It’s not all sunshine and flowers in the world of the love song. These 7 songs, which seem to be all about love, might not really be romantic after all.
There She Goes – The La’s
The happy, clangy song that defined the early 90s has been used in many films and countless makeover shows—the bit where they send the newly transformed cool, sexy girl down the street, the guys all slack-jawed by her beauty. And the lyrics are so romantic, aren’t they?
Oh to be the girl who can get into a guy’s head like this: “There she goes again... racing through my brain... pulsing through my veins”. It’s almost like he’s addicted to her… Oh wait! Stop the stylus right there! This might not be a woman he’s dosing up on. It’s rumoured that the song is actually about heroin – the muse of many a songwriter.
Other undercover heroin songs: Itchycoo Park - Small Faces, Time to Pretend - MGMT and of course...
Perfct Day - Lou Reed
Ear-warming, musical perfection it may well be, but Perfect Day has caused a few arguments within the music press about just what inspired Lou Reed’s ode to an ideal afternoon. From the surface, it’s a simple song about a simple day, made brilliant by the person he’s with: “Oh it’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you… problems all left alone… It’s such fun.”
They feed animals in the zoo, drink cocktails in the park—what’s to dispute? Well, some say it is what it is, while others argue it’s about that cruel mistress, heroin—a theory aided by its inclusion in the soundtrack to 1996’s Trainspotting. Reed himself denied that the song was about a relationship with a drug, in fact, he’s quoted as saying. “That’s a lovely song. A description of a very straightforward affair.” Come on Lou, we don't belive you. "Drink sangria in the park"? It prefectly echoes the sentiment in the Reed penned, Heroin, "When that blood (sangria) begins to rush, and it shoots up the droppers neck (A.K.A. 'drink' in drugspeak)." And then that sinister turn at the end now synonymous with the OD scene in Trainspotting "You're going to reap just what you sow."
Learn more Lou Reed's seminal album Transformer
Song to the Siren – Tim Buckley
Buckley’s classic (and underrated) folk song is much like the Sirens of which he sings: beautiful, enchanting…and not quite as at first it seems. As Buckley is drawn into the loving arms of a woman who promises to hold him, it becomes increasingly clear that his fate is turning the way of many a troubled sailor, and he is in fact being beckoned and fooled by a siren. Be it metaphor or not, this perfect song, covered later by This Mortal Coil, tells the tail of a man enticed by love and comfort and then left “broken lovelorn on your rocks.” Yes, we might’ve guessed from the title, but we were too mesmerised by the dreamy 12-string to notice.
Other undercover love unrequited songs: Creep - Radiohead, Crazy - Patsy Cline, You're Beautiful - James Blunt, Wicked Game - Chris Issak
Here With Me – Dido
There was a time when you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing one of Dido’s love songs wheezing out of a sound system somewhere. Her angelic voice has led us all into a false sense of security though, because although she was singing about love, it was often not the type of love you expect from such a seemingly innocent young lady. In Here With Me, Dido sings, “I wont go to sleep, I can’t breathe until you’re resting here with me”. So we’d assume she’s desperate to see her beau—that she simply can’t sleep without him. Apparently though, the song is about waking up after a heavy night and finding out that the other half of your one-night stand has cleared off without leaving a number.
Other undercover one night stands: Save Tonight - Eagle-Eye Cherry, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow - The Shirelles, Stay With Me - Sam Smith, Norweigen Wood - The Beatles
I Will Always Love You – Dolly Parton/Whitney Houston
Ever since Whitney Houston (aided by Kevin Costner) propelled Dolly Parton’s number one country love song into the super-hit stratosphere (ten consecutive weeks at number one in the UK), couples the world over have first-danced to this song, taken by the lyrics and the apparent pledge to forever-ness. But delve beyond the song’s belting chorus, and it starts to get a little bit sad, heartbreaking even, because (sob), this is all about breaking up. Parton is said to have written the song about her former partner, and a break up that “does not descend into unremitting domestic turmoil, but with respect because of the initiative of the woman.”
Stand By Your Man - Tammy Wynette
Of cousre the country songs are the undefeated champion of love songs that aren't loves songs, and just generally ironic. Stand By Your Man hits harder than Miley Cyrus's wrecking ball. Its a song about being let down, and being treated bad, and just putting up with it because that's what's expected of you. It has been viewed with reproach by the feminists of the 60s and 70s but Wynette isn't the only one singing of the underlying hatred in her relationship.
Undercover angry songs: He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) - The Crystals, Don't You Want Me - The Human League, Common People - Pulp
Here Comes Your Man - Pixies
Here he comes, your lover... No. Oh no, it's another song about drugs, and waiting for "the man" isn't it? No, not exactly. Perhaps it is best explained by Pixies front man Black Francis "It's about winos and hobos traveling on the trains, who die in the California Earthquake. Before earthquakes, everything gets very calm — animals stop talking and birds stop chirping and there's no wind. It's very ominous."
Other undercover earthquake songs: Earth Song - Michael Jackson?!
Listen to our "Songs Not Really About Love" Spotify playlist here:
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