Greatest Breakup Songs Recorded

Nab some cells and listen from classic tearjerkers to gems

“What came first: the music or the misery? Can I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music?” So goes the opening of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity–and, decades since the publication struck shelves, we are still wrestling with these questions. That is partially because there’s just something about music that catches heartbreak. For evidence, check out our list of the breakup songs which run the gamut from pop hits that are current and essentials to master pieces that are overlooked and a great deal of soul. Want a pick-me-up that is musical? Consult our rundowns of karaoke songs, the party songs and the best songs.

The best breakup songs ever, rated

1. “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James

Talk about heartbreak. On this stunner away 1968’s Tell Mama, James Claims she would prefer never having the ability to see again than see her love walk away. What’s more, she is helpless: She notices how another woman is being chatted up by her guy and knows right then and there it’s all over. Throw that sentiment on a chord progression that builds by James with functionality, an organ, backing vocals and horns and you have reached perfection.

2. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division

The lead singer Ian Curtis, of the Manchester group was one of thebiggest losses of rock –a genius who allowed his shyness to fall  away but lived his life in agony. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is Curtis in his most melancholic and the best chronicle of a connection’s breakdown. The lyrics are about his wife, Deborah and Curtis, but they refer to the rifts that contributed a mere five months following this track was recorded. For listeners, however, its ceaseless chorus–“But love, love will tear us apart again”–says what there is to say about the mixed pleasure and pain of being in thrall to another human being.

3. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor

Originally composed and written by Prince, “Nothing Compares 2 U” did not reach iconic, heart-decimating standing until a particular headstrong Irish singer-songwriter tried her hand–and those sad, sad eyes–at covering it in 1990. The movie, which alternates between a stark close-up of O’Connor’s despair-wrought face and shots of this dark-cloaked songstress drifting through Paris’s Parc de Saint-Cloud, was mentioned by Miley Cyrus as the inspiration for her 2013″Wrecking Ball” video. It cannot be denied those three years later, rendition packs a punch.

4. “Someone That I Used to Know” by Elliott Smith

The late-great Smith could have sung, “When I go home, I’ll be delighted to go / You’re just somebody that I used to know”, but he was not fooling anyone: these bare-bones, amazing track is all about full blown heartache, albeit of the dismissive, fuck-you-I’m-fine selection. (For proof, just skip to 2 songs in the future Figure 8”, Everything Reminds Me of Her”).

5. “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” by Jimmy Ruffin

What becomes of the brokenhearted? They wind up listening to the soul. Newly-single and the sad can find solace in its own driving, determined tantalizing chain refrain verses; important modifications that are major-to-minor; and understanding that yes, we survived and have all been through it. Recorded for Motown in 1966, the tune is one of the most-covered hits of the label. Anyone who is turned to music for relaxation (that will be all of us, then) will understand why.

6. “Someone Like You” by Adele

You’d need to be some type of monster to not mist up a bit at the 2011 tear tugger of Adele. A Saturday Night Live sketch was written about its irresistible emotional pull; even dogs, it appears, aren’t immune. Part of what gives this power to the tune is its rejection of sadness. The heartbroken singer enacts a performance of courageous stoicism (she’s fine, she will move on, she will find somebody else), but we understand that she’s fooling herself (she is a mess, she is still stuck, the best somebody else remains the guy she’s lost). But her refusal lets us do the sobbing for her.

7. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston

Dolly Parton wrote and recorded this song in 1973 as a rueful envoi for her mentor and champion, Porter Wagoner and later reprised it in the 1982 film musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Although both of these versions hit the surface of the country charts, the song reached its cultural apotheosis in Whitney Houston’s epic 1991 version from the soundtrack to The Bodyguard; at that moment, it was the best-selling American single in history. In the soulful accounts of Houston, the song moves into a burst of nobility and suffering — and drifts up into quiet at the end, as ascending to a state of grace.

8. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ from the Righteous Brothers

Enjoy crashes into a wall–especially, producer Phil Spector’s trademark”Wall of Sound”–in this blue-eyed-soul lament, the 20th
century’s most-played tune on radio and TV. Co Written by Spector and Brill Building hit manufacturers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the song starts with a sharp observation (“You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips”) which contributes to the chorus’s pained conclusion. However, the song’s slowness and span –in 1964, 3:45 was a lifetime for radio soda –give it an aching tenderness which makes its final exhortation to”bring back that lovin’ feelin'” seem like it’s some hope of success.

9. “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse

The crooned lots about depression, dependence and heartbreak, but more brutally than. About her falling back into bad habits wine house penned this hit single. The gloomy repetition of this term black through the bridge would be the noise of a spiral into darkness–albeit a funky one.

10. “The Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Ah, the tears of a clown. Smokey might, indeed, “be the life of the party, “but” deep within [he is] blue,” people. Much like the finest soulful weepers “Tracks” beautifully and efficiently articulates the pain of missing the one that got away. This summer-of-’65 staple–a cocktail of the golden voice of Smokey strings and horns, and a chorus –as true now, rings.  

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