Where’s the Grief? ASCAP’s Top 50 Love Songs

No wonder American marriages are in peril. It now appears that couples have been rushing into wedlock for the past 100 years with expectations formed by all the wrong songs.

This jarring fact revealed itself yesterday (Feb. 9) when ASCAP, the giant performing rights society, released its list of the Top 50 Love Songs of the 20th Century. To the shock and dismay of all right-thinking people, only one of these 50 tunes is a country song.

But do country folk not love? Do they not, too, spend their lives sending and receiving mixed signals? Have they not suffered and minutely anatomized this most slippery of emotions? Of course they have. They’re the absolute masters. But you’d never know it by looking at this list.

Oh, sure, Gary Baker and Frank Myers’ “I Swear” made the cut. But that’s just because a pop act recorded it. And “Lady,” a country hit for Kenny Rogers, is in the group — but only because popmeister Lionel Richie wrote it.

Certainly the other songs ASCAP cites are cultural treasures. Who among us has not swayed and ineptly fantasized to “Moonlight Bay,” “Tea for Two,” “Stardust,” “As Time Goes By” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing?” That’s fine. But all these songs carry the implicit message that romance is and should be fun. No country songwriter would make that mistake. When it comes to love and marriage, country music neither fuels nor tolerates excessive expectations of joy.

“It Had to be You,” “Unchained Melody,” “Misty,” “My Girl” — these are songs for those first and unrecoverable nights of passion. But they are not paradigms for the long haul. Where, we wonder, are such solid lyrical underpinnings as “Holding Her and Loving You,” “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me,” “Trying to Love Two Women,” “A Lesson in Leavin’,” “Is There Life Out There” and the wildly popular “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am?” These are our touchstones.

Country music knows that love is not for the sentimental.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.