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Listeria: The Top Ten Artists That (To My Knowledge) Have Never Written a Love Song

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 15, 2008

This is not a love song

Far be it from me to question the supremacy of the love song in pop music–obviously, it’s been the most dominant subject matter in the history of the medium, and deservedly so. Indeed, the majority of my all-time favorite songs are probably, in some way, love songs, and I’m grateful for that–they’ve allowed me to feel countless emotions vicariously that I haven’t quite been able to put the pieces together enough to feel in real life. So believe me, I’m not talking shit about the love song.

Lately, though–and especially today–I’ve been feeling more appreciative of bands that avoid the subject altogether. Even assuming that love is all its cracked up to be, there’s still more to life out there, and the disproportionate respect shown to that other stuff in pop music can be somewhat frustrating. So here are my ten favorite artists that make amazing, powerful, emotional music, without resorting to the love song as a crutch.

(FTR, this is all based on my admittedly limited knowledge of said artists’ back catalogue, and I openly acknowledge the possibility of me neglecting a lesser-known love song by each. In fact, let me know about it if so, ‘coz I’d be sort of interested in hearing what these guys doing love songs sounds like.)

10. Alice in Chains.

More Preoccupied With: Alienation, herron

Why/How They Avoid the Big L: Everyone always talks about how grunge knocking off hair metal as the dominent sound in mainstream rock made room for people to finally start talking about their feelings, but when you think about it, how many great (first wave) grunge love songs could you name? The only one I can think of is Nirvana’s “About a Girl,” and that wasn’t even one of their bigger hits. It was less glitzy music, it was more personal music, but it certainly wasn’t very romantic. AIC were particularly neglectful in this matter, far too worried about their own demons to worry about afflicting them upon others.

Closest Thing to a Love Song?: “Would?” maybe? Hard to tell.

9. Eric B. & Rakim.

More Pre-Occupied With: Cashing checks, being elected to public office

Why/How They Avoided the Big L: Old skool rap seemed mostly unconcerned with any matters even slightly personal–love songs don’t really rock the block party so much, I suppose. In 1987, LL Cool J made the rap love song an acceptable proposition, but at the same time, Eric B. & Rakim were taking the original ideal to its logical extreme, perfect the art of self-aggrandizing hip-hop. Rakim was barely even willing to acknowledge the existence of any another human beings in his boastfulness, much less one worthy of sharing his life with.

Closest Thing to a Love Song: I guess if you wanna read “I Know You Got Soul” in certain ways…

8. Cat Stevens

More Pre-Occupied With: Serenity, Parental Abandonment

Why/How They Avoided the Big L: I really wanted to include solo George Harrison here, but “Got My Mind Set on You” leaves him unfortunately disqualified. Cat Stevens, however, is that rarest of phenomenons–a singer/songwriter without a single famous love song to his name. Maybe all the paternal issues left him too emotionally crippled to properly deal with relationships of his own? Dunno, but I’m more than content to just have “Peace Train.”

Closest Thing to a Love Song?: Could probably make a case for “Wild World.”

7. The Fall

More Preoccupied With: Sarcasm, Amphetamines

Why/How They Avoided the Big L: To be perfectly honest, they might not have. It’s possible that any one of my ten favorite Fall songs is actually a love song–maybe they all are. I’m certianly not gonna question band singer/brains/dictator Mark E. Smith, one of the most compelling but enigmatic figures in rock history, who just about never wrote a song given to straight-up reading and interpretation. “Mere Pseud Ed Mag”? “No Bulbs”? “U.S. 80s-90s”? “Eat Y’self Fitter”? I probably wouldn’t put them on too many V-Day mixes, anyway.

Closest Thing to a Love Song: “That Man” feels like at least half a love song.

6. Rage Against the Machine

More Concerned With: TAKING THE POWER BACK

Why/How They Avoided the Big L: I remember an old SPIN interview with Tom Morello around the time that Rage broke up, and the writer asked Tom if their career would have gone on longer, would they have eventually turned to more personal subject matter, like The Clash? Tom seemed understandably hesitant–Rage were a band so concerned with actually making a difference in the world with their music (maybe the last relevant band to actually believe in such a possibility) that writing about personal issues would probably have just seemedlike a waste of time and energy for them. I mean, can you imagine what a Rage love song would’ve sounded like? Oh, right…

5. George Thorogood

More Concerned With: Booze, narcissism

Why/How They Avoided the Big L: I don’t doubt that love is important to Thorogood–he is a blues guy, after all, and without love, there really ain’t much left for the blues to work with. But Thorogood was a man with his priorities straight:

  1. Me
  2. The Bottle
  3. You

Not only does Thorogood drink alone, but if he hangs out with you and you don’t start drinking, he’s gonna leave. That’s devotion.

Closest Thing to a Love Song: “Movin’ on Over,” if it didn’t sound like he was so smug about it.

4. Orbital

More Preoccupied With: Drugs, the environment

Why/How They Avoided the Big L: All right, I know what you’re thinking–cheating, and if you’re going to include Orbital, than you have to include the million other great instrumental electronic outfits out there. But Orbital’s songs were so obviously subject-based–just about all of their best, most famous songs have topics implied either by their title, their tone, or even the occasional guest or sampled vocals–Orbital’s punk roots shining through. But, apparently a duo of bald British electronic dudes don’t have much in the way of love lives.

Closest Thing to a Love Song: If true love is half as good as “Belfast”…

3. LCD Soundsystem

More Preoccupied With: Being cool, no longer being cool

Why/How They Avoided the Big L: LCD mastermind James Murphy doesn’t seem to be interested in talking about himself much–most of his sings are “we,” “you” or “everybody,” not “I.” And those that are about himself are just obsessed with how he fits in with “we,” “you” and “everybody.” If it’s not something that the whole group isn’t into, Murphy doesn’t seem to be that into it himself. It’s not surprising that the closest thing Murphy ever wrote to a love song,

Closest Thing to a Love Song: “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down,” is about an entire city.

2. Rush

More Preoccupied With: Constellations, Ayn Rand

Why/How They Avoided the Big L: God bless metal, the music for the 14-year-old virgin inside all of us. Really, there are only a handful of famous metal bands (actual metal, not VH1 metal) that don’t qualify for this list, but I chose Rush as the representative because they don’t even seem to be aware that inter-personal relationships between sexually attracted beings is a physical possibility. And Rush wrote songs about just about everything else, too. Gotta love them little Canadian druids.

Closest Thing to a Love Song: Uh-oh, does “Closer to the Heart” qualify? Sebastian Bach claims it inspired him to propose to his wife.

1. N.W.A.

More Preoccupied With: Nihilism

Why/How They Avoid the Big L: Not only do N.W.A. avoid love as a subject matter, they make it look positively repulsive. Sure, there’s sex to spare, but as 50 Cent so aptly put it, N.W.A. certainly ain’t into makin’ love–in fact, the sex seems even more violent than the already exorbidant violence. In the world of Straight Outta Compton, love is practically reprehensible, a sign of weakness, a sentiment for punk ass bitches. This should really be my go-to V-Day album from now on.

Closest Thing to a Love Song: At least “I Ain’t Tha 1” acknowledges that some people are able to use love to their own personal advantage by using people for money and sex. That’s about as close as we’re getting.

And to prove I’m not a total hater about such matters, a bonus list I cobbled together of my 100 favorite love songs of all-time. I’ve forgotten many, at least ten of them are probably actually about drugs or cars, and my #1 was supposedly written about a relative. Shows what I know. Limit two per artist.

100. The New Radicals – “Someday We’ll Know”
99. Janet Jackson – “Again”
98. Foreigner – “Waiting for a Girl Like You”
97. Van Morrison – “Brown-Eyed Girl”
96. Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes – “The Love I Lost”
95. Screeching Weasel – “Guest List”
94. Billy Bragg – “Walk Away Renee” (and to a lesser extent, the Left Banke & Four Tops versions)
93. England Dan & John Ford Coley – “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”
92. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue”
91. Todd Rundgren – “Hello It’s Me”

90. The Police – “Every Bearth You Take” (yes I know it’s about a stalker and no that doesn’t make it not a love song)
89. De La Soul – “Eye Know”
88. Bruce Springsteen – “Rosalita, Come Out Tonight”
87. Kylie Minogue – “Love at First Sight”
86. Boy Meets Girl – “Waiting for a Star to Fall”
85. Ash – “A Life Less Ordinary”
84. 311 – “Amber”
83. Massive Attack – “Unfinished Sympathy”
82. Tyrone Davis – “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time”
81. Weezer – “El Scorcho”

80. Split Enz – “I Got You”
79. Broken Social Scene – “Anthems for a 17-Year-Old Girl”
78. The Magnetic Fields – “When My Boy Walks Down the Street”
77. Art Brut – “Good Weekend”
76. Eminem – “Kim”
75. OMD – “If You Leave”
74. Lisa Loeb – “Stay (I Missed You)”
73. Harry Nilsson – “Without You”
72. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars”
71. The Beatles – “Yes It Is”

70. Incubus – “Stellar”
69. ABC – “Poison Arrow”
68. The Buckinghams – “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)”
67. The Velvet Underground – “Pale Blue Eyes”
66. The Tony Rich Project – “Nobody Knows”
65. Modern English – “I Melt With You”
64. INXS – “Never Tear Us Apart”
63. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps”
62. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl”
61. Icehouse – “Electric Blue”

60. Method Man f/ Mary J. Blige – “I’ll Be There for You / You’re All I Need to Get By”
59. Rick Springfield – “Jessie’s Girl”
58. Herb Alpert – “This Guy’s in Love With You”
57. Mariah Carey – “Emotions”
56. Talking Heads – “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”
55. Rod Stewart – “Maggie May”
54. Big Star – “I’m in Love With a Girl”
53. Thompson Twins – “Hold Me Now”
52. Whitesnake – “Is This Love?”
51. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want”

50. Hall & Oates – “She’s Gone”
49. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth – “Lots of Lovin'”
48. John Waite – “Missing You”
47. Yvonne Elliman – “If I Can’t Have You”
46. Peter & Gordon – “I Go to Pieces”
45. Goo Goo Dolls – “Name”
44. Elvis Costello – “Allison”
43. Love & Rockets – “So Alive”
42. Mazzy Star – “Fade Into You”
41. New Order – “Bizarre Love Triangle”

40. 10cc – “I’m Not in Love”
39. Yo La Tengo – “Blue Line Swinger”
38. U2 – “Who’s Going to Ride Your Wild Horses?”
37. The Pretenders – “Talk of the Town”
36. Blink-182 – “Josie”
35. The Flamingos – “I Only Have Eyes for You”
34. The Association – “Never My Love”
33. The Spinners – “Could it Be I’m Falling in Love?”
32. The Microphones – “The Moon (Song Islands Version)”
31. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together”

30. Bloc Party – “I Still Remember”
29. The Four Seasons – “Opus 17 (Don’t You Worry ‘Bout Me)”
28. The Chi-Lites – “Oh Girl”
27. Common – “The Light”
26. Lilys – “Ginger”
25. Lauryn Hill – “Ex-Factor”
24. Badly Drawn Boy – “Once Around the Block”
23. Bob Dylan – “Love Minus Zero / No Limit”
22. The Mountain Goats – “The Mess Inside”
21. Al Green – “Let’s Stay Together”

20. The Cure – “Just Like Heaven”
19. Donna Lewis – “I Love You Always Forever”
18. The Cure – “Lovesong”
17. Sophie B. Hawkins – “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover”
16. The Beach Boys – “You Still Believe in Me”
15. Spoon – “Everything Hits at Once”
14. The Spinners – “I’ll Be Around”
13. Todd Rundgren – “Can We Still Be Friends?”
12. Beat Happening – “Our Secret”
11. The Smiths – “I Know It’s Over”

10. Sam Cooke – “Wonderful World”
9. The Replacements – “Within Your Reach”
8. Monica – “Angel of Mine”
7. Brooklyn Bridge – “Worst That Could Happen”
6. Paul McCartney – “Silly Love Songs”
5. The Clash – “Train in Vain (Stand By Me)”
4. Boyz II Men – “End of the Road”
3. New Order – “Thieves Like Us”
2. Gin Blossoms – “Hey Jealousy”
1. The Beach Boys – “God Only Knows”

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10 Responses to “Listeria: The Top Ten Artists That (To My Knowledge) Have Never Written a Love Song”

  1. Victor said

    You gotta get deeper into your Cat Stevens my friend. Even his sparse 1975 G.H. Album that I own has 3 flagrant love songs “Can’t Keep it In”, “Two Fine People”, “Ready”. “Oh Very Young”, “Father and Son”, and “Wild World” I guess are more about paternal love. “Morning has Broken” and “Sitting” seem to be about godly love (although the former is a cover). They’re all solid.

    Also let’s not forget Mr. Islam’s contributions to the soundtrack to the greatest love story of all, Harold and Maude.

  2. Anton said

    At the risk of being embarrassed because this song has either some simple meaning that I totally missed that isn’t about romance, or that it has a widely known back story, isn’t “Here Comes my Baby” a love song? Certainly of “I’ll be Watching You” is.

  3. Keith said

    I can’t believe you left out Cat Stevens’ most obvious love song, “The First Cut is the Deepest!” Yes, it’s been covered by a million artists (the most recent hit version by Sheryl Crow) but it was originally performed by Stevens and released on his second album in 1967.

  4. Haley said

    Great list of your fav. love songs, I must say that you and I agree on many of the included songs. You being the person to go to on all matters New Order, I am just getting into them… right now Theives Like Us is my fav. song of theirs’, what are your thoughts about that song? Just curious, thanks for being so awesome, as a fellow obsessive list maker you are much appreciated.

  5. Ken said

    “got mind set on you” is a cover song so it shouldn’t count!

    for rush: about half of the songs on their debut are love/sex songs ditto for their album “counterparts”. a few others possible contenders from other albums: “in the end” “tears” “distant early warning” (maybe). a few others are too vague to tell.

  6. Okay, mayyyyybe you were just counting them as part of New Order (which in this context I think you shouldn’t), but what love songs did Joy Division write, again?

  7. intensities said

    ummm…”Love Will Tear Us Apart” was kind of a big deal

  8. “Once Around the Block,” nice.

  9. […] To: Combination of Listeria: The Top Ten Artists That Have Never Written a Love Song and I Sez: Bravo, […]

  10. ymca delaware

    Listeria: The Top Ten Artists That (To My Knowledge) Have Never Written a Love Song « Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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