Valentine’s Day: that special day of the year when every cheesy love song you can think of gets exhumed and played again and again and again. Even avowed Hallmark Day non-skeptics can agree that there are some love songs that we could all do without hearing again, be it on February 14 or… well, any other day of the year, really. Like the 25 that follow, for instance.
Bryan Adams — “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”
From, lest we forget, the soundtrack to a big-budget adaptation of Robin Hood, made when neither Kevin Costner nor Christian Slater was box office poison, and when Bryan Adams wasn’t an ongoing diplomatic incident (or a photographer). The early ’90s: a strange time for everyone.
Aerosmith — “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”
As far as ludicrously overblown declarations of love go, it’s hard to beat this: “I don’t wanna close my eyes/ I don’t wanna fall asleep/ ‘Cause I’d miss you baby/ And I don’t wanna miss a thing.” For the love of god, dude, get some sleep.
Beyoncé — “Drunk in Love”
Sorry, Beygency, but Jay Z’s verse is so spectacularly awful that it drags down the rest of the song like a sort of giant, calamitously expensive, platinum-plated anchor. (Even I’ll admit that Beyoncé should have won Album of the Year over Beck, though.)
James Blunt — “You’re Beautiful”
Dude gets on the subway, sees a pretty girl, gawps at her, calls her an “angel,” and then watches as she gives him the stink eye and disembarks with her boyfriend. Not exactly the stuff of which dreams are made, although several million people appear to disagree with me.
David Bowie — “China Girl”
Not — and this is important — Iggy Pop’s version, which is a pleasantly ominous portrait of what it must be like to be in a relationship with someone who’s out of his mind on drugs the whole time (or, more accurately, to be that person). Bowie and Iggy co-wrote the song, as they did with the rest of Pop’s album The Idiot, which only makes it all the more bewildering that Bowie’s version, released six years later on Let’s Dance, was so entirely on the nose. The quiet menace of Iggy’s version was gone, replaced by a whole lot of questionable racial overtones, catalyzed by Nile Rodgers’ faux-Chinese riff and the cringe-worthy video. Those overtones may or may not have been there in the original — one of Bowie’s biographers claims the song was inspired by Iggy’s infatuation with a Vietnamese girl — but in Bowie’s version, they’re inescapable and uncomfortable.
Eric Clapton — “Wonderful Tonight”
Possibly the only love song ever written about wishing your missus would hurry up in the bathroom. It manages to be both sappy and snarky, which is a combination that the world can largely do without.
Céline Dion — “My Heart Will Go On”
… and on, and on, and on, and on, and…
Bob Dylan — “Just Like a Woman”
An early example of a certain specific genre of “love” song, i.e., one that’s condescending, infantilizing (“Just like a little girl,” indeed), and sneakily contemptuous. In fact, it’s not a love song at all — it’s a break-up song, if anything — but it ends up on enough Valentine’s Day golden oldies playlists to require being eased gently away from them. (Also, can we talk about the fact that an opening line like, “Nobody feels any pain/ Tonight as I stand inside the rain” would be panned from pillar to post if anyone else wrote it?)
Extreme — “More Than Words”
“If you really love me, give me a blowjob.”
Foreigner — “I Want to Know What Love Is”
The ’80s didn’t want for overblown love songs sung by men with silly hair, but even so, this is a cut above. The portentous minor chord verses, the histrionics of the chorus, the choir, the extended outro… all of them are hilarious, but not nearly as funny as the lyrics. “Now this mountain I must climb feels like the world upon my shoulders” may be the most hilarious mixed metaphor of the ’80s, bringing to mind a sort of MC Escher vision of Atlas shrugging and climbing at the same time. Ayn Rand, eat your heart out.
Bob Geldof — “10:15”
“She told me I was beautiful,” claims Geldof, “And I made her come a lot.” Put it away, Bob.
Whitney Houston — “I Will Always Love You”
Wherein Whitney Houston reinvented the power ballad (namely, a Dolly Parton power ballad) as a sort of musical AFV, designed to flatten all chart opposition and all emotional subtlety without even feeling a bump. The world has yet to recover.
Billy Joel — “She’s Always a Woman”
Ah yes, the “taming the wild woman” genre, wherein Billy Joel spends most of the verses calling his paramour a liar, a cheat and a potential lunatic — but hey, he likes her anyway! Good for you, Billy! (Also: here’s another instance of a man referring to a woman as a child.)
Michael Jackson — “You Are Not Alone”
The song itself is innocuously sappy — “You never said goodbye/ Someone tell me why” — but it’s impossible to think of it without also thinking of the video, which featured Jackson getting naked with Lisa Marie Presley. The song wasn’t written by Jackson, mind you — no, it’s the work of a certain R Kelly. Speaking of whom….
R. Kelly, generally
Artist/art separation and all that, but still, it’s difficult to hear Kelly without also thinking of everything that comes with him — especially because, as I’ve written before, sex is such an integral part of his persona that it’s nigh on impossible to disassociate the fact that the dude singing about how good at sex he is has also been accused of raping (and, in one case, pissing on) underage girls.
Roxette — “It Must Have Been Love”
The ’80s and early ’90s were a time for asking Big Questions — questions like “What is love?” — and lots of angsty hand-wringing about whether the songwriter in question’s relationship did or didn’t qualify as love. (See also: Foreigner, as well as Whitesnake, who’ll discuss in due course.) In this case, the answer is: goddamn it, yes, it was love, but now that it’s gone, all there is to do is mourn its loss with overwrought balladry.
John Lennon — “Woman”
As far as getting women to like you goes, pro tip #1 is, “Do not address them as ‘woman.'” Also, there’s probably a deep psychoanalytical text to be written about why all these songs seem to end up back with childhood, of which a whole chapter could be devoted to just how disconcertingly creepy and weirdly passive-aggressive this is: “Woman, I know you understand/ The little child inside the man/ Please remember my life is in your hands.”
Dan Hill — “Sometimes When We Touch”
This song should never be enjoyed without the accompanying video, wherein Hill, sporting one of the worst ’80s mullets you’ll ever see, sings in a heartfelt manner to the camera, creating the impression that he’s singing this just for you. Sorry, Dan, not with that haircut.
Bette Midler — “The Wind Beneath My Wings”
A curious one, this. It’s a sort of extended humblebrag about how Midler’s unfortunate paramour can’t possibly be as awesome and famous as she is — “It must have been cold there in my shadow/ To never have sunlight on your face/ You were content to let me shine, that’s your way/ You always walked a step behind” — but hey, he’s actually the one who props her up. Can you imagine if this had been sung by a man about a woman?
Mr. Big — “To Be With You”
Saccharine balladry? Check! Doofuses with feathery long hair? Check! Superfluous key change? Check! The sense that the song drags on for over an hour despite the fact that it’s three-and-a-half minutes long? Check!
*NSYNC — “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You”
WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW?
The Postal Service — “Such Great Heights”
And while we’re on sappily religious love songs, what about Ben Gibbard’s declaration, “God himself did make us into corresponding shapes like puzzle pieces from the clay”? This raises all sorts of questions, but the most pertinent one is this: when was the last time you saw a clay jigsaw puzzle?
Diana Ross and Lionel Richie — “Endless Love”
This was from the 1981 film of the same name, which has been largely forgotten — and that’s probably just as well, since it a) was terrible and b) involved a 15-year-old Brooke Shields getting it on with a 23-year-old. The song caught Lionel Richie at the peak of his sappiness and Diana Ross as her career was starting its decline, with pretty much exactly the results one might expect.
Rod Stewart — “Have I Told You Lately”
Yes, Rod, you have.
Whitesnake — “Is This Love”
File along with Foreigner in the curiously well-stocked category of ’80s Rock Bros Wondering In a Hilariously Overdramatic Manner About the Nature of Love. Is this love? I don’t know, David Coverdale, is it? Apparently this was originally written for Tina Turner, who wisely dodged the bullet.