Yesterday, as I’m sure you’re aware, was Valentine’s Day: a time for couples to exchange material tokens of their devotion, spend way too much money on dinner, then go home and have anti-climactic sex. But all that is over now. Today is the day after Valentine’s Day; when those same couples who just grit their teeth through an evening of societally mandated romance turn around and say the things they’d been holding back on February 14th. Things like “maybe we should see other people” and “get out of my house.”
If that hits a little close to home for you, don’t worry: we’re here for you. We’ve both seen our share of heartbreak; Zach’s previous relationship even ended the day after Valentine’s Day (via text message!). So we speak from experience when we say that, if you’re one of the victims of this year’s day-after-St.-Valentine’s-Day massacre, you’ll survive. And in the meantime, here are 18 heartbroken songs to help you work through it. In the end, February 15th–and February 14th, for that matter–is just a day. So pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and we’ll see you on the 16th.
1. Vanilla Fudge: “a.) STRA (Illusions of My Childhood, Pt. 1) / b.) You Keep Me Hangin’ On / c.) WBER (Illusions of My Childhood, Pt. 2”
(from Vanilla Fudge, 1967)
Anyone who still thinks women are more dramatic about relationships than men have never had the pleasure of listening to acid rock’s original drama queens: Vanilla Fudge. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was the Fudge’s biggest–some might even say only–hit: a turgid, Hammond B3-driven reworking of the Holland–Dozier–Holland classic that makes the baroque melodrama of the Supremes‘ original sound downright understated. As the band’s drummer, Carmine Appice, explains, “We used to slow songs down and listen to the lyrics and try to emulate what the lyrics were dictating. That one was a hurtin’ song; it had a lot of emotion in it.” And there’s definitely enough emotion in Mark Stein’s and Tim Bogert’s ludicrous falsetto harmonies to power an eternity of “hurtin'”…which is good, because an eternity is just about how long a typical Vanilla Fudge song takes to finish.
2. Doobie Brothers: “Without You”
(from The Captain and Me, 1973)
We love early ’70s boogie rock here at Dystopian Dance Party: one of our best ideas ever was to form a band that plays nothing but “Slow Ride” by Foghat, over and over again, until the audience has either fled the premises or rushed the stage to physically assault us. But even we have to admit that it isn’t usually the most emotionally resonant genre of music; nobody wants to listen to Foghat when they’re working through some shit. Fortunately, there’s “Without You” by the Doobie Brothers: a vintage boogie scorcher with enough guitar-choogling to please the local Hells Angels chapter, and enough soulfully grunted “baby, baby”-ing to qualify as a sincere breakup song. So thanks, Doobs, for finally giving us something that rocks and helps us grapple with personal loss.
3. Ann Peebles: “I Can’t Stand the Rain”
(from I Can’t Stand the Rain, 1973)
But maybe you’re looking for a more conventional choice. In that case, Ann Peebles’ Memphis soul classic makes a great soundtrack for those moments when even the sound of raindrops makes you miserable, because it reminds you of the person you lost. Plus, as an added bonus, producer Willie Mitchell’s electric timbale rhythm is here to simulate that very sound you despise–just try to get it/them out of your head now!
4. Big Star: “Give Me Another Chance”
(from #1 Record, 1972)
Sometimes breakups come out of nowhere, but in all honesty, that usually isn’t the case. I personally have been in more than one relationship that was like a movie that didn’t know when to end: dragging on well past its natural stopping point, then springing inexplicably back to life just when it seemed to have faded to black for good. So for me, “Give Me Another Chance” by the cult power pop trio Big Star hits just a little too close to home. The plaintive lyrics sung by Alex Chilton are basically just a series of red flags: any time you can say to someone, “All this time since you’ve been mine I’ve been angry, so angry,” that’s a pretty strong sign that the relationship isn’t healthy for anyone involved. But when Chilton and Chris Bell hit the exquisite, Beatlesesque harmonies on the chorus, you get the feeling he’ll get that “other chance” he requested. And you also get the feeling that he knows it won’t do him any good–especially when he slips into a minor key for the startling bridge: “It’s so hard just to stay alive each day / I really can’t go on this way.” It’s a feeling to which anyone who’s been trapped in a damaging, cyclical relationship should be able to relate all too well.
5. Miguel featuring J. Cole: “All I Want is You”
(from All I Want is You, 2010)
The moments (/days, weeks, and even months) after a relationship ends often trigger a kind of despondency; a sense that you’ve just squandered the best thing you’d ever have, and it’s all downhill from there. That’s the emotional space inhabited by neo-soul crooner Miguel on the title track from his 2010 debut album: he’s doing his damndest to move on from his most recent ex–no, for real, he’s having a shit-ton of sex–but he has to admit that for every new woman he’s with, “her eyes / Those hips / And that ass / Don’t compare at all” to the eyes, hips, and ass he lost. Even Miguel’s obligatory rapper guest, J. Cole, can’t shake the ennui of his own recent loss: “I hit the club when you left me thinking that could heal,” he tells his “ol’ girl.” “Baby girl, who I’m kidding? / Still sick, real shit.” It’s all a little humble-braggy, of course–Cole is quick to note that he’s “got a flock full of dimes” to help mend his broken heart–but the poor guys are so torn up you can’t help but feel a little sorry for them.
6. The Rolling Stones: “Turd on the Run”
(from Exile on Main St., 1972)
The other side of the immediate post-breakup coin is a sense of resentment that you’ve just wasted months and potentially years of your life on something that wasn’t meant to be. And for that feeling, we have the Rolling Stones, with this underrated dose of bile from their 1972 masterpiece Exile on Main St. Over a frantic Keith Richards riff, Mick Jagger bellows invective to the woman who scorned him: “Tie your hands, tie your feet, throw you to the sharks / Make you sweat, make you scream, make you wish you’d never been / I lost a lot of love over you.” It may not be healthy to dwell on such feelings for long, but it sure can be empowering when the only alternative is feeling sorry for yourself.
7. Michael McDonald: “I Keep Forgettin'”
(from If That’s What It Takes, 1982)
Few artists are as intimately familiar with the machinations of love and loss as blue-eyed soul’s resident Silver Fox, Michael McDonald; for proof, just watch this actual photographic record of his breakup with the love of his life, Patti LaBelle. But four years before he and Patti left to occupy separate halves of a split-screen, there was “I Keep Forgettin'”: a song about the pain of trying to stay friends with someone you used to (and probably still) love, with a bass groove by Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson so funky that it probably hasn’t left your head since Warren G. sampled it in 1994.
8. Marvin Gaye: “Is That Enough?”
(from Here, My Dear, 1978)
Breakup songs, in all honesty, are a dime a dozen; songs specifically about divorce are a much rarer beast. But leave it to Marvin Gaye, one of R&B’s most perennially troubled souls, to give us a whole (double!) album about the severage of his marriage with Anna Gordy, 1978’s Here, My Dear. On “Is That Enough?”, an eight-minute-long musical monologue recorded hours after Gaye returned from a day in divorce court, he goes in on Gordy: calling her “possessive,” “jealous,” and overly enamored of “that expensive stuff,” before finally bemoaning the more mundane fact that he’s stuck paying “my baby’s attorney fees.” It would be damning “Is That Enough?” with faint praise to say that its stream-of-consciousness rant disguised as a slow jam neatly predicted the rise of R. Kelly. So instead, let’s just say that Marvin gave voice to a whole lot of frustrated ex-husbands, for better or worse.
9. Oblivians: “Sunday You Need Love”
(from Soul Food, 1995)
A detached, neurotic meditation on the fleeting nature of romance, “Sunday You Need Love Monday Be Alone” was originally recorded in 1981 by the German New Wave band Trio (they of “Da Da Da” fame). But for my money, at least, it never really reached its potential until this blistering cover by Memphis garage-punks the Oblivians, with the tempo jacked up to a deranged gallop and singer Greg Oblivian (née Cartwright) putting his customary throat-shredding howl to good use. This song perfectly captures the punch-drunk feeling that comes when a relationship ends seemingly a matter of moments after it began.
10. Cameo: “Don’t Be Lonely”
(from Word Up!, 1986)
Truly, there’s a Cameo song for every occasion; whether you’re enjoying the single life or binging on
cocaine candy, Larry Blackmon and company have you covered. So of course, there’s a Cameo song for recovering from heartbreak: “Don’t Be Lonely,” in which Blackmon offers some “real strong advice” to a former lover trying to make her way back into his life. Granted, that advice is basically just a longer version of the song’s title–“Don’t be lonely / You’re not the only one who feels the way you do / Don’t be lonely / You’re not the only one whose heart been broken too”–but hey, sometimes the best advice is the most obvious advice.
11. KISS: “Sure Know Something”
(from Dynasty, 1979)
Serious songs by KISS are always a tricky proposition; it’s a lot harder to reconcile the fact that you’re listening to a song by four shirtless men in mime makeup when they’re ostensibly trying to bare their souls to you. But we can’t help but love “Sure Know Something”: a power ballad from the band’s short-lived disco phase, it’s one of the few successful attempts by frontman Paul Stanley to show his sensitive side. Just try not to picture him singing it.
12. T. Rex: “The Soul of My Suit”
(from Dandy in the Underworld, 1977)
If you’re looking for something as prosaic as a breakup song, then Marc Bolan normally wouldn’t be your guy; he’s more of the Lewis Carrollian psychedelic doggerel type. But one significant exception to the rule is “The Soul of My Suit”: a disarmingly heartfelt cut from his final album, 1977’s Dandy in the Underworld, in which Bolan mourns the end of his marriage to his wife of seven years, June Child–due, it’s worth noting, to his own affair with soul singer Gloria Jones–and protests that he’s “not such a bad boy.” Of course, he also devotes a whole verse to the lines, “Rock and rolled it, even strolled it, baby / Rock and rolled it, yeah”; this is a T. Rex song, after all. But still, there are some real feelings here!
13. Del the Funky Homosapien: “Love is Worth”
(from Future Development, 1997)
Okay, so “Love is Worth” isn’t really a “breakup” track, per se, but it does contain some solid advice that might help you through a breakup in real life: imploring us, as the title suggests, to “know what [our] love is worth,” and reminding us not to “get fucked in the end / If someone’s a lost cause, they’ll be summoned up to start again.” With all the songs out there about raging against the end of a relationship, it’s actually refreshing to hear someone admit it wasn’t meant to be in the first place. So next time you’re on the rebound, you could do a lot worse than to keep Del the Funky Homosapien‘s words in mind; they just might help you dodge another bullet or two.
14. Badfinger: “In the Meantime/Some Other Time”
(from Wish You Were Here, 1975)
Like I said the last time one of their songs ended up in a Dystopian Dance Mix, Badfinger is the only group I can think of in which not just one, but two separate members committed suicide by hanging; so you’d think that a breakup song by them would be the darkest on the whole playlist. But “In the Meantime/ Some Other Time,” from their 1975 album Wish You Were Here, is surprisingly hopeful: acknowledging the fact that as painful as a breakup can be, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. “Somehow we lost it, drifted apart / It really took a piece of my heart,” co-writer Mike Gibbins sings, before drying his eyes and moving forward: “I could believe in, love has a reason for holdin’ on.” The Badfinger story might be a sad one, but their music always had a glimmer of optimism.
There comes a moment in every dysfunctional relationship when one or both parties see through the proverbial Matrix and realize they’re stuck in a feedback loop; or, as Prince puts it, “Isn’t it a shame this ain’t a movie / When u could rewrite my every line?” “Strange Relationship” masterfully encapsulates that moment when the veil of romance drops, revealing the naked power struggle beneath. It’s also as confessional a song as the singer ever allowed himself, the notorious control freak looking at the wreckage of one of his many love affairs and admitting culpability: “I didn’t like the way u were,” he sings with chilling detachment, “so I had 2 make u mine.” Unfortunately, I can’t share the original version of this very personal song, because Prince hates us and doesn’t want us to be happy. So instead, we’ll just have to make do with this faithful cover version by Houston pop-funk artist De Holley, featuring none other than Dr. Fink of the Revolution on keys. There are worse consolation prizes, I suppose.
16. Kate Bush: “You’re the One”
(from The Red Shoes, 1993)
Speaking 0f Prince, is it me or is Kate Bush kind of channeling His Royal Badness with this fragile, soulful performance? The closing track on Bush’s 1993 album The Red Shoes, “You’re the One” finds the singer trying to hold it together in the wake of her breakup with longtime partner and still-frequent collaborator Del Palmer. “It’s alright, I’ll come ’round when you’re not in,” she sings in a one-sided dialogue with her ex, “And I’ll pick up all my things / Everything I have bought with you / But that’s alright too / It’s just everything I do / We did together / And there’s a little piece of you / In whatever.” The lyrics are affecting in large part because they are so everyday–and, also, because it’s clear that despite her protests, Bush hasn’t gotten over it. Who among us can’t relate?
17. The Dirtbombs: “Stop”
(from Dangerous Magical Noise, 2003)
This one’s kind of a sentimental choice. Detroit garage-punks the Dirtbombs were in heavy rotation each of the many times I thought I was breaking up with my college girlfriend: partly because they were a band we shared together, and partly because frontman Mick Collins genuinely has a way with cathartic power-pop hooks. That aforementioned girlfriend and I broke up for good almost a decade ago, but I’ll still play the shit out of the Dirtbombs’ gloriously melodramatic “Stop” whenever it comes up on my shuffle: something about a guitarist, two drummers, and two bass players wailing in unison on those staccato chords in the intro never fails to exorcise the bad feelings from my system.
18. Trina: “Single Again”
(from Still da Baddest, 2008)
But maybe we’ve been focusing too much on the negative. The silver lining of a breakup, however painful, is that it leaves you free to do whatever (and whomever) you want. It also allows you to take stock of your individual qualities and build up your ego, like Miami rapper Trina does in her uncharacteristically vulnerable song “Single Again”: “My ass still fat / They still checking for me / And never will you find another bitch like me.” So, if you’re single on this day after Valentine’s Day, why not take a page out of Trina’s book and relish the opportunity? Be your own baddest bitch. And who knows; maybe by next year, you’ll have found someone who appreciates your fat ass the way he or she should. Doesn’t everyone deserve that much?
Editor's Note: As I've mentioned in the past, our Dystopian Dance Mix series was inspired by shamelessly ripped off from a...