The top 50 best love songs of all time, ranked

10 February 2021, 23:42 | Updated: 11 February 2021, 10:55

The greatest love songs of all time
The greatest love songs of all time. Picture: YouTube/Sony/Atlantic/Warner Bros/Polar

By Tom Eames

Whether it's Valentine's Day or you're just a die-hard romantic, you can't go wrong with these love songs.

As long as there's been pop music, there's been love songs. That simple message of romance and desire for a significant other that people around the world can relate to.

From loved up bangers, to heartfelt ballads to tales of heartbreak, we've picked the 50 greatest love songs ever made to make for a perfect romantic playlist.

  1. Roxette - It Must Have Been Love

    It's easy to forget that this song was originally Christmas-themed, with the full title being 'It Must Have Been Love (Christmas for the Broken Hearted)'.

    Originally released in 1987, it became a huge hit three years later when an updated version without the festive references was recorded for the Pretty Woman soundtrack in 1990.

    Thanks to the movie's success, it became Roxette's biggest hit and went to number one around the world.

  2. Chicago - If You Leave Me Now

    This was the song that brought Chicago to a truly mainstream audience, reaching the top spot in the UK and US in 1976.

    It remains one of the best break-up ballads of all time, and surprisingly doesn't actually contain a traditional chorus.

  3. Wet Wet Wet - Love is All Around

    Director Richard Curtis approached the band to record a cover of this Troggs song, and it ended up becoming one of the biggest hits in UK chart history.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Love Is All Around'

    It spent 15 weeks at the top of the charts in 1994, with Pellow later saying: "We did everybody's head in the summer of 1994.

    "I still think it's a brilliant record. Its strength is its sheer simplicity. Any band would give their eye teeth to have a hit record like that. I'm very proud of it."

  4. Barry White - You're the First, the Last, My Everything

    Released in 1974, 'You're the First, the Last, My Everything' spent two weeks at the top of the UK Singles Chart.

    This song was originally written over 21 years previously by Peter Radcliffe as a country song, before Barry totally reworked it.

  5. Madness - It Must Be Love

    Labi Siffre first reached number 14 with this love song in 1971, and 10 years later Madness scored a huge hit with a ska-infused cover.

    Siffre had a cameo in Madness’ music video for the track as a violin player.

  6. Lionel Richie & Diana Ross - Endless Love

    Quite possibly the greatest duet of all time? Certainly one of the most successful.

    Ross and Richie recorded this song for Motown, and it was used as the theme for the film adaptation of Scott Spencer's novel Endless Love. While the film was a modest box-office success, the song became the second biggest-selling single of the year.

  7. John Denver - Annie's Song

    This was John Denver’s only hit in the UK, as most of his other famous tracks had been covered by other artists.

    It was written as an ode to Denver’s wife at the time, Annie Martell Denver, and he wrote it in in about ten-and-a-half minutes on a ski lift to the top of Ajax Mountain in Aspen, Colorado.

  8. Spandau Ballet - True

    This ballad was composed by Gary Kemp, who wrote the song at his parents' house, where he lived at the time.

    It pays tribute to Marvin Gaye, who is mentioned in the lyrics, and also partly about Kemp's platonic relationship with Altered Images singer Clare Grogan.

  9. Goo Goo Dolls - Iris

    This song was written for the 1998 romantic drama City of Angels, starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan. It is sung from the perspective of Nicolas Cage's character.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Iris'

    "I was thinking about the situation of the Nicholas Cage character in the movie," Rzeznik said.

    "This guy is completely willing to give up his own immortality, just to be able to feel something very human. And I think, 'Wow! What an amazing thing it must be like to love someone so much that you give up everything to be with them.' That's a pretty heavy thought."

  10. Carpenters - Close To You

    Richard Chamberlain first recorded this Burt Bacharach and Hal David ballad in 1963, but it was not a hit. Dionne Warwick also released it as an album track a year later.

    But it wasn't until the Carpenters covered it in 1970 that it became a massive hit, and the duo's breakthrough. Herb Alpert had first been offered it, but he was not a fan of his own version.

  11. Billy Joel - Just the Way You Are

    Billy Joel wrote this song for his first wife Elizabeth Weber, but it was not liked by either Joel or his band. It was only released at the request of both Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow.

    Barry White later recorded a disco-fied version, and both are classic love songs of the era.

  12. The Temptations - My Girl

    Written by Smokey Robinson and recorded for the Motown label (then named Gordy after label founder Berry Gordy), 'My Girl reached number one and became The Temptations' signature song. 

    Robinson's inspiration for writing the song was his wife, Miracles member Claudette Rogers Robinson. That's quite the Valentine's gift.

  13. Bon Jovi - Always

    This song became one of Bon Jovi's most successful singles, selling 3 million copies worldwide in 1994.

    It was originally written for the soundtrack to the 1993 film Romeo Is Bleeding. After disliking the movie – which was not a hit - the band decided not to lend it out. Jon Bon Jovi forgot about the song until a friend found it and convinced him to re-record and release it. Good move!

  14. Roberta Flack - The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

    Roberta Flack took the original version of 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' by Ewan MacColl and slowed it down, turning it into the soaring ballad.

    Her version was used in the movie Play Misty for Me and reached number one in the US.

  15. Daniel Bedingfield - If You're Not the One

    Daniel Bedingfield scored his third UK number one single with this ballad, which was a far cry from his previous garage-inspired dance tracks.

    Although he called it "cheesy" and "sappy", it was one of the biggest ballads of the 2000s, and Simon Cowell named it as one of his all-time favourites.

  16. John Legend - All of Me

    John Legend achieved the biggest hit of his career with this piano ballad, which was one of the biggest songs worldwide of the whole 2010s.

    Read more: The Story of... 'All of Me'

    It was inspired by his relationship with wife Chrissy Teigen, who also starred in the romantic music video.

  17. Aerosmith - I Don't Want to Miss a Thing

    No-one saw this one coming, a sudden Top 5 hit from stadium veteran rockers Aerosmith.

    Read more: The Story of... 'I Don't Want to Miss a Thing'

    The power ballad featured in frontman Steven Tyler's daughter Liv Tyler's latest movie Armageddon, and it remains their all-time biggest hit in the UK.

  18. Marvin Gaye - Let's Get it On

    Taken from the album of the same name, it became Gaye's most successful single for Motown and one of his most well-known songs.

    Originally conceived as a religious and then a political song, Gaye transformed it into a sensual anthem.

  19. Lionel Richie - Hello

    One of Lionel's biggest ever hits, this song went to number one in both the UK and US in 1984.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Hello'

    Richie initially felt that the song was "corny" but "by the time I finished the verse, I fell in love with the song again". And you've got to love that music video!

  20. Robbie Williams - Angels

    This was the song that saved Robbie's career, after his first few songs that had lackluster chart runs.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Angels'

    Despite only reaching number four, it is his best-selling single, shifting over a million copies after its release in 1997.

  21. Harry Nilsson - Without You

    Originally by Badfinger, Harry Nilsson took it to another level with his number one version.

    Described by Paul McCartney as "the killer song of all time", Harry can't quite believe he's lost his beloved, and doesn't quite know what to do next. Heartbreaker.

  22. Adele - Make You Feel My Love

    Originally by Bob Dylan, this song was arguably what bridged the gap between Adele being a moderately successful artist to a world-dominating superstar.

    Garth Brooks, Billy Joel and even Nick Knowles have given it a go, but Adele's version has become the definitive.

  23. Celine Dion - Think Twice

    This song's co-writer Andy Hill was known for his association with Bucks Fizz, while Peter Sinfield was a former member of the rock group King Crimson, which is quite the combination.

    Released in late 1994, Celine's version was in the UK top 40 for 12 weeks before finally reaching number one, and then staying there for seven weeks, becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time. Underrated.

  24. Percy Sledge - When a Man Loves a Woman

    Inspired by a break-up, 'When A Man Loves A Woman' is Percy Sledge's most recognised song.

    It reached number one in America and went on to become an international hit, proving to be a hit twice in the UK, after reaching number four in 1966 and, on reissue, peaked at number two in 1987.

  25. Tracy Chapman - Baby Can I Hold You

    This guitar ballad was Tracy Chapman's third single, and while not a hit at the time, it has become one of her signature songs.

    It was later covered by Boyzone in the 1990s, giving them a much bigger hit than the original.

  26. Foreigner - I Want to Know What Love Is

    The band's biggest ever hit, it reached number one in both the UK and US. Writer Mick Jones said of the song: "I don’t know where it came from. I consider it a gift that was sent through me. I think there was something bigger than me behind it. I’d say it was probably written entirely by a higher force."

    Read more: The Story of... 'I Want To Know What Love Is'

    Bonus fact: it features keyboard work by Thompson Twins frontman Tom Bailey.

  27. Eric Clapton - Wonderful Tonight

    Clapton wrote this song for his then-girlfriend Pattie Boyd (who divorced George Harrison in the same year). He penned it while waiting for her to get ready to go to Paul and Linda McCartney's annual Buddy Holly party.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Wonderful Tonight'

    Boyd later said: "For years it tore at me. To have inspired Eric, and George before him, to write such music was so flattering. 'Wonderful Tonight' was the most poignant reminder of all that was good in our relationship, and when things went wrong it was torture to hear it."

    The couple married two years later, but were divorced by 1989. Still, pretty song, right?

  28. The Four Tops - Reach Out (I'll Be There)

    A Holland-Dozier-Holland masterpiece for Motown, this was one of the Four Tops' biggest and best known hits.

    It was sung (almost shouted) by Levi Stubbs, with member Duke Fakir later saying: "We realised that when Levi hit the top of his vocal range, it sounded like someone hurting, so he made him sing right up there.

    "Levi complained, but we knew he loved it. Every time they thought he was at the top, he would reach a little further until you could hear the tears in his voice."

  29. Ed Sheeran - Perfect

    This ballad from Ed Sheeran was inspired about his wife-to-be Cherry Seaborn, whom he knew from school, and then met again with when she was working in New York.

    The romantic tune became one of his biggest, and was the 2017 Christmas number one in the UK.

  30. 10cc - I'm Not in Love

    This UK number one is notable for its innovative and distinctive backing track, composed mostly of the band’s multitracked vocals.

    Read more: The Story of... 'I'm Not in Love'

    Written mostly by Eric Stewart as a riposte to his wife’s declaration that he did not tell her often enough that he loved her, it was originally conceived as a bossa nova song but colleagues Kevin Godley and Lol Creme disliked it at first, and it was radically changed.

  31. Phil Collins - Against All Odds

    The ultimate power ballad sees Phil implore an ex-lover to "take a look at me now", knowing that reconciliation is "against all odds" while considering it worth a shot.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Against All Odds'

    It was recorded for the movie of the same name and reached number one in the States. It was later a number one in the UK for both Mariah Carey with Westlife in 2000 and X Factor winner Steve Brookstein in 2005. 

  32. Etta James - At Last

    ‘At Last’ became Etta James' signature song and it was her version that was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

    Barack and Michelle Obama famously danced to the romantic tune after he was first inaugurated as President in 2009, with Beyoncé performing the ballad.

  33. Savage Garden - Truly Madly Deeply

    This classic ballad is actually a reworking of a song called 'Magical Kisses' that Savage Garden wrote together long before they began on their debut album.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Truly Madly Deeply'

    It was a huge success, and topped the charts in their native Australia and in the US, and hit number four in the UK.

  34. Take That - A Million Love Songs

    Gary first wrote this song when he was just 15, and it was arguably the song which helped Take That to start being taken seriously as a pop act.

    It also gave them an early UK top 10 hit in 1992.

  35. U2 - With or Without You

    From U2's album The Joshua Tree, this love song was inspired by Bono's conflicting feelings about the lives he led as a musician and domestic man at the time.

    It became one of U2's biggest songs ever, reaching number one in the US in 1987.

  36. Bee Gees - How Deep is Your Love

    This great ballad was written by the Gibb brothers for the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, offering a slice of love in a disco-heavy movie.

    Already a big hit in 1977, Take That later took it to number one in 1996, as their final song for 10 years.

  37. Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You

    The main love song from 1992's The Bodyguard, Whitney made this Dolly Parton ballad her own, after her co-star Kevin Costner suggested it.

    Read more: The Story of... 'I Will Always Love You'

    It spent 14 weeks at number one in the US, 10 weeks in the UK, and sold millions around the world. The ultimate power ballad.

  38. Al Green - Let's Stay Together

    Taken from his 1972 album of the same name, this is perhaps Al's most famous tune and signature song.

    It reached number one in the States, and it has been covered by countless artists ever since. Even US President Barack Obama gave it a go, performing a brief line of the song during an appearance at the Apollo Theater in New York in 2012, where Al was also performing.

  39. The Beatles - Something

    George Harrison wrote this Beatles ballad about his then-wife Pattie Boyd, who was later the inspiration for Eric Clapton's 'Wonderful Tonight'.

    The song was featured on the iconic album Abbey Road, and became one of the band's greatest ever love songs.

  40. Bill Withers - Ain't No Sunshine

    Produced by Booker T Jones and featuring Stephen Stills on guitar, Bill was inspired to write this song after watching the 1962 movie Days of Wine and Roses. He said of the two main characters: “They were both alcoholics who were alternately weak and strong. Sometimes you miss things that weren’t particularly good for you.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Ain't No Sunshine'

    ”For the third verse, Bill intended to write more lyrics instead of repeating the phrase ‘I know’ 26 times, but followed the advice of the other musicians to leave it that way.

  41. George Michael - Careless Whisper

    This was the song that made people stand up and take notice of George as a credible artist outside the pop fun of Wham!

    Read more: The Story of... 'Careless Whisper'

    Released when he still in the boyband with Andrew Ridgeley, the song topped the charts around the world. Co-written with Andrew when they were 17, the song took inspiration from stories from Michael’s early romantic experiences with two different girls.

  42. Elvis Presley - Always on my Mind

    Originally a soul ballad by Gwen McCrae, this song tells the story of someone who admits that they didn't always do the things they should have to show appreciation for their partner, but wants them to know they was always thinking about them.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Always on My Mind'

    The song was passed to Elvis by one of his bodyguards, and he recorded it soon after his split from Priscilla. It received great acclaim, and it became one of his most successful songs ever.

  43. The Righteous Brothers - Unchained Melody

    Now perhaps best known for the pottery-making scene in Ghost thanks to Patrick Swayze, this ballad is all about the sweet vocals of Bobby Hatfield.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Unchained Melody'

    The song has reached number one in the UK four times: Jimmy Young, Righteous Brothers, Robson & Jerome and Gareth Gates. So, we've kinda liked it for a long time.

  44. Andy Williams - Can't Take My Eyes off You

    It is impossible not to sing along to the 'bah-bah-bah's of this tune whenever it comes on.

    Frankie Valli actually recorded it first, but Andy scored a bigger hit with in the UK. It was later used in Bridget Jones's Diary, and he ended up re-recording it with Denise Van Outen in 2002.

  45. Lonestar - Amazed

    This country crossover hit was co-written by songwriters Marv Green and husband-and-wife Aimee Mayo and Chris Lindsey.

    When the trio wrote the song, Lindsey and Mayo were in the early stages of their relationship, and drew inspiration from their new romance for the song. "Our feelings for each other just started coming out as we were writing," Mayo said.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Amazed'

    It gave Lonestar a surprise hit in the main pop charts in the US, and broke into the UK chart for over 20 weeks in 2000.

  46. Bryan Adams - (Everything I Do) I Do it For You

    You can't argue with 16 weeks at number one, which is still the record the consecutive weeks at the top to this day.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Everything I Do'

    People may have got sick of this power ballad at the time, but it perfectly summed up the kind of love songs we loved back in the early 1990s.

  47. Seal - Kiss from a Rose

    Seal first wrote this amazing power ballad back in 1987, but would you believe it, he felt "embarrassed by it" and "threw the tape in the corner".

    Read more: The Story of... 'Kiss from a Rose'

    It wasn't until producer Trevor Horn brought it back for his 1994 album Seal II. A year later, it was included on the Batman Forever soundtrack and it became the biggest hit of his career.

  48. ABBA - The Winner Takes it All

    Bjorn Ulvaeus has denied that his heartbreaking ballad is about his and Agnetha Faltskog's divorce. However, he has said that is about divorce in general and the emotions that come with it.

    Read more: The Story of... 'The Winner Takes It All'

    The song put Agnetha in the strange situation of being asked to sing a breakup song, written by her ex-husband, just a short period afterwards. However, Bjorn didn't intend it to happen this way. She later said it was her favourite ABBA song to perform.

  49. The Beach Boys - God Only Knows

    Featuring on The Beach Boys classic 1966 album Pet Sounds, when ‘God Only Knows’ was first released, it amazingly only reached 39 on the US charts.

    It reached number two in the UK, and we'll always think of the final scenes of Love Actually when we hear it.

  50. Elton John - Your Song

    The greatest love song of all time was one Elton John wrote via Bernie Taupin's lyrics in a relatively quick session.

    Taken from Elton's second, self-titled album, this ballad was actually recorded by Three Dog Night first, after he allowed them to record it.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Your Song'

    Bernie Taupin wrote the song's lyrics after breakfast on the roof of 20 Denmark Street, London, where Elton worked for a music publishing firm as an office boy, inspiring the line: "I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss". 

See also:

The 20 greatest love songs of the 1960s

The 20 greatest love songs of the 1970s

The 20 greatest love songs of the 1980s

The 30 greatest love songs of the 1990s

The 20 greatest movie love songs of all time