Okkervil River - “Listening To Otis Redding At Home During Christmas”
And I hear that song sometimes and imagine us much more than friends - like if we stayed in this town, bought the first house that went up on sale, and how each Christmastime would bring inlaws and snowdays and holiday mail. Your dad says you’re living in Georgia since last September. Well, I’ve got dreams to remember. I’ve got dreams to remember. Oh Sara, come back to New Hampshire. We’ll stay here forever.
Besides the relevant subject matter, this song has the added benefit of compelling you to put on “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember” immediately afterwards, and listening to Otis Redding is never a bad idea for those with broken hearts. Do you hear me? NEVER.
Neveralovelysoreal's Ten Best Break-Up Songs (subject to revision in perpetuity)
1. "No Children" by the Mountain Goats- You probably don’t need to hear anything else about this one. This links to the studio version of the song, but what I really wanted to post (and will eventually) is an MP3 where you can’t really hear John Darnielle because the crowd is singing along and totally overpowering him. The way Darnielle records is so stark that it’s hard not to imagine his stories as coming from voices in isolation. I suspect that this quality makes them that much more powerful, as you know there’s an individual behind all that pain. This live version I’m talking about is powerful, too, though, because it reminds you that your pain (and your joy and your love and your lust), as individual as it may be, and alone as it may make you feel, is an experience other people can relate to.
2a. "Come Pick Me Up" by Ryan Adams- If “No Children” is the “Hit ‘Em Up” of break-up songs— unnervingly gratuitous in its animosity— then “Come Pick Me Up” is the “Ether.” It might not be quite as vicious, but you feel more comfortable laughing, because the rage seems like it’s tempered with enough humor that you’re not afraid the singer might actually want to murder someone. And it doesn’t get much more brutal than the chorus. Sing it with me now: Come pick me up / take me out/ fuck me up / steal my records …
2b. "She’s Got You" by Patsy Cline- As I’ve mentioned before, “She’s Got You” is a perfect response song to “Come Pick Me Up,” except for the fact that it came about forty years earlier. Whatever, we’re talking about pop music— fuck linear time. So you’re complaining that Patsy stole your records, Ryan? Well they’re not really helping her deal.
3. "Positively 4th Street" by Bob Dylan- “Idiot Wind” is meaner. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” is more clever. But on “Positively 4th Street,” Bob Dylan sounds wounded, and if Bob Dylan, that avatar of nonchalance, can get hurt, what hope do the rest of us have?
4. "Poke" by Frightened Rabbit- This comes from The Midnight Organ Fight, a record so soaked in blood and tears it should rightfully be talked about in the same hushed tones reserved around here for Heartbreaker and Break-Up Song ur-text Blood on the Tracks. Let’s start with “Poke,” which isn’t about the break-up but the aftermath. Scott Hutchison looks back at the good— “Should look through some old photos / I adored you in every one of those”— before returning to the bad— “If someone took a picture of us now they’d need to be told / That we had ever clung and tied a navy knot with arms at night / I’d say she was his sister but she doesn’t have his nose.” The song isn’t about visceral pain, but about not recognizing yourself anymore. The you in the pictures is so different from the you that you think you are now that you start to wonder if your own self-image is to be trusted. Renounce what had meaning for you then or live forever wondering if you’re pulling the wool over your own eyes.
5. "Ms. Jackson" by Outkast- The break-up has already happened, and the narrator isn’t even talking to the mother of his child, as that relationship is clearly beyond saving. No, he’s talking to her mother, about his broken-up family, promising to be “present on the first day of school, and graduation.” So many break-up songs are about the dyad, but here Andre and Big Boi remind us that we exist in vast networks, and a broken heart affects more than the brokenhearted.
6. "The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song" by Jeffrey Lewis- The song title is of course a nod to a classic of the genre, but the song is about the moment of passion that doesn’t happen at the titular hotel. Walking by the Chelsea, super-awkward boy overhears girl talking about the song. Boy and girl talk about the song. Boy walks away and chastises himself for not picking up on what may or may not have been a come on. Boy writes beautiful song about the experience, which can’t have lasted more than ten minutes.
7. "Who Fell Asleep In" by Los Campesinos!- This joins a very short list of pieces of art— only The End of the Affair also qualifies, as far as I can tell— that are about the experience of competing with God for a girl. The song begins with “She turned her back on the church and put all her faith in me,” but it ends with “It pains me, but I’m sure she’s still yrs.” It’s hard enough when you have to go up against idealized memories of ex-lovers without having to deal with fucking deities.
8. "Divorce Song" by Liz Phair- She just sounds so tired. “And the license said / You had to stick around until I was dead / But if you’re tired of looking at my face, I guess I already am.” Exile in Guyville is an album famous for putting misogyny in its place, in both classic rock (it’s ostensibly a track-by-track response record to Exile on Main Street) and indie scenes (Guyville is 1990s Wicker Park). And it did do this to a certain extent, but that’s not all it did. It also explored what it’s like to be a human being running the gamut of emotions from delirious to fucked up, and sometimes human beings are just tired.
9. "Make War" by Bright Eyes- “I’m not going to bless you with such compliments / Some degrading psalm of praise / Like the kind that converted you to me so long ago / Because the truth is that gossip’s as good as gospel in this town / You can save face but you won’t ever save your soul.” Uh, guys? I think Conor Oberst just told us that not only did he not ever really like us, but that we’re damned, too. Which is weird to hear from a lapsed Catholic, but still hurtful.
Now it’s closing time, the music’s fading out Last call for drinks, I’ll have another stout. Turn around to look at you, you’re nowhere to be found, I search the place for your lost face, guess I’ll have another round And I think that I just fell in love with you.
Yeah, this is going to end well. Will the circle be unbroken …
One Break-Up Song and Some Others (put together by bmichael)
"No Children" by The Mountain Goats
The difference between #1 and #2 is much vaster than the difference between #2 and #100. You know? “No Children” is the perfect break-up song, and the most powerful. There really aren’t even any other break-up songs in existence, because once you stack any other song beside it, its deficiencies—lacks heart, too on the nose, not descriptive enough, not bitter enough, sounds stupid—the deficiencies are magnified to such an extent that the song may as well be the wedding song of your un-torn heart because it’s evocative of nothing more than springtime, romance, stuffed animals, the beach. “No Children” makes every other song sound cheerful and nice is what you should take away is what I’m saying. I’m not even going to bother numbering the rest, because their ordination doesn’t even merit numeration. I’m just going to mention a few other songs to make this a list.
"Dry" by PJ Harvey
Dry is one of those songs that a guy for instance should not really like. (I suppose in that vein, Rid of Me is an album that a guy should not like.) But the song is not a gendered thing, even though the song is about vaginal dryness. The strength of the song is its madcap blues torrent and ripped-up songs. I suppose it would add a dimension to the song, to really identify with what Polly J Harvey’s actually flailing about wailing about. But then again who hasn’t felt spiritually desiccated.
"Graceland" by Paul Simon
This is a cheerful-sounding song about being spiritually devastated, I think. It’s at least about recognizing the vast array of spiritual devastation all around us. It let’s us know in beautifully unequivocal terms, to quote David Wallace, that our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.
"Horses" by Palace
You may see, perhaps, that I have a tendency towards rangy, mangy, shaggy songs. I do. “Horses” is that beautifully messy song that asserts through its form the sorts of feelings you’re likely to feel when you don’t feel so well. The guitar solo, especially.
"New Partner" by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy
This song is perhaps close to “No Children” in some ways. They have a similar sound. But it’s too complex of a song to be a real world-beater type break-up song. But it’s one of the best songs about what actually happens when you break up. Unfortunately, the greatest break-up songs are like an imago, an unsubtle, rail-straight subconscious archetype that reinforces our self-sense rightness even as it prevents us from repeated our wrongs. As well, this is one of the most certifiably gorgeous songs in existence.
"I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" by Wilco
I believe I’ve stated before that I tend to use this one a lot on pre-romantic mix tapes. That’s what Freud called the death drive. This is another song that’s got all the best parts, and it also starts to converge, asymptote-like, upon the ideal of the break-up song. But, again, there’s something about it that’s still pretty romantic, and that lingering sense of optimism—while perfectly isomorphic with an actual, real break-up—serves to undermine it in a more clinical setting.
"Gemini (Birthday Song)" by Why?
I love this song. It’s about traveling and being away from the person you love. And there’s an oral sex line, and a pretty neat observation about bathrooms. I’m a gemini. I tend to listen to this song when I’m in a good mood as well as a bad mood. I’m not sure, narratively, that it’s a break-up song, specifically. But it’s got that sort of feeling around it.
"Dancing On My Own" by Robyn
This is a new-comer to the break-up song canon. It does a good job of sprucing up its juvenile aspirations and giving itself an edgy European Cinéma vérité feeling. It’s simultaneously childish and very adult. That situates it toward the temporal edge of the relationship since both the beginning and the end are like that.
"The Glow, Pt. 2" by The Microphones
This is seriously the best song ever. It’s got aspects of many of the songs above. It was released—and I consumed it—during a time that largely concerns in my life the overwrought, self-important/constantly-wounded sort of feeling you get, the raw nerve sensuality of being a sophomore in college. You’re so very very very stupid. But this song, I think, transcends that fairly well. It might not be for everyone, but for it’s exactly particularly for the people who love it. Just like you.
It’s the end of the year, and everyone’s making listicles. Never one to miss the fun, I’ve compiled my top ten break-up songs, the ones that truly, no matter my mood or situation, stir the heart and make me contemplate how deeply personal each romantic interaction is, and how universal, and how earth-shaking, and how seriously normal. Here they are, in order:
Parting Gift is the most perfect break-up song to me, not least of why is the line “I bet you could never tell/that I knew you didn’t know me that well.” It’s recriminatory, it’s wistful (“It ended bad/but I love where we started”), it’s aggressive, it makes me want to get into a relationship just to end it and listen to this song.
This song makes me wax lyrical. Hearing it live is always transcendently sad; something about Rhett Miller’s keyed up panic plays perfectly with the lyrics. “Why aren’t you here?” is the first plaintive line, and it only gets more desperate from there. “Every drink’s one more defeat”, indeed. The visual of a man sitting in his girlfriend’s empty home is too strong to resist, and the pathetic sentiment of wishing the worst on your exes is one I’m all too familiar with.
(Look, I could only find YouTubes where the audience is all singing along; buy the song on ITunes, trust me, it is worth it.)
What to say about this song except that it’s devastating in a new way each time you listen to it? “Without you here there is less to say.” Without this song there is no break-up song tumblr. Because what if it’s true? What if the worst is true and you never get over that ex? Colin Hay’s seminal break-up song is serene, accepting, and unbelievable to listen to.
Dylan’s whole catalog is great for misery, but this one, he’s in control, he’s hitting the road, and it’s got that smug little twang to it. I’ve got a personal connection to it, as my college ex’s roommate sang this to himself after breaking up with his girlfriend one night. He sang it gleefully, adding various epithets into it as he went, and ended on a hiccup of almost-tears. For that alone, it’s in this list.
Kanye consistently surprises me with songs that you would not expect from an egotistical maniac. The content of this song (which is where I go when I go with a break-up song, and I think the other two guys on here don’t, as much) is truly fascinating. Kanye has been hurt, and bad, and though it’s got his trademark ego — the “Never find anyone better than me” howl — Kanye’s confidence has been been badly shaken by a lady. The beat’s not bad, either.
This is a poem, and I’m a sucker for an amazing poem. Tied up in small talk is an entire story, an entire tragedy, and it’s up to the listener to unravel it upon repeated listens. It could just be a letter to a friend, but it’s betrayal and jealousy and anger and regret, all in a little line “Sincerely, L. Cohen.” And Tori Amos’s voice is the perfect vessel for it.
For touching on the most prevalent feeling after a break-up. You walk down a street, and that street is the one where he touched your hair and clasped you to him, telling you for the first time he thought you were beautiful. You go into a bar and the spectre of him is in a corner, asking you to move to Rome with him one day. A leather jacket, the smell of a cologne, Tom Waits, someone’s smirk, a subway ad, Philadelphia — everything reminds you of him. It’s stark and true and necessary to have this song in your arsenal.
A recent addition, but I think impossible to leave out. Beyond how popular the song was, it’s truly wonderful as a testament to the vacillation between outright anger and wounded wailing we all do after a break-up. And god, that chorus.
Ani’s song features a very definitive “Fuck you” as well, Cee-Lo. I have a live version posted here that has a little of Ani’s trembling voice, and her half-laugh as she curses her former lover. It’s so, so human, and down there in the hole that you must surface from, and it’s also angelic in its pain.
with a very special mention to Gaga’s Bad Romance. Because DON’T BE FRIENDS.
It postures as a happy anthem, but it’s pretty mournful, actually. Because in the end, I think the parenthetical prefix to the title is (Not). And the sad little take on Here Comes the Bride at the end of it!
What a rare bird! A break-up song from a man wherein he admits he’s the problem. Girls, you better run away as fast as you can. The best advice I ever received (from here!) was that when a guy tells you what’s wrong with him, believe him.
Then I’ll use that voice that you find annoyin’ and say something like "yeah, intelligent input, darlin’, why don’t you just have another beer then?"
Mutual destruction, in this song. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the contempt that two people in a failing relationship develop for each other right before the end (or in some terrible cases, too long before the end).
This song is one of the Most Perfect Break-Up Songs. It is Perfect because every sentence is True. In that lasting truth kind of way. Sometimes your relationship is just so awful, so blatantly awful, that you all you want is literally just one reason to stay with your partner. If he could offer you any validation at all, you’d be with him.
I told you that I loved you, and there ain’t no more to say.
This is probably my favorite song on the Drake album. For one, Jeezy sounds fresh. He’s the best when he’s on other people’s tracks. But the structure of the song is what sets it apart. It starts with a disembodied voice. Then a Drake verse. Then a chorus. Then Jeezy. Then a chorus. Then Jeezy. (I know using “then” is lazy. Fwhatever.)
I love Drake’s opening verse. He’s really a post-lyrical rapper.
Yo, this is really one of my dumbest flows ever. I haven’t slept in days, And me and my latest girl Agreed to go our separate ways. So I’m single… Thinking about what we had and missing you, But I ain’t Santa. I got something for these bad bitches too.
The I ain’t Santa line is just tremendous. It’s so lame. If he hadn’t said bitches—or maybe because he said bitches—you would swear it were written by a twelve year old. It’s also kind of funny that he starts out a song, a real song on his real album, by saying that his flow is dumb. Like, don’t set your expectations too high because this song’s gonna suck. I appreciate that honesty, even if it’s probably not honest.
The entire Drake album is one long cryjam of a breakup album. It’s icy and sleek with little bubbles of ostentatious sound. It sounds like the flat dysphoria. I’d like to think that Drake’s shitty lyrics are a part of it. I can never write well when I’m feeling down. That he turned his apparently shitty life (pace money tree, of course) into an existential exemplum is, I think, one of the big artistic achievements of this year.
This breakup song is so brilliant because it’s from the point of view of the breaker-upper rather than the broken-up-with. So there’s no “I’m so crushingly lonely now” that you often get with the broken-up-with songs, but it also doesn’t rely on the righteous indignation of having been cheated on or mistreated or neglected. Rather, the indignation is from being treated (in the moment) with perfect, cordial, almost professional civility: behavior that doesn’t feel like it properly reflects the gravity of the relationship being disbanded. The breaker-upper wants to elicit passion, heartbreak, misery, fury, and maybe he didn’t even know he wanted that until he was shocked by her cool response. When he receives detached politeness, he loses the upper hand. He’s left floundering, wondering: even if I don’t want this anymore, did I ever matter to her at all?
Come on, baby Now throw me a right to the chin Just one sign That could show me that you give a shit But you just smile politely And I grow weaker
Love is so simple to quote a phrase You’ve known it all the time, I’m learning it these days
You couldn’t be faulted for thinking Dylan was commenting on some physical change that perhaps caused him to break up with said girl, since as we’ve noted before, Zimmy’s a bit vengeful in his break up songs! But no, this one’s just an elegy to someone able to move on and up far before Dylan himself was ready.
We’ve been remiss. We even (re)missed Bob Dylan’s birthday party, who sits on the Shadowy Executive Board of Break-Up Song’s governance. (Joining him are Fiona Apple and Bright Eyes; others may be too shadowy to even name.)
It just goes to show / It’s not what you know / It’s what you were thinking at the time. So truuuuuuuuueeee, Bright Eyes, so true.
Epistemological crises have destroyed more than post-Kantian systems of philosophy. They make every night one of those what-do-you-call-‘em? Dark nights of the soul. Oh, no. Dark nights of the posting on every blog. That’s it.