Songs about obsession can offer writers an emotional gateway into love’s dark and edgier cousin. From The Police’s ‘Every breath you take’ and The Human League’s ‘Don’t you want me baby’ to Morrisey’s ‘The more you ignore me’ and Blondie’s ‘One way or another’, there’s so much inspiration!
Here’s my Top Ten tunes about the big O to inspire your writing:
10. Moonchild – The List
A recent release from hip LA soul outfit Moonchild, this quirky tale of unrequited love is a perfect example of the obsessor’s journey. Singer Amber Navran knows that her the object of her desire is blind to her affections: I hate I know your birthday. I know all your favourite shit. When you were talking I was listening. Yet I still can’t win.
While she’s convinced she’ll be ‘good for you’ by the end of the song she just ‘wants to be free’ of her obsessive desire.
9. I want you – Marvin Gaye
Soul songs often lack lyrical complexity, but if you want heartfelt desire then you need look no further than Marvin. Marvin wants a lady but more importantly he wants her to want him to. Clearly, she doesn’t. Don’t fret Marvin, no doubt you’ll find some form of healing…
8. Just my imagination (running away with me)– The Temptations
Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by. I say to myself you’re such a lucky guy. To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true. Out of all the fellas in the world she belongs to me.
One of the dreamiest songs about obsessive fantasy ever recorded, this bittersweet cut from one of the legends of Motown beautifully imagines someone resigning themselves to a fantasy that the chorus reminds us will never bear fruit.
7. Mad about the boy – Dinah Washington
A timeless tale of a doomed affair between an older woman and ‘the boy’. Dinah knows ‘there are traces of the cad’ as she feels the ‘odd diversity of misery and joy’ about the boy. While the object of her obsession ‘melts my foolish heart in every single scene’ she calls for ‘a little magic that will finally destroy’ the feelings she has for the boy.
6. Unfinished Sympathy – Massive Attack
Often topping Best British song polls, this is probably a safe choice but I simply had to include it. The power of Shara Nelson’s melancholy vocal is magnified by the raw, one-shot video in which she sings of the ‘curiousness of your potential kiss‘, which sadly isn’t forthcoming.
5. Damn – Lewis Taylor
What starts out as a simple declaration of love from one of nu-soul’s most underrated, erratic and sadly now retired performers, slowly builds into something a bit darker.
The hook vocal ‘I’m in love with you. I never really wanted to,’ progressively turns more sinister and desperate; twisting into an obsessive chant as the backing music distorts, growing louder and more fragmented; a heavy thrashing that you can no longer bear before the song’s suddenly cut dead. A bit like the mind – and career – of Lewis himself.
4. Love Rain – Jill Scott
Jill’s been blinded by obsession. What she took at the time to be love morphed into a sorry tale of being used. We go from: He was fresh like summer peaches. Sweet on my mind like block parties and penny candies.
To: The rain was falling and I could not see the season changing. And the vibe slipping off its axis. Our beautiful melody became wildly staccato.
3. A love supreme – John Coltrane
Ok, it’s jazz. Love or hate it, John Coltrane has never been surpassed in terms of conveying so much emotion through a saxophone. This track is one of the most powerful testaments of love you’ll ever hear. John was both an obsessive musician and obsessively spiritual and this track – his testament to a creator – channels pure love to the point of obsession. But is this love or one-way traffic?
2. I’m on Fire – Bat for Lashes
This cover of a Bruce Springsteen track was my first introduction to Bat for Lashes (in late 2006). I played it (obsessively) for weeks.
There’s no redemption or journey to be found here but Natasha Khan’s vocal breathes an eerie fragility into a song that teters on the very edge of darkness. Yes, she’s still asking ‘if your mama’s home’ because she’s got ‘a bad desire’ but somehow it manages to feel less threatening and creepy than the original.
1. All Mine – Portishead
The 90s wouldn’t have been the same without Portishead’s moody, cinematic soul. The video is freaking creepy as hell while Beth Gibbons’ wickedly dark vocal starts out with good intentions but soon gets mangled up in her brain box….Make no mistake, you shan’t escape. Tethered and tied, nowhere to hide from me.
For the journey…
Like a novel, the very best songs about obsession often chart a personal journey of one-way desire. Whether from blindness to self-awareness or from hope to despair, the best songs convey the spiralling nature of obsession, lyrically and sometimes even musically.
What songs would be on your list?