Melanie Love's 101 Favorite Songs

by Melanie Love

I haven’t written in a long time. Well, that’s not quite true – I churned out a dissertation and co-authored a book (Secrets And Lies In Psychotherapy, for anyone intrigued!). While I’ve been kept away from music writing, I’ve still been as steeped in songs as ever. I’ve found that my music consumption has changed shape a bit over the years: I’ll devour a few albums deeply and obsessively, and then find myself exploring individual songs. So this task was a refreshing one, as I got to comb the depths of my Spotify for what has moved me over the last few years and even the decades before that! I hope you enjoy. (Note: there is no order to this list; this is just the way they popped into my brain.)

The National – “I Should Live In Salt”kanyewest_dark_150
A nearly impossible task to choose a favorite song from one of my all-time favorite songs, but this one has lingered with me for years. It shimmers its way through themes of guilt, misunderstanding, and loss, Matt Berninger’s voice guiding us through like a touchstone.  

Kanye West – “Runaway”
Back in the day when Kanye West still had the capacity for insight and self-reflection, this nine-minute stunner builds up from stark piano keys to a dissolution of reverb as West takes himself to task for the ways he defends against vulnerability. 

The Weeknd – “Real Life”
Another artist that’s hard to narrow down to a few songs. Beauty Behind The Madness is an album I return to frequently, and this opener is a pounding, raw declaration of what’s to come: a whole career of chart-topping, stick-with-you songs plumbing the depths of excess and the compromises of stardom.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Under The Bridge”
As a Los Angeles native, born and raised, I’m legally required to include a track from RHCP. This is an anthem that has followed me all the way to becoming a New Yorker, and it holds up wherever you are. But this is best played blasting out the window of a car. 

Neutral Milk Hotel – “Two Headed Boy”
One of my favorites from an epic, eternally stunning album. I forever owe my teenage self for her good taste. This one is jammed with haunting imagery, strident guitars, and Jeff Magnum’s distinctively yearning voice.

Foo Fighters – “Everlong”
A classic from one of our most enduring rock bands, it proves the Foos could move from tender to heavy and back again in one seamless moment.

Florence & The Machine – “Delilah”
Florence has had much bigger hits, and I love those, too, but something about this cut from 2015’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful has stuck with me. I love the Biblical themes, Florence’s soaring voice, and the refrain: “Too fast for freedom / Sometimes it all falls down / These chains never leave me / I keep dragging them around.”

Lana Del Rey – “Black Beauty”
Funny how much I originally despised Lana when she first emerged on the scene, because years later she became one of my most listened to artists of all time. My patron saint for romantic torment, “Black Beauty” is a deep cut from 2014’s Ultraviolence (which will come up again later in this list) that positively drips with pathos, carried along by Lana’s angelic voice and the soft instrumentation.

Taylor Swift – “All Too Well”taylorswift_red_150
Another artist who will pop up again just because I couldn’t narrow her to one song. I can’t help being a Swiftie when her songs are just this good; this one was never even a single but became a classic. It distills a relationship with rich, evocative detail and captures the subsequent breakup even better.

Frightened Rabbit – “Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms”
I listened to this song on repeat for an entire summer in 2016 in a particularly painful moment in time, and luckily the song survived intact in my heart despite the associations. Like all Frightened Rabbit songs, it’s gained in poignancy since Scott Hutchinson’s suicide. Having the music to come back to even after his loss is an eternal gift.

Pinegrove – “Rings”
This one touches on themes of transformation and the small, endlessly repeated steps it takes to build yourself a better life. It’s a strong opener from an overall tight album that shambles its way through its folky, open-hearted tunes.

Sufjan Stevens – “Mystery Of Love”
Sufjan Stevens – “Vision Of Gideon”

Two tearjerkers that are impossible to choose between from the “Call Me By Your Name” soundtrack. I can listen to these in any kind of mood and instantly become somber, reflective, and keyed into some memory of lost love; Sufjan is just a master at transporting you there.

Sons Of An Illustrious Father – “Loveletting”
From a small indie trio that describes themselves as “genre queer,” led by actor Ezra Miller, comes this final track on first EP Sons that has wormed its way into my most played songs. It careens all over the place with a throbbing energy all centered on the refrain “Our love is worth a real long try / And I’m just trying to be worthy / We’re all just trying to be worthy of each other’s life.” 

Sloththrust – “Horseshoe Crab”
Punky and effervescent, this one builds in intensity until it become a swirling epic chock full of gritty imagery.

Dessa – “Mineshaft”
A rapper, a poet, a songstress – Dessa can do it all. “Mineshaft” – like all her work really – is pure artistry set to music.

Rihanna & Mikky Ekko – “Stay”
I’ve always found this song incredibly beautiful, strangely romantic in spite of its depiction of a love that seems doomed.

Lord Huron – “The Night We Met”
2015’s Strange Tales as a whole is a folky, catchy romp through the woods, and “The Night We Met” is a tender tale of loss with an indelible chorus: “I had all and then most of you / Some of you, now none of you / Take me back to the night we met.”

Lykke Li – “Silver Springs”
I had tried to adhere to one song per artist and went to covers as a workaround before realizing I actually listen to this more than the original Fleetwood Mac cut. Lykke Li does an impressive job and her voice is well-suited to the way this song swells and recedes around the memory of an ex-lover.

Fleetwood Mac – “The Chain”fleetwoodmac_rumours
A driving, propulsive anthem. Near the end, the slow build-up from ominous bass into a skittering explosion of guitar work and the band harmonizing together is unforgettable.

AFI – “Girl’s Not Grey”
2003’s Sing The Sorrow is a guilty pleasure that I don’t even hold much guilt about because it’s so freaking catchy. For a brooding teenager, this disc was a lifesaver, and these songs hold up well 17 years later (oof) with their snarling energy.

Elton John – “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”
This song is an open-hearted first step out of darkness into the light from one of our most legendary singers.

Arcade Fire – “Crown Of Love”
An enduring moment from my teenage years that still sounds as fresh as it did in 2004. The whole album is a stunner, and I thought about going for single “Wake Up,” but I adore the warm, melting beat of this before it breaks out into a full-on dance party.

Death Cab For Cutie – “Marching Bands Of Manhattan”
I couldn’t have anticipated when I first fell in love with this song at 2005 that I’d be writing this piece from the corner of my apartment in Manhattan. It makes it all the more evocative. (I actually used to limit myself on how much I’d spin this one so that it wouldn’t overstay its welcome.) 

Bon Iver – “Skinny Love”
A heartwrenching ode to a love that has faded away. The entire album itself is a classic of the genre, though to be fair, Justin Vernon created his own genre of agonizing heartbreak and wintry folk on For Emma, Forever Ago.

Pixies – “Where Is My Mind?”
An indelible moment of swirling, freaky, perfect for yelling out your car window alt-rock.

Everclear – “Santa Monica”
An ode to parental disappointment and California; this one captures the rage and longing of a rejected kid to his father from the bitter knowledge of an adult: “I am still dreaming of your face / Hungry and hollow for all the things you took away.”

Smashing Pumpkins – “Spaceboy”
Siamese Dream was a touchstone album for me growing up, and the eerie, free-floating “Spaceboy” is a breath of softness amid a grunge explosion.

U2 – “Bad”
U2 will make it onto the list with two entries: one early in their career, and one later in their ascension to superstardom. This one, an epic slow-burner from The Unforgettable Fire, pairs the sweetness and power of Bono’s young voice with a wall of shimmering instrumentation.  

The Kinks – “This Time Tomorrow”
The Rolling Stones – “Play With Fire”

These two entries came to me courtesy of Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited. No one captures a mood better, and they’ve lived with me beyond the soundtrack.

Guns N’ Roses – “November Rain”
As a teenager, I was a massive Guns N’ Roses fan; I devoured the double album, made my way through a giant biography of Axl Rose, and of course, jammed out to this overstuffed yet totally glorious epic. 

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Last Dance With Mary Jane”tompetty_gh
An early favorite from my journey into classic rock. Ridiculously catchy with a beat that will find its way into your head and a powerful combo of guitar and harmonica.

Coldplay – “To Kingdom Come”
Coldplay on the cusp of becoming grandiose and kind of boring; but this one is an entirely romantic acoustic gem that revels in its own tenderness.

Phantogram – “Never Going Home”
Hard to pick a favorite from Phantogram, whose more recent albums I’ve spun into oblivion. “Never Going Home” is an ominous, slow-builder that gazes straight on into messed-up family dynamics as an electro backbeat encompasses the vocals.

The Shins – “Caring Is Creepy”
The Shins – “New Slang”

It feels impossible to disentangle these two, both of whom I picked up from – where else – Garden State. The lyrics are like oddly misshapen puzzle pieces that somehow fit together into something lovely, and the songs themselves always manage to sound fresh.

Taylor Swift – “Wildest Dreams”
T. Swift has had so many bigger hits than this one, even the ones on this same album (1989), but “Wildest Dreams” is where I always come back to land. It’s just gorgeous, capturing a love affair that you know will end badly but you can’t help but lean into the burning.

Lana Del Rey – “Cruel World”
Lana Del Rey – “Ultraviolence”

I pair these together – the opening two cuts from 2014’s Ultraviolence – because they bleed into each other so seamlessly. Lana wields her pen as a sword on this whole disc, tangling in song with the all-too compelling bad boys that leave her listless. “Shared my body and my life with you / That’s way over now” and “He hit me and it felt like a kiss” are gut-wrenching no matter how many times I listen.

The National – “Terrible Love”
It’s tough not to have at least a third of this list be National songs, but I’m trying to contain myself. This standout from 2010’s High Violet opens the album with the line “It’s a terrible love and I’m walking with spiders.” Weird, glorious, and welcoming you with its arms wide open: pretty much the National in a nutshell.

Third Eye Blind – “How’s It Going To Be?”
One of my favorite breakup anthems, which asks the eternal question: where does all the love go when its gone?

San Fermin – “Open”
A band who won me over with their live show and who don’t sound too shabby on disc either. “Open” opens (ha) 2017’s Belong, and it captures the disc’s avant-garde, orchestral yet still indie, oddly catchy compositions that just beg you to sing along.

Frightened Rabbit – “The Oil Slick”
If I were brave enough to get song lyrics tattooed on me, it would probably be this song’s outro, which captures the urge to live and love even amid one’s own self-hatred: “There is light but there’s a tunnel to crawl through / There is love but misery loves you / We’ve still got hope so I think we’ll be fine / In these disastrous times.” All the more poignant after Scott Hutchinson’s death.

Talos  – “Your Love Is An Island”
Talos creates such a sense of atmosphere on this gentle cut, which has room to breathe with its hushed vocals and sparse instrumentation and equally spare lyrics . Yet it also feels hot with energy: “Your love is an island / I’m scorched in the sands of it” goes the song in refrain, gaining in intensity.

Mansionair – “Easier”
The album surrounding it was a bit of a letdown, but “Easier” is endlessly listenable. I like to think this describes a toxic affair that feels impossible to get out of (“I’m stuck, I’m stuck / I’m stuck here in my sin / I’m stuck with you…tell me it gets easier”). The combination of staccato synths and gentle vocals is just lovely.

Arcade Fire – “My Body Is A Cage”
Closing out 2007’s Neon Bible is this slow-burner that erupts into something so much bigger. The instrumentation here is haunting and wholly encompassing, huge walls of sound that wrap around Win Butler’s plaintive vocals.

Bush – “Glycerine”bush_sixteen
I’ve always had an odd soft spot for this grungy gem from the ‘90s. Not sure why, since I was never particularly into Bush, but something about the melodies and sentiment of “Glycerine” have always been arresting to me.

George Michael – “One More Try”
George Michael’s voice is one of my all-time favorites. His range was jaw-dropping, and his ability to move in his songcraft from overt sexuality to tender ballads is legendary.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps”
One of the best encapsulations of romantic pain and longing; the line “Wait, they don’t love you like I love you” is just searing, no matter how many times I hear it.

Ariana Grande – “Dangerous Woman”
Grande’s voice is actually pretty excellent on this anthem that’s kinda empowering but mostly just full-on sexy.

Nico – “These Days”
An ocean of pain and loss, and a hard look at one’s own choices, distilled into a single, sub-three minute song.

Okkervil River – “For Real”
I know there are songs more aggressive out there, but this one has always been one I return to when I need a burst of raw, dangerous violence: “I really miss what really did exist / When I held your throat so tight / And I missed the bus as it swerved from us / Almost came crashing to its side.” Sheff’s voice is a firestorm and the staccato beats weave in and out as sharp as knives.

Damien Rice – “Rootless Tree”
Another one for angry days, this one coming unexpectedly from the Irish singer-songwriter better known for the delicate, hushed “The Blower’s Daughter.” “Rootless Tree” captures the uprooting of a breakup as pain transmogrifies into bitter rage.

Chris Cornell  – “Nothing Compares 2 U”
I do love Sinead O’Connor’s original, but something about Chris Cornell’s cover – the weary, distinctive rasp of his voice, the plaintive refrain “Where did I go wrong?”, the simple but yearning violin – just lands even better.

Billie Eilish – “Ocean Eyes”
The teen queen of modern emo busted onto the scene with this understated slow-burner. Eilish’s voice rings pure and high as crystal swathed by dreamy instrumentation. “Ocean Eyes” absolutely belies the fact that she put this out at fourteen years old.

Queen – “Somebody To Love”
I find it an insurmountable task to pick a single Queen song. As I’ve made known on this site time and time before, they’re my all-time favorite band – so much so that I even had a period where I really adored 1982’s critically reviled Hot Space. But “Somebody To Love” is a fair shot at one of their best songs. Freddie Mercury’s voice is untouchable and the whole band coalesces together as beautifully as always. 

Death Cab For Cutie – “Transatlanticism”deathcab_trans
Coming to us from the 2003 album of the same name, “Transatlanticism” still feels totally unique yet universal in its messages of wanting to reach out to your beloved no matter the distance, and the exquisite pain of that separation.

Gesaffelstein (feat. The Weeknd) – “Lost In The Fire”
Sneaking the Weeknd in again, this time as a co-star to French producer and DJ Gesaffelstein. “Lost In The Fire” is sultry yet surprisingly tende.

Vampire Weekend – “Unbearably White”
I can only spin this one every so often as it reminds me of a particularly painful time in life, but it’s one that provided me much solace. It captures the snowy chill of a breakup in process, as one partner turns away despite reasons to stay. 

Ra Ra Riot – “Oh, La”
Rollicking yet serious in its tone (“We’ve got a lot to learn from each other / We have got to stay together”), this track from indie rockers Ra Ra Riot is a glorious debut.

U2 – “Walk On”
And for late-period U2: while about half of 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind was cheesy and forgettable, the other half was stellar and some of their greatest peaks. Among these is “Walk On,” which highlights the Edge’s guitar work, Bono’s soulful voice, and plaintive lyrics.

Jeff Buckley – “Hallelujah”
A guaranteed tearjerker. A cover of Leonard Cohen that has superseded the original, and not just because Buckley’s life was tragically cut short. This song stands on its own, a heavy sigh set to music.

London Grammar – “Wasting My Young Years”
A total heart-jerker. Hannah Reid’s vocals are operatic and evocative, leading us through this

Rhye – “Phoenix”
Everything Rhye puts their fingers to instantly becomes pure, swooning sultriness. It’s tough to pick a favorite because they do well at creating a mood and texture to their albums, but “Phoenix” edges to the front because of its energy and catchiness.

Elton John – “Your Song”
One of the ultimate love songs. Honestly, my first introduction to this song was through Moulin Rouge via Ewan McGregor, but the Elton original is a timeless classic.

ABBA – “Lay All Your Love On Me”
A guilty pleasure that’s really impossible to feel guilty about because everything ABBA creates is a stick-in-your-head pop sensation.

Bon Iver – “Re: Stacks”
It’s not to say I don’t enjoy later period Bon Iver, but For Emma, Forever Ago is truly where it’s at. This closer is another textured, evocative standout full of Justin Vernon’s fractured glass poetry.

Milky Chance – “Sweet Sun”
This German folk pop duo is better known for their single “Stolen Dance” off first album Sadnecessary, though I think “Sweet Sun” is a notch above. The shivering backbeat, jaunty bass, and beckoning vocals (“You push me up to the inglorious shadows of a craving”) coalesce together into a total flirtation of a song. 

Matt & Kim – “Daylight”
One of the most glorious, effervescent live shows I’ve attended. And “Daylight,” probably the Brooklyn-based duo’s greatest hit, is utterly joyous punky pop. It’s best listened to wandering down a New York street. 

Maroon 5 – “Tangled”
It’s mind-blowing that Maroon 5 has survived this long past their 2002 debut, still churning out hit-or-miss tunes. Still, their early songs retain a fresh, jazzy soulfulness baked into a relentless catchy pop song, and “Tangled” – a deeper cut hidden behind “This Love,” “Harder To Breathe,” and “She Will Be Loved” – is a compelling ode to infidelity.

Eminem – “No Love”
Other than getting a doctorate, my life’s big achievement is my ability to rap along with about 3/4 of Eminem’s lighting speed verse in this track. The Recovery album as a whole was a return to form for Em after a few spotty discs, and this one – with Lil Wayne accompanying – is a tour de force.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Scar Tissue”redhotchili_calif
Another California anthem from RHCP. This one never overstays its welcome, and the lyrics are poetry in their own way.

Band Of Horses – “Funeral”
“At every occasion, I’ll be ready for a funeral” is among the most poignant lines in music. Decked out by orchestral swaths of instrumentation, including distinctive trills of guitar, and Ben Bridwell’s rafter-reaching vocals, “Funeral” sounds fresh fourteen years on.

Lady Gaga – “Bad Romance”
Early on in her reign as a pop queen comes this 2009 anthem, including its standout chorus: “I want your love and I want your revenge / You and me could write a bad romance.” Try to get it unstuck from your head.

Okkervil River – “John Allyn Smith Sails”
Okkervil’s 2007 album The Stage Names was one of their tightest albums, and this poetic closer is at once maudlin yet somehow jubilant. It brims full of life force, ultimately erupting into a singalong chorus yelled bigger and bigger until it dies down into just Sheff’s tender voice.

Pixies – “Hey”
This one will always be tinged with memories of singing it loudly and badly out a car window as a teenager in suburbia with little else to do. But beyond that, it’s still a churning buzzsaw of punky goodness as the Pixies do so well.

Islands – “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby”
Islands is a deeply, delightfully odd band, and their debut Return To The Sea contained a multitude of styles that somehow all came together seamlessly. This one shuffles along jauntily, breaking up some of the heavier tunes.

Elliott Smith – “Last Call”
Coming in near the end of Smith’s 1994 day is this cut, which has the power to wreck you. Smith was amongst the best at wrenching emotion out of a song, and “Last Call” builds inexorably to its repeated outro, which flickers out like a candle being snuffed.

Avicii – “Wake Me Up”
Swedish producer Avicii created an anthem of 2012, which has stayed with me since it’s the year I graduated college; this one was played endlessly on the radio that year, and I never grew tired of singing along to its deceptively buoyant chorus: “Wake me up when it’s all over / When I’m wiser and I’m older / All this time I was finding myself / I didn’t know I was lost.” 

Sam Smith – “Nirvana”
An early cut from British pop singer-songwriter Sam Smith that should’ve made it onto one of his albums because it’s gorgeous, a swooning encapsulation of that moment right before the beginning of a romantic entanglement that has gone wrong before and has the potential to go wrong again, yet feels irresistible. 

Lewis Del Mar – “Loud(y)”
Shoutout to this Rockaway Beach, NY based trio whose first EP, entitled succinctly EP, drew me in back in 2016. Their tunes are choppy, jammed full of textures, and resonant as all heck.

Smashing Pumpkins – “Disarm”
It’s funny that both the Pumpkins songs that made it on my list are their rarer downbeat moments. This one is barely more than Corgan and gorgeous swaths of acoustic guitar and violin. The lyrics are just gut-wrenching no matter how often you hear them: “Disarm you with a smile / And leave you like they left me here / To wither in denial / The bitterness of one who’s left alone.”

Phil Collins – “In The Air Tonight”
Unforgettable just for that drum break alone, though the rest of the song is delightfully ominous each time I listen to it.

Years & Years – “King”yearsyears_communion_150
Pure dance pop gloriousness from Years & Years 2015 debut Communion that navigates deeper romantic themes underneath its swirling instrumentation.

Lucius – “Two Of Us On The Run”
Lucius crafts a nice blend of torchy folk rock. On this cut, there’s little more than acoustic guitar and delicate wisps of vocals as it starts out before it grows in soulful power by its conclusion.

The Kills – “Echo Home”
A softer moment near the end of the Kills’ Ash & Ice, though the heaviness always pervades, throbbing with energy underneath the surface of this song.

Kesha – “Praying”
An anthem of reckoning and hopefulness from Kesha, who extricated herself from a menacing force yet refused to give up her dignity or her sense of empathy.

George Michael – “Fastlove”
George Michael somehow captures the grief of losing a lover and turns it into an upbeat, clubby pop song about translating that pain into casual sex, which is all his broken heart can handle. Plus, he’s one of the best vocalists of our time.

Doomtree – “Fresh New Trash”
From Minnesota rap collective Doomtree comes this punchy closer to 2011’s No Kings; while I’m partial to poet/songstress Dessa’s verse, every member of the group gets their moment to shine in this theme of defiance and dedication to one’s craft.

Daniel Caesar – “We Find Love”
I don’t just love this one because it comes from an album called Freud, though as a psychologist, I admit it’s what drew me into giving Caesar a spin. “We Find Love” is an ode to romantic failure that’s pretty simple in its execution, carried by his solid voice as he sings “You don’t love me anymore / Let’s see how you like this song” amid a backdrop of gentle piano and hushed “oohs.”

HAIM – “Let Me Go”
2013’s Days Are Gone from sister trio HAIM got me through the bulk of writing my dissertation, not to say that it’s background music. There’s a little bit of Stevie Nicks to be found in their blend of folky pop that rings out with a sense of urgency.

Queen – “Love Of My Life”
Few live moments are more beautiful than Freddie Mercury, accompanied by Brian May on acoustic guitar, doing a call and response with a massive audience, who are all – for that brief moment in time – cupped in the palm of hand. Even in its original form on the album, “Love Of My Life” is delicate and arresting in its vulnerability.

Lucy Dacus – “Timefighter”
A recent addition to my repertoire who I discovered when she was touring with the National. Dacus’ voice is powerful, seductive and commanding, and “Timefighter” is a particular peak on an already strong album, unfolding over six minutes as it explores themes of death, legacy, and memory.

Banks – “Beggin For Thread”
Los Angeles-based Banks careened onto the scene with her 2014 album Goddess, on which “Beggin’ For Thread” is a standout. It’s alt pop that intersects its way through R&B, all while capturing a mood of romantic intrigue.

Bob Dylan – “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”
A classic of the breakup genre, though with all Dylan songs there’s perpetual mystery surrounding the meaning. He’s a poet through and through, and this one is no different.

Selena Gomez – “Same Old Love”
Another not so guilty pleasure for when you need a little feminine empowerment.

Whitney Houston – “How Will I Know?”
Houston’s voice is irrepressible, and while this song is so clearly from the ‘80s with its mechanized synths, the vocals carry the day.

Annie Lennox – “Wonderful”annielennox_bare
Lennox has more well-known songs (and I could’ve gone for a Eurythmics one here, too) but this one reminds me so indelibly of driving around with my mom as a 13-year-old since it was her favorite.

Haddaway – “What Is Love?”
Because music should bring you joy (well, sometimes); this ‘80s banger just makes me smile and sing along every time I hear it.

Dark Rooms – “I Get Overwhelmed”
Dark Rooms formed the entirety of the soundtrack to the film A Ghost Story, which I ultimately remember more for the songs – including this strange, surreal cut that plays with themes about photography and highlights Daniel Hart’s gorgeous falsetto.

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