1. The Barenaked Ladies – If I Had $1,000,000. This is the song that prompted this list to be created in the first place. It came on the radio when I was in the shower which is in itself, odd, I suppose; and although there is NOTHING romantic about buying one’s love as the song blatantly states, there is something about someone being in love with you, enough to buy you a monkey and a fridge in a tree house and Dijon ketchup that is quaint, quirky, and yes… romantic. Admit it: if someone wrote this song for you, you would be enamoured. And though I’m no expert on celebrity earnings, I would say all of the members of BNL now DO have well OVER $1,000,000; and maybe they don’t have llamas, emus or real fur coats, they have certainly made their mark with a timeless little song about taking a limousine “because it costs more”; meant to be romantic? Probably not; but it translates well and makes people smile. And it’s a good karaoke duet.
2. Ben Folds – Late. While this song is actually about the loss of the great Elliott Smith (October 21, 2003—rest in peace, Elliott), there is a kind of romance injected into the core of this song. The beginnings of the song – “I played the shows/got back in the van and put the walkman on/and you were playing”; conjures up images of struggling artists, dive-y clubs with holes in the wall, and impoverished beginnings; it’s a song about reminiscing about an old friend and hero. Another great line from Folds? “The songs you wrote/they got me through a lot – just want to tell you that/but it’s too late.” Few artists would dare to write something out that is so conversational and seemingly simple, but the love is there; it shows. The ‘starving artist’ motif over a backdrop of Folds’ virtuosic piano can only be seen as undyingly romantic, even though it is not by any means a “romance “song.
3. Ryan Adams – Dear Anne. This little-known unreleased demo track from Adams is interesting in that it is not an ode to a loved one in a stereotypical sense; rather, this song taps into Adams’ apparent love and interest in The Diary of Anne Frank; yes, the song is about the infamous story of Frank; in the pining chorus, Adams warbles, “who turned you in?” and finishes the song with a winsome “you was a beautiful child.” Tragic and beautiful and somehow yearning, Adams taps into the somewhat familiar emotion of wishing to meet, know or be a part of someone who is no longer with us; “I want to thank you for your thoughts/though they weren’t mine to read/PS: keep an eye on me”. His word choices and the endearing qualities of Frank’s that he chooses to point out are nothing short of romantic.
4. Blitzen Trapper – Green River Killer. How is it that a song about murder can be so lovely? Blitzen Trapper make beautiful yet simple music together combining all of the best ingredients of folk and pop – the parts that people barely even realize exist, but love just the same – and they run away with your heart while doing so. And this song, in all its gruesome darkness, is no different than a truly romantic tune; Blitzen Trapper rarely writes conventional romantic ditties; they sing about werewolves and delve into all kinds of weird and wonderful topics. But that only enhances their kooky romantic appeal.
5. Wilco – Country Disappeared. This song is about… I’m not sure. It’s poetry, and poetry – especially coming from the lyricist responsible for the infamous opening line, “I am an American aquarium drinker/I assassin down the avenue” – is confusing at best. What I can glean from this song however, isn’t stereotypically ‘romantic’; rather, it is a conglomerate of intense imagery, perhaps pertaining to tumultuous times contrasted with the world’s beauty? Yes, I am hazarding a weak guess; but the one line I pull from this tragically beautiful gem – “I won’t take no/I won’t let you go all by yourself/I know you’ll need my help” – is in itself, epically romantic; it speaks to the dreamer in us all, as Tweedy’s breath-grasping lyrics typically do. Steeped in originality and open to all kinds of bizarre or simplistic interpretation, this is certainly a romantic song; maybe the most romantic of Wilco’s fantastic self-titled record.
6. Crash Test Dummies – The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead. The grungy cover of XTC’s original song is… an allegory to Jesus? A contemporaried-up version of events leading up to crucifixion? It’s an anti-establishment song about do-gooders brought to anti-justice; but there are some tender moments that can be gleaned from thinking about this ‘good’ person “nailed to a chunk of wood”—and from that pathos, as well as the oddly-bouncy melody, comes the kind of love that is much more conventional than the song refers to at face value.
7. The Beatles – Happiness is a Warm Gun. According to the great piece of music knowledge lit, the Beatles Anthology, this song has three sections; “the dirty old man”, “the junkie”, and “the gunman” (the third being a satire of 50s rock and roll). Romantic? Um… no. But that first section, the one that describes being “well-acquainted with the touch of a velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane”… I don’t think anyone’s ever going to come up with something so.. so.. Indescribably yet subtly sexual – ever again in the history of popular music; at least which makes THIS much of a classical impact.
8. The Verve Pipe – The Freshmen. This song is at its bare bones, a 90s pop/rock song about a girlfriend’s abortion and suicide, and yet it has somehow eked its way into pop culture, spawning a couple of covers, despite its dabbling with material far darker than that particular genre usually dared to venture at its peak; it is a small streak of that dark, undying romance, that so often plagues us when we feel either unrequited love, or loss. In the song, there is no baby; there is no wedding; somebody dies. It is classic melodrama worthy of some drippy show like Party of Five; and that in itself, is kind of romantic.
9. The New Radicals – You Get What You Give. Apparently, we’ve journeyed back to the late 1990s suddenly; and in fact, that is what I regard, the time of the twentieth century when some really, truly terrible throwaway one-hit wonder garbage was being produced – again and again and again. However, while this song fits most of the aforementioned categories it is one of the GREATEST SONGS EVER (without a shred of irony). It has it all; pop culture references to timely celebs like Courtney Love and Hanson; hatred for said-timely celebs; the line “we’re flat broke, but hey – we do it in style” – perhaps the most ‘90s’ line ever in a song from that era. While this song has little hints of romance to it in a very blatant way, the ultimate point of the song is to say something about rebellion and the rejection of convention in terms of popular culture, the rich elite, and so on and so on. To me, it’s just a big, boisterous, catchy romantic burst of pure, true love.
10. The Monkees – Daydream Believer. While somewhat of a pop classic, this song – which is lyrically a complete non-sensical disasterpiece – is actually a relic for the sake of being a relic; it’s hopelessly dated drivel that is produced and recorded blandly, with little thought to exactly what it means to “cheer up, Sleepy Jean”… oh what can it mean indeed… however, perhaps it’s that tinny toy piano, or the simperingly sweet bridge, Davey Jones’ adorable short British nice-ness, or the harkening back to times of innocence, when a song like this wasn’t too naive to make a splash on the radio, that gives this song a true mask of romance, despite being about and meaning very little at all.