Sure, the supermarkets are prematurely full of Easter eggs, but the beginning of the month here at In Full Bloom is dedicated to celebrating St Valentine. So, without further ado, here is the second in our 14-day series of valentine-themed articles.
For as long as music has existed, people have used it to pay tribute to love. It’s a deep, personal way to communicate your feelings and to do it expertly requires either a massive stroke of luck or very large reserves of songwriting expertise. There are millions out there, but which one takes the biscuit as the best? It’s impossible to say with so much choice, so here’s five of my favourites (in no particular order!)
I don’t believe in cheesiness so if it’s overplayed, you’ll have to suggest me some alternatives!
The Beatles – Something (1969)
Some are guilty of conflating the Beatles only with their early, jangly pop melodies with basic lyrics and a generally similar sound across the early albums. However, even John Lennon went on to rubbish early hits such as ‘Love Me Do’ as being pretty melodies, but basically about nothing.
As the band’s career went on, and relations between the Fab Four got worse, John Lennon and Paul McCartney became more accepting of contributions from outside their traditional partnership. George Harrison managed 22 contributions to the Beatles repertoire in the band’s lifetime, which is no mean feat when you’ve got Lennon and McCartney to contend with, but ‘Something’ is seen as his crowning glory. His own A-side single, with no credits to any of his bandmates on the disc.
‘Something’ was originally written for the 1968 triple album ‘The Beatles,’ more commonly known as The White Album. Harrison actually abandoned his initial writing sessions, as the melody seemed so complete, he assumed he must have unconsciously copied it from somewhere. He even contemplated giving the song to one of the artists signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records label; as John Lennon and Paul McCartney often did with their compositions. However after George suggested he release a solo album of the songs he had stockpiled (the majority of slots on Beatles albums were reserved for Lennon/McCartney compositions,) the band acquiesced and ‘Something’ was recorded for release on the 1969 ‘Abbey Road’ album.
Frank Sinatra called it ‘the greatest love song of the last 50 years.’ Its’ gently bouncing verses contrast fantastically with a soaring chorus featuring a standout vocal performance by Harrison, backed by McCartney’s trademark exquisite harmonies. Many assume the song is about Harrison’s then-wife, Pattie Boyd, who is incidentally also the subject of Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight.’ The promotional video for the single featured the Fab Four and their respective wives, however Harrison later suggested this was incidental and the song was more about ‘universal love.’ If you haven’t heard it, go and listen now. It lives up to its reputation beautifully, with a great guitar solo indicative of Harrison’s influences from Indian music and the styles he would later exhibit in his solo career.
Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
Another composition that regularly tops lists of not just the greatest love songs ever, but the greatest compositions full stop. It is the most popular single ever released by the uber-prolific duo and was part of a growing roster of songs that aimed to smash the usual three-minute restriction radio stations had on singles. The company of Bob Dylan and The Beatles certainly isn’t a party I’d turn down an invitation to.
The recording itself has a lot of gospel influences in terms of piano recording techniques and consists of rather subdued verses and choruses with an orchestra crashing in at the climax in the final chorus. It managed number 1 in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and attracted covers from industry titans such as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, as well as an all-star version released in 2017 to raise money for victims of the Grenfell disaster in the UK also topping the charts. This is testament to the many expressions you can find in the song – it doesn’t necessarily tell the story of romantic love, just reconciling with and offering a hand to a friend in need. It is one of the few rock songs that gives you that stirring feeling people get from climactic songs in musicals.
If you’ve never listened to Simon & Garfunkel, this song is a true work of art and a great place to start trawling through their discography.
Townes Van Zandt – I’ll Be Here In The Morning (1969)
Texas-born Townes is one of those artists who’s been quietly influencing rock music for the past 50 years. He is widely respected as one of the best fingerstyle guitar players of all time and has found reverence in the industry since his death in 1996, despite a life troubled by years of substance abuse and a difficult childhood on the receiving end those madcap therapies mid-century doctors seemed to enjoy so much.
Zandt lived a nomadic life plagued by substance issues that impacted harshly on his friends and family that saw him end up living in a wooden shack in the forest for much of his life, leaving occasionally to play shows in small venues despite being an established recording artist. Most of his music concentrated on the classic country singer’s desire to be out on the open road, but ‘I’ll Be Here In The Morning’ is an early gem that highlights the singer’s dedication to his relationship, noting that ‘your softest whisper’s louder than the highway’s call to me.’
It truly is a great expression of the country love song and again a great way to get into the singer’s wider catalogue. Many modern artists have cited him as one of their greatest songwriting inspirations, and this song is no exception to his ability to inspire – the fingerstyle ballad is heartfelt, and the gravelly vocal is reminiscent of late Johnny Cash recordings.
Fleetwood Mac – Everywhere (1987)
Stevie Nicks may be the queen of cool in Fleetwood Mac with her distinctive vocal and constant invocation of the spiritual in the band’s vast repertoire. However, Christine McVie is the absolute hit factory, much like Queen’s John Deacon, she seems to be able to write a number 1 single at the drop of a hat. That means ‘Songbird,’ ‘Little Lies’ – some of the band’s greatest hits – came direct from Christine’s writing desk.
With its distinctive intro comprised of the same guitar riff being played at various speeds simultaneously, ‘Everywhere’ is instantly recognisable. It’s a forerunner of the current trend for lo-fi beats in popular music with subdued keyboards, signature ethereal vocal harmonies and a Ringo-esque syncopated drumbeat. The end result is a well-crafted rock and roll song that succinctly pays tribute to one’s significant other – ‘I want to be with you everywhere.’
The constant divorces going on within Fleetwood Mac are testament to the durability of the song – despite all the heartache that occurred in the band’s lifetime, it is still played to rapturous applause during their (admittedly sparse) reunion concerts. It comes from 1987’s ‘Tango In The Night’ album, which is again a great starting point to get into Fleetwood Mac. With it being their 14th studio album, you’ll have plenty to go at!
The Supremes – You Can’t Hurry Love (1966)
Back to the 60s for the final entry on my list, and though the 1983 Phil Collins version that became a disco staple is great, it doesn’t get better than the Motown original version of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love.’ Bouncy and joyous with a strong gospel influence, this is the peak of the career of one of the greatest girl groups on the 1960s who personified what Motown music was all about.
‘You Can’t Hurry Love,’ predictably, warns against impatience when it comes to love. Written by the signature production team at Motown studios, it is the perfect song to signify The Supremes’ Beatle-esque transition away from what is commonly termed as ‘teeny-bopper’ music to more mature styles they would later go on to use.
The song was the first in a run of five number 1 hits for the group and the attention it has consistently attracted since its release is testament to its quality. Sometimes, the old songs really are the best.