Sad Songs Say So Much

Local tunesmiths on the art of writing songs for the jilted


Visions of valentines include fuzzy teddy bears holding little pink hearts that proclaim saccharine sayings like "I Wuv U," big red felt heart-shaped boxes of chocolates filled with unknown flavors and cards that read like they were written by chubby cherubs who survive on a diet of powdered doughnuts. For the pragmatic—even those with a significant other—these images can start stomachs churning. But when in the midst of a breakup, these sweet symbols of love are enough to bring the bile to the surface.

The phrase "broken heart" is in common use for a reason. When joining the ranks of the lovelorn, the pumping muscle that keeps the thick red stuff flowing through our veins actually feels like it's been yanked from its housing, run through a blender and shoved back into place, worse for the wear.

Before you know it, you're eating a tube of raw cookie dough and listening to the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" on repeat. And damn it if, at the moment, it doesn't feel like the Brothers wrote that song just for you.

In keeping with the dismal theme of this year's annual Love Issue, we went through a shortlist of local musicians and asked some of them what their favorite breakup songs are and why. Responses came in via e-mail and text-message, as quickly as technology allowed.

In no particular order, here are a handful of their heartfelt heartbreak selections.

Byl Kravetz, vocalist, ex-Wilson St. Pub & Sluthouse Band frontman and new co-owner of 1332 Records, picked Johnny Cash's "Understand Your Man." He said the song reminds him of the first serious relationship he left. To make it even more moving, he said it was one of his dad's favorites.

Tom Kershaw, guitarist and vocalist for IQEQ, voted for Beck's entire album, Sea Change, but more specifically "Paper Tiger." Kershaw said the line, "Guess I'll hold on to nothing / see how long nothing lasts," is especially moving.

"It's such a beautiful song," he said, "and you can tell he was so lost. Plus, there's this amazing string arrangement that enhances the already overwhelming sadness. Seems like the only reason he went on living was to write those songs."

Dave Ford, lead vocalist for metal band Ripchain, picked "Time For Me to Fly" by REO Speedwagon.

"It works," he wrote. "I used to record it on tape and give it to girls."

Brian Mayer, self-appointed team leader of Mayerforceone Academy of Arts and Science, said one of his favorite breakup songs is "I Don't Want to Get Over You" by the Magnetic Fields.

"This song explores the somewhat pathetic and hopeless state of the post-breakup," he said. "The song asks us to consider who we become after the relationship is done. It is not only lyrically bittersweet, the pop hook is like warm blanket over a cold heartache. My favorite line is probably 'I could listen to all my friends and go out again and pretend it's enough or I could make a career of being blue / I could dress in black and read Camus, smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth like I was 17 / that would be a scream / but I don't want to get over you.' All of the components of this song work out beautifully."

Dan Keck, singer and guitarist for Bank the Band, picked a song that perfectly portrays a later stage of a breakup: pissed off.

"I think my favorite calling-it-quits song is 'The Song for the Dumped' by Ben Folds Five," Keck wrote. "It encompasses the all-too-familiar feeling of being taken advantage of and its reaction: anger. I deal with anger a lot better than confusing emotions like depression and anxiety over the question of ever meeting the 'right' girl. Besides, this song just moves. It is upbeat and fun and gave the album Whatever and Ever Amen an explicit content sticker and, oh yeah, the line 'Don't forget to give me back my black T-shirt.'"

Marcus Hunter a.k.a. Origin, one-half of Kamphire Collective's rapid-fire vocal team contributed his choice with a sweet codicil: "My song would have to be 'Hey Baby' by Mos Def and Stephen Marley. It's on Marley's latest release, Mind Control."

But, he added, "let's hope I won't need to ever rely on this song. The woman I love is far too precious."

Oscar Ortega, Kamphire Collective's guitarist, nominated a song off his debut album Fruits of the Mourning.

"April 31st" he wrote, "is a breakup song with both delicate subtleties and attitude. Even though the song can be assumed in many different ways, with a lover in mind, [the song] could be devastating."

DJ and producer Pat Benolkin of Electricwest and Eluder wrote, "Ben Harper's 'Another Lonely Day' is a quintessential breakup song. Its nostalgic and reflective lyrics are enough to make even the most stubborn of ex-loves break down. And while Ben's deliciously desolate solo acoustic sadly strums away the end of life as you knew it, the song offers just enough optimism in its tone to help you make it through another day."

Singer/songwriter Ryan Peck wrote in with a three-way tie: No. 1, Cat Power, "The Greatest."

"So sublime. Captures the punch-drunk hangover feeling that, though you thought things were going so well, it all came crashing down. Number 2, Josh Rouse, 'My Love Has Gone.' Best lyrics: '... and I sleep with the TV on / it's the only sound / our love's gone.' Everybody has been there." His third: Robyn, "With Every Heartbeat."

"Sweden's adorable export Robyn has done an about-face since her first release 10 years ago," Peck wrote. "This song is perfect heartbreak pop. Robyn's voice is so unique and fragile. When it's coupled with Kleerup's airy production, you have one of the best songs of the last year."

DJ Art Hodge reached into the past for two exquisite choices. "It depends on how it goes down, but I'd say either Paul Simon's '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover' or Chicago's 'If You Leave Me Now,'" he said.

Whether you're in the throes of a passionate new love, cuddled in the comfort of a seasoned relationship or dancing somewhere on the line in between, there's probably a song that perfectly portrays how you feel about that person who holds the key to your heart. But should the mad love affair or 20-year-marriage unravel with the key getting thrown in your face, these artists have a tune that captures the melancholy and misery wrapped up in your ticker, too.