Top 10 break-up songs

OK, so, there is a bias here – nothing younger than 10. but this is my list – not a poll.  Please make suggestions in the comments sections for other songs.

10: ABBA – Knowing me, knowing you (1977)

The vocals of the girls rip at you, singing about an empty house and memories.

The relationship is over and all that remains are ghosts

No more carefree laughter
Silence ever after
Walking through an empty house, tears in my eyes
Here is where the story ends, this is goodbye

In these old familiar rooms children would play
Now there’s only emptiness, nothing to say

9: Alanis Morissette – “You Oughta Know” (1995)

I want you to know, that I am happy for you
I wish nothing but the best for you both

No, she is not happy for them.  This song is not sad or wistful like ABBA’s Knowing you. . .it is full of anger and resentment and bitter and real:

And every time you speak her name
Does she know how you told me you’d hold me
Until you died, ’til you died
But you’re still alive

She sings – howls about fingernails scratching and you just know it is his eyes she wants to scratch out.

8: Paul Simon – “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” (1976)

This song is completely different. It’s advice on how to do the break. Sort of.  But it is catchy and almost fun. Basically, just get off the couch and do something.

The problem is all inside your head
She said to me
The answer is easy if you
Take it logically

You Just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free

7: Sinead O’Conner – Nothing Compares 2 U (1990)

Prince’s lyrics are, as always, wonderful:

It’s been 7 hours and 13 days
Since U took your love away
I go out every night and sleep all day
Since U took your love away
Since U’ve been gone I can do whatever I want
I can see whomever I choose

All the flowers that U planted, baby, in the backyard
All died when U went away

But the real meat in this song us her vocals.  You can feel the tears on her cheek as she sings. Her life is seemingly over without him.  The world has lost its color.

I had to think long and hard about putting this on my listing because of what she did on SNL in 1992, but the song is above that.

6: Conway Twitty – Hello Darlin’ (1970)

Hello, darlin’, nice to see ya
It’s been a long time
You’re just as lovely as you used to be

How’s your new love? Are you happy?
Hope you’re doin’ fine
Just to know means so much to me

What’s that, darlin? “How’m I doin’?”
Guess I’m doin’ all right
Except I can’t sleep
And I cry all night till dawn

You can see this conversation happening as he sings.  He screwed up and she left him and found someone new and he just cannot stop loving her.  One of the best country songs ever and for crying-in-your-beer breakups, it’s hard to beat country and Twitty was at his best on this one.

5. Whitney Houston or Dolly Parton – I will always love you (1974 and 1992)

If I should stay
I would only be in your way
So I’ll go, but I know
I’ll think of you every step of the way

The chorus we know.

Dolly first wrote and recorded this song and had a nice number one country song, but it was Whitney Houston who secured this song’s place in history, dominating the radio and the charts.

Stephen Holden of New York Times praised the work as a “magnificent rendition,” commenting “Houston transforms a plaintive country ballad into a towering pop-gospel assertion of lasting devotion to a departing lover. Her voice breaking and tensing, she treats the song as a series of emotional bursts in a steady climb toward a final full-out declamation. Along the way, her virtuosic gospel embellishments enhance the emotion and never seem merely ornamental.


4. Fleetwood Mac – The Chain (1977)

Listen to the wind blow…
Watch the sunrise;
Runnin’ in the shadows…
Damn your love, damn your lies!

And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again;
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain.

The only song credited to all five of the members of the band, the songs begins side two of the Rumors album with a bass line that cannot be forgotten. As it turned out in hindsight, the song was inadvertently about all the pain the group was going through – Lindsay and Stevie were breaking up as were John and Christine and band members were switching partners. Watching Stevie and Lindsay sing this live a year or so later is just simply magic.

3. Todd Rundgren – Hello, it’s me (1972)

Hello, it’s me
I’ve thought about us for a long, long time
Maybe I think too much but something’s wrong
There’s something here that doesn’t last too long
Maybe I shouldn’t think of you as mine

Seeing you
Or seeing anything as much as I do you
I take for granted that you’re always there
I take for granted that you just don’t care
Sometimes I can’t help seeing all the way through

The first time I heard this I think was on The Midnight Special. A few friends were at the house and the thing we commented on was the androgyny of Rundgren. We were idiots. It came to be one of my favorite songs. I later learned that this was the first song he ever wrote. I just wonder how he knew this much then.

The song is sad and hopeful. The backing vocals are by Stevie Nicks.

2. The Beatles – Yesterday (1965)

All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday

I’m not half the man I used to be
There’s a shadow hanging over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly

Why she had to go
I don’t know
She wouldn’t say
I said something wrong
Now I long for yesterday

Paul wrote it, John claimed to have hated it and it touched the soul of the world.  The most recorded song in history, it is said.

Lennon said the song had been on their minds for quite some time before it finally got recorded:

“The song was around for months and months before we finally completed it. Every time we got together to write songs for a recording session, this one would come up. We almost had it finished. Paul wrote nearly all of it, but we just couldn’t find the right title. We called it ‘Scrambled Eggs’ and it became a joke between us. We made up our minds that only a one-word title would suit, we just couldn’t find the right one. Then one morning Paul woke up and the song and the title were both there, completed. I was sorry in a way, we’d had so many laughs about it.”

Melancholy and full of regret, the melody came to McCartney fully formed in a dream.  Amazing. Ya just gotta hate and admire talent like that.

1. ABBA – The Winner Takes It All (1980)

Basically a solo performance by Agnetha, written by her ex-husband, Bjorn Ulvaeus.

I don’t wanna talk about things we’ve gone through,
Though it’s hurting me, now it’s history.
I’ve played all my cards and that’s what you’ve done too,
Nothing more to say, no more ace to play.
The winner takes it all,
The loser standing small beside the victory, that’s her destiny.

The song is about a divorce and it’s obvious the singer does not want it.

Written after Agnetha and Bjorn separated, most think it is about the break-up of their relationship, about which Agnetha said (paraphrased) he found someone new, I found a counselor.

Ulvaeus denies this, saying the basis of the song “is the experience of a divorce, but it’s fiction. There wasn’t a winner or a loser in our case. A lot of people think it’s straight out of reality, but it’s not”.

OK, Sure.

American critic, Chuck Klosterman said “The Winner Takes It All” is “[the only] pop song that examines the self-aware guilt one feels when talking to a person who has humanely obliterated your heart.” Doesn’t sound like he believed Ulvaeus; neither do I.

And when she sings. . .

But tell me, does she kiss like I used to kiss you,
Does it feel the same when she calls your name.

. . .it just rips you apart if you are real. It is not the anger or resentment Morissette sang.  It is a crushed soul.  The pain slices through you and if you watch the video, you can see it as well in her eyes.

I have no concept of what she had to do to be able to sing this.

Plus 1 – Lady Gaga – Bad Romance (2009)

Thought of this after I delivered the post.  I would place it in the bottom half of my rankings.
I want your love and
I want your revenge
I want your love
I don’t wanna be friends

Je veux ton amour
Et je veux ta revanche
J’veux ton amour

The video – Gaga is kidnapped by supermodels who sell her to the Russian mafia, I think.  I have watched the video maybe 50 times and if there is a story line, this seems to be it. The video reminds us of Madonna and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. But it is just good.

Maybe this is a search for love never had—I don’t wanna be friends she sings desperately and looks at us with eyes of innocence—than of love lost.  But passion is in it and it is just a really good work and well worth the five minutes.

2 thoughts on “Top 10 break-up songs

  1. Pretty good choices–although I can’t stand Paul Simon, so would disagree with you there. But Todd Rundgren’s “Hello, It’s Me”–that’ll tear your heart out. I’m glad someone besides me remembers Todd! I’m not sure it counts as a “breakup song,” but the one that always brings a lump to my throat is Dan Fogelberg’s “Another Auld Lang Syne”–that half-second pause toward the end, before the sax solo, just makes a body want to sob!

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