PressPLAYLIST: The Unsung Breakup Songs

We’re a sensitive bunch here at PressPLAY. We cried at Educating Yorkshire. We cry every time Olivia Pope gets emotional on Scandal. So it only makes sense that our favourite type of song is usually a breakup song (and, judging by Adele’s sales figures, a lot of people probably feel the same way). Our recent piece on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s Raising Sand – which contains some heartrending breakup gems – got us thinking. We’ve all memorised 21 word for word, we’ve all rocked out to Irreplaceable in the shower, we’ve all blasted Un-Break My Heart while in the foetal position (no? Just us, then). But what about the ones people don’t automatically turn to? We decided to compile some of our favourite underrated breakup songs that you might not have heard, so we can all have a good ol’ cry to this winter season. (For all of this in playlist form, click hither).

Alicia Keys – Lesson Learned (feat John Mayer)

Before you get too worried: 1) they won’t all be as obvious as this, 2) John Mayer’s role is perfunctory. Taken from the As I Am album, this is Keys keeping one foot in that brooding New York past, the sort that also broke our heart on her debut album with Why Do I Feel So Sad. It’s a plaintive slow jam that tries to look up and move on, but still seems helplessly heartbroken.

Best listened to: leaning against a window, looking out at a Manhattan skyline. As you do.

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Allison Moorer – Still This Side of Gone

Dialling it back to a bit of old school country heartbreak, the thing we like about this is just how plain and vulnerable the words are. It’s a desperate plea for one more chance, clinging on to forlorn hope, inevitably to no avail.

Best listened to: grasping your last shred of dignity, hovering over the ‘send’ button for a text you’ll instantly regret.

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Azure Ray – Don’t Leave My Mind

Ah, the ‘wish you well’ type song. Azure Ray’s gentle harmonies illustrate more the inconvenience of separation rather than loss or longing. With almost a road song feel, it’s gentle and touching in its own way.

Best listened to: on the way to meet your ex with a box of their things.

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Beacon – Feeling’s Gone

Another different type of breakup song, this time highlighting the cold loneliness of a dance floor when it’s all gone tits up. We’re not talking Robyn levels of cry-phoria here, but the indifference that comes with resignation.

Best listened to: off your face in a club, oblivious to anything around you.

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Beck – Already Dead

Truth: Sea Change is one of the seminal breakup albums of our time. Beck’s never been known for the straightforward or stripped back, which is why Already Dead works so well. There’s something a little bit voyeuristic about it, but those cracks in his voice are real and just as painful for the listener.

Best listened to: sticking pins in a voodoo doll, of course.

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Best Coast – Up All Night

Bethany Cosentino isn’t normally someone associated with breakups, but this song from The Only Place really showed her heart. “I don’t know what day it is/ ‘Cos I’ve been up all night”, she croons. We’ve all been there, love.

Best listened to: getting stoned in your bedroom, trying to strum something on your neglected guitar.

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Ellery – Happy

Sometimes you just need life to sound like the sad montage in a rom-com. This is where Ellery come in, with their faux-empowerment, trying hard to move on ballad; it’s cheesy as hell, but it works.

Best listened to: by the time you’ve reached season 3 in your Grey’s Anatomy binge-watch.

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First Aid Kit – New Year’s Eve

More strumming in the form of Scandi darlings First Aid Kit. Not strictly a breakup song, more a meditation on the self – it’s a doleful take on introspection, probably more for the twilight of ‘getting over’.

Best listened to: aimlessly wandering a park in autumn.

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Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova – Once

Sure it’s a hit musical and boasts an Oscar-winning song, but strangely the title track of this stellar film is often overlooked. Probably because it languished over the end credits. Still, it’s one of the best offerings on the album, and the melancholy boy-girl dynamic packs the right punch.

Best listened to: scrawling entries in a diary for the whole hour you think this experience might make you a poet.

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Guillemots – If the World Ends

“I just about managed to forget you/ you appear in a dream/ and you’re even more beautiful there/ than I remember you being”, sings Fyfe Dangerfield as part of the world’s most underrated band. Once the long intro is over and done with, Guillemots created a gently haunting ode that stood out on their debut album.

Best listened to: in week three of your stubborn refusal to shave.

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Karima Francis – Forgiven

One of our favourite albums of 2012, in our opinion up there with Adele in terms of singer-songwriter breakup records. This song recognises the whole ‘it’s not you, it’s actually me’ palaver with great respect. In fact, we think Karima’s hair is so big because it’s full of secrets, i.e. wisdom and the slight penchant for self-flagellation (metaphorically, of course).

Best listened to: on your high horse, feeling unequivocally sad.

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Lykke Li – Unrequited Love

What more can you expect from an album called Wounded Rhymes? Unrequited Love brings in the shoo-wop vibes to the apex of self-pity, a song exactly about what it says on the tin. Strong work yet again, Ms Li.

Best listened to: roaming the moors dressed in black.

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Mariah Carey – Everything Fades Away

When Mariah used to pull out a ballad, you know it meant something. This was a bonus track from the Musicbox album, but for us it’s an all-or-nowt, wind machine-ready, Mimi career highlight. Seriously, what a song.

Best listened to: singing with a hairbrush in front of the mirror.

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Nerina Pallot – Damascus

Again, we’re reducing a very worthy song to something a lot less, but the gut-wrenching Damascus can also be re-appropriated for breakup purposes. That middle eight and final chorus? Dynamite.

Best listened to: creating a bonfire of all your ex’s things.

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The Saturdays – Chasing Lights

The Saturdays have created so many great breakup songs: Lies, Keep Her, Wish I Didn’t Know, Not Good Enough… we could go on. But it’s their first album that still shines so brightly for them, in particular the quiet strength of this title track.

Best listened to: wistfully looking out of the car passenger seat.

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Taylor Dayne – Love Will Lead You Back

Because we all love a power ballad. Taylor Dayne is rocking the part of the girl who just won’t let go of hope (good for you, love), while we can’t help but think someone should cover this on the X Factor asap.

Best listened to: camped outside your former partner’s abode.

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Washed Out – Amor Fati

This is the sort of message you’d want your pals to give you. It sounds very cheery but there’s actually quite the consolatory vibe in here, perfect for the time for when you’re ready to let it all wash away.

Best listened to: taking a road trip with your mates.

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William Fitzsimmons – Even Now

We have a theory: if Adele and William Fitzsimmons ever got together to write a record, the world would implode with sadness. This man’s illustrious back catalogue is a lesson in how to express heartbreak – The Sparrow and The Crow was about his divorce after all – and it’s been very difficult to pick just one song to highlight it. We’re going to go with the painfully mature Even Now.

Best listened to: during the ‘acceptance’ phase.

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Wynter Gordon – Waiting

It’s a shame Wynter Gordon isn’t bigger – she has a great pop/R&B sensibility, but this song in particular also has a touch of the Genesis about it. It’s all very happy and hopeful, ending this list with the glimmer of hope that we all need.

Best listened to: when someone spouts an ‘if it’s meant to be’ cliché at you.

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