Idolator’s Top Five Breakup Songs: Guaranteed To Be “I Will Survive”-Free

Dec 7th, 2007 // 43 Comments recently compiled a list of their top ten breakup songs, including the not-really-about-a-break-up “No Woman, No Cry,” “Achy Breaky Heart,” the freaking Cake cover of “I Will Survive,” and the heinous “I (Just) Died in Your Arms” by Cutting Crew. They had the decency to put “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac at No. 2, but most of the list is pretty dreary–even for breakup songs! So I thought I’d make my own.

5. “Full Color Love Affair” by The Shimmer Kids Underpop Association

Why: A mellow song about the not-so-mellow experience of being dumped for another person. It perfectly captures the beaten-down tone of self-loathing and hatred that accompanies this experience.
Key lyrics: “When I saw you in the library, well then I knew that it was all over, ’cause he was showing you that book by e.e. cummings. And I had on my favorite shirt, but it didn’t seem to make a difference ’cause all the poetry in Paris will never hide my shortcomings. And if our paths cross in a little while, if I should see you at a party, maybe you’ll apologize…but you’ll still be a bitch.”

4. “Recommendation” by Mirah

Why: This is a good one for the defiant, I-am-so-getting-over-you-but-I-still-want-you stage of a breakup. It’s a brilliantly compact song about things that you can only write down in letters and the agony of an uncertain ending drawn out by tense long-distance correspondence. In the end Mirah decides that she’s doing “Fine. Just fine.”
Key lyrics: “You drove so far, but now you know how rough it is to let me go. Let me recommend that you think twice, and I always give the best advice.”

3. “True Affection” by The Blow

Why: A perfect expression of that painful sense that you’re drifting out of each other’s leagues. As always, The Blow combines heartfelt vocals with electronic blips to great effect. There’s such a sadness to this song in its recognition of how sometimes genuine affection isn’t enough.
Key lyrics: “True affection floats. True affection sinks like a stone. I never felt so close. I never felt so all alone.”

2. “I Don’t Want to Get Over You” by The Magnetic Fields

Why: Perhaps the most miserable and pathetic breakup emotion is the terrible knowledge that you’re not ready for the person to leave your life, despite the fact that they’re clearly moving on. This one just comes out and says it: I’m not ready for this, I don’t want anyone else, I feel like sulking around and smoking clove cigarettes, etc. Stephin Merritt’s sad, dead vocals are basically the sound of being dumped.
Key lyrics:” I could make a career of being blue, I could dress in black and read Camus, smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth like I was 17. That would be a scream, but I don’t want to get over you.”

1. “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

Why: So this is pretty obvious. It’s kind of the go-to song for major life changes, but there’s a reason why it’s so popular among the depressed and broken-hearted. Stevie Nicks is at once vulnerable, honest, and willing to acknowledge that things have to change, though not without some hesitation. Everything about it is perfect for post-breakup sadness.
Key lyrics: “I’ve been afraid of changing ’cause I’ve built my life around you.”


  1. Maura Johnston

    i would also add ‘anything by the afghan whigs, especially their cover of ‘band of gold.’ ‘

  2. K-milo

    “Fuel My Fire”… The Prodigy cover is OK but the L7 original version is great. ‘Cause only girls can sign great breakup songs…

  3. futurehorse

    I’m going to appeal to Idolator’s non-existent Wenner-loving crowd and say “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” has always been a personal favorite. Or, you know, anything by the Field Mice.

  4. Rob Murphy

    “Back To Black”…

    And I stand my ground!

  5. JobCain


    Oh, Neil.

  6. Ted Striker

    No “Song For The Dumped”? Folds made a couple of doozies that fit this category, but for spunky vitriol, that one’s hard to beat.

  7. okiedoke

    “Love Stinks”.

    And nobody wants to believe it. Especially me.

  8. Jack Fear

    I’m not a big fan of either anger or snivelling in breakup songs-I gravitate towards the wistful resignation. Pick to click has gotta be “Days,” by the Kinks, or, if I’m in a pop-classicist mood, “Thanks For The Memories.”

  9. bcapirigi

    right on, person that said no distance left to run.
    also, no children is okay but i hate whatsisface’s voice so i’d nominate the kiki and herb version.
    and, depending on the nature of the breakup, restraint by the frank and walters and goodbye goodguy by frente!. or maybe good woman by cat power.
    i’ll have to break out my breakup mixes to see if there’s more. (although the last one i made started out with fire island by the village people.)

  10. Anonymous

    How about “I Didn’t Understand” by Elliott Smith (and certainly other acidic kiss-offs from him that I can’t remember right now) and the very similarly titled “I Don’t Understand” by Low?

  11. Feh Am Legend

    I can’t even bring myself to look at that askMen link – come on, Achy Breaky Heart? That’s a wedding dance not something you want to hear when you’re distraught.

    Nice way to counter the drivel, team idolator. I hope someone is feeding this into their playlist and will be ready when the inevitable happens.

    @Ted Striker: Exactly – for when you begin to move to the anger stage. I’ll add: Sugar’s “Explode and Make Up”. And “He Cleaned Up” by Scrawl.

  12. Prada James

    “prayer to god” by shellac. come on, people.

  13. stephenbush

    @maura: Yes, the Afghan Whigs! There are too many breakup songs to count in their catalog, and “Band of Gold” is a great suggestion. A good number of songs from Gentlemen and Black Love would qualify as well.

    My own pick would be “Broken Heart” by Spiritualized, though a number of Ladies and Gentlemen songs are worthy: “All of My Thoughts,” “Stay with Me,” “Cool Waves” and probably a couple others. The whole album has a sort of resigned, melancholy feel to it that’s just perfect for breakups.

  14. Jfrankparnell

    Seconding “Don’t Wanna Know If you Are Lonely” by HD.
    And my breakup DJ set would be:

    “Dance Away” – Roxy Music
    “If There’s No Hope For Us – Arab Strap
    Jay Reatard – “Fading All Away” (“Time/may heal wounds but I / will kill you slowly”)
    “Train From Kansas City” – Shangri Las
    “Don’t Destroy this Night” – Rockateens
    “Just a Friend” – Biz Markie
    “You Hurt Me” – Little Willie John
    “Goodby Lucille #1″ Prefab Sprout
    “I’m Back to Women” -The Frogs
    “Don’t Forget Me” Harry Nilsson
    “In California” (cover by) Neko Case

    and on and on

  15. noamjamski

    Some people already called my two favorites, Shellac’s Prayer to God and Spiritualized’s Broken Heart.

    I would also add:

    Leonard Cohen: Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye
    Dinosaur Jr.: Freak Scene
    and a double shot of Todd Ashley:
    Firewater: When I Burn this Place Down
    Cop Shoot Cop: Lullaby “and then I think of her/I feel like furniture”

  16. enriquez the water bottle

    I want to say “No Children” by the Mountain Goats, though technically that’s really more of a “look upon the smoldering wreckage of our 30-year marriage” song than a breakup song.

    It’s still one of the bitterest songs ever.

  17. ninety_nine

    I kept returning to relationship with a woman because we took so much pleasure in making break up tapes for each other. I used to miss that, then I found the Mendoza Line.

    Spanning my romantic history:

    “Answering Maching”, ‘Mats
    “Start a War”, The National

  18. mhulot

    How about “Dry”? I guess it, y’know, only makes sense for the ladies, but is it at all possible to conceive of a better kissoff than that?

  19. matthew

    The one bad thing about having been in my current relationship for about three years has been that I haven’t been able to make a good break-up mix for a long, long time. If it ever comes to that, though, “Woke Up New”, by The Mountain Goats, will definitely be making an appearance.

    Also, in the cheesier, less hip category:
    “I Just Don’t Think I’ll EVer Get Over You”, Colin Hay
    “Lua”, Bright Eyes
    And some Brand New, just for that angry semi-misogyny that always tinges a break-up

  20. KingCool

    I would nominate the Cure’s “Pictures of You” and Nazareth’s “Love Hurts”

    Also, Alkaline Trio’s “I Lied My Face Off”, “My Friend Peter”, and “Dethbed”

  21. Kate Richardson

    @matthew: I actually received “Woke Up New” on a breakup mix, and as a result I am unable to listen to it casually. Kind of sucks!

  22. Kate Richardson

    @drjimmy11: I forgot about “Make War.” In addition to being an excellent breakup song it’s also just a damn decent song in general. I definitely recommend it to all Bright Eyes detractors.

  23. jetblackturd

    ‘Rid of Me’ by PJ Harvey and ‘Don’t Want to Know if You Are Lonely’ by Husker Du. And ‘No Distance Left to Run’ by Blur.

  24. drjimmy11

    Seconding “Song for the Dumped.”
    Bright Eyes: “Make War”
    Jon Entwistle “I Feel better”
    Anything by Leonard Cohen.

  25. Nunya B

    “True Affection” is the most gimmicky song in the entire world. Ooh, white Portland woman + Laffy Taffy! How blatantly pandering to hipster trash.

    Besides which, I am a classicist. Any breakup song list without Liz and PJ is not a list at all.

  26. Stafford

    I’m normally more piss and vinegar in these situations so I’m gonna have to go with “Who Needs You” by Rocket From the Crypt.

  27. Anonymous

    Here’s one that gets me every time: Love Ridden by Fiona Apple. “No not baby anymore/if I need you I’ll just use your simple name./Only kisses on the cheek from now on/and in a little while we’ll only have to wave.” Simultaneously crushed, resigned, world-weary and realistic.

  28. jetblackturd

    @futurehorse: Non existent? I discovered that Rolling Stone reality show through Idoleater! Didn’t actually watch it, mind.

    Honey, what about ‘Diamonds and Rust?’ ‘Your eyes were bluer than robin’s eggs…’ Crikey!

  29. Dancomono

    If you can leave a heart-wrenching relationship and listen to “Happy” by the Wrens without putting it on repeat and locking yourself in the room with old pictures and kleenex for a week, I’m impressed.

  30. Tracer Hand

    * “Heard It All Before” by Sunshine Anderson

  31. Anonymous

    My breakup favorites include: Damien Rice’s “Rootless Tree”, Pete Yorn’s “Lose You”, Snow Patrol’s “You Could Be Happy”, Brendan Benson’s “Cold Hands (Warm Heart)” and Wilco’s “Hate It Here.”

  32. FunkyJ

    Wise Up Sucker! by Pop Will Eat Itself.

  33. Josh Mock

    Thank God. I’m not the only one that can’t stand that Cake song.

    As for songs that actually belong on the list, I might lose some Idolator cred here, but He Is Legend’s song Dixie Wolf (The Seduction of…) has been good to me.

  34. FionaScrapple

    “I Know” by Fiona Apple. Makes me cry every time.

  35. mike a

    Fortunately I have not had to deal with a breakup in a long time. From past experience, though, you want music that a) allows you to wallow in depression while b) articulately and bitterly points out the logical flaws in your ex-partner’s breakup rationales – thus c) motivating you to get on with your life. It’s important that the song have some wit and self-control about it, not be too self-pitying and pathetic, which is one reason American Music Club doesn’t really work after the first week or two.

    So it’s got to be Stephin Merritt. He alone has dozens of songs that fit that bill – “I Don’t Want To Get Over You,” yes, but also “I’ve Got New York,” “I’m Lonely (And I Love It),” “Long Vermont Roads,” “Dream Hat,” “You Can’t Break A Broken Heart,” et al. His songs also have the benefit of mostly being gender-neutral (or at least ambiguous), meaning everyone can benefit equally.

    But in the end, it’s down to whatever works. I know someone in college who sought post-breakup solace in GG Allin & The Holy Men’s You Give Love A Bad Name – which was way more than I needed to know about this friend, but it seemed to do the trick.

  36. amyk

    Can I triple anything by the Whigs, when i’m pissed i’m partial to ‘You My Flower’.
    I just discovered the lyrics to Guillemot’s ‘Who Left The Lights On, Baby’, damn that’s pretty evil.
    Any Lloyd Cole.
    Any Leonard Cohen.
    Any Elliot Smith (especially ‘Twilight’).
    Superchunk’s, ‘I Guess I Remembered It Wrong’
    Sebadoh’s ‘Beautiful Friend’
    Leona Naess’, ‘He’s Gone’ (it has the bonus of making you laugh at Ryan Adams), actually most of that album is a fuck you to Ryan Adams.

  37. Anonymous

    OK, I have to be pretentious, but the two bestest breakup songs ever are Backwards Glance by Curve and Your Fight by Skunk Anansie, but only if you are the one doing the breaking up. In fact, pretty much any song by either of these two bands should do the trick.

  38. Anonymous

    “landslide” is about cocaine, ain’t it? so. it really only applies if you’re talking about breaking up with a substance, not a person.
    harum scarum’s “kiss of death” is a good one. but seriously, best one? “when u were there”, by prince, covered by crooked fingers.

  39. Jfrankparnell

    Oh wait. A breakup album so painful it almost can’t be listened to unless you’re happily married: Bubble and Scrape by Sebadoh.

  40. disinterested 3rd party

    “She’s Got You” by Patsy Cline. Well, really anything by Patsy Cline will do, but “She’s Got You” really rips your heart out.

  41. Anonymous

    “I Hope You’re Happy Now” by Elvis Costello, off Blood and Chocolate. One of the best you-dumped-me-you-heartless-[insert appropriate term here]-well-screw-you-then songs ever.

  42. Excellent read, I must say. You’ve researched the topic very well :)

  43. I am moved beyond tears at the sheer brilliancy of this blog. Thank you.

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