Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Break-Up Songs

All songs are break-up songs really. Some are just better at hiding it than others.

Ylvis’s “What Does the Fox Say”? All about breakups. Let’s face it, nothing captures the feeling of being dumped like “fish go blub, and the seal goes OW OW OW”. Because songwriters – like all artists – love a bit of pain.

If you want proof of how artists are obsessed with the shittier side of love, try finding a reading for a wedding which isn’t about heartbreak. There’s a reason everyone always does Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 at weddings. You try reading any other love poem and you’re basically telling the happy couple that it will never last.

I give it six months. Tops.
There’s a scene in the excellent film The Tall Guy where Jeff Goldblum wallowing in post-break-up misery turns on the radio only to find the song all-too-horribly fits his situation. He flips to another station and then another only to find that he is continually taunted by post-breakup themed. Hey, we’ve all been there. The only problem with the scene is that all the songs chosen – Neil Sedaka’s Breaking up is Hard to do, Everley Brothers Crying In the Rain, Long John Baldry’s Let the Heartaches Begin and Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel are all sort of the same. 1960s croony numbers to a man. Whereas in real life, break up songs know no boundaries. Your ironic post-break-up radio listening might just as well see you taunted by Bob Dylan or some Swedish Pop Rock.

Jeff tries to find some less salt-into-wound-rubbing music 
I have a longstanding love of Billy Bragg. I spent my adolescence being roundly mocked for it so I always sort of assume that if anyone else ever says that they like his music then they’re being sarcastic. Bragg does a great line in break-up  songs. No-one explores the futility of attempting to successfully negotiate interpersonal relationships quite like him.

You can’t argue with a sentiment like “You're the kind of girl who wants to open up the bottle of pop
too early in the journey/Our love went flat just like that”. Bragg’s best break-up themed lyric comes from The Saturday Boy:
I never made the first team. I just made the first team laugh
And you never came to the phone. You were always in the bath.
Basically, you’re never going to cut it as a songwriter unless you’ve got a fair number of break-up songs under your belt. Even Disney manages to get in on the act. Well, OK, Hercules’ I won’t Say I’m In Love isn’t strictly speaking a break-up song, but you’ve got to love a Disney number which contains the lines “No man is worth the aggravation./ That’s ancient history. Been there, done that.

Although the heroine Meg does kind of ruin it by living happily ever after with the hero afterwards.
If you want my personal recommendation of the best song to listen to post-breakup then I heartily recommend “There’s a fine, fine line” as sung by Kate Monster in Avenue Q.

There is something immensely satisfying in bellowing out the lines “I don’t have the time to waste on you any more / I don’t think that you even know what you’re looking for” at the top of your voice.

By way of a caveat, when I say ‘recommend’, I do mean for real-life situations rather than any fictional ones you might be writing. I am not sure that having one’s romantic heroine deal with the difficulties in her love life via a song sung by a pseudo-Muppet from the musical that gave us “The Internet is for Porn” is the right way to go.

Although, talking of “The Internet Is For Porn”, that’s a great song isn’t it? Let’s have a link to that one. Obviously, according to my theory, that’s also a break-up song. Because you know, everything is. “Grab your dick and double-click”? It’s all about the heartbreak.


  1. My favorite Break Up song is Sara Bareilles, Gonna Get Over You. I seriously love a break up song! Because really, who can not relate? We've all been there...

    1. Just listened to that. It's really lovely. "I'll be alright, just not tonight".

  2. My favorite is "Don't Speak" by No Doubt. Freakin' LOVE that song. I do actually like the break up songs a lot. I used to also choroegraph the combinations in dance class to them until one of my students pointed out that I like break up songs and I was worried what that said about me. LOL