What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love—In Music

On this the day of gooey sonnets, of broken hearts and two-dollar roses, you best believe the romantics among us are beating their chests to the throbbing coos of a sultry ballad. Songs that tug on worn heart strings and ooze nostalgic memory. Like the warmth of love’s embrace, they comfort, caress and incapacitate.

Photo Credit: Cosmopolitan

Though what goes into a top shelf love song? What’s the trick? How does one walk the tight rope of swoon, where one wrong foot could mean a career-staining tumble into the perilous waters of cheese and cliché? I believe I know the formulae, actually, I definitely know the formulae—because, believe it or not, I know what the greatest love song every written is and by the end of this educational tiff, so will you. But first, I must equivocate.

To cherry pick from Raymond Carver, a man whose literary scope exposes the profound corridors of the human condition, what do we talk about when we talk about love? Much like the stylistic approach of Carver, love’s lyrics are minimal—plainly put, but with an inspired detail. It’s the subtle elegance that has always been there but takes true passion to reveal. Perhaps it’s absolute. Unfortunately, but not really, this rules out anything remotely like Warrant’s Cherry Pie. A love song is delicate.

An important ingredient when brewing that sweet, sweet cauldron of affection is happiness. Though happiness is a rogue, she comes in many forms, and nothing compares to the uncomfortable, nervous and utterly mind-bending happiness of early love. Admittedly yes, Nan and Pop swinging on the back deck while the sun goes down on 50 years of marriage is quite sweet, the youthful abandon of fanatical obsession trumps the old bastards. New love is gut wrenching in beauty. “What are they doing now?” and, “Are they thinking about me too?” are but a few of the daily torments that plague the mind of immature love. So, sorry Louis Armstrong—love ain’t no wonderful world.

As you can probably tell, I could bang on about what a love song isn’t all day. Believe me, I’ve had a long hard think about this while crying to Rowland Howard and Johnny Cash songs. But while love does get sad, a love song reflects in a positive manner. So, what’s the greatest love song ever written? Well by now it should be obvious. Though for those still meandering about, scratching their heads as to why glam metal didn’t take the cake, the best love song ever conjured by human hand is—clearly—”This Must Be The Place” by Talking Heads.

Now, before we start the unabashed lauding of a musical l.e.g.e.n.d, my decision has nothing to do with the fact that I’m unequivocally obsessed with David Byrne—maybe. Whether or not you agree with my, perhaps biased opinion, it’s a magnificent song that totally deserves its place on some sort of mantle in your home.

Funnily enough, “home” is where the lyrics begin. It’s where he wants to be, somewhere familiar and safe—unlike his current position next to new love. “This Must Be the Place” explores the exciting insecurity of unexplored territory. It’s an experience where the idiosyncrasies of alien feelings are taken in a joyous stride. Twice he calls for home but as the song progresses, and that of love’s warmth, he begins to question if he even had a home—is this person his new home? The home everyone’s been talking about?

Set to the quirky rhythms and irresistibly peculiar approach of Talking Heads, “This Must Be The Place” is a tear jerking observation of love. True, immature and by God I’m going to say it—cute, love. I’ll leave you with an example of Byrne’s iconic introspection; his is a compassion prevalent in the songs that soundtrack Valentine’s Day.

“I’m just an animal looking for a home and share the same space for a minute or two”