In the lead up to Valentine’s Day, NZ On Screen’s Nicky Harrop goes in search of the stories behind some famous New Zealand love songs.

While we're not generally a nation given to overt displays of affection, there's no denying New Zealanders have written some pretty incredible love songs. A look beyond the surface reveals some were inspired by the most unlikely of sources, while most are delivered with an honesty and lack of pretension that couldn't have come from anywhere else in the world.

In 1989, Chris Knox released what may well be the most Kiwi love song ever written. Short, sweet and straight up, it's no wonder Not Given Lightly has continued to strike a chord with New Zealanders (and other Vogels fans) for nearly thirty years. No soppy sentimentalism or flowery lyrics here, just a heartfelt shout out to "John and Liesha's mother" (his then-partner, Barbara Ward), swiftly followed by the admission "this isn't easy, I might not write another." Genius.

See the video for Not Given Lightly here:

Neil Finn has described the sentiment behind Don't Dream It's Over as one that captures the unglamorous ups and downs of love – "on the one hand, feeling kind of lost and, on the other hand, sort of urging myself on". Written in Melbourne, the song was penned by Finn in one quick session. After finishing it, he recorded a home demo on an acoustic guitar and sent it to Capitol Records, swiftly securing the band a worldwide deal.

See the video for Don't Dream It's Over here:

Proving that inspiration truly can come from anywhere, Bic Runga wrote one of her, and New Zealand's, most famous love songs after seeing some graffiti. Legend has it that Runga saw the word 'sway' randomly written on a bridge one day, and decided it was to be the name of her next song. The rest, as they say, is history.


See the video for Sway here:

OMC's Land of Plenty was released in 1997, and, twenty-odd years on, still packs a powerful patriotic punch. In it, Pauly Fuemana channels his Niuean father's love of New Zealand, while pulling on the heartstrings of national pride. Namechecking favourite streets, mountains and landmarks, "the bluff, the cape, streaming sands, boiling place," it's quite possibly the perfect love song to Aotearoa.

See the video for Land of Plenty here:

This 2002 documentary explores the stories behind another of Aotearoa's most beloved songs: Pokarekare Ana. Claims for the authorship of the waiata aroha are examined, and Kiwis famous and lesser-known reflect on the song's place in our culture.

Watch Pokarekare Ana - A Māori Love Song here:

And it's not only heartfelt ballads that make for a good love song. In this documentary clip, Tim Finn reveals his motivation for writing Split Enz's I See Red, an ode to the "passions, and tensions, and all the mentalness that comes with trying to make it work with somebody". A stripped back piano-based performance reveals a quite different side to the hit, showing that a well-crafted love song can thrive within even the most frenzied tempo.

See Tim Finn discussing I See Red here:

You can see more classic Kiwi love songs here, in NZ On Screen's Kiwi Love Songs Collection.