Love Stinks! and other Love Lyrics
I’ve often thought it would be fun to write a scholarly essay on love using song lyrics. Music plays such an important part of our lives, and I confess that music has profoundly shaped the way I see the world.
The essay I might write could include grand statements such as, “All you need is love,” from the Beatles. It could include a song many artists have sung over the years: “Love makes the world go around.” I might add the lyrics of a song from Utopia, “Love is the answer.”
My essay would praise love’s immense capacity using lyrics from Huey Lewis and the News: “It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes. But it might just save your life. That’s the power of love.” Or I might use the lyrics from a song sung by Air Supply and Celine Dion, “Power of love.”
Popular music has plenty of advice about love too. My essay might include these lyrics from the band, Sweet: “Love is like oxygen. You get too much you get too high. Not enough and you’re gonna die.”
I could include lyrics from the hymns and spiritual songs I learned as a child. I might include “Jesus loves me, this I know,” “I love you, Lord,” and “Love divine, all loves excelling.” The chorus of one of my favorite hymns says, “The love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure: the saints’ and angels’ song.”
Acknowledging the link between God and love isn’t limited to the church. Howard Jones memorably sings, “I need an everlasting love. I need a friend and a lover divine — an everlasting, precious love.” The multi-artist, feed-the-hungry hit, “We are the World,” tells us that “We are all a part of God’s great big family. And the truth, you know love is all we need. We are the world; we are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day so let’s start giving…”
But love doesn’t always get great reviews in the lyrics of the songs we enjoy. Tina Turner wonders, “What’s love got to do with it?” The J. Geils band complains, “Love stinks, yeah, yeah!” With all the credit and blame given love, U2 asks, “In the name of love…what more in the name of love?”
Actually, I could probably write the whole paper using U2 love lyrics! I find myself often belting out U2’s new song, “Stand up for your love!”
Perhaps the perfect love lyrics for a paper on what love is and how we should express it comes from the band, Foreigner. The vocalist sings: “I wanna know what love is. And I want you to show me.” Although the band likely had romance in mind, these lyrics express major questions in the wider study of love.
The phrase, “I wanna know what love is,” expresses the ongoing question of how we best understand the meaning of love. I’m really interested in this question, and I’ve written a great deal on this subject, including my recent book, Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement.
The second phrase in this Foreigner song – “and I want you to show me” – asks for evidence. We want to see love in action, not merely know what love is.
Of course, if we don’t have some inking of love’s meaning, we won’t know whether the action we observe deserves the label, “loving action.” Defining love and expressing love go hand in hand, although we don’t have to define love perfectly to express love well.
My hope is that by studying and practicing love, we will love more consistently. And if we love more consistently, perhaps the song lyrics of tomorrow will express what we mean by love even better. And they may better inspire us to act!