In my opinion, the best love song lyrics come from my teen years, the iconic recording by the Flamingos of “I Only Have Eyes for You,” written by Harry Warren, a song that still holds up today. It begins with a Tin Pan Alley Introductory Verse, then spins out in the traditional Standards form, AABA:

The Flamingos ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’

Introductory Verse:
My love must be a kind of blind love
I can’t see anyone but you
A: Are the stars out tonight?
I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright
I only have eyes for you, dear
A: The moon may be high
But I can’t see a thing in the sky
I only have eyes for you
B: I don’t know if we’re in a garden
Or on a crowded avenue
A: You are here and so am I
Maybe millions of people go by
But they all disappear from view
And I only have eyes for you

So much to love here, like the use of sense-bound language. Even though I sees nothing but you, listeners see a bounty of romantic images: stars, clouds, sun, moon and sky, gardens, streets and crowds. And the listeners will supply each of the images from their own sense memories, Kensington Gardens, The Fens in Boston. So the song will be about their world, about them! That’s the power of using sense-bound language. It makes them see their own stuff!

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The first two verses are three lines long, the odd number of lines, by itself, creating a feeling, a sense of longing. Because the odd number is unbalanced, it forces forward motion, the first verse pushes into the second verse,

Are the stars out tonight?
I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright
I only have eyes for you, dear
The moon may be high
But I can’t see a thing in the sky
I only have eyes for you

The second verse continues the feeling of longing, leaning forward, moving into a two-line bridge with a shorter second line,

I don’t know if we’re in a garden
Or on a crowded avenue

The shorter second line again leans forward, the imbalance moving us into the third and final verse. Note that avenue doesn’t rhyme, that is, not until the first syllable of the final verse,

You are here and so am I

The last verse is balanced. Finally, an even four lines and an aabb rhyme scheme making it feel resolved, solid, tying a ribbon on the whole intimate experience. Here’s the resolution, the final truth:

You are here and so am I
Maybe millions of people go by
But they all disappear from view
And I only have eyes for you

Dancing close to a slow 12/8, you’ll see and feel it all.

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Ed Sheeran ‘Perfect’

Speaking of 12/8, Ed Sheeran gets my prize for cheesiest love song with “Perfect.” Imagine dancing with Ed while he whispers:

Well I found a woman, stronger than anyone I know
She shares my dreams, I hope that someday I’ll share her home
I found a love, to carry more than just my secrets
To carry love, to carry children of our own

Wait, is he talking to me? About me? Is he breaking up with me because he found someone else? Hmmm. The song bounces back and forth between using the third-person pronoun she and second-person pronoun you, a pretty bumpy conversation right from the start:

I found a love for me
Oh darling, just dive right in and follow my lead
Well, I found a girl, beautiful and sweet
Oh, I never knew you were the someone waiting for me …

It feels odd, in the intimacy of a love song, to be talking to me and about me at the same time. Because third-person pronouns create a more factual, more objective world, they pull us away from the warmth and closeness so necessary in a love song.

Another factor also damages the intimacy of the song: he tells you stuff that you already knows:

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Or,

We are still kids, but we’re so in love
Fighting against all odds            

In real and intimate conversation, the point is to reveal, not to recite what we both already know. Then, there’s this:

Darling, just hold my hand
Be my girl, I’ll be your man

Yes, I know man rhymes with hand, but really? You’re a girl and I’m a man? I thought we were still both kids …

And I doubt I’ll ever get over this line:

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms

Ouch! It’s such an adventure, trying to picture you between my arms.

All in all, maybe “Perfect” isn’t the cheesiest love song ever, but it has to be top 10.

What Makes a Love Song Great?

Love songs need to feel intimate. The most intimacy you can create lives in Direct Address (I, you) and Present Tense (carried by your verbs). Look again at “I Only Have Eyes for You.” The song continually addresses you in the present moment, even asking questions along the way. And its use of images asks listeners to access their own sense memories, involving them in the song.

The best love song lyrics have Intimacy and Images.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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