The RP: My Top Five Breakup Songs – What Say You?

As Charlie Sheen might have said, “music is the gin and tonic of the soul.”

Of course, there’s no denying the redemptive impact of song.  Whether to soothe, pacify, or even offer catharsis, we’ve all turned to music during times of recovery — from an illness, a professional setback, or, quite often, a breakup.

Last week, I ended an 11 1/2 year relationship…with state government.  Neil Sedaka was accurate when he crooned that “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” but the dissolution of any relationship is much too complex to be captured by 60s-era bubblegum pop.

For my own personal recovery process, I have loaded my trusty iPad with some of my favorite healing music.  And in the spirit of Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity” (read the book; it’s much better than the movie), I share below My Top Five Breakup Songs: (Click on the album covers to sample and/or download to your MP3 player)

#5: "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele

5.  Adele, “Rolling in the Deep” My daughters introduced me to the sulky smooth, blues-laden stylings of the unbelievably young (she just turned 22?!?) Adele.  Her newest masterpiece drew my attention to an early stage of my recovery from politics: denial, tinged with exasperated anger:  “We could have had it all/Rolling in the deep/You had my heart inside of your hands/And you played it to the beat.”  Dreams of higher office squelched by the vagaries of politics — it certainly bears some resemblance to the unexpected implosion of a relationship with that “perfect” soulmate.  “We could have had it all,” voters!  But alas…

#4: "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Raitt

4. Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”
While Raitt had already secured her place in rock history by helping to discover Bruce Springsteen, this classic resolutely establishes her as the bard of melancholy self-pity.   With a haunting melody and a voice that aches with trenchant agony, Raitt sets the perfect mood for an evening of painful introspection: “Turn down the lights/Turn down the bed/Turn down these voices inside my head.”  Instead of those blaring, patriotic anthems that accompany a losing candidate’s walk to the concession podium, this ballad should be required listening for Election Night audiences:  I worked my heart out to win your support, then you broke it into pieces. Dear voters, why can’t I make you love me?

#3: "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morissette

3. Alanis Morissette, “You Oughta Know”
Of course, self-pity soon can metastasize into vengeful anger, and there’s no better theme song for the dumped than Morissette’s breakout hit, the song that established a whole new genre of “tough chick rock” (See Pink, Avil Lavigne, etc.) Alanis’ scorned lover caustically captures the false promises of lust disguised as love–or in the case of a recovering politician, the fickleness of the body politic:  “And every time you speak her name/Does she know how you told me you’d hold me/Until you died, till you died?/But you’re still alive.” (And isn’t it ironic that in each primary that I’ve lost, the voters chose “an older version of me”?  Hmmmmm…)

#2: "Romeo and Juliet" by Dire Straits

2. “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits: A truly transcendent song, on one of rock’s most underappreciated albums.  With a nod to both Shakespeare and Leonard Bernstein’s stage and screen adaptation, Mark Knopfler sets the romantic legend in the late 70s and reveals the core of its message; one that can reassure a jilted lover (or politician) that the failure wasn’t your fault — as fate or the Good Lord would have it, it just wasn’t your time: “There’s a place for us/You know the movie song/When you gonna realize, it was just that the time was wrong?” Hey, there’s more fish in the sea/elections to win! (Oh, and Taylor Swift:  I love your music, but when you were on the road with your English tutor, did y’all skip the last act of Shakespeare’s play? Romeo and Juliet didn’t exactly have a happy ending.)

#1: "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor

1. Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive” OK, disco haters; go ahead and scoff.  But Gaynor’s anthem for the final stage of breakup recovery — acceptance and transcendence — is the ideal background music for a recovering politician who’s realized that there’s more to life than temporal adulation and ephemeral power.  And when that political fever threatens to re-infect you, Miss Gloria reminds you to reject the sweet succor of narcissism, empowering you with her personal mantra: “And you see me/somebody new/I’m not that chained up little person still in love with you/And so you felt like dropping in and just expect me to be free/Now I’m saving all my loving for someone who’se loving me…”

OK, that’s five for fighting about.

What am I missing? What have I misunderstood? How will my life go on?

(Speaking of…For goodness’ sake, NO CELINE DION!!)

Please leave below your comments, critiques, and most importantly, lists of your top five breakup songs:


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