Love is a common theme in any work of art, and that remains the case with music. Every musician, be it a stadium-filling pop star or garage punk band has at least one song in the repertoire on the topic.
Some of the very best songs are about love (as well as heartbreak and anti-love...), so it's no surprise that these songs end up being used when reviewing hi-fi kit. Over the years, our team of reviewers have used multiple love songs to test the latest audio and hi-fi kit passing through our listening rooms (and some selections might even have been played at their weddings...)
Here to help you get in on the romantic mood today, we’ve created this guide to some of our favourite love songs we often use when reviewing hi-fi. Remember these tracks are picked because they’re great for testing products, and not just because they’re good at giving us butterflies in our stomachs.
Also, keep in mind, that this is a constantly evolving list. Get in touch on our forums or social media if you think we’ve missed any, or simply let us know what your favourite love songs are, too.
The Cure – Just Like Heaven (Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, 1987)
By Alastair Stevenson
The Cure’s back catalogue is full of fantastic love songs, but if you pass the What Hi-Fi? test rooms the most likely one you’ll hear is the band’s iconic Just Like Heaven. It’s the third single from the band’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me album.
Frontman Robert Smith has openly called the track “one of the band’s strongest” in numerous interviews over the years and it remains a staple in our testing for two reasons.
First, it’s a fantastic track that kicks off with a toe-tapping bass line before slowly adding multiple interlapping parts. These range from a beautiful and catchy descending guitar riff that footnotes the end of each verse and swooning synths that really sell the track's whimsical, sweet nature.
This makes it a fantastic test track that showcases any hi-fi system’s detail and performance across the entire frequency range.
The second reason is pretty simple. It’s also wonderfully romantic, telling the story of a seaside trip undertaken by Smith and his future wife.
Elliott Smith – Between the Bars (Either / Or, 1997)
By Harry McKerrell
Few artists ever laid their souls so bare across the airwaves as the late, great Elliott Smith. A songwriter of breathtaking intimacy and confessional honesty, Smith’s music is as captivating as it is devastating, especially when the man’s unhappy life and tragic end serve to shine further light on the songs he left to the world.
Between The Bars remains his most enduringly popular work, and it’s easy to see, from both a testing and a “casual” listening perspective, why that’s the case. Smith’s close, sometimes timid vocal delivery should sound, through the right system, as though it’s being addressed personally to the listener, while those gentle, almost apologetic guitar strums are a perfect test of how a hi-fi set-up or even a pair of headphones conveys instrumental timbre alongside genuine emotional heft.
An easy song to get wrong, but when the right system comes along, you’ll surely know when it feels right.
Jeff Buckley – Lover, You Should’ve Come Over (Grace, 1994)
By Harry McKerrell
As we’ve gone through compiling these love and “anti-love” songs to celebrate (or indeed lament) the romantic season, it’s become increasingly clear that many of the finest odes to this tempestuous emotion straddle a line somewhere between celebration and condemnation.
Cloying dirges about sunshine and rainbows are all well and good, but it’s those tracks that mix every aspect of love – desire, excitement, regret, joy and the mind-numbing agony of it all – that really hit the spot.
Hence Jeff Buckley’s sublime Lover, You Should’ve Come Over, possibly the great man’s peak track and a rather dazzling showcase of his oft-lauded vocal talents. All at once incredibly intimate and sensual while undercut with desperation and heartache, it hits you right in the gut when played through an emotionally communicative and transparent system.
How you can you not love a song with the line “she’s the tear that hangs inside my soul forever”? Oh, Jeff.
Peter Gabriel – The Book of Love (Scratch My Back, 2010)
By Alastair Stevenson
Peter Gabriel’s cover of The Book Of Love may not be the veteran musician’s most famous song. And there is a definite divide in opinion about whether it’s superior to the original version by The Magnetic Fields. But as test tracks go it’s fantastic.
It starts with a simple string section which slowly builds, adding plucked violin, subtle double bass and female vocals to the song as Gabriel delivers one of his most vulnerable and sweet performances in years.
This makes it a wonderful test track to gauge a system’s precision, tonal balance and dynamism. Only the best will be able to do justice to the track as the intricate, overlapping string sections swell and intertwine.
Claude Debussy – The Girl With The Flaxen Hair (1909-1910)
By Harry McKerrell
Who said love songs had to have lyrics? Claude Debussy remains a perennial favourite as a provider of hi-fi test tracks, not that the French master was known during his many hours stooped over a piano for much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Often the most expressive and romantic works contain no words at all, letting the tones and melodies of the chosen instrument or instruments convey the composer’s true emotions.
The Girl With The Flaxen Hair is superficially one of Debussy’s simplest works (even if it is a bind to play thanks to all of those flat notes), evoking a sort of romanticised bucolic arcadia typified by endless summers and golden-haired maidens tending to fat dairy cows. It’s a lovely piece, though, and one that lives and dies by the precision, clarity and dynamic expression your system can give to every carefully placed keystroke.
Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, 1998)
By Kashfia Kabir
The jangly acoustic guitars, Jeff Mangum’s rather reedy vocals that soar in the higher frequencies, a wibbly singing saw – on a less-than-capable system, those high notes could teeter into brash, shrill and grating territory. Hear it through a good hi-fi system or capable headphones, however, and those treble-bothering sounds are more tempered and sweetly toned, yet still have the requisite raw bite.
The guitars, trumpet and singing saw should have depth and tonal texture, while all working together rhythmically. Once the breezy tune has found its grounded footing and rolls along pleasantly, you can revel in the tender yet incisive lyrics about being beautifully content in the moment and with the person you’re with, regardless of what life and our finite mortality hold.
Jackie Wilson – (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher (Higher And Higher, 1967)
By Kashfia Kabir
The most life-affirmingly cheery R&B pop tune that will lift your spirits up and keep you bopping. Your system should be able to relay Wilson’s effusive and effortless singing and the backing vocals with ample detail, insight and punch, while it would be a crime if that terrifically taut, propulsive and happy bassline didn’t have its warmth and snappy drive. Most of all, this song should never sound anything less than celebratory, keeping the energy high and sustained throughout. A pure celebration of love that should be a staple of any wedding dance playlist.
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Straight To You (Henry's Dream, 1992)
By Chris Burke
Only perennial test room favourite Nick Cave could make a song about deliverance from global catastrophe sound like the most intimitate and heartfelt expression of devotion ever committed to record. After a gorgeously minimalist opener it quickly builds into a sporadically busy track, in which the guitar trades jangly country strumming with upbeat organ licks, terrifically musical drums, bass and percussion, with Cave's expressive vocals centre stage as he pledges himself as his love's saviour. As such, it's a great test of your system's ability to pick out each wonderful instrumental strand, while the track's unfettered optimism and almost gospel-like euphoria should feel like it really is coming straight at you. "Sorrow, it comes a-stealing, and I'll cry, girl, but I'll come a-running, straight to you, for I am captured, once again." Play this for your love, and they will surely melt into your arms.
Stevie Wonder – I Was Made To Love Her (I Was Made To Love Her, 1967)
By Chris Burke
A 1967 hit on the Tamla Motown label, this one's a sweet ode to a lifelong love that Wonder himself has said, in a contemporaneous interview, stood out for him among his then-catalogue because it was "a true song". As you'd expect from Wonder, it's a soul banger, but it's the work of James Jamerson, half of Motown's Funk Brothers rhythm section, that truly elevates the track and makes it a worthy test track. Jamerson's busy and amazingly funky bassline, with its clever licks, sometimes surprising cadence and wealth of funky variations, are a joy to listen to. We recommend listening to a remastered version of the track, such as appears on Wonder's Definitive Collection, as the bassline is brought up righteously in the mix. A great test of timing and rhythmic snap for your system, that bassline should sound god-like.
Pulp – Something Changed (A Different Class, 1995)
By Chris Burke
One for those still loved-up in a long-time relationship, Jarvis Cocker swaps his more usual wry snook-cocking for a song about causality; specifically how doing something different (like going "to the pictures instead") could have meant he never would have met his love. Something of a favourite at weddings, Something Changed is both a beautifully heartfelt love song and an It's A Wonderful Life style epiphany all in one. If your hi-fi is up to the challenge, its command of all the component parts of the mix will hit like cupid's arrow into the heart of the track's soul; somewhere between the gorgeous string arrangements and glorious crescendos and Cocker's all-too-human delivery. Meanwhile the clean, chiming guitars and memorable breakdown riff will simply explode your tear ducts (in a good way).
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