Successful love is a two-way street. Two partners need to love each other with the same devotion for the love to work. Unrequited love is when only one partner in a potential relationship has feelings for the other.
There is a ton of music that captures the essence of this unrequited love, and we’ve compiled a list of the top 23 songs about it!
1. Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen has a crush on a guy who doesn’t even know of her existence. She falls for the guy at first sight, but it is evident from the video and the lyrics that the love is one-sided. She sings of her love and the way the love makes her feel, yet there is no imminent hope that they will end up together. From the video of the song, the crush continues with his activities unbothered by her unexpressed love. This is a song for people who are not able to express their love to others.
2. Not In That Way – Sam Smith
Sam Smith pours his emotions out in all his songs. His lyrics usually evoke feelings of loneliness, love, and nostalgia. In this song, he tells a story about his feelings for a friend. However, he says that he imagines that the friend will only say “I love you, but not in that way.” For people afraid of expressing their love to people they care for, here is Sam Smith for you. For more great songs that tell a story, check out our list now.
3. Jessie’s Girl – Rick Springfield
Jessie’s Girl came out in the 80s. The narrator finds himself in an awkward situation where he is in love with his friend’s girl. It is a tricky situation when one has a crush on a friend’s or relative’s significant other. In this case, the narrator cannot do anything for the love he feels about Jessie’s girl and the love goes unexpressed.
4. Layla – Derek and the Dominos
Eric Clapton received a book by Nizami Ganjavi, The Story of Layla and Majnun. In the story, Majnun falls in love with a young girl, Layla. However, Layla’s parents marry her off to a man she doesn’t love, and she ends up in an unhappy marriage. This makes Majnun crazy. Clapton is in the same situation with George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd and the two stories resonate. This classic song about unrequited love gets the listener glued to the story.
5. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic – The Police
The Police produce songs as if they are outsiders looking in. However, this song is different. The narrator tells the story of a woman. They look at the woman and enjoy how beautiful and great she is, but the woman doesn’t even know of the narrator’s existence. To the guy, everything the girl does seems like magic. But, he has been through so many rejections that he is not ready to ask her out.
6. Bad Religion – Frank Ocean
Bad Religion is a moving song. Artists such as Bruno Mars released covers for it which shows how much it’s revered. The song opens with him saying the taxi driver can be his shrink for the hour. He is in love with a woman who can never love him back. He calls the unrequited love he has for another as bad religion. He calls it a cult and cyanide in his cup – similar to poison for him. Great metaphors in this one!
7. Hello – Lionel Richie
Hello was one of the biggest songs of the 80s. The narrator is a professor who is in love with a blind student in his class. His feeling for her tortures him, and he knows that she doesn’t know what he feels about her. He says he dreams about her and even kisses her in his dreams. He holds her in his head and sees her outside his door. As the song comes to an end, she shows him a sculpture she made of him.
8. Love Stinks – J. Geils Band
This song came out in the 80s. One of the lines in the song says that the one you love loves someone else and the ‘someone else’ loves somebody else and love can’t win. He ends by saying that love stinks. He couldn’t have put it clearer, and he did it in a fun way. There is no major story in the song; just a sarcastic and funny tribute to the challenges of unrequited love.
9. You Belong With Me – Taylor Swift
This is one of the bestselling songs of all times and a good pop song about unreciprocated love. The narrator in the song falls in love with their best friend, but the friend is not aware of it. They have great chemistry and spend so much time together, but he is with another girl. He doesn’t seem happy with the other girl, but his friend doesn’t mention it. She doesn’t speak her feelings for him before the song ends. We love Taylor, especially some of those fabled revenge songs of hers!
10. Waiting in Vain – Bob Marley
Bob Marley doesn’t want to wait for a love that will never be. His was love at first sight, but he knew he was at the bottom of her consideration list, so he never followed through. In the song, Marley is tired of waiting and doesn’t want to wait any longer. It is a song for someone put on hiatus not knowing what will happen with the love they have for someone. Check out more of the best reggae songs off all time too!
11. Unchained Melody – Righteous Brothers
This is one of the most famous classic songs about unrequited love. The movie featuring this song came out in 1965 and was extremely popular. About 25 years later, the movie “Ghost” came out and it popularized the tune even more. The song was so popular that it almost knocked the song “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by the same band off the top popularity spot. These two songs are hallowed unrequited love songs and listeners associate them with moves in which they were theme songs.
12. Stacy’s Mom – Fountains of Wayne
The protagonist in this song is in love with Stacy’s mom. Infatuating for a friend’s mom is something you’d see in an American Pie movie. But the protagonist already has hots for the mom. Since Stacy’s dad is not in the picture, the narrator thinks that she can do with his company. But we never get to hear what Stacy thinks of this boy’s love.
13. Grenade – Bruno Mars
Bruno does everything for a girl. He promises to do more for the girl, including jumping in front of a train for her. But she won’t have any of that as she is with someone else. The love he has for the girl is extreme and unfortunately, the feeling is not mutual. In the video, Bruno drags a piano up a hill, perhaps to serenade the girl. When he gets to the girl’s block, he sees her with someone else through her house window. He is broken.
14. Teardrops On My Guitar – Taylor Swift
Swift’s first songs were full of despair. You can feel through the songs that she fell for someone who did not reciprocate the love. There is a bit of a breakup story, but the major story here is about loving someone who rejects you. Swift’s work now sounds more mature and bolder, but this song is still one of her best works. Swift is featured on our list of top betrayal songs, too!
15. Coldplay – Shiver
This song perfectly captures the feeling of longing for someone deeply but never having the connection you feel reciprocated. The biting lyrics leave us out to dry and make us feel cold and estranged. Certainly, this classic Coldplay hit really helps us understand the pain of unreciprocated love.
16. Just a Friend to You – Meghan Trainor
“Just a Friend To You” may be a confession from one friend to another, or it might be a song about unrequited love. It is a promise of friendship, but if you read between the lines, you might feel some romance. Meghan’s beautiful vocals make the song appealing even to those healing a heartbreak.
17. I Can’t Make You Love Me – Bonnie Raitt
Several artists, including Bon Iver and George Michael, covered this song. The lyrics are beautiful and so is the melody of the song. The narrator loves someone who can’t love her back. She says he can’t make her heart feel something it is not capable of. From the lyrics, it appears the narrator has a physical relationship with the subject, but she wants an emotional connection. It is a song that portrays the pain and the hesitation of leaving love behind.
Consider next: Best songs about pain and suffering
18. To Be With You – Mr. Big
Released in the 90’s, this song is about someone who falls in love with a person who is in a broken relationship. The narrator sees that she is not happy in her relationship, but she doesn’t see it that way. Although the narrator really wants to be with her, he can only hope that she feels the same way about him. He encourages her to wake up and leave him with the promise of better love.
19. Why Can’t This Be Love – Van Halen
How do you know when you are in love? That is the question Van Halen poses in this song. He says he gets a funny feeling going inside him, and he can’t understand why he only feels it towards one person. It is a feeling he doesn’t feel with anyone else. Even though the feeling is strong, he doesn’t want any strings, or be hung up on the line. So he asks, why can’t the feeling be love?
20. Everything You Want – Vertical Horizon
The protagonist meets someone who is perfect in every sense. He says the crush is funny, clever, and intelligent and everything he ever wanted from a partner. But this person doesn’t mean anything to them, and he can’t tell why. He is left there admiring what a whole package they are, but he can’t have them. The protagonist tells the story of someone who is always waiting for someone to love, but when they come their way, they get pushed away. They then start wishing for another but just sit tight and watch the love go, unrequited.
21. Just My Imagination – The Temptations
“Just My Imagination” topped the charts in the U.S. when it came out. Later, several artists covered the song further fueling its popularity. It is a story of a guy who imagines they finally have the girl of their dreams. He feels that he is lucky that he has a girl like that. He even imagines a house and kids and a perfect life with the one they love. But everything remains in their imagination.
22. Jubel – Klingande
Jubel tells the story of two people who have a deep connection. Unfortunately, there are so many obstacles they can’t overcome to be together. They feel that they are losing so much time with a love that could be greater. The two need saving from one another, but that never happens as obstacles keep coming. In the song, the narrator asks the love of his life if she thinks he doesn’t laugh. He says they are wasting time when they should be doing the things they love.
23. Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Tow – Kenny Rogers
This love ballad came out in 1993. In the song, Kenny Rogers promises his love to a girl – he says he will love her to death. Kenny goes on to describe the narrator in a wheel chair after sustaining injuries from going to war for his country. When you listen to the song, you will get the picture of a person giving unrequited love that neither the country nor Ruby can return. It hurts. Kenny has many more songs about heartbreaks and unrequited love, but this one captures the emotions right.
Broken hearts stimulate musicians to produce songs. There are thousands of songs about unrequited love out there. Which is your favorite?
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.