Valentine’s Day isn’t for everyone. It’s a tricky game, love, and for the anyone suffering from or bracing themselves for heartache, here’s 50 of our favourites from (mostly) the world of indie.
‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ – Joy Division: Not just one of the best break-up songs, but one of the best songs full stop (it finished second in NME's top 500 songs of all time list earlier this year). Salford’s gloomiest sons nail the desperation and pain of a crumbling relationship and the sad realisation that, it doesn't matter how much you love someone: sometimes love isn't enough.
‘I’m Goin’ Down’ – Bruce Springsteen: Taken from 1984’s ‘Born In The USA’, ‘I’m Goin’ Down’ is Springsteen’s jumped-up ode to the dying embers of a love affair, totally zapped of its passion. Not The Boss' only song devoted to heartache, but this one's the pick of the bunch.
‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ – ABBA: “Breaking up is never easy, I know,” sang pop’s sagest Swedes on this, one of their saddest songs. Despite the maudlin vibes, it’s still a massive banger.
‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ – Bob Dylan: Zimmerman brings a healthy dose of poetry – as well as forgiveness – to the break-up song, with this plaintive acoustic strummer. “You’re the reason I’m a-travelling on/Don’t think twice, it’s alright,” he croons.
‘50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ – Paul Simon: Paul Simon ums and ahs about how best to leave one partner for another in this classic. He’s offered a number of suggestions: “You just slip out the back, Jack/
Make a new plan, Stan,” being two of them.
‘Eyes To The Wind’ – The War on Drugs: “Yeah I’m all alone here/living in darkness,” sang Adam Granduciel on the third, overwhelmingly sad War on Drugs album, ‘Lost In The Dream’. He’s now dating Krysten Ritter – Jane from Breaking Bad – so we expect he’s over it.
‘Tangled Up In Blue’ – Bob Dylan: Ah, Mr Dylan, we meet again… This ‘Blood on the Tracks’ cut sees Bob trekking across the States and meeting the love of his life and then loosing her. Twice. Which is terribly careless if you ask us.
‘Dry Your Eyes’ - The Streets: Proof that Mike Skinner, the ultimate post-millennial lad, had a heart too. ‘Dry Your Eyes’ encapsulated the very moment of the break-up, an emotional open wound. “World feels like it’s caved in,” he uttered, before a friend attempts to console him.
‘Maps’ – Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Written as a love song, there’s still something unnerving about Karen O’s most emotional moment. “Wait! They don’t love you like I love you,” she croons, like she’s desperately trying to stop her beloved from walking out on her.
‘Switch’ – TLC: Of course TLC tell it how it is. A inordinately sassy guide on what to do if your man starts messing you around. “Erase/Replace/Embrace, new face,” advises Left Eye.
‘Go Your Own Way’ – Fleetwood Mac: Trust the most incestuous band of all time to write the rulebook on how to behave decently to each other when yet another coupling disintegrates. This Lindsey Buckingham penned tune is pure classic rock wisdom.
‘Stay Together’ – Suede: A first glace this indie classic sounds like a love song, but read it a little different and it’s a man in the last throws of despair, begging his former lover to return. “Come to my arms/I’m lost,” pleads Brett Anderson over the swishing of his satin shirt.
‘Suspicious Minds’ – Elvis: The ultimate song of mistrust, ‘Suspicious Minds’ sees Elvis on the verge of a breakdown, constantly doubting his lover, who he’s pretty sure is doing the dirty on him. Leave her, El, she’s not worth it…
‘Had Me A Girl’ – Tom Waits: Not just one break up, but about 100, this early 1970s Tom Waits tune is a country ballad dedicated to every woman he’d ever ditched. Cute – kinda.
‘Without You’ – Harry Nilsson: The best version of the most heartwrenching break-up song. Nilsson’s 1972 take on the Badfinger tune – later covered by Mariah Carey – is as depressing as it gets, equating death to a particularly bad dumping.
‘Yes’ – McAlmont and Butler: An overwhelmingly joyful take on the aftermath of a break-up, this orchestral shot of glee is all about bumping into an ex at that moment of finally getting over it, looking great and feeling fabulous.
‘Back To Black’ – Amy Winehouse: The queen of the modern break-up song, Amy’s gothic soul shone through on this dark anthem, written for Blake Fielder-Civil, who “kept his dick wet” with an ex-girlfriend. Bleak but beautiful.
Charli XCX - 'Breaking Up': The title says it all, eh? Released complete with music video set in a bowling alley, in terms of knockout pop break-up catharsis, this tune's a strike, pure and simple.
‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ – Marvin Gaye: Marvin Gaye was well aware of the worst way to find out someone’s been cheating on you – through the grapevine. Marvin’s loss however, was Motown’s gain. This song remains one of the very best.
‘Is She Really Going Out With Him’ – Joe Jackson: ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him’ is all about that awful moment when you bump into your ex with their new partner. But to a new wave beat!
‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ – Etta James: Etta James really isn’t into seeing her beau with another lady. In fact, she’s so against it that she’s rather permanently lose the entirety of her vision. We’ve all been there.
‘No Distance Left To Run’ – Blur: Written in the aftermath of his break-up with Elastica’s Justine Frischmann, this is Damon at peak misery. “It’s over/you don’t need to tell me,” he mopes, bringing Britpop’s biggest downer.
‘Far From Me’ – Nick Cave: Nick Cave’s best break-up song is about his split from PJ Harvey. A low-key, piano driven ballad, it documents the course of their relationship with tenderness and wit.
‘What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ - Jimmy Ruffin: The recently passed Jimmy Ruffin showed off one of the best voices in Motown on this achy-breaky hit, which saw him trilling his misery and letting everyone know “happiness is just an illusion”.
‘Recovery’ – Frank Turner: A tribute to the days after the dumping has been done – the ones where you go out, get drunk and try to pretend nothing’s happened, but you’re constantly on the verge of tears.
‘Maggie May’ – Rod Stewart: Rod Stewart doesn’t come across very well in this 1970s classic – essentially because he’s telling the girl he’s dumping that she’s got to go back to school and he’s probably well into his twenties.
‘So Long, Marianne’ – Leonard Cohen: If ever a man was in touch with his emotions, it’s Leonard Cohen. ‘So Long, Marianne’ is his tribute to his lover Marianne Jensen, who he met on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s.
‘Cry Me A River’ – Julie London: This luscious lounge classic is about a lover returning for forgiveness after you’ve already been left heartbroken. Julie London’s stunning vocal makes it unforgettable.
‘I Will Survive’ – Gloria Gaynor: Forget about all the butchered karaoke versions you’ve heard and instead focus on the classic disco original. “I used to cry/but now I hold my head up high,” belts out Gloria on this redemptive party tune.
‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ – Sinead O’Connor: Penned by Prince, it’s no wonder Sinead O’Connor wept her way through the video for this depressing ode, which counts off the minutes and hours since the dumping took place. Focus on something else! Get a hobby!
‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ – Taylor Swift: Taylor turns agony aunt on this no-bullshit pop triumph, letting someone - possibly someone from a popular British boy band with floppy hair and dodgy tats – know that it’s definitely over. Try the Vaccines version for extra indie cred.
‘Blue Monday’ – New Order: If it wasn’t bad enough that Bernard Sumner had just been ditched, now the person who’s done the dumping is telling him how he should feel about it! No manners, some people.
‘Come Pick Me Up’ - Ryan Adams: Taken from 2000’s ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Come Pick Me Up’ sees Ryan mooning over a lost love and all the stupid shit they did. “I wish you would/Come pick me up/Take me out/Fuck me up/Steal my records,” he croons in a thoroughly Dylan-esque fashion.
‘Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray’ – Caitlin Rose: Country music knows heartache well. Caitlin Roses’ version of this Patsy Cline number sees a mystery lady snatching the singer’s lover over the course of a cheeky fag. Miserable.
‘Flume - Bon Iver: Featuring on an album written about an ex in a shed in the middle of the woods, ‘Flume’ was never going to be a happy-go-lucky pop banger. The purest kind of pain, and beautiful for it.
‘Marvin’s Room’ – Drake: Proof that even a man like Drake gets his heart stepped on. Here’s Canada’s finest implores the object of his affections *cough Rihanna cough* to sack off the dude she’s with and come back to his ever-loving arms.
‘Your Love Is Killing Me’ - Sharon Van Etten: Taken from one of the finest albums of 2014, ‘Are We There’, ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’ is some serious shit. “Break my legs so I won't walk to you/Cut my tongue so I can't talk to you,” swoons Sharon about definitely not calling her ex, however much she wants to.
‘We’re Breaking Up’ – Against Me!: Punk pop kids have break-ups too! A sweet-hearted take on the end of an affair, it plainly lays its cards on the table. “What do we have left in common?/Just shared memories of good times long since past,” sings Laura Jane Grace. Guess it’s over then, eh?
‘Gunshot’ - Lykke Li
No-one does danceable gloom quite like Lykke Li. ‘Gunshot’ is a grim but gorgeous explosion of emotion, with our heroine hankering for her ex yet well aware that he did her heart some serious damage.
‘Blue Jeans’ - Lana Del Rey: You’d be a fool not to fancy the punk rock James Dean lookalike Lana’s dreaming about in ‘Blue Jeans’. Well, until the moment he walks out on her in search of money rather than love. Soz Lana.
‘Head’ – Lydia Loveless: Up and coming alt. country singer Lydia Loveless wishes her old lover back in this succulent twanger, in which she says she’ll learn to live without them “but I don’t want to.” Sad times, Lydia.
‘Feel Real’ - Deptford Goth: Peckham's Daniel Woolhouse's stark, chrome spin on R&B is like catnip to the heartbroken. 'Feel Real' captures post-breakup melancholy magificantly.
‘When You Were Mine’ – Cyndi Lauper: Another heartbreaker originally written by Prince, this new wave disco smasher deals with that awful feeling you get when you ditch someone and then realise you fancy them like mad – especially if they’ve got a new special someone.
‘Land Locked Blues’ - Bright Eyes: When Conor Oberst joined forces with Emmylou Harris, somewhere out there Gram Parson nodded his head and gave his blessing from the beyond. A shockingly grown-up break-up song, from a wise-beyond-his-years Bright Eyes.
‘Good Woman’ - Cat Power: A terribly polite dumping song, Cat Power’s bluesy jangle explains how, in order to say a ‘good woman’ and for her chap to be a ‘good man’, they’re going to have to split, presumably because they’re both already spoken for.
‘The French Inhaler’ – Warren Zevon: Rumoured to be based on Zevon’s first wife, this is one hell of a mean parting shot, painting the lady in question as a promiscuous drunk who ultimately ends up alone. How’s that for a divorce settlement?
‘Someone Like You’ – Adele: Well, it wouldn’t be a break-up list with some Adele, would it? If you’re one of the millions upon millions of people to own this record you’ll know exactly what it’s about, and you’ll probably be able to belt out a window-shattering version too. Well done you.
‘Heart of Glass’ – Blondie: Dumping someone doesn’t have to be sad, it can also be rather satisfying, especially if they’re the kind of ‘pain in the ass’ that Debbie Harry has had to deal with in her time.
‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ – Dusty Springfield: Dusty’s so heartbroken she can’t even go to Sainsbury’s to pick up dinner without weeping. Try the White Stripes version for a rough-around-the-edges take on this particular tragedy of the heart.
‘Cry Me A River’ – Justin Timberlake: JT’s tribute to his former partner in triple denim crime, Britney Spears. A break-up song crossed with a revenge ballad, it's a classic.