What Color Is Love?

whatcolorIn the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day the store displays and decorations enticing us to buy things are predominantly the color red, with some pink thrown in for good measure. But what color is love, really?

Of course love is an emotion, so the only way it can be a specific color is through our perception. As green has come to symbolize envy and jealousy, yellow with cowardice, blue and black with sadness, we’ve been conditioned and taught that love equals red. Red is the color of heat and flame, and of the heart – all parts of romantic love. Yet, those with emotion-color synesthesia (synesthesia being a condition in which stimulation of one sense triggers another sense) often see love as yellow. In some synesthetes, love is neither red nor yellow, but blue or another color.

From before 18th century poet/lyricist Robert Burns’ “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose” and up through the present day with the hardcore band Love is Red, musicians have attempted to portray the color of love in song.

One of the most well-known love/color songs is late 60’s international smash “Love is Blue”, written by French composers Andre Popp and Pierre Cour. The song has been covered by many artists in both instrumental and vocal versions (I’m partial to Claudine Longet’s, myself) but a close listen to the English lyrics reveals that nowhere in the song does it actually say “love is blue” (despite the title). The singer’s world is blue (as in sad) because his or her (depending who’s singing the song) lover went away. He/she goes on to namecheck other colors (“my life is grey”, etc.), but never actually assigning love to one. The song is not really about the color, but about how love (or love lost) can make one feel.

The original French lyrics are different than the English and more willing to equate a specific color with love: “Blue, blue, love is blue / Blue as the sky that plays in your eyes” and “Love is blue when you take my hand” and further, “Love is blue when I am yours”. So what do we have here? Blue is not a color of sadness, depression, or loss but the color of happiness. The color of love. They’ve taken the usual blue=sad perception and turned it on its head.

Guitarist Jeff Beck covered “Love is Blue” in a mostly instrumental version in 1968, but apparently decided love was not blue after all when he recorded “Love is Green” (also an instrumental) a few years later on his Wired album.

More recently, singer/songwriter David Poe proclaimed that “Love is Red” with his song and album of the same name. Poe was pretty certain that his love, at least, was quite red:
“My love is red as any crime scene
From the curtains to the carpet, man
If you know what I mean
There is no other color scheme
My love is red as red as red can be

There are fireworks over the skyline
Fire engine down the street
But my love is red as sunset on the sea
My love is red
To vivid to be believed
My love is red”

About 10 years before David Poe was waxing lyrical about his love being so red you wouldn’t even believe it, Celine Dion was crooning the saccharine love ballad “The Color of My Love”. If you can manage to get through the song, you’ll find that she doesn’t really tell us what the color of her love, or any love is. The closest she comes is “I’ll paint a sun to warm your heart / Swearing that we’ll never part / That’s the color of my love”. I guess she means the color of love is the color of the sun…maybe red, maybe orange, maybe yellow? We know it’s warm at least. She should be singing “That’s the temperature of my love.”

Yes, it’s a subjective question: What color is love? Folk/Soul singer/songwriter Terry Callier wrote and recorded an album and song with that exact title in 1972. Callier’s “What Color is Love?” is one of the most philosophical and beautiful songs to address the idea of love as a color. Callier wants to discover the underlying nature of the emotion. If he knows what color love is, he’ll know the true meaning of love. In the track he never comes to an answer, and so it’s an even more poignant question.

I suppose you could say love is all colors, or any color, or even different colors at different times. It, like any other emotion, can’t really be pinned down to something as static as a color. If love is a color, it’s all in each individual’s or culture’s perception. But we still try to define it and describe it as best we can, and using color is a vivid way to do so, and it makes for some good music and art.

Terry Callier: “What Color is Love”

Is it wrong or is it right
Is it black or is it white
What color is love

Is it here or is it there
Is it really everywhere
What color is love

Is it strong like the mountains
Or deep like a fountain
That’s flowing free
And what about me
How can you receive
If you’re not a believer

Is it blue like the sky
And does it really reach that high
What color is love

Is it near or is it far
Is it distant like a star
What color is love

Does it glow like an ember
And do you remember
If love doesn’t last
Does it live in the past

And a heart cannot live
If a heart isn’t giving

When it’s over does it show
Does it leave an afterglow
And I really want to know
What color is love


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s