Love song writing: 20 songwriters go straight to the heart

Love song writing
Love song writing

Write a song that says, ‘I love you’. Think about finding a specific and fresh way of expressing that idea, as well as a specific situation to explore it through.

Discover the diverse ways songwriters express love, from intimate reflections to universal declarations, in this insightful exploration of love songs

Whether Love Is All Around or Love Ain’t Here Anymore, matters of the heart have always provided songwriters with extremely fertile ground. Through the break-ups, the make-ups, the love at first sight, the last dance before midnight, the one that got away, the one you can’t make stay, the lifelong romances, the one-night dalliances, the near misses, the passionate kisses, the mistakes, heartaches, double takes or strolls by the lake… the knack of capturing The Power Of Love with music and lyrics is something we all strive for.

Over the years we’ve spoken to many songwriters who have shared their tips and insights into how to write the perfect love song. We’ve compiled some of the highlights for you below. Though they all come at the topic from different angles, when it comes to songwriting, one thing is for sure, All You Need Is Love!

Love Song Starters

Songwriting coach Ed Bell offers five songwriting prompts and ideas for crafting love songs, from expressions of affection to tales of heartbreak…

Think about finding a specific and fresh way of expressing that idea, as well as a specific situation to explore it through.

Think about what happened that changed your singer’s attitude and make sure the song explains that.

Come up with a specific and compelling situation where someone has conflicting or mixed feelings and make sure it’s clear why.

This could be a love song where the chorus is the list, or the chorus has a separate unifying message and the list becomes the raw material for the verses.

Think Adele’s Hello, Charlie Puth’s Attention or the bazillion love songs ever written. In this type of song somebody (usually one person) says something to somebody else (usually also one person). They’re the story of one person’s relationship with someone else, and by putting it in song we all get a front-row seat to what’s going on.

16 song starters

Shelly Peiken. Photo: Dia Morgan

Shelly Peiken: “What hurts the most? You might not want to visit that pain, but you have to! Sorry, you have no choice.” Photo: Dia Morgan

How to write from the heart

Multi-platinum Grammy-nominated songwriter Shelly Peiken offers up some key phrases to help you tap into a deeper level of heartfelt songwriting…

Mike Batt at French House Party 2024

When pitching a song, I normally included a second song on the cassette tape or CD, with the idea that if I struck out with the first, I’d still have another chance to get lucky. In this case, that second song was Carry Your Heart, a sombre ballad about an unrequited college love I had never fully gotten over. I sent the two songs to Taylor Dayne… My producer-friend called the next day to say Taylor was lukewarm on that first tune but, “What was up with the other one?” That’s the one she connected with. That’s the one she wanted to cut… I learned a valuable lesson that day: the heart is the best place from which to write, although I’d forget it repeatedly over the years simply because writing what you think “they” want to hear is a hard habit to break… If the heart is the place where you find your best material, here are some key words that might help you gain access…

Whether you’re euphoric because he/she/they asked you out or devastated that he/she/they didn’t, document it immediately. There’s no better time to capture emotion than when you’re actually feeling it. It’s never as fresh the next day.

That’s what “heart” is all about. What hurts the most? You might not want to visit that pain, but you have to! Sorry, you have no choice.

Roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Even if it’s unpleasant. Pleasant songs are boring. It’s the messy minutia, not the clichés, that add colour and texture and authenticity.

Shelly Peiken on writing from the heart

How We Wrote… About Love

Hear from Ed Kowalczyk of Live as he discusses the creation of I Alone, a song blending intimacy with universal themes of love, delve into the story behind Turning Japanese by The Vapors and how misconceptions can shape a song’s meaning, and learn from Dave Mason of Traffic as he shares the simplicity behind “unrequited love song” Feelin’ Alright?..

Natasha Bedingfield: “With These Words, Steve Kipner and Wayne Wilkins – he’s a Londoner from India – made these beats and we were sitting around writing, trying to think of how to say, ‘I love you,’ in an original way, and we were really feeling stuck because it’s not easy. There’s an obsession with songwriting to try and say something that’s never been said before, but that everyone says every day. We just couldn’t figure out the chorus, we were going on and on, and it was sounding overcomplicated. We were going, ‘I love you like… the water from the ocean, that goes out into a river, and goes out into the sea…’ It was ridiculous and the lyrics were kind of superfluous. Then, as a joke, and in frustration, I was just like, ‘What about [sings] I-love-you-I-love-you-I-love-you?’ And they were like, ‘That’s it, that it! Wait, wait, say that again, that was amazing!’ Interestingly, if I hadn’t been with them, I would’ve just thrown that idea away, because I was just joking.”
How I wrote ‘These Words’ by Natasha Bedingfield

Justin Hawkins: “I had this thing in my head that if we had songs with ‘love’ in the title we’d be successful. There were a lot of bands that were trying not to write about love, or they were writing about love but without saying the word, like they were too cool to say it… I thought, ‘Fuck that!’ Think about some of the greatest songs of all time, they have ‘love’ in the title. It’s there for a reason because it’s something that we can all feel and understand what it means. To feel embarrassed by it is a bit immature really. So I thought if we did that it might be a really great way to get a foot on a rung. So that was the only cynical thing about that song really, it was part of my fascination of putting love in the title at that time… I Believe In A Thing Called Love, Love Is Only A Feeling and Love On The Rocks With No Ice as well.”
How I wrote ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ by The Darkness

Ed Kowalczyk: “It really is almost two songs: there’s an intimacy and a sort of meditative quality to the lyric of the verses, but then it opens up into something like a love song in the chorus. I didn’t really mean it like that, I wanted the chorus to be a bigger statement about love – universal love – that was more connected to the idea of the verse. I never go into a song with an exact idea of what I want people to think is the meaning, so it’s been wonderful to watch people interpret it in their own ways. As long as they get the emotion, I’m not really that concerned about the meaning. I might have a feeling about what I meant, because I wrote it, but I don’t limit it to that in my mind. Because the song has taken on a timelessness it means it has aged really well and is not stuck to a specific story in history.”
How I wrote ‘I Alone’ by Live

Pat Kane: “We were in the mode of looking at British politics from a different perspective, so the verses are all about realising you’re voting for something that’s actually not in your best interests, because you’ve been suckered into it. It’s about the love affair that existed between parts of the British working class and Margaret Thatcher. We made it sound like a love song so it could get on the radio, but really it’s a hell of a lot more than that.”
How I wrote ‘Labour Of Love’ by Hue & Cry

David Fenton: “It was weird when people started saying it was about masturbation. I can’t claim that one! That happened when we went to America – for some reason they thought it was an English phrase for masturbation. I thought that was quite interesting, and it made people talk about the song and created more interest, so it didn’t hurt I don’t think, but that wasn’t the intention. It was just a love song.”
How I wrote ‘Turning Japanese’ by The Vapors

Dave Mason: “Musically, it was a kind of exercise in trying to write the simplest thing I could come up with. I’d been playing sitar for a while, which I used for Hole In My Shoe and Paper Sun, and that got me thinking about writing something very simple. There are only two chords in Feelin’ Alright? anyway. Basically it’s an unrequited love song. It’s ‘feeling alright’ with a question mark; the song’s really about not feeling too good about myself – I wasn’t feeling alright! That was what it was about.”
How I wrote ‘Feelin’ Alright?’ by Traffic

Graham Fellows: “I’d always thought there were so many love songs that spoke in generalities, ’If you leave me it will break my heart,’ ‘I can’t go on without you,’ all that shit that I never believed. I like songs with detail. I was also aware of Squeeze and the lyrics of Chris Difford who shares a love of the minutia and detail and rhyme.”
How I wrote ‘Jilted John’ by Graham Fellows

More love songs

How I wrote ‘Lessons In Love’ by Level 42
How I wrote ‘It Must Have Been Love’ by Roxette
How I wrote ‘Everlasting Love’ by Mac Gayden
How I Wrote ‘Love Shine A Light’ by Katrina And The Waves

Hailey Whitters. Photo: Harper Smith

Hailey Whitters: “It’s a love song but it also feels like a love song to where I come from and it’s about being proud of where you come from.” Photo: Harper Smith

Love Song-By-Song

Let’s explore Raised by Hailey Whitters and I Love You Always by Travis, which both approach love from unique angles…

Hailey Whitters:Raised was one of the very first things that was written for this record. At the time, I definitely didn’t think it was going to be a title track. I wrote it with Nicolle Gaylon and Forest Whitehead. I had this title, Raised, and I like this song a lot. It’s a love song but it also feels like a love song to where I come from and it’s about being proud of where you come from. It’s actually the only love song I have on the record, but it shows a little more of that kind of tender, sweet side. I like it because it sets the tone on this sweet, optimistic note.”
Song-by-Song: ‘Raised’ by Hailey Whitters

Fran Healy: “[I Love You Always] started off really fast and it was really high. I remember playing it to Dougie and him going, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing, that’s really beautiful.’ And that song’s about me and the girl who eventually chucked me. All these songs are about me dealing with your first major rejection in life and it’s hard. I used to go to the cinema with my grandma, and there’s a bus journey that took me from my house in Glasgow on the south side directly to where she lived, and it went past all of these places in my life, and the cinema was one of them. At the end of it, there’s a lyric that says, ‘And when I got outside, I caught the 44,’ that’s the number of the bus. ‘It dropped me outside my front door / Forgot what I’d been living for…’ This is me saying, ‘You shouldn’t be living for a person, you should be living for something a bit higher than.’ It’s a love song to this person, but it’s also a wake up for me to go, ‘I think you like this person too much and they don’t like you enough, there’s not a balance.’”
Song-by-Song: ‘Good Feeling’ by Travis

Chris Turpin:To Your Love is probably Stephanie’s favorite track on the record. We’re fans of Richard and Linda Thompson and I had lived inside their album Pour Down Like Silver for several months. I wanted to have something on the record that reflected that British folk revival lineage. The lyric again is an almost dark-spiritual-hymn of a love song. From one lover to another. I wanted it to land somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Richard Thompson.

“[Thunder Above You] slowly unraveled over 12 months. Written in part as a love song, but also as a record of what someone might want to leave behind when they’re gone, the words are being spoken from someone not long for this life. I was thinking of my daughter, who when writing the song wasn’t yet born.”
Song-by-Song: ‘Thunder Above You’ by Ida Mae

RAHH. Photo: JC Verona

RAHH: “Love isn’t the fairy tale you were sold. It’s unfaithful, confusing, it’s embarrassing, it doesn’t text back…” Photo: JC Verona

Love Songs Deconstructed

We learn about Becca Mancari’s unique love song celebrating nature and the environment, RAHH brings to life raw and honest lyrics about love and life in the modern age, and Irish songwriter Lucy McWilliams captures the excitement and myriad possibilities that a newfound connection can bring…

RAHH: “My mid-20s brought up a lot of unrest and realisations. Things weren’t as I thought they’d be. It was harder than they said, way harder… The generation before had a mortgage by now, and you’ll be lucky to own a parking space in the next 20 years. And love? Love isn’t the fairy tale you were sold. It’s unfaithful, confusing, it’s embarrassing, it doesn’t text back – does it even fukn exist?!… I had the lyric Run The Lights down in my notes on my phone for a long time. I thought it’d ultimately inspire a song about having no self-control when tempted to cheat on a lover, something like that, but it suited this concept much better.”
Song Deconstructed: ‘Run The Lights’ by RAHH

Becca Mancari: “This song is a love song to the earth and all that it holds…I loved ending the record with To Love The Earth because I believe it will live on far after I am gone. It’s my greatest honour to write a love song to Earth for all its glory and to promise to fight to protect it for as long as I am here.”
Song Deconstructed: ‘To Love The Earth’ by Becca Mancari

Lucy McWilliams: “I think the universal feeling to find someone, and to be loved, is something that most people crave. People walk through life, wanting to find connection with people, it’s just natural. Sometimes, at least for myself, you seek it in the wrong places, but just before we wrote this I had an overwhelming sense that I was finally looking in the right place and that love and a connection suddenly felt something of ease. As opposed to what I’d previously attached it with.”
Song Deconstructed: ‘Follow Me’ by Lucy McWilliams

Love song writers

Discover how artists like Jack Conman and Instant Love’s Tristen are redefining love songs by incorporating diverse perspectives and experiences…

Ian Hunter: “The problem with getting older is (a) you can’t write love songs anymore because they sound disgusting; (b) you’ve been over a lot of territory. So it’s difficult to find new turf, so to speak. Having said that, it’s really fluky. Half the songs I get, it’ll be a title or it’ll be a short musical passage that sounds ‘hooky’ to me and words just come to it. And then, I’m prey to those words. The song, in other words, tells me – I don’t tell the song. And I’ll sit down and write. I’m not a professional writer, it’s more haphazard.”
Interview: Ian Hunter

Jack Conman: “I wrote this song about all of the women, and those that identify as women, that have inspired me in my life. For example, my mum, friends, family members and my girlfriend. It sounds a little bit like a love song but it’s not fully that, it has sections where I talk about romantic love between me and a significant other, but it’s more an appreciation for women as a whole.”
5 Minutes With… Jack Conman

Tristen: “Instant Love made me realise the importance of degenderising the hetero-normative nature of mainstream music to fill in the missing gaps. We need love songs from women to women because this love exists in all cultures. Why should we omit parts of our existence? It feels like disruption, but in reality, it is just the idea that art should represent life, in all of its complexity. Artists should be focused on telling stories from our culture that are intentionally marginalised, but omnipresent.”
Interview: Instant Love

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