Love songs are like Rorschach tests or, to put it more romantically, puffy clouds. We hear in them what we want, and that leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. Just because a pop tune has a nice melody and the word love somewhere in the lyrics doesn’t mean this is the kind of healthy, mutually rewarding relationship most people want. Sometimes the songs are secretly sad, twisted, or just plain messy. Below are 11 “love” songs you might want to omit from your Valentine’s Day playlist.
1. “The One I Love” // REM
Throughout REM’s first big hit, Michael Stipe refers to another person as “a mere prop to occupy my time”. That’s a pretty good indicator that “The One I Love” is about using and abusing people, though many fans still hear this 1987 college rock staple as a true declaration of love. “It’s probably best that they think it’s a love song at this point,” Stipe said. Q magazine in 1992. “This song just came out of somewhere and I recognized it as really violent and horrible.”
2. “Every Breath You Take” // The Police
Sting, frontman of The Police, called the 1983 hit “a naughty little song”. In his mind, it’s about “jealousy, surveillance, and ownership,” and he should know that, since he wrote it. But many people ignore the obviously sinister lyrics and focus on the sweet guitar sound and sweet melody. A couple once told Sting that they played the song at their wedding. His response: “Well, good luck.”
3. “I’m Marrying You” // Bruno Mars
According to this Bruno Mars hit from 2010, marriage is a sacred union involving two people and lots of alcohol. “Is it the look in your eyes / Or is it that dance juice?” Mars asks in the chorus. It’s definitely the latter, as this couple admittedly fell into tequila and “looking for something stupid to do.” As for the next morning, “If we wake up and you want to break up, that’s cool,” sings Mars.
4. “Kiss On My List” // Hall & Oates
Many people think the chorus of this Hall & Oates classic from 1980 goes, “Your kiss is on my lips.” That would be quite romantic. Except co-writer Daryl Hall actually sings listing, a word that suggests the song’s emotionally rickety narrator doesn’t appreciate his wife’s kisses as much as he should. “It’s an anti-love song,” Hall wrote in the liner notes. “It means your kiss is only on the list of best things. It’s not the only thing. Everyone thinks it’s ‘I love you and without you I would die’. That’s exactly the opposite of that.
5. “Crash Into Me” // Dave Matthews Band
The instrumental part of this 1996 jam-band ballad is enough to make anyone swoon. But there’s no getting around Dave Matthews’ lyrics, which describe a voyeur ogling a young woman through the window. “He’s the kind of person you would call the police for,” Matthews admitted on an episode of VH1. Storytellers.
6. “Just what I needed” // Cars
Written by Cars frontman Ric Ocasek and sung by bassist Benjamin Orr, “Just What I Needed” describes a very unhealthy relationship. The narrator accuses his lover of “wasting” all his time, which he is totally cool with, as she offers him what he is looking for. And what is it, exactly? “I needed someone to feed me,” sings Orr. “I needed someone to bleed.” This guy might have needed some therapy too.
7. “All I wanna do is make love to you” // Heart
Heart’s “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You”, one of the weirdest songs to ever hit the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, is the work of producer and songwriter Robert John “Mutt” Lange. – superstar composer behind the hits of Def Leppard, AC/DC and Shania Twain. The deceptively pretty power ballad tells the story of a woman who picks up a guy from the side of the road and takes him to a motel with the secret goal of getting pregnant. She leaves a note telling him not to pick her up, and when their paths cross years later – after she’s had her baby – she basically tells him to scramble. Heart singer Ann Wilson described “All I Wanna Do” as “kind of an empty, weird, hateful story,” which is why she’s now altering the lyrics in concert.
8. “I can’t feel my face” // The Weeknd
If this dancefloor-destroying hit from 2015 is about a real woman, she’s not the kind of person you want to get involved with. “And I know she will be my death,” sings The Weeknd at the top of the first verse. “At least we’ll both be numb.” Of course, the “she” most likely refers to cocaine. The Weeknd essentially admits the not-so-hidden meaning (and marvels at the single’s mainstream popularity) on his 2016 song “Reminder”: “I just won another award for a kids’ show / Talkin’ ’bout a face numbin’ off a blow bag.
9. “I Will Always Love You” // Dolly Parton
“I Will Always Love You,” which was originally written and recorded by Dolly Parton, is a true heartbreaker. It’s selflessly walking away from a relationship because you realize you’re not what the other person needs. Interestingly, Parton didn’t write the song about a love affair. He was inspired by his difficult decision to part ways with longtime musical collaborator Porter Wagoner and pursue his own solo career. No matter how majestically Dolly, Whitney Houston or anyone else sings it, the title line is meant to be devastating.
10. “One” // U2
“One” is about at least two different things, and neither is love in the typical idealized sense of a pop song. Bono said the 1992 U2 classic was partly inspired by the idea of a boy coming out as gay to his super-religious dad. Beyond that, it’s about the challenges people face in overcoming their differences and finding ways to live together. This applies to lovers as well as bandmates. “It’s anti-romantic,” Bono says in the book U2 by U2. “‘We are one but not the same. We are learning to carry each other.’ It’s a reminder that we have no choice.”
11. “Somehow” // Blondie
In courtship, there is perseverance, and then there is harassment. The guy who inspired Debbie Harry to write “One Way Or Another” was definitely on the wrong side of that line. “I was harassed,” said Harry Weekly entertainment. “So it came out of a not-so-friendly personal event. I tried to inject some levity into it to make it lighter. It was a survival mechanism.”