Home > Songs About Love > Love Songs For Every Situation: Unrequited Love

Love Songs For Every Situation: Unrequited Love

February 19th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Unrequited love is a real bastard. The rejection can scar a person for life, depending on its nature. My chapter of unrequited love was set in the seasons 1988/89 and 1989/90, and was cruelly soundtracked by the disgusting cheering of the fans of Arsenal and FC Liverpool, as if to taunt me further in my indescribable pain. There was no comfort, other than Manchester Utd’s FA Cup victory just days before the object of my desire left South Africa. I cannot say whether it was a good thing or not that she and I were very close friends. There was much affection, indeed a certain kind of love. But from her side obviously not that kind of love. So there was always hope, which again and again and again would be gently but brutally crushed. Would it have been easier to let unrequited love turn to festering hate?

Morrissey – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (live).mp3
I presume everybody has this Smiths track already, so here is a live performance by Morrissey from 2004 in Manchester, ripped from DVD. That line about the doubledecker bus crashing into us is justly regarded as a classic lyric, but the one that really gets me is this one: “And in the darkened underpass I thought, ‘Oh God, my chance has come at last’, but then a strange fear gripped me, and I just couldn’t ask.” Don’t I know the feeling! For days, weeks, months one prepares for the perfect moment. The words are ready and practiced, the mood is set in one’s mind. And then, when the perfect opportunity presents itself, one chokes. And what setting could be better than a darkened underpass, where the object of ones desire cannot see the blushes. Ah, but she’d see the potentially crushed face, the dazed look, when they emerge into the light. At which point the 10-ton truck killing the both of us would appear to be an inviting proposition. So one waits for a really long, dark tunnel…

Freshlyground – I’d Like.mp3
South Africa’s most popular band, probably, engaged in a spot of self pity in this tender anthem to unrequited love and the self-loathing which often accompanies it. To the casual observer, the reactions she anticipates from her putative displays of affection seem exaggerated, even silly. Would her object of desire really say the singer deserved to die or humiliate her otherwise for showing affection or making a phone call? I suppose any vaguely negative response, or even a lack of response, would feel like an extreme reprimand or punishment to the one who is in unrequited love. The song might be dealing with a further complication: the lyrics make sense also in a context where the protagonist has same-sex feelings for somebody who is heterosexual (which could also explain the fear of being rejected harshly). Either way, the singer asks questions that make sense to anyone who has experienced unrequited love: “What do I do with all these feelings tearing me up inside? What do I do with all these wasted hours dreaming of you at night?”

Weezer – Pink Triangle.mp3
Weezer provided the flip-side to the theory posited in the entry for “I’d Like”. Here the protagonist is falling for a lesbian. “I’m dumb, she’s a lesbian. I thought I had found the one. We were good as married in my mind, but married in my mind’s no good. Oh, pink triangle on her sleeve.” Which raises the question if there is any comfort to be had if the woman a man desires is at least not with another man. Is Rivers holding out some hope when he asks: “If everyone’s a little queer, can’t she be a little straight?”

Nick Drake – Man In A Shed.mp3
This apparently is based on Drake’s own experience of living in somebody’s backyard, admiring the girl of the house from afar, but she doesn’t acknowledge his existence, presumably thinking she’s above his station in life. Drake clearly doesn’t buy into the class hierarchy (and Amen to that). Employing what might be termed Byronic Marxism, he declares: “So leave your house, come into my shed. Please stop my world from raining through my head. Please don’t think I’m not your sort. You’ll find that sheds are nicer than you thought.” Observe also Drake’s exquisite guitar work on this track.

Mazzy Star – Give You My Lovin’.mp3
You have to love Hope Sandoval. So it is difficult to believe that Hope should have any unhappy experience of unrequited love. And yet she sings: “When I see you I want to kiss you, but I know that ain’t right. So I ask if I can hold you. Oh babe, I need you so bad. Oh babe, I only want to make you glad.” What crazy fuck would say no to these words from the wonderful Ms Sandoval? She believes such crazy fucks do exist: “Discomfort arouses when I speak of you, as if you’ve been saying something bad about me.”

The Band – It Makes No Difference.mp3
You may thank one of the commenters in this series for this song from The Last Waltz, which would otherwise slipped below my radar. And what a fortuitous alert: this is a most beautiful and heartbreaking song. It makes no difference, Rick Danko sings, “where I turn, I can’t get over you when the flame still burns… the shadow never seems to fade away… like a scar, the hurt will always show… who I meet, they’re just a face in the crowd on a dead-end street.” The Counting Crows are drawing their influence from The Band (even framing a song around the news of Richard Manuel’s death), but their lyrics are usually unpenetrable. Here Danko is writing poetry you can actually make sense of, hitting the listener in the guts. “Well, I love you so much, and it’s all I can do just to keep myself from telling you that I never felt so alone before.”

The Temptations – Just My Imagination.mp3
The sweetest song about unrequited love. Our guy plays a trick on us as he begins: “Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by. I say to myself, ‘You’re such a lucky guy. To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true.’ Out of all of the guys in the world, she belongs to me…” Ah, but the alert reader will have spotted that in this post nothing is as well as that. So in verse two, the punchline pokes you in the eye: “But it was just my imagination running away with me.” Our friend even pleads with God to play cupid (and here we briefly call to mind Sam Cooke’s hymn to unrequited love), but how can God fix him up when “in reality, she doesn’t even know me”.

Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him.mp3
And from the sweetest song to the most acerbic. Observing from indoors, Joe sees Jeannie, and every other pretty woman, walking with gorillas down his street. This makes him angry. Knowing that he is puny, and they are gorillas, he employs his imaginary superpowers: “But if looks could kill, there’s a man there who’s more down as dead.” Zapp! He is possibly better served engaging his wit: “They say that looks don’t count for much, if so, there goes your proof”, he sings about Jeannie’s boyfriend (would that be the same Jeannie whose diary Eels wish to be a page in?).

The Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen In Love.mp3
It seems that our boy is having some sort of relationship with the woman who nonetheless is rejecting his love. She doesn’t treat him well. “You spurn my natural emotions, you make me feel like dirt.” He won’t cause a scene though, because then he might just lose her. So while she keeps rejecting him, he’s getting increasingly frustrated and, the clue here is not in the lyrics but in the intensity of music, obsessed with the one-sidedness of it all. Unrequited love happens in established relationships as well. Think of the stunning Odyssey song I posted in the Love Ends post.

Johnny Mathis – Misty.mp3
The person in unrequited love often is like a pathetic puppy. Mathis certainly is in this definitive reading of Erroll Garner’s standard, better even than Sarah Vaughn’s. And the key is that Mathis actually does sound like a lovestruck puppy. The girl sounds like a bit of a tease (she lets him hold her hand), “you can say that you’re leading me on”, and Johnny likes it, “but it’s just what I want you to do”, because as long she takes notice of him, he has hope that his total love will find reciprocation.

Jens Lekman – Maple Leaves.mp3
This song puts an unusual spin on unrequited love. Jens can’t find a way into her heart “” “if you don’t take my hand I lose my mind completely” “” but the problem seems to be twofold. For one, the girl has such low self-esteem, she perhaps cannot accept that somebody could love her (“You said you hated your body, that it was just a piece of meat. I disagreed”). The second problem may be that incredibly unjust curse suffered by millions of nice men: the girl sees you as a friend! A bloody friend! “So we talked for hours and you cried into my sheets”. Of course, it may be that Jens just couldn’t understand her accent. “She says the dreamer just make-believe, but I thought she said maple leaves… and when she talked about about the fall I thought she talked about Mark E Smith.” No wonder he “never understood at all”.

Joshua Radin – Do You Wanna.mp3
I might be way off the mark here, but this is how I read the song: Joshua is in love with his friend (Ducky Dales everywhere!). She is in a destructive relationship. He brings comfort, but doesn’t want to be seen doing so with the ulterior motive of preparing the ground for his romantic relationship with her. And, you know, he cares firstly for her well-being. Which makes him a star among men “” and sets him up for friendship standing in the way of romance and sex. “No one believes you smile alone. You wanna retrieve your high on the phone, but when you hang up all I wanna do is help you to pick up the pieces from your past. But there’s nothing more to gather, holding on to moments that won’t last. Or would you rather end it all; do you wanna?” Well, even if I’m totally wrong, I’d be pleased if this song, from Radin’s excellent First Between 3rd And 4th EP in 2004, is going to turn one or the other reader on to this wonderful singer-songwriter, whose new album will feature Ingrid Michaelson and Catherine Feeny, plus some production by Rick Rubin.

Barenaked Ladies – If I Had $1000000.mp3
Beneath the jocular mirth of this song there is a slightly pathetic subtext. Here our boy wants, Dr Evil style, a million dollars (Canadian, presumably) to buy the object of his desire everything, from a “nice reliant automobile” to a green dress (“but not a real green dress, that’s cruel”). All that sounds very nice, even amusing, until the pathos of the final line of the third verse: “If I had one million dollars, I’d buy your love.” Poor bastard.

Richard Cheese – Creep.mp3
I presume that everybody who needs it already owns Radiohead’s “Creep”. So here, to introduce some levity into the proceedings, is the lounge-jazzy version by the great spoofologist Richard Cheese. In the original, our boy is so intoxicated with self-loathing that he places himself several leagues below hers. He might have a good reason for doing so, but for every “creep” and “weirdo” there is a beacon of hope: Pete Doherty pulled Kate Moss. That must give hope to anyone who believes the unattainable to be just that.

Be Sociable, Share!
  1. Jim
    February 19th, 2008 at 16:35 | #1

    Better than Sarah Vaughan?!! Them’s fightin’ words. Seriously, no way is Mathis’ version better than Sassy’s. It’s a mathematical impossibility.

  2. LG
    February 19th, 2008 at 19:15 | #2

    I’m going to have to agree with you here…I REALLY enjoyed Johnny’s version. Thanks for putting it up.

  3. whiteray
    February 20th, 2008 at 06:59 | #3

    ALl great choices, especially “It Makes No Difference.” If I had to suggest one more, it would be the Association’s “Cherish,” which I’ve thought many times might be the perfect single . . .

  4. Casey
    February 21st, 2008 at 04:30 | #4

    I really enjoyed Freshlyground. Brand new,to my ears, and their song…”I Like”…hit the mark for me.Thanks for all your surprising posts.

  5. Rol Hirst
    February 21st, 2008 at 14:24 | #5

    Obviously, this was going to be the best post in the series… and you just scratched the surface! Rejection led to many a great pop song.

  6. Anonymous
    March 8th, 2008 at 09:47 | #6

    “It Makes No Difference” is a gem indeed, one of the greatest unrequited love songs ever writen. But while Rick Danko does indeed sing it, it was actually written by Band guitarist Robbie Robertson.

  7. Balphagor
    March 21st, 2008 at 19:18 | #7

    Actually, green dress is probably a reference to archaic slang: having sex with a woman outdoors–that is, on the grass–she is left, afterwards, with a “green dress”.

  1. No trackbacks yet.