From a new crush through to devastating heartbreak, pop music is a go-to genre for pondering the workings of the human heart. Dr Jadey O'Regan teaches in the Bachelor of Music Studies (Contemporary Music Practice) program at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, specialising in the analysis of pop music, empirical musicology, and the development of visual representations of the unique qualities of popular music.
Sit back and listen to the playlist while you read Dr O'Regan's analysis of her top 5 love songs.
I am a big fan of Galentine’s Day, the fake holiday invented by all-round brilliant gift-giver Leslie Knope on the sitcom Parks & Recreation to celebrate the wonderful female friendships in her life each year on the 13th of February. Valentine’s Day can also be a time to tell your best friends how much you love them and how special they are in your world. This lovely song by Andrew Gold is most commonly known as the theme to The Golden Girls, however, I would encourage you to listen to more than just the first 60 seconds you already know, it’s a beautiful piano-pop song about the very rare and special gift that is a lifelong friend.
Beyoncé’s Love on Top is a love song that acknowledges both the work that goes into maintaining a relationship while also celebrating the kindness and joy that comes with long-term love. The song’s sound is a loving pastiche of late 1980s/early 1990s R&B/New Jack Swing, while also remaining quintessentially Queen Bey. The way Beyoncé uses her impressive vocal talents in this song makes it impossible for a listener not to feel the rising elation in her melodies, in part supported by the four dizzying key-changes as the choruses repeat. It may not be one of her biggest hits (reaching #20 on the US Billboard and Australian ARIA charts), but it is certainly one of her best love songs.
This may seem like a strange track to put in a list for Valentine’s Day, but sometimes what is worth celebrating on Valentine’s Day is the love and respect you have for yourself. This song is about triumph in leaving an awful relationship behind and being strong, confident and hopeful about a new future – “Did you think I'd crumble? You think I'd lay down and die? Oh no, not I!”. If you’re single on the 14th of Feb for whatever reason - if you’ve left a relationship that did not fulfil you, if you’re finding joy in being alone - show yourself some love – buy yourself some flowers, take yourself on a date – you deserve it.
Buddy Holly is the perfect love song for nerds and, in 1995, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo was essentially King of the Nerds in the world of alternative music. The song’s sweet nostalgia, crunchy guitars and wry sense of humour are a perfect enmeshment of the power-pop sound of the mid-1990s. The song also gave rise to a cute and clever video created by filmmaker Spike Jonze that sees the band seamlessly inserted into an episode of hit TV series Happy Days. Even the Fonz likes this song, so what higher praise do you need? This track was so infectious it broke through to the mainstream, reaching #17 on the US Billboard charts and #12 on the UK singles chart.
God Only Knows (1966) is perhaps the Beach Boys’ most well-known love song – even Paul McCartney has said it’s his favourite. However, it is a complicated love song – after all, the opening line sings "I may not always love you" before qualifying that the woman in question "never needs to doubt it". The second verse is vulnerable and restless, admitting that without her, "the world would show nothing to me, so what good would living do me?" Supporting the melody is Brian Wilson’s sparkling arrangement of horns, strings, pianos, organs and woven vocal parts, making the song rich and beautifully textured. Carl Wilson’s vocal combines the hopefulness of young love and the loss of innocence as we grow into adulthood – a theme that carries through the rest of the Pet Sounds album. It’s a beautiful song that still sounds alive and sparkling after 50 years.