Heard It In A Love Song

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Submitted by Don Graham

Love songs have been around forever. As far back as 4000 B.C. Back in ancient times, poetry was sung. We see drawings of the poet playing a lyre or other stringed instrument and although none of the melodies for these early love lyrics have survived we can imagine a softly strummed harp or lyre and a  melodic voice singing the words that have been preserved.

When we fall in love today, we feel what men and women felt in centuries past: desire, joy, disappointment, yearning and fulfillment.

So just how far back can we trace love songs? When Pharoah Rameses wanted to tell a beautiful, Egyptian lady that he found her desirable, did he have a court musician sing something that sounded like “Unchained Melody’?  Maybe he did? They have recovered 3500-year-old Egyptian love poems from pieces of papyrus and pottery fragments. They are filled with the same kind of language and sentiments that we hear in love songs today.

But let’s skip ahead some centuries. During the era of the troubadours, circa 1000 A.D. to 1200 A.D., the modern love ballad was born. Troubadours wrote love songs of timeless beauty and honesty. It seems the troubadours used whatever melodies were at hand, stealing from each other as well as using tunes that had been passed down through generations. Pre- plagiarism lawsuits I guess. But their lyrics were unique, personal and expressions of passionate love and desire. Unlike today’s songwriters, the troubadours took a risk in writing about romantic and physical attraction. This was an age when the Church dominated writing and such stuff , this was tantamount to heresy. Not only was the desired one not God, but the woman in question came dangerously close to being an object of worship herself, the ancient and powerful Goddess.

There is a long standing debate over whether England's King Henry VIII did, in fact, write "Greensleeves." He played several instruments including organ and harp, so he  could possibly have created the melody. There is a love letter written by him to Anne Boleyn which displays writing skill that makes you think he could have written the song's lyrics. Lines like "struck by the dart of love" sound a bit trite, but it shows he probably knew what a metaphor was.

The Brill BuildingThe Brill BuildingNow leaping ahead to more modern times, Stephen Foster is considered to be the first professional songwriter in America and one of its greatest. He wrote and rewrote his songs until he was satisfied, creating both original lyrics and melodies. Although he received wide recognition during his lifetime, he died in poverty due to personal problems and bad business deals. Sounds like today doesn’t it?? Some of his classic include "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair," "Beautiful Dreamer," and "Wilt Thou Be Gone Love."

George and Ira Gershwin filled Broadway theatres and Hollywood films with great love songs throughout the 1930's: "But Not For Me," "Embraceable You," "Love Walked In," "Our Love Is Here To Stay," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and the incomparable score for Porgy and Bess in 1935 which included "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" and "My Man's Gone Now." 

Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II ruled  the 1930's but we mustn’t forget Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart hit their stride in that decade Classic loves such as  "Dancing On The Ceiling," "Isn't It Romantic," "My Funny Valentine," "Where Or When," "Falling In Love With Love," and "This Can't Be Love."

 There were  great love songs being written in the 1940's, some by the arrangers themselves. Duke Ellington wrote and performed with his band throughout the 1930's but really hit his stride in the Forties when he co-wrote and recorded such standards as "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "I'm Beginning To See The Light," "Ring Around The Moon," and "The Wonder Of You." In 1939, he hired arranger Billy Strayhorn who helped to create Ellington's sound and set it into the musical history books. Strayhorn composed several brilliant instrumentals for the Ellington band but also found time to write a few great love songs including "Love Like This Can't Last" and "After All." 

You can’t talk about 1940's love songs without acknowledging the contribution of composer, lyricist, and singer Johnny Mercer. Mercer collaborated with practically all the great songwriters of the decade including Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael, and Harold Arlen. With this great group of co-writers he wrote such classics as "Fools Rush In," "Come Rain Or Come Shine," "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)," "That Old Black Magic," "Too Marvelous For Words," "How Little We Know," and "Something's Gotta Give." Together with film composer David Raksin, he collaborated on the Academy Award-winning theme song for the 1945 film noir classic, "Laura” directed by Otto Preminger.

Then came the 1950’s. In 1954, the Top Ten singles included Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Doris Day, and Rosemary Clooney. In 1955 the same Top Ten Charts included Bill Haley & His Comets and Fats Domino. In 1956, just two short years later, it was dominated by Elvis Presley, who held four out of the Top Ten spots with "Heartbreak Hotel," "Don't Be Cruel," "Hound Dog," and "Love Me Tender." Perry and Eddie and Rosemary would continue to hold onto chart positions, but there were now two very distinct kinds of love songs, each with its own audience.

In the 1960’s, teen love songs had  a new generation of songwriters: Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Cynthia Weil, Barry Mann, Jerry Lieber, and Mike Stoller. They went to work every day in Tin Pan Alley, pounding out their songs in small offices with beat up pianos. There they wrote songs that would sell millions of 45 RPM singles. The offices were located in New York's Brill Building at 1619 Broadway. There, some of the best love songs of the early 1960's were penned; songs like "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" (Mann/Weil/Spector), "Take Good Care Of My Baby" (Goffin/King), and "You're My Soul and Inspiration" (Mann/Weil singles.)  At the same time, in Detroit, Barry Gordy Jr. was creating Motown. His stable of songwriters and music producers included the legendary Smokey Robinson and the prolific team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who arguably created the Motown sound, writing ten Top 10 love songs for The Supremes, including "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "I Hear a Symphony," "My World Is Empty Without You," and "You Can't Hurry Love." But Smokey Robinson emerged as one of the finest songwriters of the era and his  work has influenced many others over the years, including such greats as Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie. Among Robinson's outstanding love songs are "I Second That Emotion," "Ooo Baby Baby" "The Tracks of My Tears," "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," "The Tears Of A Clown," "My Guy" and "The Way You Do The Things You Do."

On a Sunday evening in February 1964, teen love songs,  suddenly became a worldwide phenomenon. That night The Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan show singing "I Want To Hold Your Hand," "I Saw Her Standing There," "All My Loving" and "She Loves You." The next morning the book of love songs had a new page! As good as the songwriting teams of the Brill Building and Motown might be, Lennon and McCartney had a new breed.

The late 1960’s, with the advent of psychedelics and free love, love songs got a little  strange. At the same time, new love songs in the classic style were being written by the likes of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The late 1960’s was a mishmash of love song styles. There was something for everyone!

Jimmy Webb was one of the great songwriters to come out of this period,  writing the mainstream pop hit  "Up, Up And Away" for The Fifth Dimension and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix: “Galveston” for Glen Campbell. Less than a year later Webb created that masterpiece of other-worldly psychedelia, "MacArthur Park." The flip side was a great love song entitled  “Didn’t We?

In the 1970’s,  Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "Your Song," and Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight." were classic love songs. And of course The Marshall Tucker Band who gave us “Heard It In A Love Song” can’t be wrong!

The 1980’s were disco and the nineties gave us Whitney Houston’s remake of the classis Dolly Parton song “ I Will Always Love You.” and Celine Dion offered the Titanic theme of  “ My Heart Will Go On and On.”

And the new millennium? With auto tune and electronics and “Baby Baby Baby Oooh: is it any wonder that one of the biggest selling albums of this century is Rod Stewart's rendition of the classic ballads of the thirties and forties. I guess that proves that great love songs never go out of style!

And remember ..if you hear it in a love song…it can’t be wrong!!

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