Wanna go with something different for your Valentine’s Day mash-up? Try the blues. Some of the sweetest, saddest and most soulful songs of all time — and plenty of them with stinging guitar — are from the blues canon. Here are 10 classic examples guaranteed to fan the fires of love.
“Layla” by Derek & the Dominos: This 1970 classic is the greatest unrequited love song of the rock ‘n’ roll era, inspired by a 12th century Persian poem and Eric Clapton’s infatuation for his friend George Harrison’s wife, Patty. Although there are only 12 lines, the song’s outro guitar duet, led by Duane Allman’s longing slide, speaks volumes.
“Have You Ever Loved a Woman” by Freddie King: Les Paul and ES-345 wrangler King was known for a devilish tone he sometimes achieved by using metal fingerpicks. He cut this Billy Myles tune about abject longing in 1960 for the Federal label. It didn’t get much recognition until 1970, when Eric Clapton resurrected the song with Derek & the Dominos and it became one of the all-time great six-string sparring matches — between E.C. and Duane Allman. King’s own performances, however, were never less than absolutely searing.
“At Last,” Etta James: Those elegant strings, the gently swaying dance beat and, of course, that sexy, gritty, beautiful voice add up to what may simply be the most gorgeous love song ever put on tape. Sure, Beyonce’s version ain’t chowder, but Ms. James’ original 1961 Chess Records hit is all candlelight and oysters.
“I’ll Take Care of You” by Bobby Blue Bland: The first of a string of 11 Top 10 R&B smashes Bland began in 1961, “I’ll Take Care of You” is the great soul-bluesman’s most romantic number. The title says it all, but the warm sincerity in his velvet voice really sells the sentiment.
“The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin: Robert Plant sings so delicately about “the sunlight of his growing” and “the wonder of devotion” that it’s obvious the guy’s smitten. And Jimmy Page gets it, joining in with a mix of acoustic, electric and steel guitars that create a sonic portrait of the serendipity of true love. Bonus: in concert this song gave Pagey a chance to whip out his custom double-neck Gibson EDS-1275 famed for its role in live renditions of “Stairway to Heaven.”
“Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughan: SRV loves his baby, heart and soul, and plays his backside off to boot. This Valentine’s Day message is as big and clear as the Lone Star State.
“Don’t Give Up On Me” by Solomon Burke: Love isn’t just about never having to say you’re sorry. It’s also about second chances, and America’s greatest living soul singer serves that notion up like a warm cup of chocolate in the title track of his 2002 Joe Henry-produced comeback.
“Melissa” by The Allman Brothers: The humble devotion of Greg Allman’s lyrics perfectly fits the melodic side of his great band. And with Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks on the job, this Eat a Peach classic is even sweeter today.
“When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge: Forget the Michael Bolton version and slide on back to 1966 when the great Alabama-born blues and soul man sang it to perfection. That’s why the song notched number one on both the pop and R&B charts back then, and why it’s still an essential part of the Valentine’s Day hit parade 44 years later.
“I Just Want to Make Love to You” by Muddy Waters: Sometimes the direct approach is best.