As a symbol of romance and undying love, there’s nothing quite like a gorgeous red-petal rose. That’s why it’s such a popular motif for lyricists and song-writers- it conjures up an image in the listener’s mind, and it’s a wonderful shortcut to the heartstrings. Of course, there can also be a lot of emotion tied to songs about a loved one named Rose.
But the rose is not just for love songs; it also fits neatly into songs about passion and intensity, as you’ll see from this eclectic list of tracks from some of the world’s most popular recording artists.
- 1. “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal
- 2. “La Vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf
- 3. “Desert Rose” by Sting
- 4. “A Rose by Any Name” by Blondie
- 5. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison
- 6. “Love Is A Rose” by Linda Ronstadt
- 7. “English Rose” by Motorhead
- 8. “Rose Tattoo” by Dropkick Murphys
- 9. “Last of the English Roses” by Pete Doherty
- 10. “Mother Rose” by Patti Smith
- 11. “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” by Kathy Mattea
- 12. “The Rose” by Bette Midler
- 13. “Run for the Roses” by Dan Fogelberg
- 14. “Rose of Sharon” by Mumford & Sons
- 15. “For The Roses” by Joni Mitchell
- 16. “Monarchy of Roses” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
- 17. “Rose Red Violent Blue” by Stone Sour
- 18. “Black Roses Red” by Alana Grace
- 19. “Roses from My Friends” by Ben Harper
- 20. “Smell the Roses” by Roger Waters
1. “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal
Starting off our list with a bang is the epic Grammy-winning mega-hit from Seal, which was propelled to fame (believe it or not) thanks to its appearance on the soundtrack of the summer blockbuster Batman Forever. But what exactly is a “kiss from a rose”? The lyrics are certainly mysterious, and no matter how many times he is asked about it in interviews, Seal isn’t telling.
2. “La Vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf
This is an ageless classic whose title translates literally as “Life in Pink” (rose is the French word for pink). Written in 1945, and originally taking its name from a nightclub where Piaf used to perform, it has since come to symbolize the feeling of jubilation in the French people at the end of the second world war. This was one of Piaf’s signature songs, and lent its name to the Oscar-winning movie based on her life.
3. “Desert Rose” by Sting
An international hit for Sting, the British artist has claimed the lyrics to “Desert Rose” deal with longing for a lost love. Musically, it is a song which crosses both cultural and genre boundaries, and is particularly noted for Sting’s duet with popular Algerian singer Mami.
4. “A Rose by Any Name” by Blondie
New wave legends Blondie, fronted by the redoubtable Debbie Harry, churned out plenty of hits in their time. “A Rose by Any Name” is a comparatively late career highlight from 2013, and lyrically it’s about acceptance. Hence the title reference to the famous quotation from Shakespeare: “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
5. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison
This legendary power ballad by the kings of ’80s hair metal is a romantic epic. The rose is a metaphor- basically, it means you have to put up with the bad things in life to appreciate the good. That’s something we can all relate to. This killer tune also boasts an epic guitar solo from the criminally underrated CC DeVille.
6. “Love Is A Rose” by Linda Ronstadt
Originally written and recorded by Neil Young, “Love Is A Rose” did not become a hit until it was recorded by country music sweetheart Linda Ronstadt in 1975. The title and lyrics compare love to the beauty and delicacy of a rose, making this a poignant song about the fleeting nature of relationships in contrast to their ephemeral power.
7. “English Rose” by Motorhead
A deceptively sweet-sounding title for a colossal song by one of the most badass bands in history. “English Rose” is a lesser-known track from the 2008 “Motorizer” album, on which front man Lemmy growls about the eponymous Rose, a “nasty girl” in the very best rock ‘n’ roll tradition. This is a bluesy, underrated number which deserves a place in the heart of every hard rock fan.
8. “Rose Tattoo” by Dropkick Murphys
The Dropkick Murphys are a powerhouse band best known for their thunderous theme tune from the Martin Scorsese classic The Departed, but “Rose Tattoo” is a more reflective song about a rose tattoo containing the name of a lost love. But like all Dropkick Murphys numbers, it’s a perfect Celtic sing along.
9. “Last of the English Roses” by Pete Doherty
Erstwhile front man for the Libertines and Babyshambles, Pete Doherty has cultivated a bad boy reputation for wild partying and excess. That’s why it’s hard not to think of “Last of the English Roses” as an ironically nostalgic look at a vision of England that never really existed. The song was Pete’s debut solo single, and kick-started a whole new musical direction for him.
10. “Mother Rose” by Patti Smith
So-called godmother of punk Patti Smith is in a decidedly introspective mood on this song from 2004, in which she meditates on motherhood and the loss of her own mother. It’s poignant, and reflects the creative genius of an artist at the peak of her powers.
11. “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” by Kathy Mattea
In the tradition of country music “story songs,” “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” tells the tale of Charlie, a truck driver who is retiring so that he can enjoy his golden years with his wife. The dozen roses are a gift for the woman he loves, and the song evokes his sense of excitement and affection as he draws closer to home in his eighteen-wheeler.
12. “The Rose” by Bette Midler
A spine-tingling vocal performance from the mighty Bette Midler elevates this Oscar-nominated title track from the movie of the same name to dazzling heights. The movie (and the song) tells the story of a singer loosely based on Janis Joplin. Like a rose, her spirit is beautiful and yet fragile.
13. “Run for the Roses” by Dan Fogelberg
Dan Fogelberg may well be one of the lesser known artists on this list, and the song itself is certainly one of the most unusual. The title refers to a popular nickname for the famous Kentucky Derby, and the song tells the tale of the trials and tribulations of a horse in the run-up to the race. It was actually commissioned as a theme song for the 106th Derby in 1980, and remains a popular staple at horse racing events.
14. “Rose of Sharon” by Mumford & Sons
This is an intense song from the folk-pop heroes, inspired by front man Marcus Mumford’s experience at his grandmother’s bedside as she passed away. Here, the rose is a Bible reference which evokes incomparable beauty and love.
15. “For The Roses” by Joni Mitchell
The title track from an oft-underappreciated Joni Mitchell album, produced at the peak of her musical powers in 1972, “For the Roses” is a melancholy song about the dark side of fame. Again, the title is a reference to the Kentucky Derby, but unlike Dan Fogelberg’s song this one is decidedly pessimistic. Joni compares the fleeting nature of fame to the adulation showered on the winning horse in the Derby.
16. “Monarchy of Roses” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
The funk rock legends are on fine form on this second single from their 2011 album “I’m With You”- but what exactly is the song about? The lyrics are certainly cryptic, and like a lot of Chili Peppers songs they have a stream-of-consciousness flow to them. But the most common interpretation is that this is a song about recovering from drug addiction (a theme also covered in one of their biggest hits, “Under the Bridge”).
17. “Rose Red Violent Blue” by Stone Sour
A catchy rock song from the band that originally started as Corey Taylor’s “side project” during his downtime from Slipknot, “Rose Red Violent Blue” echoes the famous “roses are red, violets are blue” cliche. It conjures up a feeling of frustration at the prevailing culture of ignorance in the age of fake news and information overload.
18. “Black Roses Red” by Alana Grace
Another movie soundtrack number, “Black Roses Red” originally featured in the feel good 2004 movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Lyrically, the song uses the bold color contrast of black and red roses to evoke the excitement and uncertainty of a new relationship, with the singer wondering “Can you turn my black roses red?”
19. “Roses from My Friends” by Ben Harper
Lyrically, this is a very complex song indeed, and uses deceptively simple imagery to portray a sense of betrayal. Specifically, the juxtaposition of “stones from my enemies” and “roses from my friends” indicates that being wounded by an enemy is nowhere near as traumatic as being betrayed by a friend. It’s a bold message, examined in an intriguing way by a remarkable musical talent.
20. “Smell the Roses” by Roger Waters
During his tenure as the lead singer for Pink Floyd, Roger Waters had a penchant for apocalyptic imagery, best exemplified by his work on their concept album “The Wall.” But when he went solo, his creative instincts took an even darker turn, culminating in the nightmarish world of “Smell the Roses.” The song paints a picture of a dystopian world, with the repeated refrain “smell the roses” serving as an ironic counterpoint to the descriptions of horror.
So as you can see, the rose is a constant source of inspiration for musical artists of all genres. Whether it’s the ironic, guttural snarling of Motorhead or the sweet sincerity of Seal, the rose remains a popular and versatile symbol which shows up in all kinds of enduring musical classics.