Love songs done right

Brian Golden

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a hopeless romantic, the hopeless part stemming from the long string of failed relationships I’ve enjoyed over the years (for the most part my fault). Honestly though, as a musician I’m a sucker for a good love song and decided it would be fun to write up a brief synopsis of ten of my all-time favorite “romantic” musical selections.

#10 – “Melissa”…The Allman Brothers Band, Eat a Peach (1972)
Written in 1967 by Gregg Allman and Steve Alaimo, this classic Allman Brothers tune happened to be brother Duane’s favorite song Gregg had written. Released on the Eat a Peach album following Duane’s death in a tragic motorcycle accident, this is a favorite of mine to perform on acoustic guitar (especially when there’s a Melissa in the crowd), and I’ve always considered it one of Gregg’s most moving songs. Take a listen to the live acoustic version from An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band which features Warren Haynes and Dickey Betts tearing up the guitar solo in beautiful harmony.

#9 – “Running on Faith”…Eric Clapton, Journeyman (1989)
This melancholy yet ultimately uplifting tune, written by Clapton collaborator Jerry Lynn Williams, first appeared on the Journeyman album, considered by many to be one of Clapton’s most energetic and most powerful solo efforts. What begins as a plea for help in the face of adversity and heartbreak eventually transforms into something so much more as Clapton, with one of his best-ever vocal performances, repeats the refrain “when love comes over you,” all the while backed by a group of stellar musicians that push him to his limit both emotionally and musically.

#8 – “Into the Mystic”…Van Morrison, Moondance (1970)
One of the most prolific songwriters and vocalists in the history of rock-n-roll, Morrison’s Moondance album touches on so many emotional levels, a perfect example of the raw power musicians can achieve when performed by the right group of players brought together with a common purpose at the perfect moment. This song, without a doubt my favorite Morrison selection, features a delicate bridge which crescendos into the memorable chorus, with Morrison leading us mysteriously “Into the Mystic.”

#7 – “Our Love”…Derek Trucks Band, Already Free (2009)
I’ve mentioned in several blogs the amazing slide guitar of Derek Trucks who, unfortunately, remains an unknown to a majority of music listeners. Every album the Derek Trucks Band has released to date has shown a steady increase in the talent of this band and Already Free is no exception. I recently used this song as exit music for a friend’s wedding, following the actual ceremony as they walked up the hill through a throng of cheering friends and family, and people afterward made a point to come up to me and mention the goosebumps, and the tears, this song inspired.

#6 – “Bold as Love”…Jimi Hendrix, Axis: Bold as Love (1968)
I’ll never forget introducing this Hendrix classic to my friend and fellow musician Bill Frank in the summer of 1994 while on a mission for some guitar strings prior to a NHS Jazz Ensemble gig. Bill was never as fanatic as I when it came to Jimi’s music, but I can recall like it was yesterday his immediate reaction to the tune. Lyrically one of the best things Hendrix ever wrote, and featuring a guitar solo at the end which absolutely soars across a pristine musical landscape of textures and a subtle melodic background, this masterpiece validates Hendrix as not only one of the greatest guitarists ever, but a monumental songwriter as well.

#5 – “Lenny”…Stevie Ray Vaughan, Texas Flood (1983)
One of the most beautiful and touching instrumental tributes in the history of music in my opinion, “Lenny” was written for Vaughan’s wife Lenora and was often performed on a guitar she gave to him. Following their divorce Stevie discontinued playing the simple yet profound song, although he did use the “Lenny” guitar when performing another instrumental “Riviera Paradise,” which many fans consider a sort of tribute in itself to the original song. “Lenny,” more than any other Stevie-penned tune, proves beyond a doubt that Stevie’s influences included more than just the blues, but jazz, jazz inflections and chord progressions.

#4 – “Layla”…Derek and the Dominoes, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
Written for George Harrison’s wife Patty, with whom Clapton was obsessed and madly in love with, this album surprisingly took several years to gain in popularity before reaching “classic” status. Duane Allman joins Clapton for the recording (the two became instant friends when first introduced) and the main riff, composed by Allman, is one of the most recognizable in rock-n-roll history. The build-up at the song’s end (the piano part was written by a drummer, surprisingly) flows beautifully, giving Clapton and Allman the opportunity to trade melodically on guitar in one of the most inspired love songs of all time.

#3 – “Wonderful Tonight”…Eric Clapton, Slowhand (1977)
Another Clapton original inspired by Patty Boyd (she and Clapton were a couple by this time), I’ve always found this tune humorous due to the fact the two were arguing at the time it was written. Already late for a party, Clapton sat and fumed while Patty tried on outfit after outfit, to which Clapton repeatedly replied “you look wonderful.” The kicker is the fact that the song tells a true story, as Clapton wound up drunk and needed to be put to bed following the party. Proof that not all love songs begin as such.

#2 – “Wish You Were Here”…Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here (1975)
A favorite Pink Floyd song of mine, and one of the first songs I ever learned, this song embodies everything good music should. From the lightly played acoustic guitar intro to the beautiful guitar and vocal duet, David Gilmour proves once again he’s one of the finest guitarists to ever pick up the instrument. I’ve always found the imagery in this song to be extremely powerful, especially when Gilmour sings “we’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year.” Absolutely gorgeous.

#1 – “Romeo and Juliet”…Dire Straits, Making Movies (1980)
I have memories of listening to this song which remain vivid to me a decade later. This is one of those tunes that immediately takes me back in time and guitarist Mark Knopfler was, in many respects, my first favorite guitar player. The opening intro and the reflective and dreamy outro are classic examples of Dire Straits at it’s best and what they’re all about. This song is the ultimate love song in my opinion and one I always wanted to cover. Just wonderful songwriting in every respect.