“Making a playlist is a delicate art,” as High Fidelity‘s Rob (Zoe Kravitz) would say. Whether you’re basking in light of a new crush, celebrating the anniversary of a first date, or wallowing in heartbreak, Rolling Stone has the playlist for you this Valentine’s Day.
If you want to celebrate your partner agreeing to settle down after a long period of “maybe”-ing:
Beyonce, “Love on Top”
Beyoncé threw back to the era of New Edition and Whitney Houston with this joyful song, which uses key changes to heighten its ecstatic feel.
Key lyric: “Nothing’s perfect but it’s worth it/After fighting through my tears and finally you put me first”
If you’re dusting yourself off after a breakup:
Lizzo, “Good as Hell”
Lizzo’s mission to uplift her listeners from any and all doldrums is clear on this 2016 single–turned–2019 hit, which is part motivational speech, part gospel-pop anthem.
Key lyric: “Boss up and change your life/You can have it all, no sacrifice/I know he did you wrong, we can make it right/So go and let it all hang out tonight”
If you’re over the whole thing and can’t wait for February 15 and half-price candy to arrive:
Bob Dylan, “Love Sick”
This track from Bob Dylan’s acclaimed 1997 album Time Out of Mind flips the idea of being “lovesick” into a brooding, jittery meditation on being constantly reminded of the heart’s wounds.
Key lyric: “I’m sick of love/I’m in the thick of it/This kind of love/I’m so sick of it”
If you’re trying to send signals to a person you’re into:
Prince, “I Wanna Be Your Lover”
Prince’s 1979 hit channels his pent-up frustration through jittery funk guitars, which only heighten the urgency of his plea.
Key lyric: “I didn’t want to pressure you, baby/But all I ever wanted to do/I wanna be your lover”
If you’re ready to finally make a move:
D’Angelo, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”
This stretched-out soul jam from D’Angelo’s 2000 album Voodoo has a powerhouse vocal from the soul master and a slow-burning groove that will heat up any room.
Key lyric: “I want to stop/Silly little games you and me play/And I am feeling right on/If you feel the same way, baby”
If you’re tired of games and just want to fully open your heart to someone:
Madonna’s fizzy 1989 smash sounds playful, but its lyrics about dropping one’s guard and being ready for a real love are anything but.
Key lyric: “So tired of broken hearts and losing at this game/Before I start this dance/I take a chance in telling you/I want more than just romance”
If you’re realizing how deeply you’ve fallen:
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”
Is there any better musical realization of being bowled over by emotion than Gaga’s 17-second “ahhh”? It’s the climactic moment of this duet from A Star Is Born, underlining the wonder of being in love.
Key lyric: “I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in/I’ll never meet the ground/Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us/We’re far from the shallow now”
If you’re so in love that you want to learn everything about your partner’s mind:
John Legend, “All of Me”
Give the Chrissy Teigen in your life their due with this head-over-heels ballad from John Legend, which celebrates the little things that make being in love even sweeter.
Key lyric: “You got my head spinning, no kidding, I can’t pin you down/What’s going on in that beautiful mind/I’m on your magical mystery ride/And I’m so dizzy, don’t know what hit me, but I’ll be alright/My head’s underwater/But I’m breathing fine”
If you’re trying to help your significant other through a hard time:
Sade, “By Your Side”
Sade Adu’s smooth vocal makes this plush soul song a tender, yet firm resolution of togetherness.
Key lyric: “You think I’d leave your side baby/You know me better than that/You think I’d leave you down/When you’re down on your knees/I wouldn’t do that”
If your significant other is dealing with insecurities and wants to make sweeping changes:
Billy Joel, “Just the Way You Are”
A love song for the ages. Billy Joel’s sax-assisted ode to the woman in his life is both supportive and awed, its “promise from the heart” recognizing the good times and the harder moments that are part of every relationship.
Key lyric: “Don’t go changin’/To try and please me/You never let me down before/Don’t imagine you’re too familiar/And I don’t see you anymore”
If you’re thinking of your lover but they’re far away:
Keyboardist Jonathan Cain wrote this song while on a tour bus, which got him thinking about balancing love and road life; lead vocalist Steve Perry turned it into a power ballad that members of the audience could relate to.
Key lyric: “And being apart ain’t easy on this love affair/Two strangers learn to fall in love again/I get the joy of rediscovering you/Oh, girl, you stand by me/I’m forever yours/Faithfully”
If you’re hoping to meet up with your new crush:
Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”
The Canadian pop sensation’s breakthrough single is a love-at-first-sight story told in miniature, with a delightfully analog idea at its core.
Key lyric: “I beg and borrow and steal/At first sight and it’s real/I didn’t know I would feel it/But it’s in my way”
If you’re celebrating with your spouse or longtime partner:
Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, “Islands in the Stream”
Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb wrote this doe-eyed duet, and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton turned it into one of country’s biggest crossover hits of the Eighties. Plus, it’s a great pick if you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day with a karaoke session.
Key lyric: “Islands in the stream/That is what we are/No one in between/How can we be wrong?”
If you can’t believe you and your partner have made it this far:
Shania Twain, “You’re Still the One”
This sumptuous country ballad from Canada’s queen of country crossover is part celebration of romance, part rebuke to those who thought it wouldn’t last.
Key lyric: “They said, ‘I bet they’ll never make it’/But just look at us holding on/We’re still together still going strong”
If you’re probing life’s existential questions with your lover:
The Beach Boys, “God Only Knows”
Paul McCartney’s favorite song of all time isn’t just a stunning example of Brian Wilson’s writing and arranging talents; it’s also a beautiful examination of love’s meaning in the grander scheme of life.
Key lyric: “If you should ever leave me/Though life would still go on, believe me/The world could show nothing to me/So what good would living do me?”
If friends of yours broke up and you’re anxious about your relationship:
Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together”
This R&B classic soothes the soul, thanks to its gentle grooves and the Reverend Al Green’s blessed vocal.
Key lyric: “Why some people break up/Then turn around and make up?/I just can’t see/You’d never do that to me (would you, baby?)”
If your mind keeps flashing back to the most painful memories from the past:
Nazareth, “Love Hurts”
Scottish hard rockers Nazareth turned the Everly Brothers’ swaying country-pop song into one of the most wrenching power ballads of the Seventies, with lead singer Dan McCafferty reaching deep into his emotions and pulling out a tear-stained vocal performance.
Key lyric: “I know a thing or two, I learned from you/ I really learned a lot, really learned a lot/ Love is like a flame, it burns you when it’s hot”
If you’re fresh off a breakup and trying to recenter your life:
Harry Nilsson, “Without You”
Harry Nilsson’s cover of Badfinger’s 1970 ballad is a master class in slow-building emotion, with his climactic wail sounding like that moment when a dam of tears finally breaks.
Key lyric: “I can’t live if living is without you/I can’t live, I can’t give anymore”
If you’re brooding over how your ex didn’t give love a chance:
Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”
Adele’s 2010 soul-pop classic lets loose the sort of rage that builds up gradually after a breakup, then explodes without warning — and it has a killer chorus, to boot.
Key lyric: “The scars of your love remind me of us/They keep me thinking that we almost had it all/The scars of your love they leave me breathless/I can’t help feeling/We could have had it all”
If you see your ex on the street and they don’t notice you:
Aerosmith, “What It Takes”
Steven Tyler went country a few years ago, but his band tried on their cowboy boots with this 1989 mosey, which turns memories and glimpses of an ex into fodder for a crying-in-your-beer jukebox hit.
Key lyric: “I used to feel your fire but now it’s cold inside/And you’re back on the street like you didn’t miss a beat, yeah”
Check out this additional playlist from Zoe Kravitz below.
Editor’s Note: A version of this story was originally published February 2020
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