Scientist Isaac Newton identified that an action needs/creates a reaction. Imagine a tennis game where only one player is making any effort to hit the ball. How long does that last?
The same is true for love. Love cannot be a one-way street and be successful. If one partner is the only one who serves the ball (i.e. extends devotion). Unrequited love, then, refers to one member of the partnership doing all the “serving.”
Musicians and other artisans of the auditory arts base almost every poem, prose and song upon relationships. What is better to write about than the broken heart? Music and other sound bites lodge themselves in our memory banks as mnemonic devices for years.
Best Songs About Unrequited Love
“Call Me Maybe” – Carly Rae Jepsen
Yes, this earworm by Carly Rae Jepsen is absolutely about a crush that doesn’t know that she is alive. The song plays on that immediate feeling of falling for someone at first sight, but the accompanying video also makes it very clear that the crush is one-sided.
Sometimes the initial rush of falling in love is what makes the whole process – and this song – so memorable.
“Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” – The Police
The Police are definitely known for their songs about being on the outside looking in, but this one is way less creepy than “Every Breath You Take”.
Instead, the song is about watching a woman and realizing how great she is – and understanding that she doesn’t even know that the singer is alive. It’s definitely a song where the love just isn’t returned.
“Teardrops on My Guitar” – Taylor Swift
Yes, another song by Taylor Swift. Swift’s early work is full of these songs, and this one is all about the despair that comes from falling for someone who just doesn’t return your feelings.
This one is also a bit of a breakup song, but few things feel worse than falling for someone who ends up rejecting you. While Swift’s subject matter would become more mature over the years, this song still stands out among her earlier works.
“Hello” – Lionel Richie
Yes, Lionel Richie’s hit is all about love that’s not returned. In many ways, this is a more passive song that’s about wishing that someone else would see you standing there waiting for them.
In fact, Richie’s song and accompanying video very much portray him as someone who has very strong feelings but who lacks the ability to really get anyone to notice them. The video turns out pretty well, but the song leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
“To Be With You” – Mr. Big
Mr. Big’s song is an ode to longing. It’s all about the desire of the singer to be there for the girl who he loves, even if he knows that there are many people who have a better shot of being with her than him.
It’s a catchy song, but those who pay attention to the lyrics will find that it’s also one that sets the singer up for quite a bit of heartache.
“Stacey’s Mom” – Fountains of Wayne
Sometimes unrequited love really shouldn’t be returned. This is unrequited love in the form of a precocious crush, a song that’s all about the feelings that a young man has for his friend’s mom.
It’s a little silly to be sure, but it takes the listener back to the first time that he or she had a crush on a person who was far too old for him or her.
“Everything You Want” – Vertical Horizon
This 90s classic is all about finding that person who should mean absolutely everything in the world to you and realizing that there’s just nothing there.
It’s not just a song about unrequited love – it’s a song about the feeling that you get when you just can’t return the affection to a person that you know should be a perfect fit for your life.
“Layla” – Derek and the Dominos
Layla’s a song about unrequited love in real life. Eric Clapton wrote this song as an ode to his friend George Harrison’s wife, pouring all of his wishes and feelings into the song.
It’s not just a song of unrequited love, but a song that shows the singer’s desire for that love to manifest no matter how inappropriate it might be.
“Why Can’t This Be Love” – Van Halen
Van Halen’s first single with Sammy Hagar is also one of the band’s best songs about getting into a relationship that doesn’t have everything. Sure, it’s got all of the component parts to be something special, but it’s missing one key ingredient – love.
Not only does this song really sell the feeling of having a good thing, but it also does a great job of describing what it’s like when a relationship falls short of where it could go.
“Just My Imagination” – the Temptations
Finally, there’s this hit by the Temptations. This song isn’t just about unrequited love – it’s about the pain that comes from convincing yourself that the other party loves you back.
The lyrics are simple and elegant, but they drive home the fact that there are some relationships that only exist in one person’s head. If you’re looking for an absolute classic on this topic, you can do a lot worse than this one.
“I Will Always Love You” – Dolly Parton
“I Will Always Love You,” was originally recorded by Dolly Parton, although many think it was Whitney Houston’s song, which couldn’t be more incorrect.
For those who have ever watched the love story between Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”, Whitney Houston’s reincarnation of this ballad in “The Guardian, singing about her love for Kevin Costner is simply a sequel.
“Jubel” – Klingande
Jubel is a joyful, relaxed summery song but underneath the happy EDM beats are lyrics that hint at the sadness and regret of unrequited love. How two people can have a special connection, but they are uncertain and play games: “Why are we losing time? Save Me.”
“Unchained Melody” – the Righteous Brothers
Perhaps one of the most famous songs about unrequited love bears one of the most unknown titles of all times. It is “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers. As if the movie wasn’t famous enough when it first hit the scene (circa 1965), the movie “Ghost” came along 2.5 decades later (1990) and made this ghostly tune even more haunting. This song barely edged out “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” another hallowed unrequited love song by the same band.
“Love Stinks” – J Geils Band
“Love Stinks” by the J Geils Band in the 1980’s: The line, “You love her, but she loves him, and he loves somebody else, you just can’t win….love STINKS!” It’s difficult to say it any more clearly than that, and it was done in a fun and funky way. This selection was more of a sarcastic, funky tribute to the caveats of love and relationships rather than a tear-jerker.
“Jessie’s Girl” – Rick Springfield
Another notable 80s song about unrequited loves is “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield. This song bemoaned a young man who is in love with his best friend (Jessie’s) girl. Most folks have at some time had at least a crush upon a friend or relative’s significant other. Perhaps this is why the word “Awkward,” was coined.
“I Can’t Make You Love Me” – Bonnie Raitt
For those who are fans of the raspy throaty singers, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt in 1991 possibly carries some of the most astute words in the paradigm of one-way love affairs. This sappy ballad would go on to be one of Raitt’s greatest hits.
“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” – Meatloaf
Speaking of raspy, throaty voices, Meatloaf’s 1978 hit “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” presents a broken-hearted lover’s specific grammar-shy musical lamenting about truly loving only one particular girl — although he knew she’d never love him back.
“I Will Go to My Grave Loving You” – the Statler Brothers
For those who love the country scene, here’s an oldie but goodie that leans just a bit into the extremes about unfulfilled love: “I’ll Go to My Grave Loving You” by the Statler Brothers really earned some tears for the group in the mid-1970’s with their pledge to love her until his death.
“Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town” – Kenny Rogers
Speaking of loving her to death, Kenny Rogers was not to be outdone with this same mantra, but one might say his pledge of love was a bit more toward active euthanasia when his tearjerker love ballad “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town” in 1993. The premise of this song of unrequited love goes as far as describing the crooner’s plight in a wheelchair from injuries sustained while at war serving his country. It doesn’t get much more graphic than that.
“He Stopped Loving Her Today” – George Jones
Another spectacular country singer, George Jones, proclaimed his love until death did them part in “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” This timeless chart-topping hit put Jones in the forefront in country music in the 1970’s and is still commonly played today. The problem is we don’t seem to get the entire story: was his love always unrequited, and if so, did she ever regret it?
“You Belong With Me” – Taylor Swift
Alas, it seems that Taylor Swift could sing the phone book and top the charts. Her 2009 hit, “You Belong With Me” has an upbeat tempo that belies her lamenting about her male friend she’s head over heels in love with, all the while he’s unequally yoked with the epitome of the high school cheerleader.
It’s a fun but sad ballad about the girl who’s stuck in the friend zone. For those who have watched this video, the irony is that the friend that she loves so much actually ends up with her in the end at the prom.
Songs About Unrequited Love: Making Lemonade Out of Sour Lemons
It hurts to have experienced unrequited love; in fact, there are very few who have never experienced it. After all, look how much our broken hearts stimulate the music industry!
Born and raised in Austin, David is a dedicated writer and avid fragrance lover. When he's not trying out perfumes, he enjoys traveling and exploring new restaurants.