Redbrick Music's Valentine's Guide | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Redbrick Music’s Valentine’s Guide

Love it or hate it, happily coupled or basking in your own (awesome) company, Valentine’s Day is here. We asked our writers for their favourite love and break-up songs of all time, so there’s something for everyone, regardless of relationship status. Here is Redbrick’s round-up of the the top five voted in each category.

LOVE SONGS

The Beach Boys - God Only Knows

‘God Only Knows’ is undeniably the greatest love song of all time, as over 50 years of popularity have shown. This iconic Beach Boys track has been credited with reinventing the love song, has been covered by David Bowie, and was famously used in our favourite problematic noughties film, Love Actually. It also broke the barrier of using the word ‘God’ in a pop-song, making it onto radio despite the controversy of its title at the time. The song first appeared on the groundbreaking 1966 album Pet Sounds, but its balance between melancholy and a childlike faith in fate stands out from the rest to become a Valentine’s favourite. 

This perfectly written love song is bound to continue to be millions of couples’ first dances, ‘as long as there are stars above you’

The psychedelic rock ballad takes us to the depths of existential love with beautifully dramatic lyrics that no one would dare write these days; songwriter Brian Wilson questioning ‘what good would living do me?’ if his muse left him. The uplifting melody and chorus remind us that we needn’t worry — for now, the pair are safe in the hands of fate. This perfectly written love song is bound to continue to be millions of couples’ first dances, ‘as long as there are stars above you’… 

By Ellie Koepke

Hall and Oates - You Make My Dreams

Ah, that boppy guitar beat, that magical voice, those ‘oo-oo’s. Welcome to the best love song of all time, and not just because Joseph Gordon-Levitt happened to dance through the streets of Los Angeles to it in 500 Days of Summer. As someone who finds a slow, mushy love song often hard to stomach, ‘You Make My Dreams’ is perfect as one of the most upbeat of romantic classics. Despite literally revolving around the Disney-esque lyric ‘You make my dreams come true’, it somehow avoids being cheesy, or over-sentimental, or frankly anything less than perfect. 

Welcome to the best love song of all time, and not just because Joseph Gordon-Levitt happened to dance through the streets of Los Angeles to it in 500 Days of Summer

I adore dancing to it no matter the state of my romantic life, but can you imagine screaming every word of this to your partner-in-crime-for-life on the dance floor – it’s the perfect first dance banger. And it’s not just for weddings either – it has been there through road trips, house parties and Sunday morning breakfasts. In love or out of love, get Hall and Oates playing this Valentine’s season, I challenge you to find someone who doesn’t smile when the first chord of ‘You Make My Dreams’ hits the speakers. 

By Holly Carter

Talking Heads - This Must Be The Place

A love song from a band known for avoiding writing love songs, Talking Heads’ ‘This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)’ is, quite simply, a masterpiece. Released in 1983, at the height of the band’s career, the effect of the track was increased by its inclusion on Talking Heads’ fantastic concert film Stop Making Sense and its genius comes from both the music and lyrics. David Byrne’s tendency to write about abstract topics remains prominent, and while he does include many ‘normal’ love song themes and cliches, they are presented as a series of non sequiturs, giving ‘This Must Be the Place’ a distinctly Talking Heads feel. 

The ‘(Naive Melody)’ part of the title refers to the unusual use of identical guitar and bass rhythms throughout the track and its stripped-back, simple sound

The ‘(Naive Melody)’ part of the title refers to the unusual use of identical guitar and bass rhythms throughout the track and its stripped-back, simple sound which reflects the peaceful sentiment of the song. Despite its theme being completely uncharacteristic of the band, the alternative approach that ‘This Must Be the Place’ takes to love songs makes it a perfect summary of one of the 1980s’ biggest new wave groups’ repertoire. 

By Jake Kilshaw

Al Green - Lets Stay Together

We all have that go-to song we listen to when we want to think about a certain someone. But what makes this song so perfect for the occasion? Love is timeless. The song was released back in 1972, and yet continues to sound and feel totally relevant. The main lyric of the song, ‘Loving you whether, whether / Times are good or bad, happy or sad’, is an indisputably fitting way to describe ‘that feeling’. 

play it while you think about your boyfriend/girlfriend, crush, soul mate, Tinder match, whatever - and watch how you subconsciously start browsing for engagement rings

Love is uplifting. The song builds slowly but will genuinely make you feel elevated by the end. It’s the simple guitar and minimal instruments that really make you focus on the amazing lyrics and beautiful message of the song. Love is passionate... and so is soul music. So, who better to deliver raw emotion than one of the greatest soul singers of all time. To put this song to the test - play it while you think about your boyfriend/girlfriend, crush, soul mate, Tinder match, whatever - and watch how you subconsciously start browsing for engagement rings. 

By Pablo Doyle

The Maccabees - Toothpaste Kisses

Where love songs are usually powerful proclamations of overwhelming love, The Maccabees manage to create the gentlest and purest confession of love in the wonderfully charming ‘Toothpaste Kisses’, from their 2008 debut album Colour It In. The track’s success in the brash battlefield of love songs lies in its stripped-back nature with minimal percussion, all the while bursting at the seams with adoration and tenderness, making it all the more brilliant. 

Incredibly sweet and romantic, ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ represents that moment of falling in love and the fresh excitement that follows

Vocals from the band’s frontrunner Orlando Weeks, and his delightful whistling solo at the end, provide the record with a sweet and delicate sound. However, it is lyrics like ‘lay with me, I’ll lay with you, we’ll do the things that lovers do’ that are subtly marvellous in being reminiscent of that intense first-love joy. It is these tiny, intimate moments that make us fall in love and they are exactly what ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ expresses – those special ‘late night kisses, divine’. Incredibly sweet and romantic, ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ represents that moment of falling in love and the fresh excitement that follows, making it the perfect modern love song. 

By Alex Carmichael

Breakup Songs

Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah

You have heard 'Hallelujah' before. Everybody has. It has been covered more times than you could count, by everyone from Bob Dylan to Alexandra Burke. And yet, despite its ridiculous oversaturation since Leonard Cohen first wrote the song in 1984, as a song it somehow manages to retain every last molecule of its indomitable power. Even the version John Cale did for the Shrek soundtrack (by proxy, the version that introduced my entire generation to heartbreak) is gorgeous.

Despite its oversaturation, as a song it somehow manages to retain every last molecule of its indomitable power

Most know Jeff Buckley's stunning 1994 version best, but all credit has to go to the late Cohen, whose legacy will be immortalised through this stunning piece of songcraft. Every lyric is its own work of art, painting the most broken picture of love you can envisage; and I am positive that no chorus will ever be written that has more potential to utterly ruin a person than the one-word chant of 'Hallelujah'. No other piece of music is more powerfully ingrained in the wretched human experience. It is the greatest broken love song ever written; it may well be one of the greatest artworks ever created.

By Thom Dent

Radiohead - True Love Waits

The only thing more heart wrenching than the ‘Just… don’t leave’ refrain of Radiohead’s 2016 album closer is the story behind it. Originally written as an acoustic ballad in the mid-90’s about singer Thom Yorke’s flourishing relationship, various attempts to record the song were aborted, until it finally saw an official release as a minimalist piano effort 20 years later on an album recorded about the end of the same relationship. The lyrics remain the same, yet the difference in instrumentation, atmosphere and delivery suggests finality and grief where once the song could have been called one of Radiohead’s most optimistic (even more so than ‘Optimistic’).

The difference in instrumentation, atmosphere and delivery suggests finality and grief

In a way that feels as much an (un)happy accident as it does artistic perfectionism, ‘True Love Waits’ is a breakup song like no other; it hits hard with its confessional and personal lyrics, yet holds itself above cliché and in doing so achieves an uncomfortable realness. It captures the essence of a bad day in the form of a song. A hard listen after a breakup, to be sure, but at times that’s just what you need.

By Luke Charnley

Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

‘Back to Black’’s lyrics speak the song’s brilliance for themselves; never has a break-up been encapsulated so savagely and yet heartbreakingly. No fancy metaphors, no colourful imagery needed, I defy you to find a more cutting opening than, ‘He left no time to regret / Kept his dick wet / With his same old safe bet’. While retaining her trademark nonchalance, pain leaks through every syllable of Amy’s somehow simultaneously soulful delivery, making it a song for that immediate aftermath of a relationship, long before you’ve reached any acceptance or forgiveness.

While retaining her trademark nonchalance, pain leaks through every syllable of Amy’s somehow simultaneously soulful delivery

The entire album, Back to Black, is a schooling in how the perfect break-up record should sound, but the title track is the one that hits the hardest, especially in the context of Amy and Blake’s intensely media-covered, tempestuous relationship and ultimate, tragic ending. It's well worth taking three minutes out of your day for the magic that is Amy and Mark Ronson putting the track together in the studio, if only to hear Amy’s acapella vocal recordings, which are, if possible, even more haunting.

By Emily Barker

The Streets - Dry Your Eyes

Poor Mike Skinner. The standout track from A Grand Don’t Come For Free was a brave departure from The Streets’ punchier garage sound. Skinner’s lyrics have always been to the point and very personal, but on ‘Dry Your Eyes’ he displays a touching vulnerability that he hadn’t shown before. The lyrics are gently poetic and touching, there are no frilly words dressing it up – this is just direct, unfiltered pain. The weepy strings and wistfully-strummed guitar lull you into a contemplative daze and leave space for the vocals to burrow into your broken/breaking heart.

The lyrics are gently poetic and touching, there are no frilly words dressing it up

Many find that Skinner’s unpolished spoken vocal delivery is a bit of an acquired taste – but the rough and ready delivery is what makes this song connect with so many. You can hear the delicate pain and frustration in his voice that comes across without need for the classic shouty, sustained notes that have become breakup song tropes – which puts it streets ahead of the rest. This song is just straight up sad; served best with a bottle of wine, pictures of your ex and solitude. Happy Valentine’s Day.

By Adam Jackson

Fergie - Big Girls Don't Cry (Personal)

'Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal)' is not your average break-up song. It’s about a particular type of break-up, one where you don’t want it to be over, but you know it has to come to an end. I’ve never experienced this, yet I have been able to vicariously live through this ordeal thanks to Fergie’s sultry tones. The pain of being in love but knowing that, for your own good, you need to ‘get a move on’ with your life is translated into a song that's impossible not to sing along to. This is especially true of the chorus, which bombards you with energy after a relatively low-key first verse. The eclectic tone reflects Fergie's inner conflict, and her struggle to find peace and serenity.

The eclectic tone reflects Fergie's inner conflict, and her struggle to find peace and serenity.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe Fergie isn’t really that deep. Or maybe, just maybe, Fergie is a lyrical genius on par with Shakespeare, capable of weaving a heart wrenching tale of complex emotions, unearthing deep human truths about love, labour, and loss. To be honest though, the most likely explanation for my affinity to this song is that it's a fucking tune.

By Alex Cirant-Taljaard

Check out Redbrick Music's Valentine's Day playlists below.



Published

13th February 2018 at 1:21 pm

Last Updated

14th February 2018 at 1:25 pm



Images from

Tiny Buddha



Share