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.
While not as successful as the gloriously poptastic (that’s a proper academic term, right?) Call Me Maybe (2011), I Really Like You is a love song that explores the always giddy and often awkward stage between the crush and the relationship. The song uses all the hallmarks of clever top 40 pop – the slick production, the word repetition, the washy synths – and when combined with Jepsen’s coquettish vocals, makes for a sugar rush that’s as sweet as first love.
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, 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.
The opening track of Stevie Wonder's 1972 album Talking Book, You are the Sunshine of My Life is a gentle and sweet declaration of love. While the lyrics celebrate the simplicity of new and giddy love, the music underneath showcases Wonder’s trademark harmonic and melodic complexity. From the gentle percussion to the close harmonies of the backing vocals and the joyous leaping of the melody, You Are the Sunshine of my Life seamlessly combines sophistication and accessibility and, unsurprisingly, the song shot to #1 on the US Billboard charts.
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.