The “love song” is an art form that has been around throughout the ages. From Solomon’s passionate poems to Shakespeare’s moving sonnets, artists have attempted to put into words and melody the intense feelings of longing and fulfillment. In the 20th Century, love songs became even more prevalent with the birth of jazz music and the singer-songwriter genre (Gershwin, Crosby, the Rat Pack). Since then, various genres including Blues, Rock, Soul and Rap have contributed to the great songbook of love.
But what constitutes a “good” love song? Can even such a matter be decided, or is it relative? In other words, what makes a love song truly lovely and worthy of our attention and admiration? Which songs of the ages will we allow to nestle in our hearts to influence our perception and pursuits of love?
In attempting to answer this, the first problem we encounter is within the limitations of our own language. For we are limited by the broadness that is the word “love.” It is quite puzzling that this same word that we use to describe our deepest relationships with family, marriage, children, and God is the same word we use to describe our affinity towards food, scenery, entertainment, and material goods.
For example, while on a date with my wife, I can look her in the eyes, clasp her hands in mine, and affectionately whisper the words, “I love you,” with a gleaming smile on my face. But then the waiter throws down a monstrous burger with fries, leading me to utter the words “I love this” with a stuffed mouth and sauce dripping down my face.
Therefore, for such an undertaking, I turn to the Greeks, whose complexity in language allows for us to dissect and distinguish between the various “loves” that we experience in life. There are four main words that the Greeks use in describing love, and it is with these “four loves” that I will attempt to answer what makes a love song lovely.
storgē: affectionate, familial love
From the moment we are born into the world and we feel the loving arms of a mother cradling and caressing us, we are receivers of affection, familial love. This is the most common love we experience in our lives. Whether it’s within a sports team, social activity, or church body, we seek affection and acceptance from a body of beings. A good Storge love song acknowledges both the beauties and the burdens that come from belonging to a family of families. And for the most part, when a love song sets out describe this, it does it well. Ironically, although it’s the most common love we experience in life, it is probably the least written about of the four.
philia: friendly, brotherly love
In a time where we determine who are friends are by our Facebook and Twitter followers, Philia love has become a lost art. The practice of cultivating true, genuine friendship that goes beyond casually hanging out and clubbing on the weekends. This is love between friends that results in a mutual agreement to be there through thick and thin. Having moved away from most of my friends, this especially can be challenging, but rewarding in maintaining healthy relationships with those you care most about. Again, you would be more likely to see brotherly love incorporated into a motion picture than you would in song lyrics. But nonetheless, a lovely Philia love song will acknowledge the true simplicities and casualties in friendship.
érōs: romantic, intimate love
This is perhaps the genre we LOVE most in our culture. We dedicate entire genres of literature and film to the pursuit of romantic love. Arguably more than half the love songs written over the ages encompass this form of love. And it’s quite understandable. Anyone who has been “young and in love” knows how those feelings take over our being and drive us to do things we never imagined possible, good or bad. If we are not careful though, this is also the form of love we can most idolize and use for our own selfish gain. If you don’t believe me, simply turn to a jazz singer/songwriter station and listen to the lyrics. More than half these songs, as great as they may be, really have these underlying messages of desperation. “I am so in love with you, I must have you, let’s runaway and be together, and if I can’t have you, then I simply can’t go on.” I understand the intense feelings that come from romance, but when they drive a wedge between the other three forms of love (by neglecting of family, friends, and sacrifice), then it becomes an idol. There is a time for everything, and a good eros love song acknowledges this. With eros, it is also easy to mistake lust for erotic love, and sadly this is what many love songs of the past and present do. The majority of pop songs are guilty of this. There are times in a relationship where passionate love in the form of sex and romance are a necessity, but without the next form of love, they are fickle and fleeting.
agápē: sacrificial, unconditional love
Of all the forms of love, this is the one we need to be reminded of the most, because it is the least natural for us. Agape is the love that binds the other three together, giving us a holistic and realistic expectation of love. This is the form of love that says from one person to another, be it acquaintance, friend, family, or spouse, “I will love you no matter what. Even in the joys and sorrows of life, whether we make our bed in heaven or in hell, at all times, I choose to love you and put your needs above my own.” If only more love songs were this selfless. Agape love is notably demonstrated in the ancient Book of Hosea. In this story, God commands his prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer. Even though Gomer is constantly cheating on him with other lovers, God encourages Hosea to pursue her anyways and love her unconditionally. This is revealed to be how God sees us, as “Gomers” that constantly cheat on Him with lesser things, while He still loves and pursues us. This is what led Him to die on a cross out of love for us. Now, we can know this love and experience unsurpassing joy. This love requires sacrifice and persistence; it is the other side of romance, the time after the honeymoon. A lovely love song acknowledges the harsh demands of love that require us to give ourselves wholly to another human being, no matter what.
For my wedding last year, Tori and I made mix CDs of our favorite love songs and gave them to our guests as gifts (great way to impose our taste in music on others, right?). So here are the songs we put on there and which type of love they fall under. If you are looking for various types of love songs that are quite lovely in sound and content, I highly recommend these. Enjoy, and happy Valentine’s Day to you and your special someone!
Storge & Philia: Songs about Affection and Friendship
1. “I Saw Her Standing There” – The Beatles
2. “You’re My Best Friend” – Queen
3. “The Best Thing” – Relient K
4. “Till Kingdom Come” – Coldplay
5. “Oh My Dear” – Tenth Avenue North
Eros: Songs about Romantic Love
6. “L-O-V-E” – Nat King Cole
7. “Here Comes the Sun” – The Beatles
8. “Embraceable You” – Frank Sinatra
9. “You Are Mine” – Evan Wickham
10. “You Are the Beauty” – Gungor
11. “Breathe” – Angels & Airwabes
12. “Everything” – Michael Buble
13. “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” – Bing Crosby
14. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” – Elvis Presley
Agape: Songs about Sacrificial Love
15. “I Will Be Here” – Steven Curtis Chapman
16. “Like An Avalanche” – Hillsong United
17. “Beautiful Things” – Gungor
18. “How Deep the Father’s Love” – King’s Kaleidoscope
19. “The Adventure” – Angels & Airwaves