/ But instead he’s just a friend”? There’s nothing else to say. — SB

The Beatles – “I Saw Her Standing There” (1963)

It’s every teenager’s experience: You go to a club, you see someone who catches your fancy, and you fall into a deep, stupid lust-love and ignore everyone else. Oh, and of course, it’s very catchy. — SB

Spiritualized — “I Think I’m in Love” (1997)

As I’ve written here before, Spiritualized’s 1997 masterpiece traces the trajectory of a relationship, from initial infatuation through love, loss and the aftermath. “I Think I’m in Love” is exactly what the title suggests: a depiction of the moment when you realize that you really, really like the other person (although, Jason Pierce being Jason Pierce, the lyrics relate that rush to the rush you get from shooting heroin, and also manage to slip in a reference to DMT for good measure). — TH

Cat Power — “Sea of Love” (cover) (2000)

To close out her 2000 album of covers, Chan Marshall chose Phil Phillips’ sole hit from 1959, “Sea of Love,” and stripped it way down. Many have covered “Sea of Love,” from the Honeydrippers to Tom Waits, but it’s Marshall’s version that conjures the most desperation. She’s begging her romantic interest to take a chance, but she’s barely mustering the words to express how deep her love runs — perhaps because she’s afraid of how deep it runs. — JM

Blink 182 — “The Rock Show” (2001) This is a little more melancholy than your average crush song: boy meets girl, boy and girl have great time together, girl disappears and leaves boy wanting. It’s a surprise Blink 182 doesn’t have a whole record full of crush songs, but this one’s a real millennial classic. — SB

Cassie — “Me & U” (2006)

In “Me & U,” Cassie has a severe crush on a dude who has kept her waiting, and she’s going to flaunt her, uh, skills to get what she wants. “I know them other guys/ They’ve been talking bout/ The way I do what I do /They heard I was good/ They wanna see if it’s true,” and that creeping, irresistible beat will only help get her there. (Though, if the mirror-kissing in the video is any indication, Cassie is crushing all up on herself.) — SB

Suicide — “Sweetheart” (1980)

Alan Vega and Martin Rev are unlikely candidates for this list, but this is genuinely lovely. And under the sweetness, there’s a hint of desperate need — “Thank you for loving me” sings Vega, before repeating his suggestion, “let’s make it tonight,” so often that it starts to sound suspiciously like a plea. — TH

Bruce Springsteen — “Crush On You” (1980)

Basically the Boss at his booziest, “Crush On You” is best played from a dive-bar jukebox just before last call. There is, of course, the obligatory sweet sax solo from the late, great Clarence Clemons, and it’s probably the sexiest thing about this song. Springsteen isn’t singing about infatuation so much as the way a hot thing (an heiress to Rockefeller! a bank teller! a waitress!) can make your “brain go on vacation just to give your heart more room.” — SB

Paramore — “The Only Exception” (2009)

Paramore have gone pop time and time again, but nothing’s ever matched the emotional fragility of their Brand New Eyes single “The Only Exception.” Singer Hayley Williams spends the Coldplay-esque ballad describing the ways she’s run from love and the walls she’s built up in the process, only to finally find a new crush that smashes them all to pieces. — JM

Katy Perry — “Teenage Dream” (2010)

While “The Only Exception” chronicles how awful love can be as a comparative tool, “Teenage Dream” exists in a pink paradise of pleasure. Perry’s No. 1 single captures all the magic of the first crush who actually liked you back, with a retro electro-pop sound to match all that emotional nostalgia. It’s still early, but you can just tell these two crazy kids are gonna last past the lust. — JM

The Clash — “1-2 Crush on You” (1976)

Even punks need a crush song, though this is maybe one of the least punk songs in the Clash catalog. The most punk thing about it is probably the rich vs. poor qualities of the singer and the subject, which is revealed in the lines, “Your daddy never comes to get you/ Cause he lives so far away/ But his Italian chauffeur shows up every day.” That’s some real Grease stuff right there. —SB

Rick Springfield – “Jessie’s Girl” (1981)

Like most crush songs, this one is easy to identify with. Rick’s got a best friend, Jessie, who has a great new girlfriend. So, because Rick is single, obviously he wants Jessie’s girlfriend. But he doesn’t really want Jessie’s girl – he just wants a “woman like that.” The best thing about this song, though, is the way he has tried to impress her: being “funny” and being “cool with the lines.” — SB

Tame Impala — “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” (2010)

This crush jam is more about the bass line than the sparse, barely-there lyrics, but that makes it all the more clear that singer Kevin Parker is crushin’ hard on someone who won’t give him a straight answer. By the end of it, he resorts to threats, singing, “You’ll be sorry/ When I make up mine instead.” — SB

Jens Lekman — “Silvia” (2004)

As with the Violent Femmes, you could include any number of Jens Lekman songs here, but as far as songs about having a crush on an unattainable woman go, you can’t really beat this song about… the Queen of Sweden. With his inimitable wit, Lekman catalogs how a youthful crush can seem silly in retrospect (“I heard you say in some interview/ That ‘feminist’ was something that didn’t suit you/ A lack of interest, perhaps/ Or maybe you’re just stupid and inbred”), but the sense of falling to your knees in wonder still shines through. — TH

Pulp — “Babies” (1994)

Fact: when crooned by Jarvis Cocker, the words “I want to take you home/ I want to give you children/ You might be my girlfriend” are enough to make a woman with exactly zero interest in babies contemplate mothering a whole fucking brood of ’em. “Babies” is the crush song that launched a million crushes. — JB

Al Green — “You Ought To Be With Me” (1972)

Don’t you dare friendzone Al Green. “You don’t have to waste my time if you want to be a friend of mine,” he urges his love interest on this 1972 hit, off his essential Call Me album. Ain’t too proud to beg tends to be Al’s brand when it comes to winning over women, but his logic throughout this song goes the route of merely shutting down the competition. Confidence in a crush goes a long way. — JM

Trespassers William — “Lie In the Sound” (2002)

Love and infatuation aren’t always a positive experience — sometimes you know you’re only lining yourself up to get hurt, but you do it anyway, because you can’t not do it. “Lie In the Sound,” by sadly defunct Southern California band Trespassers William, is the sort of song written by someone who knows that feeling only too well. And has there ever been a description of love that’s as simultaneously utilitarian and sad as, “What is love, but whatever my heart needs around?” — TH

The Kinks — “You Really Got Me” (1964)

In one of the most covered crush songs of all time, Ray Davies sings about a girl who keeps him up all night – but only because he’s thinking about her. The lyrics are so-so, typically crush-sick fare, but that riffage, man! — SB

Britney Spears — “(You Drive Me) Crazy” (1999)

Despite being penned primarily by grown men, Britney’s 1999 debut, …Baby One More Time, was full of songs about romantic longing between lusty teens. Atop cowbell sound effects and cheesy pop-rock guitars, Spears loves and laments in equal measure all over “(You Drive Me) Crazy.” “Crazy, but it feels all right” aptly sums up the early stages of a crush, a time when it could go either way but you’re not quite ready to find out. — JM