If being an active, professional listener of music has taught me anything, it's that there is no worse crime you can commit than to break up with someone who still has feelings for you. The musical landscape is filled with endless, angry ballads against partners who have walked out on their faithful lovers and plaintive pieces about the recently dumped withering away in loneliness. The one who leaves is always the villain in these songs, the object of adoration who also becomes the instrument of one's personal destruction.
Those who do the leaving tend to come off rather poorly in songs written by those who are left behind. So, for this particular list of breakup songs, I wanted to focus on songs that speak from — and even celebrate — the position of the person who is doing the heartbreaking.
It can be devastating to end a relationship, weighing the cost of staying versus leaving, agonizing over the decision and finally delivering a crushing blow to someone you (once) care(d) about... whatever.
So, just in time for Valentine's Day, here's a collection of songs for all you heartbreakers out there:
Pink, "So What?"
This song is approximately 70 percent responsible for helping me get over my divorce (the rest of the pie chart is occupied by heavy metal, bourbon and my excellent friends). The flippancy of “So What?” (belied by the surprisingly poignant bridge) is uplifting and freeing, while also being snarky, funny and just a little bit celebratory. It's exactly the right cocktail of elements that you need in the first few weeks after you've packed up everything you own and finally left what was making you unhappy behind.
Dixie Chicks, "Goodbye Earl"
No relationship is easy to leave and the awful reality is, especially when abuse is involved, being the one who leaves can be dangerous. This spectacular revenge story about two friends who murder the asshole ex-husband who beat one of them acknowledges the danger that can be faced by women leaving bad relationships, while also celebrating the necessity of having that one friend who will show up at your house in the middle of the night, no questions asked, with a bone saw and a cleared-out trunk.
Kelly Clarkson, "Since U Been Gone"
Relationships are about power: relinquishing it, sharing, it balancing it. When relationships become ill, often the power has become imbalanced, with one person holding it over the other. Kelly Clarkson has made a career writing songs that explore complex emotional landscapes and celebrate personal strength, but none of her other songs perfectly capture the sense of freedom and release that can come from leaving a relationship wherein the power dynamic was broken. Sometimes, leaving that person who believes that you are slavishly devoted to them and helpless without them is the quickest way to feel like a superhero.
Megadeth, "Angry Again"
Slower and groovier than Megadeth's classic thrash metal style, “Angry Again” features Dave Mustaine lashing out at everyone he feels has ever done him wrong: managers, former and current bandmates, the industry and ex-lovers. Produced exclusively for the <em>Last Action Hero</em> soundtrack, this seething classic metal track is perfect for those days when you want to nuke your whole life from orbit and start over.
Ace Of Base "The Sign"
Fact: the debut album "The Sign" by this Swedish pop group was the very first CD that I bought with my own money. The title track is an ode to that moment when you realize a relationship is over, and that ending it will only make you happier. From the perspective of someone looking back fondly on the decision to leave from a much happier place in life, “The Sign” is a hopeful song especially welcome soon after breaking up with a lover when you need assurance that things will, indeed, get better.
Joan Jett "I Hate Myself For Loving You"
Not only does this song have one of the best leading riffs ever, the power of “I Hate Myself For Loving You” has made it one of hard rock icon Joan Jett's signature songs. It acknowledges that feelings are not reasonable things that are governed by good decision-making and clear-thinking, but primal and visceral things that can lead us astray. It's possible for us to love someone who is terrible for us, but those unreasonable feelings shouldn't prevent us from kicking them to the curb.
Destiny's Child, "Survivor"
The title track from Destiny's Child's third record, “Survivor” is a vibrant anthem of self-reliance and strength no matter what side of a breakup you're on, but it fits this list particularly well as a celebration of all the great things that new-found singleness can hold. There's no revenge quite as sweet as living well after an ex tried to convince you that you were nothing without them.
Dangers "(Love Poem)"
The penultimate track on hardcore band Dangers' most recent opus, "Messy, Isn't It?," "(Love Poem)" is completely different than anything else on the record. It's a spoken work piece composed of a chorus of voices reciting the entirety of 'Love Poem” by poet Richard Bautigan. The sentence “It is so nice/ to wake up in the morning/ all alone/ and not have to tell somebody/ that you love them/ when you don't love them/ any more” is repeated by a variety of speakers. It stands in sharp contrast to the raw, acerbic hardcore of the rest of the album, and is positively shiver-inducing. Also, it's true.
Amy Winehouse, "Tears Dry On Their Own"
Showcasing the range and peerless tone of Winehouse's deep, smoky, caramel-rich voice, this is an excellent song about leaving and healing. No outside hand is needed to wipe these tears away, time and sunlight will do the job fine.
The Good Life, "Lovers Need Lawyers"
"Album Of The Year" by The Good Life is, start to finish, an ode to the crumbling and dissolution of relationships. Where other tracks of the album are painful or at least deeply poignant, there's something cheeky, hopeful and a little bit sneering about “Lovers Need Lawyers” that earned it a place on this list. It acknowledges that sometimes your former partner in crime becomes the prosecution, and that especially for those who leave a toxic relationship, a good defence is as crucial as the offence.
Magnetic Fields "You Must Be Out Of Your Mind"
“You think I'd run not walk to you/ why would I want to talk to you?” The Magnetic Fields just have a way with words and this charming little ditty is no different. It's the perfect song to play when that same handsome devil who you've dumped, like, a hundred times shows up on your doorstep and expects you, once again, to take him back. He must be out of his mind.
No Doubt "Don't Speak"
While I admit this has a bit more of a song-for-the-dumped quality than any other entry on this list, the desire for delay, to wait, for just a little more time is as relevant for the dumper as it is for the dumpee. The moment of knowing that you must end a relationship and actually work up the nerve, courage and strength to do so can often be quite an effort and wanting to delay the inevitable is something that anyone who's ever had to cut that last tie can appreciate.
Type O Negative, "Unsuccessfully Coping With The Natural Beauty Of Infidelity"
This dark, searing track from 1991's "Slow, Deep And Hard" is one of Type O Negative's angriest songs. The rage and disgust at a partner's infidelity makes it clear that this was not a song written with any hope of reconciliation in mind.
The Stooges, "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell"
The simultaneous yearning and revulsion in this song by punk pioneers The Stooges is what defines it. It mixes anger and affection, repulsion and admiration incredibly well, while the heavily distorted and aggressive instrumentation perfectly captures how messy feelings can be.
Ben Folds, "Song For The Dumped"
This song makes the list because it is for the dumped, not by the dumped. It captures the resentment and anger present in so many sings about being left by a lover and satirizes it ever so gently, holding those feelings at arm's length and revealing them to be ridiculous. It also captures how, because the person leaving has already processes many of their feelings before the breakup itself, the dumper often feels at a loss while the dumpee's feelings are still at their most raw.
REM, "The One I Love"
There is nothing quite as cruel telling an ex they were merely “a simple prop to occupy [your] time.” The bitter truth of the matter is that sometimes we leave old lovers not because duty compels us or we have no choice, and will pine for their loss forever; sometimes we leave them because greener pastures await, better opportunities lie in front of us, and we have outgrown the person who currently shares out life. It's mean, but it is true.