Songs for every season of love, from Elvis' 'Can't Help Falling In Love' to Adele's 'Someone Like You'

Gary Dinges, USA TODAY
·5 min read

Love is in the air and on our playlists.

Sunday is Valentine's Day, and it's bound to be different due to the coronavirus pandemic. One thing that won't change is the importance of music when it comes to serenading, celebrating or even mourning love in all its many forms.

"Love is the number one topic of popular music," Nate Sloan, a musicologist and assistant professor at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music, tells USA TODAY. "Every love song has been written, pretty much, and yet there are new emotions to explore.

"Music is meant to move us. Love and loss. It, a lot of times, is something that perhaps can't be articulated."

Love songs fit into four categories that correspond to the seasons (spring, summer, fall and winter), according to Joe Bennett, vice president of academic affairs and a forensic musicologist at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. It's a personal theory Bennett has spent extensive time studying and discussing with his students.

Spring songs are about feelings of love that lead to intense, passionate emotion in the summer. Things start to break apart in fall and by winter the relationship's long over, replaced by feelings of sadness or anger.

Selena Gomez's songs are "a nice example of the infinite ways to vary love songs," he says.

For example, contrast sensual spring track "Good For You" ("Let me show you how proud I am to be yours // Leave this dress a mess on the floor // Still look good for you, good for you, oh-oh") with the wintry "Lose You to Love Me" ("I saw the signs and I ignored it // Rose-colored glasses all distorted // Set fire to my purpose // And I let it burn").

'Spring' love songs

Spring is when it all starts. You've got a crush. You're incredibly optimistic. There are butterflies.

"Spring is the early stages of love, perhaps being in love or wanting to be in love," Bennett said.

He points to "Can't Help Falling In Love," a 1961 classic from Elvis Presley, as a prime spring song for its lyrics: "Wise men say // Only fools rush in // But I can't help falling in love with you // Shall I stay? // Would it be a sin // If I can't help falling in love with you?"

"It's an overture," he said. "It's telling the person he's in love. It's filled with praise for this person."

'Summer' love songs

This is when love's fuse is lit. It's the swoon stage when love, be it romantic or familial, is bliss.

"A summer love song just has to be romantic, period," Bennett said.

He points to "Isn't She Lovely?," a 1976 megahit from Stevie Wonder celebrating the birth of his daughter, Aisha Morris. The song revels in both fatherly awe and romantic devotion for his wife. Love is complex, right?

"Isn't she lovely? // Isn't she wonderful? // Isn't she precious? // Less than one minute old // I never thought through love we'd be // Making one as lovely as she // But isn't she lovely made from love?"


Stevie Wonder in 1976, the year “Songs in the Key of Life” was released.
Stevie Wonder in 1976, the year “Songs in the Key of Life” was released.

Then there's "Everything I Ever Wanted" from Billie Eilish — a delightful display of sibling love and protection.

"And you say, 'As long as I'm here // No one can hurt you // Don't wanna lie here // But you can learn to // If I could change // The way that you see yourself // You wouldn't wonder why you hear // They don't deserve you.' "

'Fall' love songs

Here's where love starts to wane. Like the colors of leaves, things change and there's no going back.

"This is where we're at the point we know the relationship probably isn't going to survive," Bennett said.

When you hear "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" from the Righteous Brothers for example, "you know that the relationship is on the rocks," he said.

"You lost that lovin' feelin' // Whoa, that lovin' feelin' // You lost that lovin' feelin' // Now it's gone, gone, gone, whoa-oh."

Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" is another example of a fall tune as the lyrics wrestle with perception and reality.

"I've looked at love from both sides now // From give and take and still somehow // It's love's illusions that I recall // I really don't know love // Really don't know love at all."

'Winter' love songs

Love has gone cold. Do we really have to go there? Yes, dear reader, we do. Whatever was in place is long gone and, Bennett says, emotions are raw.

In 1963's "Walk On By," Dionne Warwick doesn't hold back: "If you see me walking down the street // And I start to cry each time we meet // Walk on by, walk on by."

"It's heartbreaking for her to remember what they had together," Bennett says.

Then there's "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now," a track recorded by Perry Como, Dean Martin and many others.

"I wonder who's kissing her now // Wonder who's teaching her how // Wonder who's looking into her eyes // Breathing sighs and telling lies."

A winter song — Adele's hit "Someone Like You," released in 2011 — is Sloan's pick for the best of all time.

"I heard that you're settled down // That you found a girl and you're married now // I heard that your dreams came true // Guess she gave you things, I didn't give to you // Old friend, why are you so shy? // Ain't like you to hold back or hide from the light."

"It's so effective because the instrumentation is so stark," he said. "It's just her voice and the piano."

Follow Gary Dinges on Twitter @gdinges

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Songs that reflect the seasons of love, from Stevie Wonder to Adele