22 of the Best Break-Up Songs

Music Lists

Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Zooey Deschanel and Ben Gibbard. Kim Kardashian and that really tall sports dude. It seems like there’s been a slew of celebrity splits lately, with couples who have been together for decades (see Kim and Thurston) calling it quits as well as unions that lasted mere months (you know who) going up in flames.

Break-ups are a pretty universal theme in music, whether the songs are quiet, woe-is-me tales of heartbreak or uptempo kiss-offs to those who did us wrong. To help ease the pain of these recent failed celebrity marriages (we know all you guys are really broken up about Zooey), we’ve compiled a list of 22 of our favorite break-up songs. Hey, 50 more and we’d have one for every day of the Kardashian marriage!

22. The Vaccines — “Post Break-Up Sex”
To think I hoped you’d be OK / Now I can’t think of what to say
Maybe I misunderstood / But I can’t believe you’re feeling good

A catchy track from this year’s What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? that highlights the time after a split when we’re on the prowl for a rebound.

21. Fleetwood Mac — “Go Your Own Way”
Loving you / Isn’t the right thing to do

By now, we all know about the break-ups that fueled Rumours—John and Christine McVie’s divorce, and of course Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks’ volatile relationship. Many of the album’s tracks follow the theme, but it’s “Go Your Own Way” (which Buckingham penned about Nicks) that became a classic.

20. Cee Lo — “Fuck You”
If I was richer, I’d still be with ya / Now ain’t that some shit?
And although there’s pain in my chest / I still wish you the best with a “fuck you”

A middle finger to a gold digger who took off proves that break-up songs can also be hilarious.

19. Ben Folds Five — “Song for the Dumped”
Wish I hadn’t bought you dinner / Right before you dumped me on your front porch

After being dumped, Ben Folds would like to be reimbursed for all those wasted dates. Oh, and he really wants that black t-shirt back too.

18. Man Man — “Shameless”
You wish to demystify / Our electricity
And claim the charge between our hearts / Is just illusionary

“Hey now, what do you do when you’re trying to shake the bad in you?” frontman Honus Honus asks on this Life Fantastic cut. It’s a question for the ages, we suppose, but listening to Man Man is never a bad start.

17. Rilo Kiley — “Breakin’ Up”
Here’s to all the pretty words / We will never speak
Here’s to all the pretty girls / You’re gonna meet

Sometimes things just don’t work out, and on this track, Jenny Lewis reminds us that breaking up isn’t always the end of the world. Listen to it on repeat to console yourself about the band’s fairly recent split.

16. Alanis Morissette — “You Oughta Know”
And I’m here to remind you of the mess you left when you went away
It’s not fair to deny me of the cross I bear that you gave to me

A break-up anthem so iconic it’s become a bit of a cliche. Sure, legions of heartbroken ladies sing this at karaoke every Friday night, but we’re 100 percent onboard with any song that tells Dave Coulier (whose break-up with Morissette inspired the track) to cut it out.

15. Arcade Fire — “Crown of Love”
If you still want me, please forgive me, the crown of love is fallen from me.
If you still want me, please forgive me, because the spark is not within me.

A soaring track about struggling to get over any residual feelings you have for an ex-flame.

14. Amy Winehouse — “Tears Dry on Their Own”
He walks away / The sun goes down
He takes the day but I’m gone
And in your way in this blue shade / My tears dry on their own

In which Amy blames no one but herself for a failed relationship and reminds herself that she’ll make it on her own.

13. The Black Keys, “Next Girl”
Oh, my next girl / Will be nothing like my ex-girl
I made mistakes back then / I’ll never do it again

What do you do when you’re trying to get over your ex? If you’re Dan Auerbach, you simply turn your bluesy attentions to the next one.

12. Sinead O’Connor — “Nothing Compares 2 U”
It’s been seven hours and 15 days / since you took your love away

Is this Prince-penned classic a little bit melodramatic and overwrought? Maybe. But guess what? So is breaking up.

11. Stars — “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”
God that was strange to see you again / Introduced by a friend of a friend
Smiled and said ‘yes I think we’ve met before’

Torquil Campell waxes poetic on that awkward moment of running into a former flame on this gorgeous Set Yourself On Fire track.

10. Etta James — “I’d Rather Go Blind”
Something told me it was over / When I saw you and her talking
Something deep down in my soul said cry, girl / When I saw you and that girl walking around

The pain in James’s voice as she realizes her man’s been messing around is arresting. We also highly recommend this stunning live version with Dr. John.

9. Joy Division — “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
Why is the bedroom so cold? / Turned away on your side
Is my timing that flawed? / Our respect run so dry?

This song reflects the marital problems between lead singer Ian Curtis and his wife Deborah leading up to his tragic suicide. Deborah had the title carved onto Ian’s tombstone.

8. Sam Cooke, “Bring It On Home to Me”
If you ever change your mind / about leavin’, leavin’ me behind
Oh, oh, bring it to me / bring your sweet lovin’
Bring it on home to me

Cooke’s just not ready to let go of his ex on this track, as he pleads for her to reconsider leaving.

7. Elvis Costello, “Indoor Fireworks”
You were the spice of life, the gin in my vermouth
And though the sparks would fly, I thought our love was fireproof

Costello’s clever wordplay’s on full display here as he reminds us that often relationships break down quietly and privately and that “indoor fireworks can still burn your fingers.”

6. Patsy Cline — “I Fall To Pieces”
_You want me to act like we never kissed
You want me to forget, pretend like we’ve never met
And I’ve tried and I’ve tried but I haven’t yet
You walk by, and I fall to pieces_

Brokenhearted country fans have cried into their beer for years over this timeless classic about running into your ex.

5. Bon Iver — “Skinny Love”
Now all your love is wasted? / Then who the hell was I?

By now, For Emma, Forever Ago is the stuff of indie legend, proving that sometimes when a girl breaks your heart, you just need to hole yourself up in a cabin and write one of the best albums of the decade.

4. The Band — “It Makes No Difference”
It makes no difference where I turn
I can’t get over you and the flame still burns

The theme of this Northern Lights – Southern Cross track is nothing particularly new or groundbreaking (rainy skies, love lost, etc.), but the sheer emotion in Rick Danko’s voice makes this one a must for anyone hung up on the one who got away.

3. Wilco — “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”
I’d always thought that if I held you tightly / you’d always love me like you did back then
Then I fell asleep and the city kept blinking / what was I thinking when I let you back in?

Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics are notoriously difficult to decipher, but anyone with a heart can glean some meaning from our all-time favorite Wilco song.

2. Otis Redding — “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”
With you my life has been so wonderful / I can’t stop now

This song also made our list of wedding dance songs, but it’s actually not such a happy track: Otis pleads for his lady to stay after she’s decided to bail.

1. Bob Dylan — “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”
Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try to make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway
So don’t think twice, it’s alright

Dylan’s parting shot to girlfriend Suze Rotolo is everything you want a break-up song to be: gorgeous and comforting with just a hint of passive aggression. Sometimes things don’t work out; bust out those Bob Dylan records, and don’t give it a second thought.

Share Tweet Submit Pin