Not into all this lovey-dovey stuff? Don't worry, we've got just the playlist for you!
Alanis Morissette – ‘You Oughta Know’
Alanis is NOT playing. The Canadian’s first major single from Jagged Little Pill is savage, acid-tongued and unfiltered, in all the best ways. Anger is usually the second stage of grief, but Alanis just skips right to it and sets up camp. The best lines don’t bear repeating but the glee in their delivery has made this an exhilarating anthem for the dumped.
The Mountain Goats – ‘No Children’
“I hope you die. I hope we both die.” ‘No Children’ is the epitome of an anti-love song and probably the most unsparing depiction of divorce ever written. Realising the inevitable is coming, the narrator and his partner lean into the hate, despair and hopelessness of their situation, deliberately alienating their few remaining friends, embracing the pain and vowing to go down “hand in unlovable hand”.
Del Amitri – ‘In The Meantime’
‘In The Meantime’ is the regretful, resigned counterpart to the vitriol of ‘No Children’. Justin Currie’s narrator wonders whether this end point is freedom or catastrophe and begins to doubt whether he even knows what love means. You can read the refrain “Living in the meantime until we find somebody new” as a glimmer of hope or as an acknowledgement that they’re both doomed to just go through the same thing all over again with someone else.
The Shins – ‘Gone For Good’
We’ve all had relationships that dragged on much longer than they should have. On ‘Gone For Good’ (off The Shins’ brilliant second album Chutes Too Narrow), James Mercer acknowledges exactly this, singing: “It took me all of a year/To put the poison pill to your ear/But now I stand on honest ground.” Eventually, realisation dawns, the sun shines through the clouds and the road beckons. ‘Gone For Good’ is a determined and resolute brush off, a definite line drawn just a little too late.
Joni Mitchell – ‘Both Sides, Now’
Mitchell’s song is innocence lost. As clouds once appeared like “ice cream castles in the air”, eventually they just become premonitions of bad weather. Every warning sign ignored or painted into something wonderful, love loses its excitement and promise, devolving into heartbreak and pain. The song has taken on an extra dimension of sadness after its use in the best (and most painful) scene in Love Actually.
Damien Jurado – ‘What Were The Chances’
It’s rare to get through a whole Damien Jurado gig without seeing someone in floods of tears, such is the Portland singer’s talent for soul-crushing heartbreakers. ‘What Were The Chances’, with its tale of a doomed affair, is one of his saddest. The narrator tries in vain to convince his married beloved that they’re not doing anything wrong (“We’re only meeting in hotel rooms and not your home”) and tries to get her to indulge in his fantasies of a life together (“Would you change your last name to mine?”). The desperate realisation in the line “Do not leave me dancing alone, pick up the phone” is almost too much to bear.
Death Cab For Cutie – ‘What Sarah Said’
“Love is watching someone die.” Ben Gibbard cuts right to the bleakest aspect of relationships, the idea that staying together means one of you will have to watch the other one die. You could view it as a positive, the knowledge that one of you will have the other there as you go into the dark (to paraphrase another DCFC song), or you can view it as an excellent reason to stay single forever.
Bob Dylan – ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’
Dylan has mastered the art of the bitter fare thee well, but nothing tops this broken-hearted goodbye to Suze Rotolo as she leaves him to follow her dreams to Europe. She asks repeatedly if there’s anything nice he’d like from her travels (“something fine made of silver or of golden”), but he keeps insisting that all he wants is her return. As the song wears on – and he realises she’s not coming back – he accepts defeat and opts for a really nice pair of boots instead.
The Rolling Stones – ‘Dead Flowers’
Love doesn’t even factor into The Stones’ kiss off to an upwardly mobile lover. This thorny and resentful country ballad sneers at her new fancy life as the narrator wallows in squalor and addiction. It’s easy to see through the veneer of reverse snobbery, but you can imagine that while he’ll stick to his promise of roses on her grave, she’ll have long since forgotten his name.
Bruce Springsteen – ‘Spare Parts’
You could pick almost any song off Springsteen’s Tunnel Of Love album, but ‘Spare Parts’ is especially nihilistic when it comes to love. Just that opening line alone “Bobby said he’d pull out, Bobby stayed in” is a warning that we’re very far from ‘Thunder Road’. Bobby leaves Jane high, dry and very pregnant, contemplating putting her baby in the river to carry all her troubles away. In the end, she resolves to rely on nobody but herself, selling the wedding dress and ring she never wore and walking out with the one thing that matters: “cold hard cash”.
R.E.M. – ‘The One I Love’
R.E.M.’s first big hit is up there with Born In The USA and White Wedding in the pantheon of songs that remain misunderstood because of their titles. The One I Love is an almost callous anti-love song to a former partner, dismissing them as nothing more than “a simple prop to occupy my time”. Ouch.
The Natvral – ‘New Year’s Night‘
The Natvral’s Kip Berman (formerly of fantastic shoegazers The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart) described this song to Stereogum as “That moment when you’re sharing a cab on New Year’s and both of you are making it clear: two stops. That sentiment is rife throughout the song, as both parties already regret the steps that led them to press their “dry lips” together in the back seat. Both would much rather be with someone else and both will only ever look back on that brief moment and shudder.
Carly Rae Jepsen – ‘Boy Problems’
Whatever the state of your love game, from spontaneously cool and confident to, uh oh, affection overkill, Carly Rae Jepsen’s been there too. On the glossy, electro-funk bop ‘Boy Problems’ (from 2015’s Emotion, one of the most frequently overlooked pop albums of the last ten years), the Canadian singer lets it all go: “I think I broke up with my boyfriend today / And I don’t really care / I’ve got worse problems”. Only three songs after ‘I Really Like You’, it looks like Carly moves on fast. Good on her.
The Vaccines – ‘Post Break-Up Sex’
With its utterly sobering lyrics that hit like a cold slap to the face and that not slow, but not fast tempo, this indie heyday anthem must have scored many a student’s disappointing and depressing night on the town at the turn of the decade. If you listen carefully you can probably hear a hefty tear drop falling into a cheap but sizeable glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.