Sexy music is personal. What turns you on may be bedroom kryptonite to someone else. So compiling any list of the all-time sexiest songs is, inevitably, a highly subjective task. Are L.A. Weekly writers weird to include Jack White, but no Marvin Gaye? Probably, but everyone’s a little freaky when the lights are out.
Even if not all our choices give you the warm ‘n’ tinglies, we hope you find some fodder here for your Valentine’s Day playlist. Let the seduction begin.
Sananda Maitreya (Terence Trent D’Arby), “Wishing Well”
In 1987, Terence Trent D’Arby slid onto MTV with model cheekbones, a chic wardrobe and killer dance moves. If that wasn’t enough to make teenagers drool over their remote controls, there was “Wishing Well.” He had audiences hooked with the opening lines — “Kissing like a bandit/Stealing time/Underneath the sycamore tree.” The man now known as Sananda Maitreya knew the ultimate sexy secret — that the art of wooing is as important as the act of sex — and used that to full effect in his breakthrough hit. — Liz Ohanesian
Sexy downtempo electronica was all the rage in the early ’00s, but rarely did it get sexier than French duo Telepopmusik’s “Breathe.” With Angela McCluskey’s sultry vocals gliding like silk on skin over languid synths and a gently throbbing beat, the track feels both tension-filled and oddly weightless — like great foreplay, a promise of something steamier to come. Telepopmusik were never quite able to replicate the seductive magic of “Breathe,” but then again, neither was anyone else. — Andy Hermann
Bryan Ferry, “Slave to Love”
As a solo artist and with Roxy Music, this dapper Brit dominates everybody’s “get-freaky” playlists for good reason. Ferry’s suave image and yearning vocals are always a seductive combination, but with its sweeping samba-esque arrangement, languid bassline and the most sensuous use of cowbell maybe ever, “Slave to Love” is the most intoxicating song of the singer’s career. Lyrically, there’s nothing as titillating as the title might suggest (no S&M references), but the intensity makes it one of the best ballads ever written about the all-consuming nature of desire — which is why it was used to such unforgettable effect in the sexy classic, 9 ½ Weeks. — Lina Lecaro
Massive Attack, “Teardrop”
There are songs for sex and there are songs for sharing your body and soul with your beloved through the sacred act of lovemaking. File this song in the latter category. Pulsing with intensity, the enduring single from Massive Attack’s 1998 album Mezzanine slinks along with the rhythm of a heartbeat, casting a hypnotic spell from the moment singer Elizabeth Fraser (of the Cocteau Twins) coos “Love, love is a verb/Love is a doing word.” As Fraser was recording the song, she got news of the death of her friend Jeff Buckley, who drowned while Massive Attack was in the studio. “That song’s kind of about him,” she told The Guardian; “that’s how it feels to me anyway.” — Katie Bain
Herb Alpert, “Rise”
Herb Alpert knows sexy. After all, this is the famed trumpeter/bandleader who stuck a whipped cream-covered lady on an album cover in 1965. By the end of the ’70s, though, the A&M co-founder’s approach was less obvious. In “Rise,” a 1979 Billboard chart-topper, the tune of the trumpet is more appropriate for a sundown gunfight in a Western flick. Yet, the track sounds really hot. Maybe it’s the deep throb of the bass or the slow-motion handclaps. Years later, “Rise” remains a staple of late-night smooth jazz radio playlists, solidifying its baby-makin’ status. — Liz Ohanesian
The xx, “Crystalised”
As you listen to that galloping drumbeat, you can’t help but feel wrapped up in a sort of race. “Do I have to keep up the pace to keep you satisfied?” singer Romy Madley Croft raspily cries to an imagined lover. The lyrics, structured as a conversation between momentarily divided partners, details the race to keep up with one another as they navigate love and intimacy. The song musically climaxes as she sings “I’ve been down on my knees and you just keep on getting closer,” and unwinds as the two sing in relaxed unison, “Go slow.” From the chase to the afterglow, “Crystalised” is a sexual journey. — Artemis Thomas-Hansard