Breakup Songs to Wallow In

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While the upcoming holidays can be cause for cheer for many, they can also open up a black hole that others emerge from only after Valentine’s Day.

My current relationship status is happy and stable, but with the holidays just around the corner, I find myself musing back on certain songs or pieces of music that I once listened to repeatedly post-breakup. Naturally, the songs were different when I was the person who got dumped versus when I was the one who walked. The songs weren’t necessarily famous, nor did they always contain vocals. In fact, many of my breakup songs were instrumentals. I guess it just depends on individual brain chemistry, and whatever music vis à vis romance you end up associating with certain memories at the time.

But there are some songs like Bonnie Raitt’s beautiful “I Can’t Make You Love Me” that strike a universal chord and are powerful enough to elicit tears from most of us. Then there are those “wallow-in-self-pity” songs that should not be confused with blues songs, which cry out against romantic injustice—in hurt or in anger or both—nor are they to be confused with sweet revenge tunes like “Farther Up the Road” by Bobby Bland.

I suppose my personal breakup music list below is really just my idiosyncratic take on my own previous heartbreak. Obviously, each of us is wired differently, and songs do have their own individual resonances, so you may or may not feel anything with some of my choices. As the French say, “chacun à son goût,” or “to each his own.” Anyway, here it is—my personal list of the music I have at times swathed myself in self-pity over:

“Heather” by Billy CobhamThis a dreamy 1974 instrumental with a sad feel. There’s this great solo by the late Michael Brecker, and the late George Duke never sounded better on a Fender Rhodes.

“Violet” by Seal: Perhaps it’s because Cobham and Seal’s songs are slow ballads named after women that this 1991 song resonated with me following one of my breakups in the early ’90s…

“I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie RaittNo words needed here—the title says it all. This song is about losing and being powerless in a love affair and is actually applicable to any stage of one’s relationship. I swear, I’ve never see so many people cry en masse as I did at one of Bonnie’s concerts when she sang this song.

“I Loves You Porgy,” “Little Girl Blue,” and “The Other Woman”—all Nina Simone: The first two were from her 1958 debut album, Little Girl Blue, on Bethlehem RecordsNina Simone is the type of artist you put on when you need a good cry. If you’re anything like me, she’ll get you there fast.

“Violets for Your Furs” and “Where Do You Start” by Shirley HornAll I can say is that I actually had to skip out on a Shirley Horn show once after a tough breakup. I knew that I would have wound up as a puddle on the floor.

“All the Way” by Jimmy Scott: This is such a great love song, but it’s also perfect for remembering those bygone days before your whole world was turned upside down.

“A Fala da Paixão” by Egberto Gismonti: One day many years ago, I came home from work to find that my girlfriend at the time had suddenly and unexpectly moved out, taking all her of belongings with her. I listened to this song over and over again as I wandered through my empty house sobbing.

This may all sound pretty pathetic, but I think that we each have certain songs we’ve indulged ourselves in at one time or another post-breakups before the healing started. Maybe getting emotional with our favorite songs helps us to heal…who knows. But I’ll bet that anybody reading this can recall some personal faves that they have mourned a lost love with.

Now I’m curious to know—what are yours?

Bonnie Raitt’s ultimate breakup song, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

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