Liner Notes: Denver to Wonder: Romantic oldies to carry you through the winter


Illustration by Ziye Wang

These romantic oldies will keep you going through the tough winter.

Lucas Kim, Social Media Editor

The road trip from my childhood home in Boston to my grandparents’ place in New Jersey is a familiar one. These expeditions were a tradition during the first 11 years of my life –– not because of how often we went on them, but because of music.

Driving through the winding highways of Connecticut, over the Tappan Zee Bridge and into the Garden State’s packed suburbs, my mom would always play songs from her favorite childhood artists –– James Taylor, Chicago, David Bowie and many others. My parents, brother and I would all sing along. 

We took these trips so often that these songs, which had existed for several decades before me, became ingrained in my mind. I became an oldies lover, and I didn’t even know it.

Since entering high school, I’ve found myself constantly listening to the same tunes that were pivotal to my mom’s young adult years. After days upon days of listening to these melodies, one universal theme seemed to resonate with me the most: love.

So, as we enter the toughest days of Winter Quarter –– informally known as “cuffing season” –– I thought it would be fitting to share some of my favorite romantic oldies to warm your heart, whether it’s single or taken.

We start off with an ultimate classic: John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” from 1974. This track has some of the most graceful, tear-jerking instrumentals and lyrics. The orchestral strings perfectly complement Denver’s ode to his wife, Annie, as he compares their love to some of nature’s most beautiful scenes.

All these components give it a timeless quality; it’s also one of the only songs my 86-year-old grandpa will willingly sing with me during karaoke night.

The second song on my list was released a decade later. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling incredibly conflicted after falling for one of your friends, you have to listen to “Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon.

Just listen to these lyrics: “What started out as friendship, has grown stronger / I only wish I had the strength to let it show.”  

You can see why this power ballad had such a potent hold on my high school self and, presumably, every American adolescent in the mid-’80s.

Throwing it back to the ’70s, Roberta Flack released a cover of a little-known song and turned it into an absolute classic that I’m sure you’ve heard before. The story goes that Lori Lieberman, the original singer of “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” began writing the lyrics on a paper napkin during a Don McLean concert while he was singing his soft ballad, “Empty Chairs,” a song I also highly recommend.

Flack, having heard the original, put her own spin on it by adding some percussion and rearranging its chords, widely popularizing the song on her way to winning Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 16th Annual Grammy Awards. The Fugees covered the song two decades later, making it an even bigger worldwide hit.

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing this fourth song live at Elton John’s farewell tour this past July with my mom and aunt. “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” began in typical Elton fashion with an instantly recognizable piano introduction that led into a head-bopping, hip-swinging melody.

The song relates time spent away from one’s lover to “the blues” while recognizing the importance of staying in the present during a relationship. It features a soulful harmonica solo that matches the emotional tenor of the track.

Funnily enough, the person behind the harmonica solo happens to be my absolute favorite artist of all time and the singer of the next and final song on my list. 

Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” is a tune I keep coming back to, ever since I first heard it on my mom’s iTunes account back in elementary school. Wonder’s musical genius is on full display, from his use of environmental percussion to the inclusion of several key changes throughout the song.

With lulling chords and pensive lyrics, this track is for the daydreamer. Unrequited love pops up all over, and the buildup found in the chorus –– expertly developed through upward modulations –– conveys emotion that suits the intensity of Wonder’s romantic expression.

Though my elementary school self could never understand the nuance behind the songs I heard, it makes them all the more meaningful when I listen to them today. So take a listen: maybe they will strike a chord with you too.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lucaskim_15

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