The 100 Greatest Songs of the Rock Era: #91: You and I
Stevie Wonder from Talking Book (1972)
“Do you know this is the first truly romantic song on your list?” Peggy said.
“You don’t consider ‘Whole Lotta Love’ romantic? It even has ‘love’ in the title.”
“Yeah, I consider it romantic the way I consider the Big Mac to be food.”
I laughed. “‘You and I’ is a crazily romantic song, though, isn’t it?”
“You aren’t kidding. I listened to it this morning in advance of our call and I wouldn’t let my Stevie out of the bedroom.”
“I’ll skip the rest of the details, if you don’t mind.”
There was a moment of silence that felt odd to me. Then Peggy said, “Why do you think it’s so hard to write great love songs?”
I gave that a little bit of thought. Most of us have had at least some experience with love – maybe not as much experience as we’ve had with lust, or rage, or betrayal, but some. Why, then were there so few songs that captured the essence of love the way “You and I” did? I remembered a conversation I had a few years back with a music industry lawyer. He told me that after representing pop stars for so many years he became convinced that he was as capable of writing a hit as his clients were – until he tried. He figured the easiest kind of song to write was a love song and he spent a couple of days churning out one cliché after another until he went back to his day job.
“I think it comes down to there being a very fine line between banality and universality," I said.
“I think it’s super easy to say the same thing that everyone else is saying, because there’s some level of truth to what everyone else is saying. To write a great love song, though – one that really gets through to people and lasts a long time – you need to find a way to capture the universals of love instead of stringing together a series of tired phrases. That’s what makes this song so brilliant.”
“That, and Stevie Wonder’s voice.”
“Well, yeah. And his mastery of melody.”
“So, really, all you need for a great love song is the ability to tap into universals, write gorgeous melodies, and sing like Stevie Wonder.”
“I think you just answered your question.”