Love songs are an integral aspect of musical culture. With the earliest love poems dating back to at least around 2000 BCE, they are an undeniably important aspect of not only musical interest, but of human interest as well. Why do we feel the need to express love through music? And how is it that even though people have been writing and expressing these love songs since the dawn of civilization, they are still so relevant today?
Interestingly enough, Charles Darwin put forward the theory that humans specifically evolved to be able to create music for the purpose of love songs. Just the same as how birds have specific calls they make to mate, Darwin believed that humans wrote music in order to impress potential mates. While this theory may seem implausible, A scientific study in the early 2000’s found that there actually is a connection between music and the release of sexual and social hormones. So love songs aren’t just any form of expression, they affect humans on a biological level.
Skipping ahead to the modern era of music, mainstream love songs from the 1920s-1940s featured either a jazzy or boppy tune, with romantic and relatively clean lyrics displaying the purer side of love and romance. Songs such as “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling” performed by Ella Fitzgerald in 1947 and “Cheek to Cheek” by Fred Astaire in 1935, have become the foundations of modern love songs. These and many other squeaky-clean romantic tunes have become both the template for love songs to come, while also serving as fuel to the future counterculture of music.
In the 1950s, Elvis Presley appeared on the music scene. Presley caused major controversy not only with his sexual and “vulgar” dance moves in his musical performances, but also was the leading reason for a large shift in music itself. Presley popularized Rock ‘n’ Roll, and, although his performances and music were met with large amounts of criticism and controversy early on in his career from traditionalists, began to normalize love songs about attraction on a sexual level.
As I’m sure everyone is already aware of, Presley’s shift into slightly sexualized love song content didn’t completely alter the love song in the decades that followed. Sweet and clean romantic bops such as “My Girl” by The Temptations and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles reflected the wholesome music of the past, but with more modern dance rhythms than the songs of the earlier decades.
Of course, as we reach the 1970s, we have to recognize the importance of the iconic love song “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye. This tune is unashamedly sexual and timeless. While hundreds of classic love songs were released in the 70s, it’s easy to list “Let’s Get It On” as the most unforgettable love song of the decade. Another powerful love and sex icon of the 1970s was Donna Summer, her classic hit “Love to Love You Baby” reflects an acceptance of female sexuality in the music industry as well as society.
As we reach the 80s and 90s, the genre of love songs opened up from Rock ‘n’ Roll, Jazz, Rhythm and Blues and Pop, to a multitude of other genres and subgenres. Now, Love songs discuss relationships of all types in a variety of different styles and genres. There is no standard “Love Song” anymore, and the individualism of musical expression is constantly growing to be more inclusive and varied. From the acceptance of new genres, to societal controversy over sexualized love songs, the “love song” has undergone a vast journey through time, and is still changing. The one thing we can note for sure, though, is that as long as humans exist, love songs will always remain an important part of musical expression.