In the past, we’ve assembled the greatest love songs of all time, but let’s face it, a lot of phenomenal love and lust anthems come from a more, let’s say, transient place. Our rules this time were simple: a one-night stand song can be giddy, longing, regretful, or lewd, as long as the lyrics make a thematic reference to short-lasting, fleeting trysts. Don’t worry, you can tell us what we missed. — Nerve
50. Enrique Iglesias, “Tonight (I’m Fuckin’ You)” (2010)
Is this song that great? It is, if only you stack it up against other contemporary dance floor fodder. With a crass directness that would shake the pearls off the PTA, Iglesias has penned the anthem for every against-the-sink-in-the-bathroom hookup. The addictive synth zigzags its way around the crudest pickup line in the last five years of pop.
49. Duran Duran, “Save a Prayer” (1982)
The haunting synth that lingers behind Simon Le Bon’s monotoned lechery is pretty weird. Lyrics like “look down into your well,” or “some people call it a one-night stand/ but we call it paradise,” bring the song to the next level of weird. And finally, the weirdest part of this song might be its weepy, kind of boring music video which was filmed on location in Sri Lanka. It features skinny Sri Lankan children climbing on Le Bon, the band riding on the backs of elephants during mating season, and a branch-leaning scene in which the guitarist contracted a terrible stomach virus.
48. Snoop Dogg ft. Nate Dogg, Kurupt, Nanci Fletcher, & Warren G, “Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None)” (1993)
The most insulting song from Snoop’s infamous debut Doggystyle is only palatable when taken as a parody of misogyny. In that light, the late, great Nate Dogg singing “I have never met a girl that I love in the whole wide world” in a breezy falsetto is hilarious, Snoop and Kurupt’s exhortative flows leap over tall buildings effortlessly, and Dr. Dre’s instrumental is a party that never ends. It’s a brain-killing slice of singalong joy.
47. Sugar Ray, “Every Morning” (1999)
“Every morning there’s a halo hanging from the corner of my girlfriend’s four-post bed/ I know it’s not mine, but I’ll see if I can use it for a weekend or a one-night stand.” In the late 90s, everyone knew what Mark McGrath’s “halo” really was — a souvenir from his lover’s illicit and all too common encounters. This is seedy heartache served in an infectious pop Trojan horse.
46. Mindless Self Indulgence, “Pussy All Night” (1999)
From a late 90s electronic group that self-identifies as “electro-punk jungle pussy,” comes a hedonistic descent into sound. Just like you’ve been dropped into the center of pinball machine that only advertises adult videos. The rest is yours to figure out.
45. The Pipettes, “One Night Stand” (2006)
Cribbing from the doo-wop generation, the Pipettes set classic refrains of “I love you, babys” on their head. The syrupy sweet harmonies belie the true nature of the narrator. She’s going to leave her conquest alone at 4 in the morning because he did not heed her warning: The Pipettes are not looking for love, only lovin’. Pair a Cockney accent with a couple of sha-la-las and we’re weak in the knees.
44. Hank Williams Jr., “One Night Stands” (1977)
When it comes to this list and the many possible country sidesteps it could have made, this is as pickup trucks and rolling fields as it will get. Emerging from the shadow of his father’s career, this early Williams Jr. track sees him looking for his life’s companion…for the night. It’s the rising “oh”s from the backup singers that hook you.
43. N.W.A., “Findum, Fuckum, and Flee,” (1991)
Leave it to the Godfather of Gangsta Rap, Eazy E, to succinctly punch out the three main tenets of a one-night tryst: findum, fuckum, flee.
42. Sam Smith, “Stay with Me” (2014)
It’s the plaintive cry of a person who, despite not being in love, simply isn’t used to this whole casual sex thing. While the song remains divisive in the office, the pop ballad was a commercial success for newcomer Smith, who describes the song as being “about the beauty of a one-night stand.”
41. Cursive, “The Recluse” (2004)
Tim Kasher’s breathy, androgynous whispers of waking up alone in the room of someone he hardly knows are claustrophobic enough, but it’s the haunted house guitar riff and spooky cello moans that make this song downright arachnid. When a woman’s voice chimes in to say “shoo fly, don’t bother me,” and “you’re in my web now,” it becomes clear that the titular “recluse” is a double entendre, a reference to the deadly recluse spider and the singer lonely enough to be tangled in a predatory web. This standout track on a concept album about the singer’s penis is a jittery anthem for doing the wrong thing with self-destructive gusto.
40. Kesha ft. 3OH!3, “Blah Blah Blah” (2010)
The artist formerly known as Ke$ha is one of America’s foremost progenitors of earworms that you hate at first but grow to love out of sheer, Stockholm Syndrome-style manipulation. “Blah Blah Blah” is the one of the most annoying/awesome, where Ke$ha orders wack dudes to stop talking and whip it out.
39. The Get Up Kids, “I’m a Loner Dottie, a Rebel” (1999)
A prototypical emo jam, “I’m a Loner Dottie” hails from a split EP between The Get Up Kids and the Illinois-based Braid. With that classic sing-songy boyishness, Matt Pryor delivers lyrics that seem to come straight from the Mead Five Star notebook: “One summer night’s the only time we’ve known/shut your eyes and when you wake I’ll be gone.” The melody feels high school, the sentiment feels eternal, and the title — that’s straight from the mouth of Pee-Wee.
38. Robert Sarazin Blake, “Salt & Lemon” (2004)
No, not that Robert Blake. This Robert Blake is a folksinger from Bellingham, Washington with a peculiar sad-dog voice and impressive harmonica skills. “Salt & Lemon” is a facts-only story about his fleeting connection after a party with an unavailable woman. The song covers a number of emotional distances in just a few words and chords.
37. Dntel ft. Conor Oberst, “Breakfast In Bed” (2009)
This wistful and woozy song comes from Dntel, aka Jimmy Tamborello, aka one half of The Postal Service, and Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, in full sad-drunk-boy mode. There are great little details, like rinsing leftover wine out of coffee cups in a hotel room, and missing big details, like why Conor and his unnamed vegetarian paramour have to keep their dalliance a secret. Meanwhile, Tamborello does his signature bleep-bloop thing.
36. Barenaked Ladies, “Conventioneers” (2000)
This deep cut finds non-rapping (now former) Lady Steven Page telling a tale of two co-workers who hook up on a business trip. He wants more; she doesn’t. And then they have to go back to work, awkwardly. The elegant cocktail lounge atmosphere of the music perfectly matches the subject matter.
35. The Wedding Present, “Dare,” (1991)
The acidic punk licks of David Gedge battle through the fumbling, frank lyrics of “Dare.” In this indie rock tableau we have Danny and John, a man and woman who are being cheated on by our deceptive leads, who are meeting in secret. The breakneck drumming fuels the sense of urgency — “Look, who is going to know?” Gedge asks as he wanders into the woman’s pants. “Stay all night, I dare you.” Okay, we’re convinced.
34. Miguel ft. Kendrick Lamar, “How Many Drinks?” (2012)
Miguel is a dangerous dude. If you just listen to his voice, he sounds like a romantic whispering sweet nothings into the object of his affection’s ear. But the lyrics make him sound like a lounge lizard, jaded from too many nights out and upfront about tonight’s transaction: he will buy her two or three drinks, and she will fuck him. It would be depressing if it didn’t sound so much like Prince’s “Adore,” one of the sexiest slow jams of all time.
33. Bob Seger, “We’ve Got Tonight,” (1978)
The faltering cries of Bob Seger inject some romance into the one-nighter. It’s closing time at the bar, last call has been called, the floors are sticky with beer, and strangers are exchanging lingering looks, wondering who they’re going home with. Seger’s there to convince a woman that, even if her plans don’t include him, “we’ve got tonight, babe, who needs tomorrow?” It’s a love-the-one-your-with style seduction and Seger is there to drive it home with a power ballad.
32. Brand New, “Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades” (2003)
Annotators on Rock Genius say this song describes a rape, and I think it’s kind of slut-shamey, but whatever the problematic emo-boy politics of the song may be, the scream-along chorus is thrilling. This anti-one-night-stand song about a virginal boy whose object of affection is moving too fast for him is unfortunately relatable for anyone who’s ever been unsure but went along anyway.
31. Nirvana, “Dive,” (1992)
As Cobain howls through the litany of “pick me, pick mes,” you can’t help but be reminded of all the single souls crowding basement shows, waiting to be selected to go home with somebody. A gem of an opener off the band’s notoriously wishy-washy compilation album Incesticide.
30. The Hold Steady, “Chillout Tent” (2006)
Music festivals are almost as much about hookups as they are about music. The feeling of freedom mixed with the drugs and alcohol plus all the skin on display makes people get a little crazy. This track from The Hold Steady’s album Boys and Girls in America celebrates such moments, with Craig Finn narrating the story of a liberal arts coed and an Izzy Stradlin-lookalike (voiced by Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner) who both got too high and spent a few memorable hours together in the festival’s medical area.
29. Lee Hazlewood, “The Night Before” (1970)
This is single-serving sex at its most sinister. A scene of empty whiskey bottles, tears, and smudged makeup on a pillowcase unfolds like a crime scene over a woozy spy-movie organ riff as Lee Hazleewood recollects the night before, vaguely remembering how he picked some pretty young thing off the dancefloor and ostensibly devastated her with his cruelty. She leaves without a word and the empty whiskey bottles still weep at him in his memory, like the pulse in Poe’s tell-tale heart.
28. Sparks, “Amateur Hour” (1974)
Glam rockers Sparks’ synthy ode to post pubescent sexual encounters bounces in with Russell Mael’s charming falsetto. With lyrics like “Lawns grow plush in the hinter lands/ It’s the perfect little setting for the one night stands,” even preteens could read between the lines.
27. Janis Joplin, “One Night Stand,” (1970)
Leave it to Janis Joplin to have a man at every port of call. Performed with Big Brother and the Holding Company, “One Night Stand” bludgeons its main male character with crooning honesty: Don’t you know you’re nothing more than a one-night stand?
26. Dave Matthews Band, “Say Goodbye” (1996)
Let’s face it, Dave Matthews can inject the sap into a perfectly tawdry tune about friends with benefits. Supposedly inspired by an evening in which Matthews himself was snowed in with a female friend and the two became, ahem, intimate, the flute-infused jazzy alt-rock pleads for a caveat: “Tonight let’s be lovers…tomorrow go back to being friends.”
25. The Weeknd, “Wicked Games” (2011)
The Weeknd makes decadent and depraved R&B, and this is one of his most depraved songs. Originally appearing on his 2011 mixtape House of Balloons and reappearing as the first single from his Trilogy major label debut, “Wicked Games” uses all of the Weeknd’s signature themes: emotionally hollow sex, hard drug abuse, and exploitation. The Weeknd makes hooking up (and R&B) sound like exquisite torture.
24. Heart, “All I Want to Do Is Make Love to You” (1990)
Heart once again proves that if you’re going to pen an insanely plotted power ballad — about picking up a strange man by the side of the road, never asking his name, driving to a hotel, having multi-orgasmic anonymous sex, leaving without saying goodbye, and then years later reconnecting and admitting he impregnated you, which was actually the whole point because your loving husband is sterile and you wanted free sperm — then Ann Wilson should be the one to throatily belt it out.
23. Arab Strap, “Packs of Three” (1998)
It’s an oddly specific scenario — two different one-night stands that one couple has behind their respective partner’s back. He had the biggest cock she’d ever seen, and she was the best shag he’d ever had. Aidan Moffat’s lascivious purr makes even the blunt, clinical lyrics like “I was thinking about a test” (STD, that is) sound alluring. Which is what you should expect from a band that is named after a type of cock harness.
22. Smiley Lewis, “One Night of Sin” (1956)
No list about one-night stands would be complete without a little finger-wagging. Enter “One Night of Sin,” a triumph of a diddy from rhythm and blues master Smiley Lewis. Best known for his slow-rocking and subtle sound, Lewis took “One Night” to the top of the charts in the late ’50s. In 1958, Elvis would bowdlerize the suggestiveness from the song for his record label. We prefer Smiley’s sinful doo-wop.
21. The Kinks, “Lola” (1970)
Rumored to be inspired by a drunken evening in which band manager Robert Wace spent the night clubbing with a transgender woman, “Lola” was a career-changer for The Kinks. An all-embracing anthem of gender fluidity, the narrator spends an unforgettable night with Lola — a woman who makes him more of a man than he ever was.
20. 2 Live Crew, “Me So Horny,” (1989)
Subtlety was not in 2 Live Crew’s repertoire. A festival of samples if you’ve ever heard one, 2 Live Crew pulled from the likes of Richard Pryor’s Which Way Is Up? and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket to create an anthem of lustful conceits. This song and the album it came from were so rawly nasty, the band was prosecuted for obscenity charges and banned in Florida. Florida’s loss.
19. Robert Palmer, “Here with You Tonight” (1975)
Sometimes, the true panacea for heartbreak is a swift seduction, replacing someone through flesh, and getting off to your heart’s content. Robert Palmer understands the cure, which is why he offers his services to one young forlorn lady in “Here With You Tonight.” Pumped by a reggae-ish back beat, the English singer-songwriter assures his companion that there are stipulations to the arrangement: after you come, I’m out the door.
18. Bright Eyes, “Lover I Don’t Have To Love” (2002)
“I like your shoes” is Conor Oberst’s pickup line, which is surprisingly dumb for such a literate and introspective guy, but that’s kind of the point. “Lover I Don’t Have To Love” finds Conor trying really hard to keep sex easy. He’s on the road and lonely and has a hunger and he can’t get full. He wants the feeling of intimacy without the emotional entanglements. But this is Bright Eyes, so emotional entanglements are impossible.
17. The Rolling Stones, “Memory Motel” (1976)
The Memory Motel has its real roots in a hotel in Montauk, Long Island, near where Jagger was staying with Andy Warhol in 1975. The marathon of a song (really, it takes a while to ease into) tells the story of Hannah, a brash and independent woman with hazel eyes and a crooked nose. While in bed with her, the narrator recalls how a faint flicker in Hannah reminds him of a love he used to have. In the morning, Hannah is off to play a gig in Boston while Mick’s off to Baton Rouge. But the pesky, gnawing memory of Hannah stays with him into the night, one-night stands be damned.
16. Bob Dylan, “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Met)” (1964)
Maybe the most cruel genus of one-night stands is the kind where one party thinks it’s love and the other thinks it’s meaningless. Here we have Dylan at his most romantically overwrought, recounting a magical evening of wet-mouthed kisses and swaying skirts and the somber comedown of the morning after, where his love treats him like a total stranger. It’s a learning experience, and the song’s redemptive power comes from its calloused closing lines, “it’s easily done, you just pick anyone and pretend like you never have met.” Solid advice from a heartbroken pop star.
15. The Strokes, “Gratisfaction,” (2011)
With Steely Dan-esque riffs blazing through this rock pop jam, the Strokes paint a damning image of the perennial one-night fix. Try as he might to brush her off, this girl keeps coming back to our reluctant narrator for late-night rolls in the dark. But, he reminds the attached party, a little too proudly, “You’re never gonna get my love… Get up in the morning and run.”
14. Warren Zevon, “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” (1978)
The Linda Ronstadt cover version is more famous, but Zevon’s original is funnier. Zevon has a lot of one-night stands because girls just won’t leave him alone. “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” documents three such encounters. During this period of his life, Zevon looked like Phil Spector and was so out-of-control from alcoholism that his friends called him “F. Scott Fitzevon,” but it was the ‘70s, so those traits were assets, not liabilities.
13. Harry Nilsson, “Gotta Get Up” (1971)
If there’s one thing the smooth, baroque soft rocker knew how to do, it was how to have a really good time. Such was the life of Harry Nilsson, the singer-songwriter blessed with the voice of a dirty angel, whose real-life antics included heckling the Smothers Brothers with John Lennon. It’s no surprise that Harry is still heading home from the party in this track. “Up and away/ gotta big day/ sorry, can’t stay” he tells his quick-fix lover as he departs early in the morning, preparing for the deluge of the day’s demands. The song bursts out in a pleasant melodic flurry, much like Harry from the bed of his lover.
12. Liz Phair, “Fuck and Run” (1993)
A welcome gender reversal, lo-fi queen Liz Phair laments her fuck-and-run lifestyle in this poppy song of regret and self-flagellation. Years before the highfalutin NYT think-pieces about hookup culture, Phair asks society: “Whatever happened to a boyfriend?”
11. Cam’Ron ft. Juelz Santana, “Hey Ma” (2002)
Thanks to Juelz Santana’s unforgettable kickoff verse, it’s impossible for me to not think of this breezy, “Easy”-sampling summertime classic when in a car on Manhattan’s West Side Highway. Anna Kendrick’s joy while singing along to this song in the movie End of Watch should be familiar to anyone who’s ever participated in a rendition of the “You smoke?” “I smoke” call-and-response in the chorus.
10. Frightened Rabbit, “The Twist” (2008)
This foot-tapper by Scottish indie rock band Frightened Rabbit pegs the lack of expectations that often accompany one-night trysts. The bed-thump of the keyboard and the crackling lilt of Scott Hutchison create an addictive immediacy. The song begs us to bed with lines like — “I need human heat.”
9. Supertramp, “Goodbye Stranger” (1979)
Like a ship without an anchor, like a slave without a chain, this narrator feels completely unencumbered by his one-lady-a-night lifestyle. Romances with a longer shelf life, he argues, bring too much trouble. With an infectious chorus sung in Rick Davies’ blinding falsetto, you only half-believe it when he croons, “I will go on shining/shining like brand new.”
8. AC/DC, “You Shook Me All Night Long” (1980)
“You Shook Me All Night Long” pulls off the impressive feat of being sleazily sexy without being crass. What is there really to say? It’s about boning. It’s one of the best rock songs ever. Shut up and enjoy the riff.
7. Eddie Money, “Take Me Home Tonight” (1986)
The way Eddie Money ascends the three notes on “Take! Me! HOME!” makes hooking up sound downright valiant. This song has been a last call anthem for almost thirty years and will continue to be until the last menthol gets snuffed and the last mullet gets cut. Shout out to Ronnie Spector.
6. The Shirelles, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (1960)
Full of insecure questions about men of the love ’em and leave ’em variety, this Motown classic originally was refused by radio stations for being too sexually charged. After, it soon became the first song to reach number 1 by an all-girl group in the United States. It’s big-eyed lyrics poke a hole in the one-night stand’s lusty veneer: “Is this a lasting treasure/ Or just a moment’s pleasure?/ Can I believe the magic of your sighs?/ Will you still love me tomorrow?”
5. Weezer, “Tired of Sex” (1996)
The lead track off their critically-acclaimed album Pinkerton, this is Weezer’s slightly abrasive grasp at salvation after an endless string of one-night stands. Supposedly inspired by singer Rivers Cuomo’s own one-nighters (names had to be changed after demos), the song barges in with massive guitar feedback and exits with a tame classic Cuomo solo. It’s an absurdly catchy track and one that successfully makes the conveyor belt of women sound exhausting.
4. Daft Punk, “Get Lucky” (2013)
The experience of listening to French house duo Daft Punk is not unlike a one-night stand: Profusely sweaty, often done under the influence of alcohol, and in the end, you’re left with practically no memory of their face. With this Pharrell-y ode to dance floor meet-cutes, Daft Punk created the disco-funk ear worm to end all ear worms.
3. Juice Newton, “Angel of the Morning” (1981)
A Chip Taylor track that has seen many hit-single iterations, Juice’s Newton’s longing, saccharine version nails the sighs of a crestfallen lover after her one-night stand. The power of impulse lives in the line: “If morning’s echo says we’ve sinned/ Well, it was what I wanted now.” Newton manages to turn what could be a pitiful heartbreak tune into a subtle and triumphant walk of shame. It’s damn catchy, too.
2. The Beatles, “Norwegian Wood” (1965)
The alternate title of the song — “This Bird Has Flown”— says it all. Rumored to be about one of John Lennon’s myriad affairs, the song relays a night in which a man spends the evening with a woman. But just one evening. He politely sips wine, takes in the cheap pine lining of her home, and — after some even cheaper sex — crawls off to sleep in the bath. Our humble narrator wakes up alone and decides to set fire to her tacky digs — but that’s just Paul and John having a laugh. The first ever rock song to feature George Harrison’s sitar, the track still has the smoke-screened charm of a faded memory.
1. Prince, “Little Red Corvette” (1983)
The cars-as-sex metaphor is one of rock and roll’s great clichés, with many, many, many notable entries, but none are as perfect as Prince’s first top 10 hit. The Purple One recounts his night with a sexy, fast lady, and in the process fuses rock and funk better than anyone before or since, cedes the spotlight to Dez Dickerson to rip a historic guitar solo, lays a path for everyone from The Afghan Whigs to The-Dream to follow, and provides a soundtrack for a hundred thousand conceptions. Any given snippet of this song is instantly recognizable and divinely inspired.
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