Breaking up is hard to do

Ah, love.

It seems safe to say that no topic has been written about more often than love — in literature, in poetry, in film and TV, and certainly in song lyrics. So many songs, maybe a million songs or more, about love, in virtually every genre — pop, rock, soul, country, blues, disco, even heavy metal and punk.  Just using song titles, for example, consider these:  “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.”  “Love is a Battlefield.”  “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round.”  “Love in an Elevator.”  “Love Don’t Cost a Thing.”  “Love is Stronger Than Death.”  “Love Will Find a Way.”  “Love is a Rose.”  “Love Bites.”  “Love Will Keep Us Together.”  “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”  “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes.”  “Love You When I’m Drunk.”  “Love is the Drug.”  “Love is Like Oxygen.”  “Love You Inside Out.”  “Love Reign O’er Me.”  “Love Stinks.”

Within that broad category, there are probably several hundred thousand songs concerning the hard part about love:  Breaking up.   Love often doesn’t last, for so many reasons, and the songs that deal with breaking up come from different perspectives — from the woman’s point of view, or from the man’s, or the one who’s dying to get out, or the one who is brokenhearted or angry, or even the one who is ambivalent or philosophical about it.  Because after all, as Paul Simon told us, “There must be fifty ways to leave your lover.”  Probably way more.

The well of emotions, the possible scenarios, the ways we hurt and cheat, the ways we grow apart, are almost limitless.  And so are the songs that describe them.  Let’s examine a few of them, shall we?

Many breakup songs are all about the person suffering heartbreak who is pining for a loved one who has moved on:

“Well since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell, it’s down at the end of Lonely Street at Heartbreak Hotel, you make me so lonely baby, I get so lonely I could die…”  Tommy Durden/Mae Axton, 1956

“I don’t know how in the world to stop thinking of him, ’cause I still love him so, I end each day the way I start out, crying my heart out…”  Burt Bacharach/Hal David, 1971

Some of these are real tearjerkers, describing people who were left at the altar or abandoned soon afterwards:

“‘My God, that’s tough, she stood him up, no point in us pretending, we may as well go home,’ as I did on my own, alone again, naturally…”  Gilbert O’Sullivan, 1972

“All that’s left of the dreams I hold is a band of gold and the memories of what love could be if you were still here with me…” Holland/Dozier/Holland, 1970

Then there are lyrics where the singer sees the writing on the wall and is full of dread for what’s surely coming:

“Here comes goodbye, here comes the last time, here comes the start of every sleepless night, the first of every tear I’m gonna cry…”  Clint Lagerberg/Chris Sligh, 2009

“You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips, and there’s no tenderness like before in your fingertips, you’re trying hard not to show it, but baby I know it, you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling…” Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil, 1964

Some lyrics examine those people in denial that it’s over — they’re desperate, or even suicidal, about whether they can go on alone: “Can’t live if living is without you, can’t give, can’t give anymore…”  Pete Ham/Tom Evans of Badfinger, 1972

“I’m longing for the day, hoping you will again promise to be mine and never go away, I don’t want to live without you, I could never live without you…”  Mick Jones of Foreigner, 1987

Rage and scorn dominate some song lyrics, when your loved one has cheated on you and broken your heart, and you’re PISSED OFF:

“Go on, get out, get out of my life, and let me sleep at night, you don’t really love me, you just keep me hangin’ on…”  Holland/Dozier/Holland, 1966

“Well your heart is like a piece of black coal, now, and I doubt that you ever had a soul, now, yeah, you better walk your long legs, baby, right out of my life…”  Mayer Hawthorne, 2011

“Go now, go!  Walk out the door, just turn around now ’cause you’re not welcome anymore, weren’t you the one who tried to break me with goodbye?…”  Freddie Perren, 1979

I get a chuckle out of lyrics that are incredulous when someone who treated you badly wants to be friends years later:

“At times it really felt as thought the pain was here to stay, and though it’s many years ago, I feel it to this day, and now you want to be my friend on Facebook, are you f**king kidding me?…”  Kate Miller-Heidke, 2009

A few tunes have lyrics that are full of that “ah, the hell with it” attitude, vowing to never again fall in love:

“You love her but she loves him, and he loves somebody else, you just can’t win, and so it goes ’til the day you die, this thing they call love, gonna make you cry, love stinks…”   Peter Wolf/Seth Justman of J Geils Band, 1982

“What do you get when you fall in love, you only get a life of pain and sorrow, so for at least until tomorrow, I’ll never fall in love again…”  Burt Bacharach/Hal David, 1969

Some song lyrics are very mature and almost ambivalent in the way they describe the end of a relationship:

“I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind, you could’ve done better, but I don’t mind, you just sort of wasted my precious time, don’t think twice, it’s all right…”  Bob Dylan, 1963

“There’ll be good times again for me and you, but we just can’t stay together, don’t you feel it too, still I’m glad for what we had and how I once loved you, but it’s too late baby now, it’s too late, though we really did try to make it, something inside has died and I can’t hide and I just can’t fake it…”  Carole King, 1971

“The thrill is gone, baby, the thrill is gone away, you know you done me wrong, baby, and you’ll be sorry someday…oh I’m free free free now, free from your spell, and now that it’s all over, all I can do is wish you well…” B.B King, 1970

There are lyrics that waste no time crying because they’re eagerly looking forward to the next relationship:

“We could’ve never had it all, we had to hit a wall, so this is inevitable withdrawal, even if I stop wanting you, a perspective pushes through, I’ll be some next man’s other woman soon…”  Amy Winehouse, 2007

“So go on, baby, make your little getaway, my pride will keep me company, and you just gave yours all away, now I’m gonna dress myself for two, once for me and once for someone new, I’m gonna do some things you wouldn’t let me do, oh I’m gonna find another you…”   John Mayer, 2006

Some are quite philosophical — unhappy that it’s over, but happy to have learned something and recognized the wisdom in moving on:

“I’m young, I know, but even so, I know a thing or two, and I learned from you, I really learned a lot, love is like a flame, it burns you when it’s hot, love hurts…”  Boudleaux Bryant, 1960

“At last I’ve awakened to see what you’ve done, what can I do but pack up and run, now I know the rules, get yourself another fool…” Sam Cooke, 1963

“I’ve seen some hot hot blazes come down to smoke and ash, and we love our lovin’, but not like we love our freedom…”  Joni Mitchell, 1974

“If you think we’d be better parted, it’s gonna hurt me, but I’ll break away from you, just give me the sign and I’ll be gone, that’s how much I feel for you baby…” David Pack of Ambrosia, 1978

There’s one lyric in particular that tugs hard at my heartstrings, primarily because of its self-deprecating conclusion that maybe the songwriter wasn’t good enough for the guy she broke up with:

“Well I wonder if I could’ve stayed, my mind changes like the radio waves, yeah I probably would’ve pushed him away, but I wonder if I could’ve stayed, you know I had him but I gave him away…”  Emily Hackett, 2011

And then, of course, there are the timeless lyrics that hold out hope for reconciliation, because this breaking-up stuff is really difficult:

“Don’t say that this is the end, instead of breaking up I wish that we were making up again, I beg of you, don’t say goodbye, can’t we give our love another try, come on, baby, let’s start anew, ’cause breaking up is hard to do…” Neil Sedaka, 1962

Hey, lets face it:  As long as there’s love, couples will be breaking up, and songwriters of all stripes will continue to farm those fertile fields of emotion.


  1. Irwin · April 18, 2015

    Yeah. “Love Hurts.” One of the greatest songs ever, about anything, actually. But Nazareth? Are you f’ing kidding me? Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote the tune. And if you’re not going to credit the writers — which I think is imperativie — at least credit the artists who put the song on the map: The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, and Gram Parsons. Not the cutting edge 70’s hair band with the constipated lead singer that perpetrated that frightening cover.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carrie Gaul · April 18, 2015

    This blog entry was a nostalgic trip down memory lane! Those times when I was involved in a break up and feeling either guilty or miserable, music always played a part in the scenario. It is interesting to realize that this concept truly does reflect every musical genre!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Emmo · April 19, 2015

    Wow. More than 50 ways to leave your lover 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mark Frank · May 8, 2015

    We owe a lot to those (often) unknown guys and girls who dumped their lovers! Nothing else inspires song writing like a break-up! Love the lyrics about Facebook! And Joni’s and Emily’s!

    Liked by 1 person

    • brucehhackett · May 11, 2015

      Thanks, Franky — it’s amazing how so many of the very best lyrics are in songs that talk about breakups…


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