Top Seven Love Songs of Gen-X

This has nothing whatsoever to do with anything real estate. I was just… listening to music and thought I hadn’t written about this particular topic, though I have discussed it from time to time.

Every generation has its love songs, that articulate the deepest wishes and longings of men and women of that time. For Gen-Xers like me, that period is basically the 80’s through the early 90’s, which is when we came of age.

These then are the top seven love songs of Generation X based on nothing other than my personal tastes. 🙂 And why they are. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I’d love to hear what your list looks like in the comments.

#7: Heaven, Bryan Adams

Although this song hasn’t aged particularly well, because well, Bryan Adams… those of us who heard it for the first time at some junior high school dance still remember the remarkable innocence and trembling hands as we shuffled onto the converted cafeteria floor holding some girl/guy’s hands for a slow dance to this classic.

The most ironic part of this song, and my reason for putting it #7, comes right at the beginning:

Oh thinkin’ about all our younger years
There was only you and me
We were young and wild and free

Of course, we were like… 16 then… and there was no thinkin’ about all our younger years then. There is now. Oh, there is now.

#6: Nothing Else Matters, Metallica

This song, more than any other, almost destroyed Metallica’s devoted headbanging following back in 1991. Metallica had burst onto the scene as the hardest, fastest, heaviest of the heavy metal bands when quite a few so-called metal bands were glam rock hair metal bands of men wearing tights and makeup. Those of us who were into the whole metal thing back then thought Metallica represented the purity of anger and angst and violence that we thought was “real” metal.

So when Metallica comes out with the Black album, and there’s an actual mutha&#*$ love ballad on it… yeah, fans went berserk. So many people thought Metallica had sold out and switched their allegiances to even harder thrash metal bands.

And yet, very few people think of this song when they think “love songs” because of James Hetfield. The man could probably make Happy Birthday sound menacing, and that E-minor arpeggio opening sounds funereal, not loving. But… the lyrics, and the sentiment…

So close, no matter how far
Couldn’t be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
And nothing else matters

Never opened myself this way
Life is ours, we live it our way
All these words I don’t just say
And nothing else matters

Trust I seek and I find in you
Every day for us something new
Open mind for a different view
And nothing else matters

Never cared for what they do
Never cared for what they know
But I know

It may be a particularly masculine love song in that it expresses some of the deepest hopes and fears, but masked in bravado, but it’s my #6.

#5: True, Spandau Ballet

What’s somewhat amusing in retrospect is that this song may or may not be a love song at all. I mean, we assume it is because ballads are love songs, right? And lines like “Head over heels when toe to toe / This is the sound of my soul / This is the sound” makes one think this is a love song. But… it may not be. It might be some sort of declaration about what it means to be a musician, an artist, trying to stay true to one’s vision.

Yet, at least when we heard it back then, we always thought “I know this much is true” was referring to how we might feel about somebody. That’s the thing about young love, which in turn means it’s also the thing about idealized love of love songs — it’s all kinds of confused, with conflicts left, right and center, with ego, sex, desire, jealousies, and whatever other psychoses we all bring to a relationship… so we want to retreat to the core of it all and say, “I know this much is true.”

Plus, those opening few bars… Pure magic.

#4: Only You, Yaz

For years, I thought this was the perfect love song that expressed how one should feel about one’s beloved. It’s tinged throughout with a sense of foreboding, like Alison Moyet is trying to break up, but failing, or something. But the refrain ends up like perfect surrender to a feeling you can’t help having:

All I needed was the love you gave
All I needed for another day
And all I ever knew
Only you

When you’re a teenager, what else do you think you need? It’s only later that you realize that reality is a little bit different. All I needed for another day is usually not “only you” but… we didn’t know that then, and sometimes, we wish we still didn’t know that now.

#3: Crazy For You, Madonna

Likely the most popular of the songs on the list, I put it this high because it was the slow-dance song of my younger days. It is utterly conventional, and yet perfectly executed in its conventionality. Madonna, no great musical talent, is actually perfect in this none-too-challenging croon with her sultry voice hinting at things not-quite-so-innocent when she sings, “I’m crazy for you”.

Many an 8th grade love affairs were contained entirely within this song: at the start then at the end, and never escaped the boundaries of the notes and words, because angst-ridden insecure teenagers are not good at vocalizing desire. But while the song lasted… well, now that was something….

#2: The Promise, When in Rome

The second-best love song from the New Wave era and one of the reasons why I tend to pity the Gen-Xers who knew not the phenomenon that was New Wave back in the day, The Promise is possibly the most masculine (in an idealized Prince Charming sort of way) love song of the generation. Even Metallica (above) doesn’t get to this level because Nothing Else Matters is inherently inward-looking, talking about the man as lover who doesn’t care about social approval as long as he has his beloved. The Promise, on the other hand, is inherently outward-looking — it is, after all, making a promise:

I’m sorry, but I’m just thinking of the right words to say
I know they don’t sound the way I planned them to be
But if you wait around a while, I’ll make you fall for me
I promise, I promise you I will

Again, hopes and dreams, I know. But there it is.

#1: Somebody, Depeche Mode

If a generation has a Love Song that represents it, this one does the X. Thirty years later, I find that almost every single Gen-Xer I know has spent their life looking for that “somebody” that Martin Gore paints for us. The fortunate few have found him/her; the vast majority are still looking. Read the lyrics and see if I speak true.

Even the last four lines speak of Gen-X and our cynicism, yet spiked through with that hope for something not quite so cynical: “In a case like this / I’ll get away with it” Hoping, but not quite sure whether such a hope is just foolish hope… that’s my generation. Most of us may be moms and dads and no longer quite so cynical or so hopeful, but I think the melody and words of Somebody bring us all back to somebody we all once were, once upon a time.



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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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9 thoughts on “Top Seven Love Songs of Gen-X”

  1. All this is high school stuff to me. What about junior high school dances?

    Always and forever (this might cross over even now)
    Endless Love (Lionel Richie and Diana Ross)
    Cruisin’ (Smokey Robinson)
    Still (Commodores)

    Maybe something that matches your list a bit more.
    No one is to blame – Howard Jones

    • @GRobertson – Lets not forget…

      Reasons – Earth, Wind, and Fire
      I Do Love You – GQ
      La La La Means I Love You – The Delfonics
      Be My Girl – The Dramatics
      Spacey Love – Rick James
      You Are Everything – The Stylistics
      I Want To Be Free – The Ohio Players
      If Loving You Is Wrong – Millie Jackson
      I Can’t Love Anymore – Teena Marie

    • Endless Love probably should make the list… but I never liked the song as a youngster. Love it now though cuz, I’m old and grey now. 😀

  2. Bad English ” When I see you smile ”
    Cyndi Lauper “Time after Time”
    Journey “Open Arms” “Faithfully”
    Cure ” Just Like Heaven” “Friday, I’m in Love”
    Mr. Big “To Be With You”
    Poisin “Every rose has it’s thorn ”

    Just a few I could think of … I may be off on the years a bit .

  3. Here are a dozen more, oldest to newest, from that decade that defined a generation. Friday night roller-skating snowball jams, the songs that made you pine on weekends away from school, the videos you were supposed to turn off because “ewww, love” but never did.

    “Lost in Love” and “All Out of Love” – Air Supply [sappy but that’s what you want when you’re in puppy love]

    “Keep on Loving You” – REO Speedwagon [scary to an adolescent listening closely to the words, which we all did, as we stared at that album cover]

    “I Love You” – Climax Blues Band [understated description in obvious words of a future (unattainable?) ideal for a Gen X, latchkey kid]

    “Waiting for a Girl Like You” – Foreigner [timeless; YouTube comment from 2 weeks ago: “It’s kinda weird how I’m only 16 and I know and love this song.”]

    “Faithfully” – Journey [I’m no fan of Journey, but c’mon]

    “Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper [my favorite of the bunch]

    “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” – Tina Turner [my friends didn’t get my love for this song; I called them unenlightened]

    “What Is Love?” – Howard Jones [“I love you whether or not you love me” – now that’s how you start a love song]

    “Take Me With U” – Prince and the Revolution [deep sigh; bonus for visual love affair w/ Minnesota:

    “Kiss Me on the Bus” – The Replacements [an ’80s city kid needs public transit and a Sony Walkman, and this was THE SONG for both, bar none]

    “In Your Eyes” – Peter Gabriel [the boombox goes over your head]

    • Great, great choices! 😀 Cant’ argue with any of those choices! Well, maybe except for “What is Love” as I always thought that was more of a butthurt anti-love song….

      “What is love anyway
      Does anybody love anybody else?”

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