If love is supposedly the most wonderful thing in the world, then why the hell does it hurt so much? There’s an old saying that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Try telling that to someone who has just loved and lost. From invincible to unlovable in seconds flat, nothing will make you feel as unworthy as a failed relationship, especially when it’s capped with a crushing one-liner like “I like everything about my life except my relationship with you.” My college girlfriend actually said that to me, no joke. And in return, I sang a number of these songs to her.
"House of Love," Squeeze (Play)
I nearly put "Wicked and Cruel" in here instead – indeed, Play is pretty much one giant Dear Jane letter – but this song wins out for a laundry list of one-liners. "She was full of lies and boredom, it came as no surprise that she would cheat," "I wasn’t Shakespeare, it’s simple / Did she expect me to kiss her feet," and then the chorus hits: "We seemed the best of friends, life had just begun / But on the roof, a tile began to slip / The house of love caved in, and that was it."
"I Believe She’s Lying," Jon Brion (Meaningless)
Like Play, Meaningless has several candidates for this list, but I’m choosing "I Believe She’s Lying" for delivering the killer lyric with an even more killer drum track. "As soon as we’re committing, we’re admitting our mistake / So of course it’s only fitting, that the course we’re going to take is drawn / And whereupon, I’m slamming on the brakes." You’ve all done it, and you can’t undo it. It’s the only way you learn.
"Say Anything," Aimee Mann (Whatever)
It makes sense to put Brion and Mann back to back, since they used to date and he produced her first three solo records (plus she co-wrote the lyrics to "I Believe She’s Lying"). Was she talking about him when she said, "If you were everything you say, things would be different today / I would be happy to believe / But I’d have to be much more naive"?
"Good Luck," Basement Jaxx w/ Lisa Kekaula (Kish Kash)
The flip side to "Ice Cream." It’s angry, defiant, and there isn’t a woman alive who doesn’t love this song. "Good luck in your new bed / Enjoy your nightmares, honey, while you’re resting your head." And hot DAMN, can Kekaula sing.
"Locomotive," Guns ‘n Roses (Use Your Illusion II)
Lots, and lots, and LOTS of lines to choose from this eight and a half-minute epic, but I’ll go with the last line: "If love is blind, I guess I’ll buy myself a cane."
"I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me," Morrissey (Viva Hate)
Morrissey was a shoe-in for this list, but the line between his bitter songs and his pathetic ones is a fine one, indeed. In the end, I chose this song for its final line: "Rejection is one thing, but rejection from a fool is cruel."
"Grotesque," The Wonder Stuff (Never Loved Elvis)
Speaking of bitter, the nasty tone of this song almost disqualified it, but in the end, the ‘Stuffies are just too damn good to pass up. "She’s got some poor mug, and she’ll get him down, and she’ll do it all again / She’ll do it all again."
"The Wheel and the Maypole," XTC (Wasp Star: Apple Venus,
"Everything decays…planets fall apart just to feed the stars and stuff their larders / And what made me think we’re any better / And what made me think we’d last forever / Was I so naïve / Of course it all unweaves." Ow.
"Somebody That I Used to Know," Elliott Smith (Figure 8)
The difficult thing about listening to Smith’s songs now is that he violated the golden rule of breakups: living is the best revenge. Still, to dismiss him outright for taking his own life would be foolish, since he put many a lover (or perhaps the same lover, repeatedly) in her place.
"The Last Day of Our Acquaintance," Sinead O’Connor (I
Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got)
A particularly biting breakup song, since there’s a kid involved ("Two years ago the seed was planted / And since then you have taken me for granted").
"Till Death Do Us Part," Madonna (Like a Prayer)
The then-Mrs. Sean Penn lays it all out on the table, and the end result is one of the most unguarded moments in Madge’s career. "You’re not in love with someone else / You don’t even love yourself / Still I wish you’d ask me not to go."
"And I Fell Back Alone," World Party (Goodbye Jumbo)
Karl Wallinger’s farewell to a loved one is about as level-headed as they came. Even as he tells her, "Whoever you were then, I never really knew / And you got no need to know me now," he sends her off with "Live it all, my love / Live it well, my love." Gosh, what a gentlemen.
"So Cruel," U2 (Achtung Baby)
"I gave you everything you ever wanted / It wasn’t what you wanted." That lyric, no joke, saved my life. Keep every ‘save the world/I miss my mother’ lyric that Bono has ever penned. This is the only line that matters to me.
"Eaten by the Monster of Love," Sparks (Angst in My Pants)
"Sometimes it takes a nip at me / But I am too quick to ever be eaten by the monster of love." This was on the first mix tape ever given to me by the woman who would become my wife. It is what some women would call a smoke screen maneuver.
"You’re History," Shakespeare’s Sister (Sacred Heart)Take one part Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," stir in
a dash of Yaz's "Situation," blend well with a dozen impossibly
high-pitched squeals of righteous indignation...and the resulting elixir
is an anthem of empowerment guaranteed to make you believe you really
are better off without whoever just broke your heart. "I'm
a queen bee when the coast is clear / Now I know: I don't need you,
dear." (Full disclosure: my wife wrote this one.)