I am sure we all occasionally do it. Something we do or see, or something someone says brings back an old memory of a past love. We might consider that memory for a second as we drift back in time and wonder, “Why didn’t it work out?” Sometimes the answers are just not there; we simply don’t know.
We can kick back and just spend some time remembering what were probably halcyon days. Days of Innocence. All returning to our consciousness, brought back to us by songs about old love.
Songwriters have all the same feelings as we do, and they put it down in lyrics and music. This can sometimes help in the early days of lost love. And in the years to come, we hear that song again, and the memories all come flooding back.
We can’t help but ask ourselves the age-old question, “What might have been?” But it’s gone now and over. As Paul Simon wrote, “Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”
The Songs Are Still Here
But, the music is still around, and we can hear it either by accident or on-demand. Sometimes, something else triggers the memory, and we recall a song. We might go and listen to it, and we are transported back in time.
It happens to me with one particular album, Rubber Soul by the Beatles. I would walk home from school with my ‘girlfriend’ to her house. Her mother would give us lemonade and cake, and we would listen to the album over and over again.
I can’t hear any track from that album today, especially John’s song “In My Life,” without getting nostalgic and wondering what happened to her.
The Songs Are Always There
I am sure we all have songs that stir memories of old love. Let’s look at a few songs about an old love that might do that.
Yesterday by The Beatles
Let’s get it out of the way early as everyone will be expecting it to be included. Music, and in particular ‘pop’ music, was never the same after the emergence of The Beatles. They did things that no one else had done.
The truth is, they did things that singers and bands are still trying to emulate today without success. And most of the early part of it was recorded on a 4-track tape machine.
McCartney’s Major Contribution?
Some would say so. It was only an album track from Help in the UK but was a single in America. It is a song that has been used in just every scenario possible to imagine. And, it would certainly be included in most people’s list of favorite Beatles tracks. But not mine.
At the expense of creating a topic for discussion, I never liked it as a song that much. Don’t misunderstand me; it is a good song, well performed. But to me, it does have that “McCartney-esque” self-indulgence about it that we got to hear more of after the band split.
Did He Write Better Songs?
As I say, for me, a good song, not a great one. McCartney’s “Blackbird” from the White album was a better song in my view if we are talking about song quality. As is the song I include that is coming up next. But, this is a very popular Beatles song, you can’t argue with that. So, what do I know?
For No One by The Beatles
“Yesterday” was from the 1965 album Help; one year later, the Beatles were maturing. Not only as people with views but John and Paul and now George’s songwriting was reaching new heights.
Revolver was the beginning of a reality for me. We realized we were dealing with the best band the world had ever seen or was ever likely to see.
From the Revolver album came “For No One.” Highlighted by a French Horn solo which was also used as a counterpoint in the final verse. Paul was maturing as a writer, and this is a great example. A poignant song about the end of a relationship, probably Paul’s with actress Jane Asher.
Great Lines and Creative Music
It was full of lines like “you stay home, she goes out,” simple but very descriptive. Musically with its scale progression that is graciously descending and which modulates to a ‘supertonic minor.’
In my view, one of McCartney’s best love songs, musically and lyrically. John and George didn’t play on the recording. Just him and Ringo.
I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself by Dusty Springfield
One of the most ‘soulful’ singers that Britain ever produced, this was a track released in 1964. This song was written by the Bacharach and David partnership which gives you an idea of its quality.
It had been written in 1962 and had been released before, but it was Dusty Springfield’s version that was a major hit. It was also recorded by the great Dionne Warwick two years later. Still, it’s Dusty’s version that was the most successful and the most recognizable.
A Signature Song
In many ways, it became her signature song when people talk about her. It reached #3 in the UK charts. Her most successful single until her number one with “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.”
It is a song that is about someone who is missing their ex-partner after a split. She had previously planned everything she did for two, but now there is just her. And, as the song says, she doesn’t know what to do anymore.
Angie by The Rolling Stones
The Beatles weren’t the only ones writing great music, The Rolling Stones had their moments too. Not anywhere near the quality or the amount of output of Lennon and McCartney, of course. Nevertheless, they produced some good stuff, and this was one.
Credited to Jagger and Richards, it was written by Keith Richards. It was featured in the album Goats Head Soup in 1973 and released as a single in 1974. It was a divergence from their usual style and included piano, played by Nicky Hopkins, and a string section.
Some Chart Success
It reached #5 in the UK chart and #1 in America. It also went to the top in Canada and Australia. Therefore, it was one of the most popular songs about an old lover they ever recorded.
Who Was It About?
Was it written about anyone specifically, as some of these songs are? Difficult to know exactly. Richards has given us at least three different options as to who he wrote the song about. Jagger also commented that he had contributed some of the lyrics. And they were about his split with Marianne Faithfull.
Nevertheless, a very good song about someone missing their ex. It has plenty of emotion in both lyrics and music.
Miss You Like Crazy by Natalie Cole
Another great song about a lost love that is a bit of a tearjerker. When you saw the name Natalie Cole for the first time and heard whose daughter she was, you just knew she would be special.
She didn’t need to rely on Dad’s reputation, though. The voice she inherited is spectacular in her own right. She does an excellent job with this 1989 release.
Hanging On To Hope
It is a song about someone missing someone. But also hoping they will one day come back. Gerry Goffin had a hand in the writing, so you’d expect a good song, which is what we get. Beautifully sung and full of emotion, it is a great track.
River by Joni Mitchell
One of the greats, in my opinion. She wrote some great songs, timeless songs, often with a very serious message buried in there somewhere. This song puts the subject of our list in another perspective.
When two people break up, it is usually one of them that instigates it for whatever reason. That reason could be quite valid and could be the best decision for both of them in the long run.
It Can Hurt You Too
The side of the relationship that does the breaking up is often the one that takes all the criticism. But, quite often, they have feelings about it as well. Sometimes, they also miss the other person and have a hard time, even though they are the ones that chose to walk away.
Just because you have walked away from a relationship doesn’t mean that all the feelings you have are just gone. Sometimes they linger. This is a song written about that experience.
Always On My Mind by Willie Nelson
You can’t have a list of songs about old love without having at least one ‘Country’ song included. After all, they might be considered specialists in that style of writing. There are hundreds of Country songs on this very subject.
Picking one was hard, but I suppose it had to be the great Willie Nelson with this very special song. The song was written by Wayne Carson and has been recorded by just about everyone, including Mr. Presley.
Realizing The Mistake
The song tells about a man realizing that he has made a terrible mistake. He has treated the lady badly, and not shown her respect, and knows it. Now, he is lonely without her and wishes she would come back.
A memorable song about an old love that has been used as the music for various events and in a variety of ways. As I said, many people have recorded it. But, for me, Willie Nelson’s version is the standard for this song.
It’s The Same Old Song by The Four Tops
This is one of those sickly sweet Motown songs that sounded oh so different when we were fourteen and fifteen. It is a song about a song if you like. He talks about hearing the song that they danced to all night long.
Now, she is no longer there. And every time he hears it, all the memories keep flooding back. I suppose in a nutshell what this list is all about. One reason I included it.
A Musical Backstory
It was the 1965 follow-up to “I Can’t Help Myself.” Motown wanted a similar song to that for the second single, given the success of the first.
The writers Holland, Dozier, and Holland, were having a hard time. So, they simply reversed the chords of “I Can’t Help Myself” and added some lyrics. The whole thing took just a few hours. They had another hit record.
It was included on this list, not because of its performance or its writing credibility, but purely because the song tells the story of a song that changes meaning when someone leaves.
Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O’Connor
I had to think twice about including this song. Not because it isn’t excellent, because it is, but for other reasons. Pledging public allegiance to extremist groups, whoever they are, and for whatever reason, is not good, in my view. Although she did later retract it.
Trying to draw attention to yourself by playing unnecessary games is another. I am still going to call him Prince rather than some precocious attempt at gaining publicity. Which, I might point out, he didn’t need to do. Anyway, onto the important thing, the music.
Powerful Song With Plenty Of Emotion
You could argue too much emotion for her. The story goes that she was in tears singing it. I am not surprised. ‘The artist I know as Prince’ came up with a great song here. And she produces a stunning performance.
It was filmed in Paris, and evidently, she was thinking about her mother as she sang. Tears on the cheek, real tears, not plastic ones just for effect. Her voice has a raw sound, almost torn by heartbreak as she almost struggles her way through it.
A great performance and a great song about lost love and what they meant.
Un-Break My Heart by Toni Braxton
This is a powerful ballad from the excellent Toni Braxton from 1995. It was written by one of the great songwriters of the last 30 years, Diana Warren.
There have been some varied interpretations of what this song is about. Some think it is about the death of a loved one. Others say that it is about a relationship breakup.
Listening to the lyrics, it could be either. But, as she is pleading with her ex-lover to come back to her, I tend to go on the side of a relationship break up. She sings that she is lost without him, despite the fact he seems to not have treated her very well.
Whatever the meaning, it is a powerful song that creates the feeling of what it is like to lose someone we love.
Tangerine by Led Zeppelin
And so to finish this list of outstanding songs about old love is this one. The choice might surprise one or two, as I do like to end these lists with my favorite. Despite there being some serious quality we have already looked at, this is it.
Gentle, heartfelt ballads are not what you would normally expect from Zeppelin. But, this is what you get with this track from Led Zeppelin 3.
Written For The Yardbirds?
Possibly, Jimmy Page wrote the song in 1968 while he was playing guitar with the Yardbirds. They did a demo recording of it with the song called “Knowing That I’m Losing You” instead of “Tangerine.”
The song was rejected for a Yardbirds album but was included on a Yardbirds compilation organized by Page and released in 2017.
As usual with a lot of Zeppelin songs, there is controversy over its origination. And whilst this isn’t a blatant ‘steal’ as some Zep songs have been, it has its share of confusion.
Page claims to have written all the words. But, ex-members of the Yardbirds say it was a joint effort between Page and Yardbirds singer Keith Relf, who has since died. Regardless of who or whatever, it is still a great song.
It Captures The Very Essence Of A Past Love
With its 12 and 6-string guitar combination and great Plant vocals, it is a justified finish to the list. But, what makes it more special are some of the words which capture the point of this list perfectly.
“Thinking how it used to be, Does she still remember times like these? To think of us again? …And I do”
A perfect finish. Well done, Jimmy, Keith, both of you or whoever.
Old Love by Eric Clapton
Love Hurts by Nazareth
End of the Road by Boyz II Men
Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division
Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye feat. Kimbra
The One That Got Away by Katy Perry
I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt
The Way We Were by Barbra Streisand
Always by Bon Jovi
When I Was Your Man by Bruno Mars
My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion
Back to Black by Amy Winehouse
I’m Not in Love by 10cc
She’s Gone by Hall & Oates
Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) by Phil Collins
The Scientist by Coldplay
The Last Goodbye by Jeff Buckley
I Will Remember You by Sarah McLachlan
I’m Losing You by John Lennon
Love Stinks by The J. Geils Band
Don’t Speak by No Doubt
Landslide by Fleetwood Mac
You Were Meant for Me by Jewel
Lovefool by The Cardigans
Fast Car by Tracy Chapman
The Night We Met by Lord Huron
Black by Pearl Jam
Everybody Hurts by R.E.M.
Still Loving You by Scorpions
We Belong by Pat Benatar
Love Will Keep Us Alive by Eagles
November Rain by Guns N’ Roses
Fade into You by Mazzy Star
Can’t Help Falling in Love by Elvis Presley
Let Her Go by Passenger
How Can You Mend a Broken Heart by Bee Gees
Crying by Roy Orbison
Goodbye My Lover by James Blunt
Iris by Goo Goo Dolls
More 51 Songs About Old Love
- Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You by Dolly Parton
- Love Will Lead You Back by Taylor Dayne
- I Miss You by Blink-182
- I’d Rather Go Blind by Etta James
- After the Love Has Gone by Earth, Wind & Fire
- Love Will Save the Day by Whitney Houston
- Unchain My Heart by Joe Cocker
- The Man Who Can’t Be Moved by The Script
- I Can’t Stand the Rain by Tina Turner
- Love Is a Losing Game by Amy Winehouse
- If Tomorrow Never Comes by Garth Brooks
- You’re Still the One by Shania Twain
- I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston
- Love Bites by Def Leppard
- Ghost of You by 5 Seconds of Summer
- Right Here Waiting by Richard Marx
- Something to Talk About by Bonnie Raitt
- I Want You Back by Jackson 5
- Love Will Find a Way by Yes
- Lost Without You by Delta Goodrem
- Hard to Say I’m Sorry by Chicago
- I Want to Hold Your Hand by The Beatles
- Your Song by Elton John
- When You’re Gone by Avril Lavigne feat. Chad Kroeger
- Love Runs Out by OneRepublic
- Against the Wind by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
- Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper
- Can’t Stop Loving You by Phil Collins
- Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me by Elton John
- When Love Takes Over by David Guetta feat. Kelly Rowland
- We Can’t Stop by Miley Cyrus
- Best of My Love by The Eagles
- Everytime You Go Away by Paul Young
- I’ll Be There for You by Bon Jovi
- One More Night by Maroon 5
- What Becomes of the Brokenhearted by Jimmy Ruffin
- Love Takes Time by Mariah Carey
- Do You Remember by Jay Sean feat. Sean Paul & Lil Jon
- Everything I Do (I Do It for You) by Bryan Adams
- I Just Can’t Stop Loving You by Michael Jackson feat. Siedah Garrett
- It Must Have Been Love by Roxette
- Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley
- As Long As You Love Me by Backstreet Boys
- Love Will Tear Us Apart Again by Joy Division
- When You Love Someone by James TW
- Stay by Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko
- I Want You to Want Me by Cheap Trick
- My Heart Is Broken by Evanescence
- Love on the Brain by Rihanna
- This Magic Moment by the Drifters
- At Last by Etta James
Looking for New Song Ideas?
We have you covered. Take a look at our comprehensive articles on the Best Songs about Fighting, the Best Songs About Dreams, the Best Songs About Magic, the Best Songs About Heroes, the Best Songs About the Sun and Sunshine, and the Best Songs about Friday for more great song selections.
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Songs About Old Love – Final Thoughts
When I started to put this list together, I did not realize just how many great songs there were on this subject. But, after thinking about it, of course, there are. It is one of the age-old storylines, isn’t it?
I suppose the surprising thing is the quality of the songs that I have included. And, when you consider what I haven’t included, and there are plenty, it is staggering. Songs about past love are going to be with us for a long time. And, so they should.
Until next time, happy listening.