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Love Songs For Every Situation: Heartbreak

February 23rd, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

When unrequited love girl communicated to me gently that she didn’t like me that way, I experienced validation for the term heartbreak. It did feel as though my actually heart was broken right down the middle. Of course it didn’t, because else I would be dead, but the instant pain manifested itself in the location where the blood-pumping organ resides. It then moved to my chest and stomach, but lungache or gutbreak don’t sound terrible romantic.

The genre of love songs is rich in lyrics about broken hearts, from Sinatra learning the blues to Alicia Keys bemoaning that she can’t have you and any number of country singers picking up the shards of their broken hearts. Somehow this hugely intense emotion has given rise to some astoundingly banal lyrics “” take a bow Bonnie Tyler and Mariah Carey. Here then, in the penultimate installment of this series, we deal with heartbreak in a non-banal manner.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – The Tracks Of My Tears.mp3
This may well be the best song ever about a broken heart, by Motown’s poet laureate. Smokey is stoic, like the stiff-lipped Englishman of cliché, and won’t publicly exhibit his inner turmoil. He jokes around, has a cute girlfriend, but it’s an act. “The Tracks Of My Tears” also contains one of the most wonderfully delivered lines in pop ever: “My smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you”. There is joy in sadness.

Colin Hay – Lifeline.mp3
Part-time genius Colin Hay (who used to be Men At Work’s frontman) has a great way of expressing inner discontent with philosophical easy-goingness (take “Beautiful World” as an example of that). Here our man is a bit more forthright. She “broke my heart, I saw it coming from the start”, and now he is drowning in a sea of depression, hence the request for a lifeline in the chorus. He acknowledges that he needs to learn how to swim, throwing away the prozac (“You”ll never forget her, so why do you even try?”) and try to get over the depression by drinking water from appears to be a lake with magical healing properties. A really powerful song.

The Weepies – World Spins Madly On.mp3
When your heart is broken, inertia and feelings of alienation are normal reactions. The Weepies’ Steve Tannen outlines just that: “Woke up and wished that I was dead, with an aching in my head I lay motionless in bed. I thought of you and where you”d gone, and let the world spin madly on.” Perfect.

April Sixth – Dear Angel.mp3
I don’t usually do stuff with emo tendencies, but I’ll make an exception for this song (by a group named after my birthday, bless them), which I like a lot. Girl has dumped dude, and dude is feeling very bad about it. He thinks about her all the time, as you do, and naturally this causes him grief (“If only my love could be with you, if only this pain, this pain died too”). So he has decided that the best thing to do is to cut her out of his life entirely, for both their sakes (“So I’ll break you away”). Will he succeed?

Aqualung – Breaking My Heart Again.mp3
Heartbreak need not be a consequence of a break-up, but can kick in while a relationship still exists. And so it is here. “Need to know, don’t want to know, already know: I’ve seen the signs;
I watch you as you pull yourself away from.” And so our man out-Coldplays Apple Sr as he anticipates having his heart broken, apparently not for the first time, and observes: “I’m losing all strength” and, finally, “I’m losing you”.

Mozella – Light Years Away.mp3
Here’s a woman, in the singer-songwriter mode, who has her heart broken so badly that she is entirely embittered while saying she isn’t. “It”s almost like you had it planned, it’s like you smiled and shook my hand and said: ‘Hey, I”m about to screw you over big time’.” Clearly, the break-up was not easy (“I think I cried for days”), nor was the recovery. She has found a way of dealing with it: “But I don”t blame you anymore; that”s too much pain to store”, but takes care to inform him that the whole experience has changed her irrevocably. It’s all a rather clever fuck-off letter.

Damien Rice – Cannonball.mp3
I really wanted to use this song somewhere in this series, because it is one of the most powerful  songs about love I can think of. But in which part of the series? It is a song that captures perfectly the pain and confusion of imperfect love, the kind of emotion that ties your stomach in a knot, which is a manifestation of what we call heartache. The first two stanzas speak of confusion: “There’s still a little bit of your taste in my mouth. There’s still a little bit of you laced with my doubt. It’s still a little hard to say what’s going on.” Not exactly heartbreak, but a good dose of confusion here. The kick in the stomach comes later when our boy seeks distance, perhaps because he is scared of getting hurt in this relationship, or perhaps because it can’t be. “So come on courage, teach me to be shy. ‘Cause it’s not hard to fall, and I don’t want to scare her; it’s not hard to fall and I don’t want to lose…” Whatever the case, he is frightened of crashing (“It’s not hard to fall when you float like a cannonball”), and that inhibits his quest for letting love find full expression. And that is heartbreaking in itself.

Hall & Oates – She’s Gone.mp3
Well, it had to feature at some point in this series. Apparently the lads who’d become ’80s icons for their hairstyles (the serious mullet and bubble perm combo) were both dealing with heartbreaks at the time this song was written. The lyrics are fantastic. I love this: “Think I’ll spend eternity in the city [cue disapproving sound effect]. Let the carbon and monoxide choke my thoughts away. And pretty bodies help dissolve the memories. [However:] There can never be what she once was to me.” And the vocal performance, especially on the last line of the quoted verse and the drawn out “she’s gone” at 3:08, is wonderful.

Brandi Carlile – My Song.mp3
This might be about a failed romance or a friendship gone sour. Either way, Brandi (and don’t let her name put you off this wonderful songbird) harbours some anger as she sings: “If you only knew my mind was full of razors to cut you like a word” and “I’m way too old to hate you” (if you have to point out a lack of hatred, then there must be residual resentment). She holds out an olive branch, but won’t any longer run after the addressee of the song: “I’m too proud to beg for your attention and your friendship and your time. So you can come and get it from now on.”

PP Arnold – The First Cut Is The Deepest.mp3
This is, in my view, the best version of Cat Stevens’ great song (though I rather like Rod Stewart’s version too). Here our protagonist finds it difficult to be in love because of a previous episode of heartbreak. “I would have given you all of my heart, but there’s someone who’s torn it apart, and he’s taken just all that I had.” As he Bee Gees would ask a couple of years later: “How can you mend a broken heart?”

Roy Orbison – Crying.mp3
Rebekah Del Rio – Llorando.mp3

I was torn between using the original version, or the one Orbison recorded with k.d. Lang, or Rebekah del Rio’s breathtaking a cappela interpretation from Mulholland Drive. Much as I love the duet, I’ll go with the 1961 original and del Rio’s Spanish cover. Apparently Orbison wrote this after meeting an ex-girlfriend and realising in the process how much he had lost when she became an ex. “I thought that I was over you. But it’s true, so true: I love you even more than I did before.” So, as you will have guessed, Roy will be crying over her. It seems to surprise him: “It’s hard to understand, but the touch of your hand can start me crying.”

Sandie Shaw – Always Something There To Remind Me.mp3
Doesn’t Sandie Shaw sound incredibly sexy on this song? Burt Bacharach and Hal David built a great repository of love songs (and a few terribly sexist ones as well), and heartbreak featured prominently, hence two inclusions of their songs in this post. The set up here is explained in the songtitle: girl loves boy who doesn’t love girl anymore and she can’t forget him. Common stuff that is no less relevant for it: “How can I forget you when there is always something there to remind me? I was born to love you, and I will never be free; you’ll always be a part of me.”

Isaac Hayes – Walk On By (full version).mp3
The other Bacharach/David song. Everybody should know the lyrics well. “If you see me, do me a favour and just fuck off because talking with you will mess with me.” Or words to that effect. The song found its perfect expression in Dionne Warwick’s version. There have been many covers since, and it is quite difficult to do a bad cover of it, though not for lack of trying. Some have put their own spin on it. The Stranglers did, but I don’t like their cover much. Isaac Hayes, on the other hand, appropriated the song without taking it from Dionne, which is a mark of his genius. He took “Walk On By” and resculptured it into a psychedelic soul symphony going on for 12 minutes ““ and not a single second is wasted. As he did on other Bacharach songs — “The Look Of Love”, “Close To You” ““ he invested into the straightforward lyrics and melody whole new dynamics and drama. Where Warwick sweetly attracts your sympathy, Hayes involves you in the inner drama of the heartbreak to the point that it leaves you feeling the torment yourself. But by then you’re so exhausted, the heartbreak feels almost sweet.

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  1. Anonymous
    February 26th, 2008 at 01:46 | #1

    Thanks for the great offerings this week! I especially appreciate the long version of Issac Hayes’ “Walk on By.” I hadn’t heard it in a long time. This song was playing on my older brother’s record player when he introduced me to hashish for the first time. Wow! That whole album is still a killer. I also love the P.P. Arnold song. I knew the song from Rod Stewart and liked it, but this version just blows it out of the water. Even Sheryl Crows version sounds weak next to this version. I first heard “She’s Gone” by soul group Tavares. I always thought they recorded the song orginally. It was a number one R&B hit for them in 1974. I always thought it should have been a bigger cross over hit for them, but I guess Hall & Oates’ version got in the way. I still prefer their version. You should check it out.Thanks again Ben

  2. Any major dude with half a heart
    February 26th, 2008 at 08:54 | #2

    Thanks for the props, Ben. Yeah, Ike’s hot buttered symphonies are probably enhanced by prior consumption of drugs (not that I would know, of course!).About She’s Gone, it appeared on H&O’s 1973 album Abandoned Launderette. Tavares did a cover and released it as a single before H&O got around to it (on the back of the single success of, I think, Sara Smile).

  3. Liz
    February 26th, 2008 at 13:04 | #3

    Mozella! I haven’t heard that song in ages, but now I have a burning need to listen to it over and over again (again).

  4. Rol Hirst
    February 26th, 2008 at 16:39 | #4

    Smokey is a god.

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