1. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, “We’ve Got Tonight” (1978)
Considering Bob Seger grew up near Detroit and wrote pub classics like “Old Time Rock And Roll” and “Night Moves,” it’s fairly safe to assume that he’s spent some time in a bar or two, watching sad, drunk loners try to find love. “We’ve Got Tonight” speaks to that kind of quiet resignation that only really pops up at closing time, when “it’s late” and “you’re weary,” but “here we are, both of us lonely.” As Seger argues, isn’t going home with some stranger better than going home alone again?
2. Dave Matthews Band, “Say Goodbye” (1996)
With its jazzy flute intro and softly crooned lyrics, Dave Matthews Band’s “Say Goodbye” at least tries to make one-night stands a little romantic. The song was reportedly inspired by a time Matthews was snowed in with a good friend while both of them were involved with other people, but one thing led to another and the pair ended up knocking winter boots. In the song, the whole tryst begins awkwardly, as the two know they’re going to have to go back to their normal, friendly lives eventually; but for now, as Matthews sings, “tonight let’s be lovers” and “tomorrow go back to being friends.”
3. The Rolling Stones, “Memory Motel” (1976)
One of The Rolling Stones’ longer songs, “Memory Motel” tells the story of Hannah, a girl Mick Jagger met on the road and with whom he “spent a lonely night at the Memory Motel.” Ultimately, Hannah loves and leaves the rocker, saying she has to go sing in a bar in Boston, while he has to join his band in Baton Rouge. While Hannah, with her crooked teeth and hazel eyes, seems to affect Jagger, he’s “been 10 thousand miles” and “in 15 states,” so ultimately she just becomes “a sweet memory.”
4. Arab Strap, “Packs Of Three” (1998)
Arab Strap’s lyrics frequently read like morning-after accounts of Craigslist “casual encounters.” They’re not so much disturbing as just warts-and-all ugly, particularly when it comes to sex (a favorite subject). The fantastically dreary “Packs Of Three” seems to be about two one-night-stands, one involving the narrator, the other involving his girlfriend: She cheated, then he cheated. Neither used protection, but at least “It was the biggest cock you’d ever seen” for her, and “the best shag I’d ever had” for him. But there’s no triumph here, just regret.
5. The Wedding Present, “Dare” (1991)
David Gedge, founding (and only original) member of The Wedding Present, frequently has sex on his mind. In “Dare,” a girl friend (but not his girlfriend) shows up, and the narrator spends much of the song cajoling her into staying—though they’re both committed to others. (Hence the chorus: “Stay all night, I dare you!”) It’s definitely a description of the night before rather than the morning after, when it all seems like a great idea rather than a double betrayal.
6. The Weeknd, “Wicked Games” (2012)
This anguished dirge is the rare non-country song that fully conveys the self-loathing loneliness of a one-night stand with a stranger, while deliberately leaving out any of the fun. Abel Tesfaye starts out moaning about the girl he left behind—“I don’t love her no more”—and then, taking whatever comfort he can in knowing that the girl will never know about what he’s up to now, he urges the woman he’s with to tell him she loves him, though he promises not to believe her. “Bring your love, baby, I could bring my shame.” Oh, you sweet talker.
7. Merrilee Rush, “Angel Of The Morning” (1968)
This hard-to-resist one-shot combines the romantic self-martyrdom of the good girl who has it bad for the guy she can’t have with the male fantasy of no-strings, one-time-only sex without repercussions, responsibilities, or guilt. In her quavering voice, Rush tells her lover that she won’t try to “bind your hands, not if my love can’t bind your heart,” reminds him that she was the one who made the first move, and assures him that he doesn’t even have to walk her home afterward. As she mentions when he’s probably already half out the door, she’ll be spending the rest of the day crying, anyway, and that’s such a drag to be around. Maybe she doesn’t want him to take her home because she’s planning to jump in the river.
8. Prince, “Darling Nikki” (1984)
This song about an energetic evening spent in the company of a “sex fiend” the singer meets “in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine” is actually a bit of an anomaly for Purple Rain-era Prince, who, despite his hedonistic reputation, tended to wrap his come-ons and pornographic fantasies in sweeter, more romantic colors. In the movie, it serves to express the hero’s jealous anger when the object of his affections lowers herself to consort with the likes of Morris Day. The song became legendary when the PMRC, which didn’t give a rat’s ass about context, fastened on it as Exhibit A for its arguments about how rock music was rotting the moral fiber of America’s youth.
9. Dreamgirls, “One Night Only” (1981/2006)
There’s a good deal of drama in the musical/movie Dreamgirls about the song “One Night Only,” which is written and recorded as the intended comeback for a chastened diva (Jennifer Hudson in the film version) but co-opted by her former manager and lover (Jamie Foxx), who re-records it with her former group, as a disco track. As Foxx and the songwriter (Keith Robinson) tussle over rights, control, authorial intent, respect, and the fact that disco sucks, none of that touches on the fact that both Hudson’s smoky torch version of the song and the disco redo are startlingly blunt about the fact that the singer is demanding a no-strings-attached roll in the hay. There’s a minor, notable difference to the lyrics: In Hudson’s emotionally committed performance, her lover is the one who doesn’t have time to continue the relationship past dawn, whereas in the disco cut, the singers are the ones delivering marching orders to their men and setting a deadline. But in either case, the relationship is somehow “so right” that it “has no chance to live,” and both versions reach the same conclusion about the future of the relationship past daybreak: “Let’s not pretend to care.”
10. Duran Duran, “Save A Prayer” (1982)
Throughout Duran Duran’s catalog, the romantic escapades of lead singer Simon Le Bon range from the robotic (“Girls On Film”) to the exotic (“Hungry Like The Wolf”). But on “Save A Prayer,” a single from the band’s 1982 album, Rio, synthesized sleaze and slinky balladry get it on—and make for an atmospheric account of a fleeting fucking. “And you wanted to dance, so I asked you to dance / But fear is in your soul,” croons Le Bon as he entices the object of his lust into, presumably, his pulsing pastel boudoir. “Some people call it a one-night stand / But we can call it paradise.” Not that the song’s pensive video full of dancing Sri Lankan children has anything to do with any of that.
11. Garfunkel And Oates, “One Night Stand” (2011)
To hump or not to hump? For the comedy-music duo Garfunkel And Oates, the answer to that question is easy: “This might be strange to tell you / And I swear I’m not a whore / But there are 206 bones in my body / And I’d really like one more,” they sing in “One Night Stand,” a pointed look at the ins and outs of 21st-century sex. Naturally, a night of lascivious abandon devolves into a minefield of excuses, evasions, and regrets. Switching back and forth between a mock-tender acoustic tune and a hyper, increasingly frantic electro jam, the song hilariously yet truthfully captures the miscommunication and genital-mashing anxiety of young, indiscriminate lust.
12. The Pipettes, “One Night Stand” (2006)
Don’t be fooled by the sugary feminine voices and “sha-la-la-las”: The narrator of The Pipettes’ “One Night Stand” is most definitely the predator in this fleeting hook-up scenario. After picking up her conquest with a cheesy pickup line (“Baby did it hurt when you fell from heaven?”), she leaves him alone at 4 in the morning with “not a stitch to wear,” consoling him with nothing but a blunt, sweetly harmonized “I don’t love you.” Unapologetic ’til the last, she attempts to put her shenanigans into perspective, though it’s far from comforting: “If you think that this is cruel then you should see what my friends do.”
13. The Get Up Kids, “I’m A Loner Dottie, A Rebel” (1999)
The Get Up Kids’ contribution to the one-night-stand canon actually had two lives, first as a split 7-inch with Braid and later rerecorded for the band’s emo classic, Something To Write Home About. In both forms, “I’m A Loner Dottie, A Rebel”—its title nabbed from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure—stands out as the Get Ups’ finest moment, deftly moving from its powerhouse drumroll intro toward a ferociously epic chorus while offering an angsty yet resolute look back at a single evening of getting it on. While the emo landscape has been littered with woe-is-me tales of relationships that have abruptly come to an end, frontman Matt Pryor doesn’t have any tears to shed as he belts out, “One night doesn’t mean the rest of my life!” He’s thoughtful enough to have some regrets—“I want to try and make it right but don’t know if I can”—but, ultimately, the lady in this story should look elsewhere for a boyfriend.
14. Carrie Underwood, “Last Name” (2008)
In any honky-tonk in any major city, crossover country songs about the joys and embarrassments of drinking too much are always in rotation. That explains the popularity of Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name,” a shout-along tribute to blackout hookups that features the same kind of staccato lyric delivery of her first big non-American Idol hit, “Before He Cheats.” “Last Name” isn’t just about drinking and screwing; it’s a story song. At first, it’s just Underwood getting so drunk she can’t remember the name of the guy she hooked up with on the dance floor, but each verse complicates the situation further, as they leave the club and get into the guy’s Pinto—a sure sign of trouble—and Underwood wakes up in Vegas wearing a wedding ring. And though the lyrics are about how this girl’s “momma would be so ashamed,” Underwood’s voice is so forceful that it’s hard not to think she’s just a little bit proud of all the trouble she got into.
15. Eagle-Eye Cherry, “Save Tonight” (1997)
Falling smack in the gully of music’s historical nadir—seriously, has music ever been worse than the stretch between 1995 and 1999?—Swedish contempo-pop star Eagle-Eye Cherry’s breakout hit is an ode to candles lit, wine drunk, and love lost. Cherry (whose real-deal birth-name is literally “Eagle-Eye Cherry”) stokes a romantic, melancholic atmosphere fit for devil-may-care lovemaking, all under the auspices of his character splitting in the morning. Some verses make it seem like our love-’em-and-leave-’em Lothario is taking off for some real purpose, like a war or something, but considering his cheesy come-on tactics (“You and me and a bottle of wine” and so on), it’s more likely that he’s just an asshole.
16. Frank Loesser, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (1944)
Frank Loesser’s late-night come-on has evolved into a Christmas standard in the seven decades since he wrote it for him and wife Lynn Garland to sing at a housewarming party. It’s unclear why; the only connection “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has to the holiday season is the cold, snowy weather it describes—the song itself is all about cajoling a date to stay. Considering the song was written in 1944, the language focuses on the impropriety of a date going so late (“The neighbors might think—”), but the insinuation is clear: “Oh, baby, don’t hold out” might as well be “Hey, baby, please put out.” In recent years, finger-wagging killjoys have painted “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as a prelude to date rape (“Say, what’s in this drink?”), but the creep factor is overstated. The conclusion is foregone from the start; only a sense of propriety keeps the “I ought to say no, no, no” charade going.
17. The Shirelles, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (1960)
The axiom goes that a man will say anything to get a lady in the sack—that he may love you tonight, but he’ll be gone before you wake up in the morning. That’s the central concern of The Shirelles’ hit, which ushered in the girl-group era in 1960: “Tonight the light of love is in your eyes / But will you love me tomorrow?” The song, written by an 18-year-old Carole King for her future husband, Gerry Goffin, was surprisingly racy for the era, what with its concerns about “a lasting treasure” vs. “just a moment’s pleasure,” or more directly, “Can I believe the magic of your sighs?” Several radio stations purportedly banned the song, but that didn’t stop it from becoming the first song by an all-girl group to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1961. The song never reaches a resolution, but as a response and using the same melody, King and Goffin wrote “Not Just Tomorrow, But Always” in 1962, which was performed by King/Goffin associate Bertell Dache.
18. Heart, “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” (1990)
A melodramatic romance novel in succinct pop-song form, “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” tells the passionate tale of a woman who spots a mysterious man standing at the side of the road in the rain (possibly because he’s a hobo?) and takes him to a hotel where, in the slightly overheated words of the narrator, “He brought the woman out of me, so many times, easily.” Then she vanishes forever, leaving behind a note cryptically alluding to ulterior motives for the passionate fuck-fest she just shared with the man by the side of the road. Years later, the lovers reunite accidentally and it becomes apparent the singer was using her skilled one-night lover to impregnate her because she could not get pregnant with the man she’s in love with. Heart reportedly did not care for the Robert “Mutt” Lange-written power ballad, but it became a smash and one of the group’s signature songs, thanks to an irresistibly pulpy storyline and the earthy, full-throated conviction Ann Wilson brings to her vocals. A slick, early-’90s music video didn’t hurt, either.