Since I tried to make “Love and Relationships” a more prominent theme on my blog this month, it was only fitting that I finish February off with a playlist full of love songs.
Back in November I shared some of my favorite romantic love songs, so I decided to change it up this time around. If I’m being totally honest, my absolute favorite love songs aren’t the happy “I’ve finally found what I’ve been looking for” songs (though those can be nice as well). No, my favorite love songs are the ones that shatter my heart into a million pieces. And, after yesterday’s post, I thought it was appropriate to share some of my favorite breakup songs.
When I dealt with heartbreak in the past, I always turned to music. There was something so oddly comforting in knowing that someone else could so beautifully put into words the exact emotions you were feeling … That someone really got it. And, while all of these songs aren’t explicitly about love gone bad, they’re some of the songs that really resonated with me when I was struggling with a broken heart.
Since I’ve been trying to get a little more personal on my blog (and because I’m a total nerd who loves discussing what specific songs mean to me), I’ve decided to share why each of these songs deserved a spot on this particular playlist.
1. Sweet Adeline: From the beginning of the song, Elliott Smith breaks your heart with simple but eloquent descriptions of the days (or weeks) following a particularly awful breakup with the lines “Cut this picture into you and me/Burn it backwards, kill this history/Make it over, make it stay away/Or hate’ll sing the ending that love started to say.” A part of you wants to just forget everything to avoid those feelings of bitterness and hate that so often bubble up and take over when someone hurts you more than you ever believed possible.
2. The Walk: This is by far my favorite Imogen Heap song of all time. The imagery is great, as she finds herself continuously faced with the one person she can never have the way she wants (“Inside out, upside down twisting beside myself/Stop that now, ’cause you and I were never meant to be”). The song so perfectly describes those conflicting feelings of wanting that person in your life even though you know it will only lead to heartache, eventually comforting yourself the only way you know how: by blaming them for everything (“I don’t want to feel like this, so that makes it all your fault”).
3. Map of the Problematique: This song could really be about a lot of things, but for me, it’s about the loneliness you’re left with when the life and love you’ve built with someone else disintegrates (“And I feel like everything I sow is being swept away/Well, I refuse to let you go”).
4. Rough Hands: This is one of the more obvious songs about a love lost that covers the feelings from the beginning of the breakup (“Was I left behind?/Someone tell me, tell me I survived”) to the realization at the end that it’s really over (“Two people too damaged too much too late”).
5. Fake Plastic Trees: For me, this song has always been about trying to mold yourself into your most perfect version in order to sustain a love that was never really there in the first place (“She looks like the real thing/She tastes like the real thing/My fake plastic love”). Everything around the couple seems fake because it is … Their expectations have never truly fused with reality, leaving them disappointed and broken when they begin to see things as they actually are (“If I could be who you wanted all the time”).
6. The Ice is Getting Thinner: This is another obvious song about the deterioration of a romantic relationship. The beauty in this song lies in its simplicity: from the opening lines “We’re not the same, dear, as we used to be/The seasons have changed and so have we” to the lovely imagery of the death of things in winter (“We bury our love in the wintery grave/A lump in the snow was all that remained”). And at the end of the song, the inevitable truth that both people need to face is sung: “Then it saddens me to say what we both knew was true/That the ice was getting thinner under me and you.”
7. Lua: I struggled with adding this song to the list because there are just so many Bright Eyes songs that are more obviously about lost love (and this is more likely about a struggle with depression and addiction). It won out in the end because I literally would spend hours listening to “Lua” on repeat when I was dealing with a particularly difficult breakup. Conor Oberst has always had a way with words, and this song is no exception. From the loneliness that comes with no longer having someone special in your life (“When everything is lonely I can be my own best friend/I get a coffee and the paper, have my own conversations”) to trying to move on when you’re not ready (“The love I sell you in the evening by the morning won’t exist”) to trying to find any way to forget the horrible ache in your heart (“Well, we might die from medication but we sure killed all the pain”) to finally admitting to yourself that you’re just not over it (“And I’m not sure what the trouble was that started all of this/The reasons all have run away, but the feeling never did”), he perfectly describes all of the stages that come with the end of an important relationship.
8. The Engine Driver: This song fucking breaks my heart every single time I hear it, yet I’d say it’s my favorite song by The Decemberists. The repeated line “And if you don’t love me, let me go” is one that anyone who has ever found themselves going back to the person who broke their heart only to leave more broken than before can relate to. And, as someone who has always found writing to be extremely cathartic, I could always also relate to the line “I’ve written pages upon pages trying to rid you from my bones.” So true.
9. Himerus and Eros: I listened to this song on a regular basis back when I was dealing with this. Much like “The Walk,” it describes the confused feelings that go along with wanting to be with someone who can’t give you the type of relationship you want (“And I fight the urge to explore the vastness of your curves I adore/You know I hate you/No, I hate you more/You know I love you/No, I love you more/Yes, it’s true, you’ve brainwashed me and now I’m more confused/I still somehow hope I end up with you/Yes, it’s true, I romanticize every single thing I do/Especially when it comes to you”). This song takes it a step further, though, since it’s not just about the feelings but also the sexual aspect when you’re unable to break away from someone you’re still in love with and find yourself still hooking up with them long after the relationship has ended (“I hope to God I mean a little more than the sounds that escape your tired 4:00 a.m. lips/Oh, how I wish I meant a little more than a symphony of heavy breathing and the friction of hips”).
10. Cup of Coffee: When I was dealing with the same breakup I mentioned above, I truly felt like this song was written just for me (minus the part about the cigarettes). It probably sounds ridiculous, but the words just rang so true for me. From finding myself walking or driving by his place despite actively trying to avoid him (“I’m walking empty streets, hoping we might meet/I see your car parked on the road/The light on at your window/I know for sure that you’re home/And I just have to pass on by”) to the realization that we could never be “just friends” until I actually moved on (“So no, of course we can’t be friends/Not while I still feel like this”) to the black pit of depression I was sucked into for over a year after things had ended (“My friends all say they’re worried/I’m looking far too skinny/I’ve stopped returning all their calls”), this song was one that really helped me work through all of the horrible, confused emotions that went along with that particular situation.
11. Raining in Baltimore: This will forever be one of my favorite sad songs. Adam Duritz reduces me to tears each and every time he sings the lines “Where you should be, no one’s around,” “These train conversations are passing me by/And I don’t have nothing to say/You get what you pay for, but I just had no intention of living this way,” and “There’s things I remember and things I forget/I miss you, I guess that I should/Three thousand five hundred miles away/What would you change if you could?” … So basically I’m a blubbering mess through this entire song. It’s so beautiful, though.
12. Hey Jupiter: This was always one of my go-to breakup songs. Although it’s more about a love triangle than the end of a relationship, the feelings of heartache and loneliness still echo throughout the lyrics. Tori Amos starts the song off ready to share all of the things weighing on her heart, though she knows she’ll only cause herself pain in doing so (“And this little masochist/She’s ready to confess/All the things that I never thought that she could feel”) and goes on to describe the feeling that goes along with someone leaving their mark on your heart (“Found your writing on my wall/Well, if my heart’s soaking wet/Boy, your boots can leave a mess”). She ends the song in much the same way as it began, essentially coming full circle in her realization that she’s now truly alone (“No one’s picking up the phone/Guess it’s clear he’s gone/And this little masochist is lifting up her dress/Guess I thought I could never feel the things I feel”).
13. Day Old Hate: This is my absolute favorite City and Colour song because it has always held so much meaning in my life. As with several other songs on this list, the lyrics are simple but heartfelt, accurately describing many of the feelings I’ve struggled with following a breakup. The first verse in particular is perfect: “So let’s face it, this was never what you wanted/But I know it’s fun to pretend/Now blank stares and empty threats are all I have/They’re all I have.” He didn’t play this song when I saw him last, but the first time I saw Dallas Green touring as City and Colour, I was reduced to tears when he sang this. (Yes, I’m that girl who cries at concerts.)
14. Rootless Tree: This is one of the best angry breakup songs ever written. It’s not even obviously angry until you reach the chorus, which I used to sing at the top of my lungs while driving in my car, trying to detach myself from the person I needed to get over: “So fuck you, fuck you, fuck you and all we’ve been through/I said leave it, leave it, leave it, it’s nothing to you/And if you hate me, hate me, hate me/Then hate me so good that you can let me out, let me out, let me out of this hell when you’re around.” Though the song definitely has its sad moments (“What I want from this is learn to let go/But no, not of you/Of all that’s been told”), for me it was mostly a great song to listen to when I needed a release for all of the bitterness and anger that inevitably goes along with the end of a relationship.
15. Get Gone: I had such a hard time choosing just one Fiona Apple song to include on this playlist. I’ve turned to her music more than any other artist (even Elliott Smith!) following breakups and general disillusionment with various men in my life, and to this day I even refer to When the Pawn … as “the quintessential breakup album” because I relied on it so heavily to get me through the agony of my worst breakups. As with “Rootless Tree,” this is one of the best angry breakup songs ever written. And, once you’ve moved past the sadness and loneliness, sometimes you just need to put on a really angry song to put yourself in a “Fuck him, I don’t need this shit!” type of mindset. If you’re at that point, this is the perfect song for you. Fiona Apple flawlessly puts into words the feelings that go along with realizing that things have completely gotten out of hand (“How many times can it escalate ’til it elevates to a place I can’t breathe?”) and that he’s just not worth it anymore (“I’ll idealize and realize that it’s no sacrifice because a price is paid and there’s nothing left to grieve/Fuckin’ go”). But, for me, the best part of this song is the chorus because it took the jumbled thoughts I’d always have following a breakup and pieced them together, ending with a line I’d always find myself repeating in hopes I’d one day believe it and move on with my life: “How can I deal with this, if he won’t get with this?/Am I gonna heal from this?/He won’t admit to it/Nothing to figure out/I gotta get him out/It’s time the truth was out that he don’t give a shit about me.”
I know I wrote a lot about these songs, so if you actually read all of that, thank you! If not, that’s okay … I know everyone isn’t into reading someone’s personal thoughts on specific songs (especially if they’re not songs they regularly listen to).
Even if you’re not dealing with a broken heart, these are all great songs. (I listen to all of them on a regular basis.) And, if you are, maybe you’ll find something here that speaks to how you’re feeling and helps you move past it.
Also, if anyone feels like sharing, what are some songs that have helped you deal with heartbreak in the past?