Songs that go straight to the heart

/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Valentine’s Day is approaching. Time to make a checklist:

Did you send a card? Did you make dinner reservations? If not, do you have a recipe picked out for a romantic home-cooked meal, and do you have a take-out backup in case you ruin it?

Do you have your clothes picked out? Are they clean? O.K., are they clean enough?

What about candy and flowers? How about a gift?

Do you have perfume or cologne ready? Did you try it out on somebody else first? Did they cough or cringe?

This is wonderful, but it can all go down the drain if you failed to arrange for the one essential Valentine’s Day element that can make or break your evening: music. Without something in the background to put your sweetheart in the mood, you might as well consign yourself to a life of misery and loneliness, if you haven’t already.

For those who are amorously challenged and can’t seem to locate songs with the words “love” in them, here are 10 suggestions to get you reeling with the feeling. This does not guarantee a perfect Valentine’s Day, but it will prevent a disastrous one. For many of you, that’s close enough:

1. “Your Song” by Elton John
This was one of the first songs that Elton and longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote together. It appeared on Elton’s second album, but it wasn’t released as a single until months later. Legend has it that they wrote the song while living at Elton’s parents house, and the original lyrics have stains on them — probably coffee, but could be ketchup. Either way, “Your Song” is one of those irresistibly heartfelt classics that is perfect for putting on the car stereo en route to that obscenely expensive dinner at the swanky but overcrowded eatery.

2. “If I Fell” by the Beatles“If I trust in you, oh please, don’t run and hide; if I love you, too, oh please, don’t hurt my pride.” Beautiful harmonies, all right, but you get the feeling Paul and John are a little reluctant to take the plunge after being burned in the past. This is a common theme in love songs, which is why this ballad — performed in the movie “A Hard Day’s Night” — is perfect for that couple that is tiptoeing around the idea of commitment. Ideal for the ride home after a first Valentine’s dinner together, on the way to her place.

3. “Moon River” by Bobby DarinHenry Mancini wrote this with lyricist Johnny Mercer (the original title was “Blue River”) and it is best known as the theme song for the 1961 film, “Breakfast At Tiffany’s,” starring Audrey Hepburn. It has been covered by many over the years. Darin does an especially romantic version, slow and simple at first, backed by an acoustic guitar, then followed soon after by a full orchestra. This is serious business, people. You don’t put this on unless the third base coach is waving you home.

4. “You Don't Know Me” by Ray Charles
Unfortunately, not all valentines are reciprocated. Ray sings here about the object of his desire and his inability to express his true feelings (although if you saw him operate in “Ray,” it’s a bit of a stretch): “Afraid and shy, I let my chance go by, a chance that you might love me too.” This was written by country and western songwriters Eddy Arnold and Cindy Walker, and Arnold first recorded it in 1956. If things don’t go well on Valentine’s Day, play this when you get home, and maybe it’ll prod you to make that late-night phone call and say what needs to be said.

5. “Could It Be I'm Falling in Love” by the Spinners
This is one of those light, airy, lively, bouncy numbers that goes perfectly with that moment when you realize you’ve just met the person of your dreams, and you didn’t do anything stupid or embarrassing to drive him or her off yet. “Honey you’ll always be the only one for me, meeting you was my destiny.” Written by brothers Mervin and Melvin Steals, this appeared on the Spinners’ third album, in 1972. They finally got some love after kicking around Motown for years — so there’s hope for you.

6. “Embraceable You” by Oleta AdamsIn the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Adams was working small rooms in and around her native Kansas. She was discovered by Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith of Tears for Fears and soon was making occasional guest appearances with the band. This classic by Ira and George Gershwin has been covered by countless artists, but Adams’ version on the star-studded compilation “The Glory of Gershwin” is right up there with the most moving and passionate. Put this on, look into your sweetie’s eyes, and you’ll never have to ask for anything else ever again.

7. “A Song for You” by Leon Russell
Released on the 1970 album titled simply, “Leon Russell,” his first solo effort after gaining respect in the music community as a session man for folks like The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lee Lewis, this cut has been covered by Joe Cocker, The Carpenters, Ray Charles, The Temptations and others.  “I love you in a place where there’s no space or time. I love you for my life you are a friend of mine. And when my life is over, remember when we were together, we were alone and I was singing this song to you.” If you want to sing this to your beloved, don’t wear a top hat and long beard. You’ll kill the mood. Only Leon could pull that off.

8. “My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder
This went to No. 4 on both the U.S. and U.K. charts in 1969 and appears on an album of the same name. The song was written for his girlfriend at the time, hence the original title, “Oh My Marcia.” Obviously, that would have provided unintentional fodder for Brady Bunch fans, so it’s a good thing he changed it (in French, it means “my dearest love.”) “My cherie amour, pretty little one that I adore, you’re the only girl my heart beats for, how I wish that you were mine.” Play this, whip up some coq au vin, open a bottle of Chateau Hubahuba, and you’ll be saying “Ooo la la” in no time.

9. “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel
Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) understood the romantic power of this 1986 hit when he held a boom box aloft and played it to win over Diane Court (Ione Skye) in the Cameron Crowe film, “Say Anything.” Reportedly Gabriel was reluctant to let Crowe use it, but relented after he saw a cut of the movie. African musician Youssou N’Dour does backup vocals. This is for thoughtful lovers who like to ponder the meaning of life while they’re getting it on: “In your eyes, I see the doorway to a thousand churches, in your eyes, the resolution of all the fruitless searches.” Boom box sold separately.

10. “Llorando (Crying)” by Rebekah del RioHey, let’s face it. As much as we want it to, sometimes it doesn’t work out, no matter how much candy and how many flowers we spring for. Roy Orbison wrote it after encountering an old flame, and his original 1961 version — which went to No. 2 on the U.S. charts — is tough to beat. Don McLean did a splendid cover in 1978. But del Rio’s Spanish-language a cappella rendition, which appeared in the David Lynch film, “Mulholland Drive,” is gut-wrenching and haunting, perfect for those moments when you want to smash a framed photo of that certain someone.

Michael Ventre, a true romantic, lives in Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.