Flowers are nice. Candy is, too. But nothing makes a heart melt like words and a simple tune.
Yep, a love song - silly or otherwise - is often one of the most powerful connections a couple can share. It might be the first song they dance to together, or the tune that's playing as their eyes meet across a crowded room, or one by a musician they both adore.
The context is part of what gives a melody that "our song" status, but, no matter what the specifics, that song is destined to lodge in the memory and stay there - even if, for some unfortunate reason, it must be dislodged from the heart.
So, why is starry-eyed romance so tied to music?
"Nothing touches people like a good love song," says April Anderson, managing director of New York's National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame, who notes the love theme has been around "from the birth of music in general."
"It's a timeless kind of a medium. It runs the gamut of emotion," she says. "There's always a little sadness hidden in a love song because it reminds people of something that might not last." The most-recorded song of all time, after all, is the lovelorn ode, "Yesterday," by Paul McCartney, reports the Guinness Book of World Records.
The fact is, we spend a lot of time thinking about love, whether we're seeking it, in it, fallout out of it, or losing it - and probably always have. The marriage of music and love, though, became official as of the 16th century, when the serenade, or serenata, was a widespread custom. In Venice, serenading was of course performed from gondolas. Elsewhere in Renaissance Europe, a serenade was an evening event, involving the lover singing, with instrumental accompaniment, beneath the window of his beloved. In Shakespeare's "Two Gentleman of Verona," Proteus advises Thurio: "Visit by night your lady's chamber window/ with some sweet concert...."
But love is not a musical obsession in all cultures. Here's a telling passage from the book "Gila: Life and Death of an American River": An anthropologist asked a Hopi Indian why so many of his people's songs were about rain. The Hopi replied, "Because water is so scarce." Then he questions the anthropologist: "Is that why so many of your songs are about love?"
The truth is Americans are suckers for love songs - and have been for generations. A ranking of love songs by decade dating from 1910, just before commercial radio took off, shows the enduring appeal of the genre: "Someone to Watch Over Me," George & Ira Gershwin (1920s); "As Time Goes By, Herman Hupfeld, (1930s); "The Look of Love," by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (1960s). The list was compiled by ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers).
The group has just added a top five for 2000 through 2002, so here's what you'll be hearing at weddings five, 10, or even 30 years from now: No. 1 is Faith Hill's "Breathe," written by Holly Lamar and Stephanie Bentley. Hill also takes the No. 4 spot with "The Way You Love Me," written by Michael Dulaney and Keith Folles. No. 2 is "Back to One," composed and performed by Brian McKnight; No. 3 is Savage Garden's "I Knew I Loved You," written by Darren Hayes and Daniel Jones; and No. 5 is Dido's "Thank You," written by Paul Herman.
The music video channel VH1 posted its own Top 100 love songs list on its Website late last year. Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" ranked No. 1, followed by Elvis Presley's swooning "Love Me Tender" and Celine Dion's Titanic-voiced "My Heart Will Go On."
Boston-based wedding DJ Joe Golini has fielded many requests for cherished songs. "It's that little special thing. If they hear it, it will always bring them back to that point in time," he says. "It's something that's probably going to be with them for the rest of their life."
To gain a little more insight about love songs, we asked professional tunesmiths what gets their fans' - or their own - hearts fluttering.
One of the most popular songs for pianist Jim Brickman is titled "Valentine." "Every one of my songs is a love song," Brickman explains. The one that seems most popular with fans is "The Gift," which he says is about "things you give to one another that go beyond possessions." Go ahead, just say "aww." When it comes to love songs, corn is OK. So are inspirational stories that make even lovelorn Feb. 14 haters think, "It can happen to me." At one of his concerts, Brickman recalls a woman who had recently broken up with her boyfriend and wound up sitting near a solo-traveling guy. "The two of them met and started dating and eventually got married," Brickman reports proudly.
Emotion is key, agrees angel-voiced singer/songwriter Martin Sexton, who says his fans relate to his song, "Can't Stop Thinking About You." It's about losing someone and trying to push her memory away by driving aimlessly through the night rain. For some reason, sad songs tend to speak even louder than sappy-sweet ones. Sexton has a theory about why. "It comes from the heart. It comes from personal experience. It's real." His list of favorites is topped by Beatles classics: "I Want You" and "The End/Her Majesty" from the album "Abbey Road." The latter, he says, "just hits me whenever I'm in love or freshly out of love, as I have been many times."
R&B/soul hitmaker Raphael Saadiq, who's up for five Grammys including Best R&B Album (for "Instant Vintage"), says fans tell him his song "Me and You" brings them together - in love and/or seduction. Saadiq, who started his career in Tony, Toni, Toné, and Lucy Pearl, has worked with some of the hottest names in the business, including Erykah Badu and the sexy D'Angelo. He definitely knows something about how to ignite the fires of romance with a song. One from his latest disc that he particularly likes is "Still Ray." "It says, 'I'm coming home to you.' That's the first line," Saadiq quotes. " 'Wear something sexy.' "
When Daniel Rodriguez proposed to his wife, he sang a sweet rendition of "Be My Love." "I am a romantic," says Mr. Rodriguez, who warmed the nation's spirit after 9/11 with his moving deliveries of "God Bless America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner." Romance is a big part of his life. That may be why Rodriguez puts the 1949 Sammy Cahn/Nicholas Brodszky tune "Be My Love" at the top of his romantic list. The song is a favorite of Placido Domingo. But he didn't need Domingo to win his girl's heart. Maybe the words alone did it. How could she resist a line like "No one else can end this yearning/ this need that you and you alone create"?
As the daughter of Woody Guthrie, Nora Guthrie comes from a political folkie tradition. But her prolific father was also a romantic who left many love lyrics behind. They're among dozens of compositions that Ms. Guthrie has been asking other artists to set to music. Her "our song" tune, however, is a traditional song called "The Water Is Wide," updated by her father's friend Pete Seeger. She met her husband, German journalist Michael Kleff, at a folk conference, appropriately enough. The title "The Water Is Wide,"is a perfect fit because "our love has taken us across the ocean many, many times, to each other and to each other's cultures, and then even beyond."
• Stacey Vanek Smith in New York contributed to this report.