What with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, any one would be forgiven for wanting to quickly brush up on their guitar skills, picking up one of many easy guitar love songs along the way. If only to role play common and out dated ideas of chivalry and charm, it’s simply that time of year where a man, on one knee with an acoustic perched in arms, serenades a swooning maiden and everyone pretends that the world isn’t falling apart because their love can conquer anything and what not.
Easy guitar love songs, by virtue of their status, are relatively simple and straightforward. That’s part of the magic. Much like love itself, both simple and undyingly complex and indescribable, we too are spell bound by these songs year after year.
1. ‘Stand by Me’ by Ben E. King
This particular soul number ought not need an introduction. Originally springing to life in 1961, the composer was seeking to recreate an older gospel song and, in the process, composed one of the most seminal and well-known pop and soul songs of the 20th Century, consistently ranked at the top of lists of best known and beloved songs in the Western Hemisphere, not to mention one of the most heralded easy guitar love songs of all time.
The song insistently repeats the same four chords throughout, varying in instrumental backing and accompaniment, the emphasis being as much on the heartfelt, forlorn vocals as on the luscious, endearing string arrangements. With each repetition of the chords and of the insistent hook ‘Darling, darling! Stand by me’, we are plunged deeper into the singer’s yearning and longing for the subject of the song.
As all of the best easy guitar love songs do, this song uses all of its simple elements to communicate and illustrate a compelling tale of longing that as many people as possible can see themselves in.
Some of you might be more familiar with the Otis Redding version of the song, which you will be needing a capo for. With said capo placed on the second fret, the pitch will be just right.
The strumming pattern should be self explanatory, coming to you after only playing the song a few times. Similar to reggae in some senses, the emphasis on the off beats 2 and 4 for example, this song, however, has a little more of a shuffle/swing, indebted as the style is to its jazz predecessors and all those vocalists and crooners that came before and laid the groundwork.
2. ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ by Van Morrison
Easy guitar love songs scarcely come more ubiquitous than this excitable and heart felt number by Northern Irish disturber of the peace Van Morrison, featured as it in next to any romantic comedy type movie featuring an eponymously titled Brown Eyed Girl. When he’s not busy contributing to outmoded flings of thought – anti vax and anti mask and plandemic propaganda for example – it is, or at least was, within his power to write a stomper.
Like this one for instance. Considered by many to be Van Morrison’s signature song, it came to life in 1967 during a two day recording session, wherein he recorded eight songs intended to be released as four singles for his new label, Bang Records, Brown Eyed Girl being captured on the 22nd take on the first day of recording.
Typical of Van Morrison’s ever so slightly old fashioned and questionable world view, the song was originally titled ‘Brown Skinned Girl’, though this was changed during the recording process: ‘That was just a mistake. It was a kind of Jamaican song. Calypso. It just slipped my mind [that] I changed the title… After we’d recorded it, I looked at the tape box and didn’t even notice that I’d changed the title. I looked at the box where I’d lain it down with my guitar and it said ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ on the tape box. It’s just one of those things that happen.’
Though the song’s nostalgic lyrics about a former love affair about a former love were considered too racy to be played by many radio stations at the time, this is one of those easy guitar love songs that has become fodder for such oldies stations now, one of very few 60’s classics still in heavy rotation. Despite this, however, (and eschewing any romantic notions of Morrison swimming on a bed of cash from the royalties) he was thoroughly cheated out of the money, allegedly not receiving a single penny, due to some so called ‘highly creative accounting’.
3. ‘Without You’ by Harry Nilsson
Where would the world of easy guitar love songs be without this one, which takes the melodrama of the feelings in the pit of your stomach and dials them up to the highest frequency? Despite being largely led by Nilsson’s piano and masterful tenor vocals, lacking in any guitar, the great and revered Beatle, writers of love songs extraordinaire, Paul McCartney described the ballad as ‘the killer song of all time’.
Unknown to most is the fact that the song was originally composed, recorded, and released by Welsh rock band Badfinger, a band intimately tied up with the history of the Beatles’ record label, Apple. Principal songwriter, Tom Evans’ relationship with his future wife Marianne helped transport the demo that lacked a strong chorus to the hit we know today:
One evening [Evans] went to [Marianne’s] friend Karen and told Karen, ‘She’s left me. I need her back. I can’t live without her.’ He flew to Bonn to find her – he wrote a song called ‘I Can’t Live’. Its chorus included ‘I can’t live, if living is without you, I can’t live, I can’t give any more.’ And so the merging of the two songs. Ham and Evans created the hit [with] Ham’s verse, ‘warm, sweet, sentimental’ and Evans’ chorus, ‘intense, dramatic, heartbreaking.’
Our man Harry Nilsson heard this original version at a party, which could be more accurately described as one of a roster of easy guitar love songs, and decided to record it himself when he realised that it actually wasn’t by The Beatles as he had initially thought. The rest is history, the all powerful ballad soaring instantly into charts across the world, even named by Billboard as the number four single of 1972.
Often labelled easy listening and often played on oldies stations, this song was hugely different for its times, powerful and potent and infused with every pore of the writers – everything you’d want from easy guitar love songs that become more than the sum of their parts.
4. ‘The Scientist’ by Coldplay
This is a by now ubiquitous hit from the old timers Coldplay. They are a world wide band who have been so swallowed up by attempts to remain relevant it’s hard to know exactly who they are or what they are intending to do in their musical ventures, there being a distinct lack of easy guitar love songs in their catalogue of late.
However, at one time they were reasonably humble folk who met at University College London, coming from various places around the United Kingdom (Devon, Southampton, London, Wales & Scotland). Their music was characterised by a mellow atmosphere and a signature use of space, all in all relatively harmless.
‘The Scientist’ comes as one of the singles from their sophomore album, the more mellow and lethargic of the roster. Though not strictly a guitar song, being most densely populated by broad, sonorous piano chord balladry, this fact hasn’t stopped countless droves of fans recording covers on all manner of instruments, all types of guitars included.
Much as with many other easy guitar love songs, this more piano led number places at its centre the themes of loss, love, and forgiveness. This is expressed repeatedly with a wish to ‘take it back to the start’, which the adjoining music video takes literally, the entirety recorded in reverse, an effort perhaps to capture the sheer longing we all sometimes feel for returning to a previous moment, for turning back the clock and doing things differently with a loved one.
No, no, I’m fine, I’m not crying, no not at all, I’ve just got something in my eyes…
5. ‘You Are My Sunshine’ by Johnny Cash
Where would the world be without this classic, this easy guitar love song to end all easy guitar love songs? Where would the ears of lovers be without the whispering of these sweet nothings for affirmation. With imagery and similes much inspired by many of the Romantic poets, this song plunders these modes of communication to deliver universal messages of love and candor.
This song, however, was not one of Cash’s own. Like many other country artists, and much akin to the tradition in folk and jazz circles simultaneously, he was inclined towards covering other artists’ material as well as his own. Such is the tradition, that new life is breathed into often very old easy guitar love songs simply by virtue of their being resurrected in the flesh and voice of another.
The song seemingly appeared out of nowhere, on a single by The Pine Ridge Boys in August of 1939, with no song writer being listed. Another group, The Rice Brothers’ Gang, recorded the song the following month of the same year, credited the song to a Mr Paul Rice.
On January of the following year, the song was copyrighted by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell, recorded the month afterwards in February, receiving song writing credit and having their names stay with it when the copyright was renewed. Since these times, the stories of ownership and who composed the song have only become more complicated. Paul Rice, the person whom many believe actually wrote it, had this to say:
‘I wrote ‘You Are my Sunshine’ in 1937. Where I got the idea for it, a girl over in South Carolina wrote me this long letter – it was long about seventeen pages. And she was talking about how I was her sunshine. I got the idea for the song and put a tune to it… At least 20 people claimed to have written ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ I had a gal write me from California that she wrote it’
6. ‘It Must Be Love’ by Madness
Similarly, just as with the song above, this is another of those easy guitar love songs that has far exceeded its original bounds. Many will be far more familiar with the rendition of the song by British ska sensation Madness, so much so that the original by underground singer song writer extraordinaire Labi Siffre is often all but neglected. Such is the power of a simple and beautiful, to transcend any bounds and to posit into any context its loving infectiousness.
This song, thus, began life as far more of a pop affair, written, recorded and released as a single in 1971 for his third album, Crying Laughing Loving Lying, released the following year. This version will be more familiar to those seeking those easy guitar love songs more inclined towards a singer songwriter, using just their vocals and a guitar to communicate their longing and other feelings towards emotions.
Ten years later, however, the song received a complete overhaul by British ska band Madness, released as a stand alone single in late 1981 to much popular acclaim, peaking at number four on the UK singles chart, and appearing on their hit of a compilation album, Complete Madness, the following year, regarded now as a quintessential Madness track and compilation.
The song is certainly best remembered in this form, especially its adjoining music video, which in fact features a cameo of original song writer Labi Siffre as a violin player for the band! Either version of the song will welcome your loving longings with open arms!
Who else has reclined on the bed of Elvis Presley’s croon and wished they might be able to sing along? Or wished that they might be able to serenade a loved one with easy guitar love songs, to make them feel as special as you feel every time the record spins, when it feels as though every particle of Elvis’s voice is addressing itself to you and only you?
The song itself was a number one hit in its day, finding home in the outstretched arms of his largely teenage audience, particularly those of hormonal females.
Written in 1961 by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss for the feature film Blue Hawaii, the song saw separate release as a hit single by the popular demand of said audience, which was based on a previous song: ‘Plaisir d’amour’, a popular French love song, or chanson, composed as far back as 1784(!) by Jean-Paul-Egide Martini.
This aspect ought to be absorbed with a particularly wry outlook, considering the copyright case filed against the band Spiritualised when they used the song’s melody on their famous, eponymous track, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space’. The melody isn’t even theirs to lay claim to! So much for easy guitar love songs bringing people together!
As the chords are arpeggiated throughout, this might be a perfect opportunity to exercise your abilities in this regard, for the arpeggiation is at its most basic here, moving through the chord, travelling up and down in pitch before resolving to the next chord each time.
There are more chords here than you might typically be used to, so familiarising yourself with the individual shapes before jumping right in would be a great idea, though I would strongly encourage you to engage, as this would be an ample moment to exercise the dexterity and relationship between both your fretting hand and picking hand.
8. ‘Nevada Smith’ by Merle Kilgore
Here is one of those easy guitar love songs whose surface beauty belies a certain seriousness. The melodies may be sweet and the song itself mighty, but beneath this exterior is an under crust, an insecurity and a weakness in an otherwise ‘strong, silent type’.
The song was written and recorded for the movie of the same name, which came out in 1966. An American Western, the movie sees Steve McQueen in the role of the eponymous ‘Nevada Smith’ a.k.a. Max Sand, a drifter of the old West seeking revenge for the murder of his parents by outlaws, Bill Bowdre, Jesse Coe, and Tom Fitch.
The song fits into the entire narrative by acting as a way for the titular character to communicate his feelings to the token female of the movie. The lyrics, though relatively simple on the surface, belie an insecurity and impotence that infects entire populations of males in the Western world. The entire song is Nevada Smith himself asking his lover’s forgiveness for going out into the world to avenge his parents, knowing full well that he might not return.
There is a lyric of particular importance towards the very end, the last lyric in fact, where Smith says ‘Maybe some day / I’ll hold love in my heart / When I lay down / This gun here in my hand.’ To me this wreaks of toxic masculinity and phallocentrism, the holder of the ‘gun’ in his hand unable to give it up for the sake of providing his love with a stable source of love and affection.
That’s the wild west for you, though. All easy guitar love songs here, flowing along the desert floor like tumble weed, wreak of these qualities, written to mimic a time of savage lawlessness and an almost prehistoric sense of honour and chivalry.
There are scarcely any objective truths in music studies. Despite its reliance on the mathematics of exists, even Western music theory can be side stepped in favour of another musical language and culture. And yet, love and emotions in general certainly seem universal, able as they are to transcend and circumvent almost any boundary, whether cultural, political, geographical, or social. Case in point: Romeo & Juliet.
Music, being the universal language that it is, can vault these boundaries too, with ease. Emotions in songs are woven in such a way that we still don’t really understand and in ways that are different for each and every one of us, and yet in certain movies and musical moments the emotional factor is hyper concentrated to a point where it almost feels impossible to deny the tear rolling down your cheek…
Despite their simplicity, these easy guitar love songs are seemingly interlaced with something else entirely – the closest thing you are likely to find to pixie dust in this mortal realm – that keeps us coming back again and again. Often times it is love itself that is knitted into the fabric of these songs, our own love as felt by us for someone who we may still hold dear or may have lost along the way for whatever reason.
So we thumb and thumb again these often well worn easy guitar love songs, trying to revive and relive the feeling that either they once made us feel or that we felt while enjoying these songs for the first time and, for whatever reason, we can no longer experience or feel in the corporeal world. For the world of song is so fantastical, so liminal; even a recording, which makes physical and obtainable something that is in essence ephemeral, is so indescribable and unmappable.
FAQs Easy Guitar Love Songs
There are scarcely any objective truths in music studies. Despite its reliance on the mathematics of exists, even Western music theory can be side stepped in favour of another musical language and culture. The same very much goes for this, one person’s easiest song being very different from another’s. My instant impulse is to say ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple, because it requires so little of the guitarist, focusing only on one string in it’s most simplified form.
If it’s wooing you’re seeking to achieve, then it seems only right to assume that a song that would impress you or another person that doesn’t otherwise play the guitar or another instrument would be a good place to start. Anything that’s going to convey a genuine feeling will surely work, as well as having genuine feelings for the person you are attempting to impressing and a genuine connection with the song that you are using to impress this person. If any aspect of it is false then what’s the point? Who are you fooling but yourself?
The most beautiful songs to play on guitar are often easy guitar love songs, beauty itself being so readily associated with love, and vice versa. When we begin to rank things, labelling them as the so called ‘most beautiful songs’, then it quickly becomes a matter of subjectivity, of the taste of both performer and listener, as well as even the instrument which it is being played upon. Thus, your favorite easy guitar love songs and those that you feel are the most beautiful songs to play on guitar are, without any shred of doubt, going to be at least somewhat different to mine, for example, even if only for the reasons for which you choose them compared to mine.
There’s no one way to write easy guitar love songs, much like there’s no single route through which to achieve greatness. The best place to start is often with a genuine emotion or feeling, for this will be the realest place from which the love song will rise. This can either be a positive love or negative love, but it ought to be real, unless it’s about fake plastic love, in which case go for it!