Thematic Lesson: Love Songs

Essential Question

Why is the Pop song such a common medium for expressing feelings about love, and how do individual songs relate to their historical moments?


The love song has been around for thousands of years and existed in virtually every culture: fragments of love songs and lyric poetry etched on papyrus and carved in stone survive from ancient Greece and Egypt. Medieval troubadours perfected the art of writing and singing about idealized love. Opera composers dramatized romance in music. Amorous parlor songs played a role in courtships.

And of course, love songs are a fixture in contemporary musical culture. By most estimates, they have made up the majority of songs on the popularity charts throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. Musicians working in every major genre of American popular music—including Folk, Jazz, Pop, Country, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll — have produced songs about love. The variety of themes is similarly broad, encompassing many different aspects of and perspectives on relationships, from loss and longing to hope and dreaming.

Rock and Roll love songs inherit much from their historical predecessors, but they also demonstrate how cultural ideas about love, sex, and relationships change over time. New musical styles present opportunities to approach an old subject in new ways, and the sometimes raucous sounds of Rock and Roll made entirely new types of songs about love possible.

In this lesson, students will listen to examples of love songs from several musical styles and historical moments. The activities are designed to explore how music and lyrics work together to express different sentiments toward love and relationships.

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Know (knowledge):

  • How different perspectives on love can be expressed through lyrics
  • How songwriters use music to enhance or change the meaning of the lyrics
  • That songs reflect their cultural and historical context

Be able to (skills):

  • Develop interpretive skills by analyzing song lyrics
  • Compare and contrast musical performances
  • Identify connections between artistic expression and the broader social and political context in which that expression occurs
  • Common Core: Students will read and listen to analyze lyrics to comprehend the meaning more fully (CCSS Speaking and Listening 2; CCSS Language 3)