Where Is The Love? “Love” songs don’t top the charts anymore; Here’s a decade-by-decade comparison, plus some likely reasons for the downturn

(August 5, 2022).  Love is hard to come by these days, especially at the top of the music charts where there’s been a lack of “love” songs hitting No. 1 for basically the entire 21st century.  

In the not-so-distant past (at least for us quinquagenarians, before the year 2000), artists often sang about love, whether it was in the form of romantic love or friendly/familial love, the love of something inanimate (like rock-and-roll or a rainy night), or simply pondering the relevancy or meaning of love (“What’s Love Got To Do With It?”; “I Want To Know What Love Is”).  

Whether you were “Addicted to Love,” experiencing a “Love Hangover,” or simply in denial of it (“I’m Not In Love”), love songs were everywhere back in the day, whether in tunes that included the word “love” somewhere in their lyrics, or more outwardly in the song titles themselves.  Or maybe without even having to say the word, you knew a love song when you heard it.

Tina Turner’s 1984 No. 1 comeback hit, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” famously claimed that lust, not love, was the driver.

But when Tina Turner flipped the script and topped the Hot 100 in 1984 with her iconic musical question that was steeped in love’s denial, who could’ve predicted just how prophetically descriptive the words “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” might be for the Billboard charts nearly four decades later?

For much of the 20th century, “love” had practically everything to do with it.  Love songs had the ability to tug at our heart strings and maybe even evoke a few tears. The emotional connection we formed as a result inspired us to purchase records that expressed much better than we could exactly what love had to do with it…or at least told us how we too could feel “The Power of Love.”

But since the year 2000, love songs have been increasingly rare at the top of Billboard’s premier singles chart.  In fact, as it pertains to the Hot 100, one might be inclined to quip “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” (quick: name the artist!).  It just pays a visit from time to time, and with much less frequency as the years and decades pass. 

To best illustrate the delta between the past and present as it relates to chart-topping love songs, below is a decade-by-decade comparison of “love”-filled No. 1s, focusing just on song titles with that four-letter word included.  

Recognizing that titles alone don’t represent the total population of love songs out there, as many tunes can be about love without incorporating the word in their titles (“Unchained Melody,” “Un-Break My Heart,” “Always Be My Baby” are just a few of many examples), the blog focused this analysis on song titles as they are a conservative indicator of the state of “love” in today’s musical landscape compared to that of the past (plus it was easier to research).

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was the first No. 1 song if the 1960s with “love” in its title.

Beginning with the 1960s–the first full decade of the Billboard Hot 100–and accumulating data from the charts of every decade up to the present, there’ve been 117 songs with the word “love” in their titles that have reached No. 1.  That’s 117 “love” songs out of a total 1116 No. 1s (or 10.5%) occurring over the past sixty-two-and-a-half years.

In fact, aside from articles like “the,” “an” or “a” and pronouns like “I,” you” and “me,” the word “love” and its many variations (“lover,” “loves,” “loving,” “loved”) appear in more No. 1 song titles than any other word in the English language.  

But the distribution of No 1 “love” songs across the decades both pre- and post-2000 is astounding.

Here’s the data: 

During the 1960s, there were 29 “love” songs that topped the Hot 100 (see table below).  They represented 14.3% of the total 203 songs that reached No. 1 from January 1960 to December 1969.  That decade was paced by 1964, a year where eight different songs with “love” in their titles—including three by the Beatles—topped the chart.

The Beatles were all about love in 1964. They had three consecutive No. 1 singles with “love” in their titles

In fact, of that year’s 23 No. 1 songs in all, 18 of them had at least something to do with romantic love, with ten of those not having “love” in their titles.  Fourteen of those 18 had the word “love” in either their titles or lyrics or both.

But sticking with just “love” titles, here’s a table listing of all the titular “Love” songs that reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 during the ‘60s:

No. 1 Title Artist (year)
1. Will You Love Me Tomorrow  Shirelles (1961)
2. Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You Connie Francis (1962)
3. I Can’t Stop Loving You Ray Charles (1962)
4. Roses Are Red (My Love) Bobby Vinton (1962)
5. So Much In Love The Tymes (1963)
6. She Loves You Beatles (1964)
7. Can’t Buy Me Love Beatles (1964)
8. Love Me Do Beatles (1964)
9. Chapel of Love The Dixie Cups (1964)
10. A World Without Love Peter and Gordon (1964)
11. Everybody Loves Somebody Dean Martin (1964)
12. Where Did Our Love Go Supremes (1964)
13. Baby Love Supremes (1964)
14. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ Righteous Brothers (1965)
15. Stop! In The Name Of Love Supremes (1965)
16. Game Of Love Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders (1965)
17. Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter Herman’s Hermits (1965)
18. My Love Petula Clark (1966)
19. Good Lovin’ Young Rascals (1966)
20. When A Man Loves A Woman Percy Sledge (1966)
21. You Can’t Hurry Love Supremes (1966)
22. Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone Supremes (1967)
23. All You Need Is Love Beatles (1967)
24. To Sir With Love Lulu (1967)
25. Love Is Blue Paul Mauriat (1968)
26. This Guy’s In Love With You Herb Alpert (1968)
27. Hello, I Love You Doors (1968)
28. Love Child Diana Ross and The Supremes (1968)
29. Love Theme from Romeo And Juliet Henry Mancini (1969)
Number one songs based on Billboard Hot 100 chart data from January 1960 to December 1969
The Supremes “Love Child” was their sixth No. 1 love-titled song, making them the act with the most. Diana Ross would add two more after leaving the group.

The 1960s were also the only decade in which every year was represented by at least one No. 1 song with the word “love” in its title.  

The 1970s—the period with the most No. 1 songs (253) of any decade—had 26 (or 10.3%) chart-toppers with the word “love” in their titles, beginning with the Jackson 5’s “The Love You Save”:

No. 1 Title Artist (year)
1. The Love You Save Jackson 5 (1970)
2. I Think I Love You Partridge Family (1970)
3. Love Train O’Jays (1973)
4. My Love Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)
5. Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) George Harrison (1973)
6. Love’s Theme Love Unlimited Orchestra (1974)
7. Feel Like Makin’ Love Roberta Flack (1974)
8. Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe Barry White (1974)
9. I Honestly Love You Olivia Newton-John (1974)
10. Best Of My Love Eagles (1975)
11. Lovin’ You Minnie Riperton (1975)
12. He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You) Tony Orlando & Dawn (1975)
13. Love Will Keep Us Together Captain & Tennille (1975)
14. Fallin’ In Love Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds (1975)
15. Love Rollercoaster Ohio Players (1976)
16. 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover Paul Simon (1976)
17. Love Machine Miracles (1976)
18. Let Your Love Flow Bellamy Brothers (1976)
19. Silly Love Songs Wings (1976)
20. Love Hangover Diana Ross (1976)
21. Torn Between Two Lovers Mary MacGregor (1977)
22. Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born) Barbra Streisand (1977)
23. Best Of My Love Emotions (1977)
24. How Deep Is Your Love Bee Gees (1977)
25. (Love Is) Thicker Than Water Andy Gibb (1978)
26. Love You Inside Out Bee Gees (1979)
Number one songs based on Billboard Hot 100 chart data from January 1970 to December 1979
Barry Gibb (center) and his late brothers Robin (left), Maurice (right) and Andy (not pictured) had a hand in the last three No. 1 “love” songs of the 1970s

While the 1980s (25 No. 1 songs with “love” in their titles) saw a slight unit decrease from the 1970s’ total (26), it represented a minimal increase percentage-wise (10.8% from 10.3%) as there were also fewer total chart-topping songs that decade (231):

No. 1 Title Artist (year)
1. Crazy Little Thing Called Love Queen (1980)
2. Woman In Love Barbra Streisand (1980)
3. I Love A Rainy Night Eddie Rabbitt (1981)
4. Keep On Loving You REO Speedwagon (1981)
5. The One That You Love Air Supply (1981)
6. Endless Love Diana Ross and Lionel Richie (1981)
7. I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1982)
8. What’s Love Got To Do With It Tina Turner (1984)
9. I Just Called To Say I Love You Stevie Wonder (1984)
10. Caribbean Queen (No More Love On The Run) Billy Ocean (1984)
11. I Want To Know What Love Is Foreigner (1985)
12. The Power of Love Huey Lewis & the News (1985)
13. Saving All My Love For You Whitney Houston (1985)
14. Part-Time Lover Stevie Wonder (1985)
15. Addicted To Love Robert Palmer (1986)
16. Greatest Love Of All Whitney Houston (1986)
17. Glory Of Love Peter Cetera (1986)
18. Higher Love Steve Winwood (1986)
19. You Give Love A Bad Name Bon Jovi (1986)
20. I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) Whitney Houston (1987)
21. I Just Can’t Stop Loving You Michael Jackson (1987)
22. Love Bites Def Leppard (1988)
23. A Groovy Kind Of Love Phil Collins (1988)
24. Baby, I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley Will to Power (1988)
25. I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) New Kids On The Block (1989)
Number one songs based on Billboard Hot 100 chart data from January 1980 to December 1989
Three of Whitney Houston’s first four No. 1 songs had “love” in their titles. All eleven of her No. 1 songs included the word “love” in their lyrics, including her biggest, “I Will Always Love You.”

Surprisingly, the 1990s—with a higher representation of hip-hop machismo and R&B lust topping the chart than in the 1980s—saw the highest percentage (17.1%) of “love” songs hitting No. 1.  

But that decade is also where “love” began falling out of favor at the top of the charts.  Of the ‘90s’ 24 No. 1 “love” songs, twenty of them hit the top in the first half of the decade, including eleven in the first two years alone, with only four happening between 1995 and ‘99.  See the table immediately below (there’s even a Spanish translation of “love” in one of the titles):

  No. 1 Title Artist (year)
1. Love Will Lead You Back Taylor Dayne (1990)
2. It Must Have Been Love Roxette (1990)
3. Vision Of Love Mariah Carey (1990)
4. (Can’t Live Without Your) Love And Affection Nelson (1990)
5. Love Takes Time Mariah Carey (1990)
6. Because I Love You (The Postman Song) Stevie B (1990)
7. Justify My Love Madonna (1991)
8. Love Will Never Do (Without You) Janet Jackson (1991)
9. You’re In Love Wilson Phillips (1991)
10. I Adore Mi Amor Color Me Badd (1991)
11. When A Man Loves A Woman Michael Bolton (1991)
12. All 4 Love Color Me Badd (1992)
13. I Will Always Love You Whitney Houston (1992)
14. That’s The Way Love Goes Janet Jackson (1993)
15. Can’t Help Falling In Love UB40 (1993)
16. Dreamlover Mariah Carey (1993)
17. I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That ) Meat Loaf (1993)
18. All For Love Bryan Adams/Rod Stewart/Sting (1994)
19. The Power Of Love Celine Dion (1994)
20. I’ll Make Love To You Boyz II Men (1994)
21. Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman? Bryan Adams (1995)
22. Because You Loved Me Celine Dion (1996)
23. How Do U Want It/ California Love 2Pac (1996)
24. If You Had My Love Jennifer Lopez (1999)
Number one songs based on Billboard Hot 100 chart data from January 1990 to December 1999
2Pac’s “California Love” (by way of its B-side status) is the only hip-hop song on this list from the 20th century.

The downward trend that began in the late 1990s has only gotten worse as we move deeper into the 21st century.  Only thirteen songs containing the word “love” in their titles have reached the top of the Hot 100 since January 2000.  

That’s thirteen songs in just over 22-and-a-half years!  

No need to create a separate table for each of this millennium’s three decades, here’s the short list of “love” No. 1s for the entire 21st century through August 6, 2022:

  No. 1 Title Artist (year)
1. I Knew I Loved You Savage Garden (2000)
2. Crazy In Love Beyoncé (2003)
3. Let Me Love You Mario (2005)
4. My Love Justin Timberlake (2006)
5. I Wanna Love You Akon (2006)
6. Love In This Club Usher (2008)
7. Bleeding Love Leona Lewis (2008)
8. Love The Way You Lie Eminem ft. Rihanna (2010)
9. We Found Love Rihanna (2011)
10. Love Yourself Justin Bieber (2016)
11. Someone You Loved Lewis Capaldi (2019)
12. Lose You To Love Me Selena Gomez (2019)
13. Savage Love (Laxed Soren Beat) Jawsh 685, Jason Derulo and BTS (2020)
Number one songs based on Billboard Hot 100 chart data from January 2000 to August 2022
Justin Timberlake made “My Love” the only title to be shared among three entirely different No. 1 songs (Petula Clark and Paul McCartney had the other two).

So the breakdown is just seven No. 1 “love” songs in the aughts (2000-09), out of 129 total No. 1s—or 5.4%; only five in the 2010s (4.3% of 116 total No. 1s); and only one so far this decade out of 44 total (or 2.3%).

With just over a quarter of the 2020s now being completed and only one “love” song having topped the charts in the past two-and-a-half years, we’re on pace to see just four such No. 1s before the decade ends in December 2029, the fewest of any decade to date!

Oh, and that lone “love” song to top the Hot 100 this decade so far?  “Savage Love” by Jawsh 685, Jason Derulo and BTS.

Jawsh 685, Jason Derulo and BTS have the only No. 1 “love”-titled song of the 2020s.

Considering that song’s lyrics, such as “when you kiss me, I know you don’t give two fucks…but I still want that,” it’s easy to see why the state of affairs for love songs is so dire right now.

So with the crassness of “Savage Love” characterizing this decade’s only No. 1 “love” song, it’s worth exploring why such songs are having such a hard time on the Billboard charts.

Fewer No. 1 tunes in general?

It would be easy to suggest that this is a simple math issue and that, because there are fewer No. 1s in general per year when compared to the last century, there would naturally be fewer “love” songs to reach the top.  

But even the percentages of No. 1s per decade with “love” in their titles are lower than in the past, with those values ranging from a peak of 17.1% in the 1990s to a low of just 2.3% so far this decade.  

Plus, the 2020s—with 44 total No. 1 songs from January 2020 to present—are on track to have the highest number of total chart-toppers (176) since the 1980s, yet it is still trending to have the lowest number of “love” songs reach the pinnacle (4). 

Furthermore, 12.6% of the 20th century’s No. 1 songs from 1960 through 1999 had “love” in their titles, while the 21st century has had only 4.5% representation from January 2000 through July 2022.  These numbers would seem to render the “fewer total No. 1 songs” argument moot. 

Streaming’s impact/shorter song titles

Song titles have become notably shorter in the streaming age as artists want to make their hits more searchable on streaming platforms.  This limits the amount of creativity song titles can have, especially if one of the two or three words artists are willing to expend is already assigned to “love” or one of its conjugations.

Still, that didn’t stop artists in the past who were very economical with two-word “love” titles, including songs like “Love Hurts,” “Love Machine,” “Love Rollercoaster, and “Love Hangover.”  By the way, all of those songs were hits in the first half of the same year (1976), with the latter three all reaching No. 1.

Too much ratchetness?

Not to sound too judgmental, but there is a lot of ratchetness on today’s music charts, especially when compared to earlier times.  In an era when songs like “WAP” (“wet ass pussy” for the unenlightened) and “Thinking With My Dick” can scale the Hot 100 with ease, with the former reaching No. 1. for several weeks and becoming one of the most consumed, most talked-about songs of the past decade, it’s not so hard to imagine traditional “love” songs not easily fitting in today’s formats. 

Romance is dead😢

One doesn’t have to go far to see where music consumers’ heads are these days.  The word “love” doesn’t appear in the titles of any of this week’s top-ten songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and hasn’t since September 2021.  That was when Drake (featuring Jay-Z) made a one-week appearance at No. 10 with “Love All” as his album Certified Loverboy made its debut.

“Love” does, however, appear in the lyrics to some of this week’s top-ten hits, which would seem to offer some hope…until you consider that another four-letter word appears in as many of those songs’ lyrics as the L-word:

Song – Artist  Lyrical 4-letter Word
1. “About Damn Time” – Lizzo Fuck
2. “As It Was” – Harry Styles
3. “Running Up That Hill” – Kate Bush Love
4. “First Class” – Jack Harlow
5. “Wait For U” – Future Love/ Fuck
6. “Break My Soul” – Beyoncé  Love
7. “Late Night Talking” – Harry Styles 
8. “Me Porto Bonito” – Bad Bunny Fuck (in Spanish)
9. “I Like You” – Post Malone Fuck
10. “Heat Waves” – Glass Animals Love
The Billboard Hot 100’s top-10 singles for the week ending August 6, 2022

I think it’s safe to say that, with as many F-bombs in today’s top-ten song lyrics as there are L-words, our love language and our priorities have changed somewhat in the past 30 years.  It just isn’t cool to talk about relationships in terms of “love” anymore, rather it’s more popular to normalize lust and one’s physical attributes in songs.

For instance, Post Malone pays his like-interest the following compliment in his current No. 9 hit:  “Your heart’s so big, but that ass is huge.”

One rung up at No. 8, Bad Bunny laments in Spanish: “Quiere chingar, pero no quiere na’ fijo, ay.”  Translation: “she wants to fuck but she don’t want compromise, hey!”  He earlier marvels at “ese culo” (her ass) as well. 

Perhaps the closest thing to a love song in the current top ten is Future’s “Wait For U,” in which featured artist Drake raps, “I cannot convince you that I love you for a living” before questioning her poor relationship decisions.

“Why you introduce us if you knew that you was with him?  Made me shake his hand when y’all been fucking for a minute,” Drake ponders. 

Hey, at least one of those songs—Malone’s “I Like You”—is a start.  After all, you have to like someone before you can love them, right?

That may gives us some hope, but it leads the blog to draw the following bottom-line conclusion, which may explain it all:

There’s just “not enough love in the world.”

At least not in our music today. 

DJRob

DJRob

DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.

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