I was shocked to find that no one had put together a great list of break-up music. It seems like there’s an incredible amount of love songs out there yet there isn’t that much to choose from when you’re going through a break up. Anthologies haven’t been put together to help us through our moments of grief and depression. It is fitting in some ways that the task has fallen to me to put together such a list. In a way it is my ultimate gift to her – she who taught me more about music than I thought anyone could teach me – to put together a list of music that others can use to get through their own sorrow. Yet I know that she would disagree with the very idea of me putting together a list of any kind telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t listen to. Therefore don’t take it as me telling you what to listen to but as a reflection of the music that she has brought out in me. This is the music that I think of when I think of her and it is only by embracing this music – the songs that make her think of her more than anything else – that I can overcome this difficult chapter of my life. This is for her.
1. Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way
This is a song that embodies the spirit of the ‘screw it’ and ‘let’s make this work’ duplicity that exists at the moment of a breakup. I think that it also has a philosophical nature about it that other songs just don’t have when it comes to breakups. The longevity factor is also a reason that this is probably the greatest break-up song of all time. We’ve been blasting this from the speakers since the ‘70’s.
Is it the right thing to do?
How can I ever change things
That I feel?
If I could
Maybe I’d give you my world
How can I
When you won’t take it from me
You can go your own way
Go your own way
You can call it
Another lonely day
You can go your own way
Go your own way”
2. Joe Bonamassa – Wild About You Baby
Based on the song of the same name by Elmore James, Bonamassa plays the blues with a virtuosity unseen since Stevie Ray Vaughn. This song goes through all three stages of a breakup; the feeling of betrayal at the beginning, the hurt of not understanding why later on, and finally acceptance and not wanting anything to do with the other person in the end.
“Well I’m wild about you Baby
And you just don’t treat me right
Yes I’m wild about you darling
And you just won’t treat me right
Leave home early in the morning
And you stay out all night”
“Yes you leave me baby and you know you done me wrong
Yes you leave me baby and I know you done me wrong
I turn over on my pillow and I hope you come back home”
“Yea good bye now baby
I Hope I never see you anymore
Yea good night my baby
Hope I never see you no more
You start doing me wrong now child
Just like the girl I had before”
3. Kelly Clarkson – Since You’ve Been Gone
It reached the point of break-up “anthem” in the film Pitch Perfect. When you listen to the lyrics it’s a song about embracing the fact that the person who made you feel special is now out of your life. It’s a song of empowerment in many ways. “Since you’ve been gone. I can breathe for the first time.” Yeah, it feels that way a lot of times. That doesn’t count the panic attacks that I get when I think about her too much though.
4. Led Zeppelin – Since I’ve Been Loving You
This song is probably the best pure blues composition Led Zeppelin put together. At the same time Robert Plant’s lyrics incorporate the elements of loss in a relationship.
“I’ve really, really been the best of fools, I did what I could.
‘Cause I love you, baby, How I love you, darling, How I love you, baby,
How I love you, girl, little girl.
But baby, Since I’ve Been Loving You. I’m about to lose my worried mind.”
Someone once told me that the language of suffering was played in a minor key. There’s a lot of truth in that. There is so much despair in blues music that listening to it becomes emotionally painful at times yet that’s the point. These musicians are pouring their souls out and we as the listener are so enthralled by it all that we cannot turn away. She always thought Led Zeppelin was overrated and added that they never “did anything” for her emotionally. That’s fine. To each their own. This is one song though that you should listen to if you’re experiencing a special kind of heartache. The notes on Jimmy Page’s guitar reach the pitch of your desperate heart.
5. Supertramp – Even in the Quietest Moments
This is a personal favorite of mine. Having parents with an awesome taste in music is a rarity and it’s one of the things I’ve been blessed with throughout my life. Personally, I think that this is their best record. Crime of the Century is spectacular but I think this is the most reflective work they put together and it brings together their unique styles of piano playing in really authentic yet unique ways. You can read into the lyrics what you like. I always took them to mean that the person wasn’t willing to let him into her life something that I can definitely relate to.
“And even though the sun is shining
Well I feel the rain — here it comes again, dear
And even when you showed me
My heart was out of tune
For there’s a shadow of doubt that’s not letting me find you too soon
The music that you gave me
The language of my soul
Oh Lord, I want to be with you.
Won’t you let me come in from the cold?”
That line: “the music that you gave me, the language of my soul” really strikes a nerve with me. She had the greatest taste in music. Listening to her talk about it was just an ornate and spectacular experience that’s almost beyond words. I think that’s why this song in particular strikes such a strong chord with me.
6. Dire Straits – So Far Away
Dire Straits is such an underrated band. Sultans of Swing is one of the all-time great songs. Brothers in Arms as a record and as a song defined a generation. Yet, I think Dire Straits will always be remembered for their more commercialized work. “I want my MTV” was just such an iconic moment in rock history it’s difficult to look at their other work with a truly critical eye.
A lot of Dire Straits’ music is rooted in the time in which it was written. Before you go off and ask: “well isn’t that the case with every band?” Let me give you some instances of great music that can easily be thought of outside the time in which it was written. The Beatles. Led Zeppelin. Traffic. Cream. Joni Mitchell.
This particular song has an interesting history with me. I remember listening to this song after the 2004 election – completely disillusioned with where we were as a country – and asking: “why is everything so far away with from me?” It wasn’t a person that seemed distant; it was about fifty percent of the adult population. Now, in a place where all I seem to know is sorrow, this song has special resonance.
“I’m tired of being in love and being all alone
When you’re so far away from me
I’m tired of making out on the telephone
And you’re so far away from me”
It’s not the physical distance that’s the problem, it’s the emotional distance. The feeling of being in love yet feeling all alone because the other person doesn’t return those feelings in a way that you can adequately understand is a universal feeling to a lot of people. We don’t all speak the same language when we’re in love. That’s one of the great tragedies of being in love. If you are really in love you should make it work, right? Some things can’t be forced and if one side does that it can have an unbelievably harmful effect on the other person. This song speaks to the sadness I feel when I think of our physical proximity and our emotional distance.
7. Patty Smyth and Don Henley – Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough
This is a classic. I’m not a big fan of ballads nor am I a fan of duets. Rarely do either of these things work out well. However this is a song about never being enough for someone and that I can relate with that. The lyrics of this song hit me with so much truth that it’s difficult not to turn to it when I’m in my darkest hours.
“There’s a danger in loving somebody too much,
and it’s sad when you know it’s your heart you can’t trust.
There’s a reason why people don’t stay where they are.
Baby, sometimes, love just ain’t enough.
I could never change you, I don’t want to blame you.
Baby, you don’t have to take the fall.
Yes, I may have hurt you, but I did not desert you.
Maybe I just want to have it all.
It makes a sound like thunder, it makes me feel like rain.
And like a fool who will never see the truth,
I keep thinking something’s gonna change.”
8. Queen – One Year of Love
Queen was able to capture a language of suffering in a way that no band has been able to do since. Bohemian Rhapsody is an anthem of pain. “Sometimes wish I’d never been born at all,” man that’s just rough. She loved that song, Bohemian Rhapsody. Queen is such an underrated band in general. But when it comes to expressing suffering I don’t know if there’s a better song about the ups and downs of love than this classic off of 1986’s A King of Magic.
“Just one year of love
is better than a lifetime alone
one sentimental moment in your arms
is like a shooting star right through my heart
it’s always a rainy day without you
i’m a prisoner of love inside you –
i’m falling apart all around you – yeah
my heart cries out to your heart”
9. Blue October – Into the Ocean
This song seems to echo tragedy to me. The lyrics don’t embody the pain of a breakup necessarily but they certainly embody pain that’s for sure. I almost cry when I hear this song. It’s all about being helpless against life. It makes you think about the nature of suffering and allows you to reflect on the internal struggle that exists within yourself.
“The lighthouse beam has just run out
I’m cold as cold as cold can be
I want to swim away but don’t know how
Sometimes it feels just like I’m fallin’ in the ocean
Let the waves up take me down
Let the hurricane set in motion, yeah
Let the rain of what I feel right now, come down
Let the rain come down”
10. The White Stripes – You Don’t Know What Love Is
Jack White knows about not feeling loved. One of the most innovative guitarists of all time, White has suffered through a prolific career in Jeff Beck like fashion. Never able to stay with a band for any length of time, White has still been able to turn out some of the best blues-based rock of any guitarist in the last decade. You Don’t Know What Love Is is his own little epic about the lack of decision experienced by him in his marriage and it’s brutal stuff. When I hear this song I think of her and all the little things she doesn’t understand.
“Youre not hopeless or helpless
And I hate to sound cold
But you don’t know what love is
No, you don’t know what love is
No, you don’t know what love is”
11. Lana Del Ray – Without You
Full disclosure: I love Lana Del Ray more than any man probably should. There is a certain honesty in her music that just isn’t there in most contemporary music and I glean a lot from her songs. This particular song is one of both joy and sorrow. It is about her finding meaning with another person yet still longing for what she can’t have. “Can you picture this? The life we could have lived?” She asks. The song is as conflicted as the artist and it is a great song for many points in a relationship including but not limited to a break up.
“Your love is deadly.
Tell me life is beautiful,
They all think I have it all.
I have nothing without you.
All my dreams and all the lights mean
Nothing without you.”
12. Sting – Fields of Gold
The pure sentiment of this song is enough to bring me to tears. The acoustic nature of the song also lends itself to the category quite well I think. This is more of a song based on our nostalgic views of the past. We remember the good things in a relationship much more than we remember the bad moments and I think this song exemplifies how people tend to take that sentimental nature and run with it. The break up aspect comes in between the notes. It’s the hurt you feel as the guitar is finger-picked. It’s the idealism in this song that reminds me of her. She was always an idealist and that was one of the things I loved about her. It was just one part of what made her the very special person that she was.
“Will you stay with me, will you be my love?
Among the fields of barley
We’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we lie in fields of gold”
Interlude: There are two bands that will account for the next five songs on this list: The Alan Parsons Project and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Why these two bands? They have written excellent material regarding not only relationships but human life. I have to say that I probably never would have listened to the Alan Parsons Project were it not for my father. He has a love for Alan Parsons that is truly something special. I think a little bit of that rubbed off on me because when I look at their catalogue of work I see a lot of things that make sense to me at this point in time. Games People Play, Damned if I do, and Some Other Time are just three excellent examples of some of the excellent work that Parsons did with regards to relationships. Lynyrd Skynyrd is admitidly much more of a reach. Simple Man hits me as a breakup song because of it’s tone but also because of it’s reflective nature. That Smell is not a breakup song in the traditional sense. It is more of a reflection of where society was at a point in time, but I think it is also a reflection on people as well. Listen to the song and I think you can interpret the lyrics as talking about people also.
13. The Alan Parsons Project – Games People Play
People play games in relationships for reasons often passing understanding. I don’t think that the heart is something that should be played around with but obviously there are many people who disagree at least on a subconscious level. Games People Play is a great song about introspection and reflection on life in general.
“Games people play
You take it or you leave it
Things that they say
Just don’t make it right
If I’m telling you the truth right now
Do you believe it
Games people play
In the middle of the night”
14. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Simple Man
This is a song that means so many things to so many people that an individual interpretation is nearly impossible. It’s a good breakup song because it reminds you of the things you should have been thinking of during your relationship. The intensity of love becomes so all-encompasing that a lot of times we get lost in it and forget the simple things that we need to remember. That’s the great tragedy that lies in love.
“Oh take your time
Don’t live too fast
Troubles will come
And they will pass
Go find a woman
And you’ll find love”
15. The Alan Parsons Project – Damned if I do
Who hasn’t felt this way in a relationship? This is almost the perfect breakup song in many ways because it’s lyrics encompass nearly everything you feel in a breakup. Had the song been written in a more depressing tone it probably would be the greatest breakup song of all time but because of the upbeat nature of the accompaniment it will never be able to be more than it is. The lyrics are so near perfection though it’s stymying.
“I ain’t got a heart of stone
I’m hurtin’ more now than I’ve ever known
If you mean the things you said
I’m gonna wind up outa my head
Can’t sleep alone at night
I just can’t seem to get it right
Damned if I do
Damned if I don’t but I love you”
16. Lynyrd Skynyrd – That Smell
I know what many are thinking here: ‘what are you talking about?’ Take the drugs out of the equation though and this song makes a lot of sense as a break up song. It’s a reflection on what is wrong with people. The only problem with this song is that it was written during a time of pure drug and alcohol excess in rock n’ roll. Take the lyrics at face value and you might miss the point, but think about them in a different way and you can begin to see that the real drugs are the empty compliments people give you when in reality they don’t feel that way at all.
“Ooh, that smell
Can’t you smell that smell?
Ooh, that smell
The smell of death surrounds you
Angel of darkness is upon you
Stuck a needle in your arm
So take another toke, have a blow for your nose,
One more drink fool, would drown you”
17. The Alan Parsons Project – Some Other Time
This is such a sad song. The lyrics make you pine for a time when things weren’t so complicated and I think that’s where the resonance of this song comes from for me. There’s a tragic element in this song but I think it lies in much the same tone and idea that sadness lingered in Sting’s Fields of Gold. When you look at the lyrics the singer is both reflecting and searching for meaning which are both things that we do when we’re dealing with a breakup.
“Some other place
Some other time
Like a mirror held before me
Large as the sky is wide
And the image is reflected
Back to the other side
Could it be that somebody else is
Looking into my mind
Some other place
Some other time”
18. U2 – Where the Streets Have no Name
This is one of my all-time favorite songs. It just hits you in so many different ways. It becomes difficult to even know what you’re feeling through the song which is just how you feel when you’re going through a break up.
“We’re still building and burning down love
Burning down love
And when I go there
I go there with you
It’s all I can do
Our love turns to rust
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
See our love turn to rust
I’ll be beaten and blown by the wind
And when I go there
I go there with you
It’s all I can do”
19. Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes
This is probably one of the greatest and most well-known songs about romance of all time. The cringe factor is there for me because of the legacy that exists with the song and the film Say Anything… The lyrics are eternal though and nearly anyone can relate with the feeling and the sentiment exhibited in the song.
I get so lost sometimes
And this emptiness fills my heart
When I want to run away
I drive off in my car
But whichever way I go
I come back to the place you are
All my instincts
The grand façade
So soon will burn
Without a noise
Without my pride
I reach out from the inside
In your eyes
The light, the heat
In your eyes
I am complete
In your eyes
I see the doorway
To a thousand churches
In your eyes
In your eyes
Of all the fruitless searches
Oh, I see the light and the heat
In your eyes
Oh, I want to be that complete
I want to touch the light
The heat I see in your eyes”
20. U2 – With or Without You
A much more famous song than my number sixteen pick: Where the Streets have no Name, but I like that song better. One could make the case that this is the better song but it doesn’t hit me in the same way that other U2 songs do. This brings up an interesting debate that she and I had. She used to say that I couldn’t make an argument for or against any music because it was all relative and thus all an opinion. There is a certain subjectivity to music that doesn’t seem to exist in other art forms. This song still resonates with me though and I think it probably resonates with everyone in one way or another.
“Through the storm, we reach the shore
You give it all but I want more
And I’m waiting for you
With or without you
With or without you
I can’t live with or without you”
21. Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere
This songs philosophical nature is too much for some, but I think it perfectly embodies how you feel right before and right after a breakup. You don’t really know where you’re going and you sure don’t feel like you understand where you’ve been. Nothing makes any sense and you’re just searching for meaning in it all.
“Well, we know where we’re goin’
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowin’
But we can’t say what we’ve seen
And we’re not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out”
22. Shiny Toy Guns – If I Lost You
This is a song that has been a personal favorite of mine for a while now. I feel like it captures the way I’m feeling at this point in time in particular both because of our physical and emotional distance. The song itself is actually about being so close with someone that breaking up would be nearly impossible and that’s how I felt toward her for a long time. I think that having to actually go through it gives these lyrics a really special meaning.
“We stay up every night
We fade away
But now you’re living in a dream
I’m torn apart from the one I love
Oh, my baby. Where have you gone?
You know I’m sending angels to watch you sleep
Cuz I’m always on the run
And I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you
And what in the world would I do without you?”
23. Billy Squier – Lonely is the Night
I’ve always liked this song for the guitar riffs. I hadn’t really paid much attention to the lyrics until now. I feel like there are a lot of the same feelings that I’ve had in this song. It’s not the greatest song in the world, it’s not the most original, it’s not the most philosophical, but embodies some of the things I’m going through.
“Lonely is the night when you find yourself alone
Your demons come to light and your mind is not your own
Lonely is the night when there’s no one left to call
You feel the time is right–(say) the writings on the wall
It’s a high time to fight when the walls are closin’ in
Call it what you like–it’s time you got to win
Lonely, lonely, lonely–your spirit’s sinkin’ down
You find you’re not the only stranger in this town”
24. Garbage – I’m Only Happy When it Rains
I see so much of her in this song. This is kind of a unique situation because she just happened to be this way but it’s still a great song. This song also embodies how an entire group of people choose to look at the world and it’s horribly depressing. Just being around these people is emotionally draining.
“I’m only happy when it rains
I’m only happy when it’s complicated
And though I know you can’t appreciate it
I’m only happy when it rains
You know I love it when the news is bad
Why it feels so good to feel so sad
I’m only happy when it rains”
25. Mark Ronson – Stop Me
I think that there is a universal feeling among people who have been dumped that they would take their ex back in a second. That idea is perfectly exemplified in this song. I don’t know if I’d take her back all I know is that I’d be conflicted about it much like Daniel Merriwether is in this song.
“Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before
Cause nothing’s changed
I still love you, oh, I still love you
Only slightly, only slightly less
Than I used to, my love”
In the end, I think this is a pretty good list of songs to listen to when you’re going through a break up. I’m really surprised that there aren’t a lot of lists like this out there. Break ups are things that everyone seems to go through so the appeal must be there, I just don’t know if maybe people can’t express themselves when they’re in this state or perhaps they can’t function at the level they’d like to. I know I certainly feel that way about myself right now. I don’t think that I can get the kind of output I’d like. I don’t feel like I have the same ability to express myself that I had before I went into this relationship and it really sucks. It’s like this thing has just drained all of the creativity from my bones and for an artist I’m not sure there is a more crippling feeling.