In between enjoying some of the superb churlishness over on the Taylor Swift Is Ace thread, I got to thinking about Idiot Wind, and how it’s not really my idea of a great break up song. Too heavy handed, too on the nose, says way more about the person who wrote it than the person on the intended receiving end. If I’m being completely honest, I think All Too Well (particularly the new, longer version) is quite probably better. I was always more of an If You See Her Say Hello man anyway.
The above lead me to wondering: what are the great break up songs, and where does this rank in the pantheon?
Ten minutes of exceptionally deep thought later, I landed on the following list….
1. Ex-Factor – Lauryn Hill
The song that has it all. Brilliant hip hop/reggae/soul infused production and arrangement, incredibly spare for what it is, a tremendous vocal by one of the better singers of her generation, genius lyrics (no song on this list contains a better couplet than “Tell me who I have to be/to get some reciprocity”), and an unbeatable sense of loss and yearning. The absolute mack daddy of breakup tunes.
2. You Oughta Know – Alanis Morrissette
Alanis was 19 when she wrote You Oughta Know. 19! If Ex-Factor puts its finger squarely on the longing and loss end of things, YOK takes care of the rage and vengeance. It’s also ageing like a fine wine, and will presumably continue to delight future generations who have need of a sonic template to channel all their anger and vitriol at that individual what wronged them so.
3. Nothing Compares 2 U
Quacked on about endlessly already on other threads. Will spare you the same here.
4. Ms Jackson – Outkast
Probably the happiest breakup song imaginable, and I’m a happy sort of guy so it has to chart high. The breakup song that occurs after the smoke has cleared and the bodies have largely been removed from the battlefield. Apologies, promises to do better, and that immortal, glorious “Forever. Forever ever. Forever ever?” that nods to the sad reality behind most break ups. Real talk.
5. Dancing On My Own – Robyn
6. Tracks of My Tears – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
My smile is my make up
I wear since my break up
One of the greatest moments in all of recorded music. The whole vocal is fire.
7. Purple Rain – Prince
This has to be on the list because it’s freaking Purple Rain, although there’s an argument that the lyric is the weakest thing about it (still a high bar). Difficult to relate to during an actual break up because (a) it sounds more like he’s on about interior decorating preferences than actual emotions; and (b) it’s quite difficult to imagine a lovelorn Prince. Still; it is a break up song, and it is Purple Rain, so on it goes.
8. I Want You Back – Jackson 5
Another stellar vocal. My favourite bit is the young Wacko’s joyful shouts on the fade out; a break up song recorded by someone far too young to understand.
9. Always On My Mind – Elvis
Generally prefer the Pet Shop Boys version, but if we’re going for heartbreak this is a bit of a high watermark. A never more mournful Elvis showing that he could do vulnerability better than most, and a lyric that would surely win back even the most disinterested of former lovers.
10. Wrecking Ball – Miley Cyrus
“I can’t live a lie/running for my life/I will always want you”.
Probably THE break up song for a generation younger than any of us on here.
Also adding a bonus selection for I Know It’s Over by The Smiths; probably the best song to listen to during an actual break up because of the way it brilliantly parodies how utterly ridiculous you’re being about the whole thing. “Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head” – what an opening gambit that is.
Also considered for inclusion: Thinkin Bout You by Frank Ocean, Someone Like You by Adele, Don’t Speak by No Doubt, Mr Brightside by The Killers, Dreams and half the catalogue by Fleetwood Mac, Leave (Get Out) by JoJo, I’d Rather Go Blind by Etta James, Back to Black by Amy Winehouse, Maps by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, Tangled Up In Blue by Bob Dylan, Crying by Roy Orbison, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself by Dusty Springfield, If I Could Turn Back Time by Cher, End of the Road by Boyz II Men, Since U Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson, Un-Break My Heart by Toni Braxton, Teardrops by Womack & Womack.
So – what have I missed? Where does Taylor Swift land? And what’s your own number one?