I thought I’d write a list of my top-five breakup songs, because there haven’t been enough of those on this blog. Just kidding! There have been plenty, and I’ve enjoyed reading each one. But this list is a bit different: All five of these songs are about breaking up and feeling no regrets. They’re about not liking the other person anymore, and feeling totally motivated to move on with your life. I personally think this is the healthiest mix a person could use to get themselves through a breakup. Sure, wallow around in a cat hair-covered hoodie humming “Nothing Compares 2 U” if that’s what makes you feel better, but I’ve found that listening to anything but these five songs after a breakup can be emotionally dangerous. You might wear that hoodie for two weeks straight and forget to eat. So here you go:
Note: Three of these five songs happen to have great videos. I think that ordering Papa Johns and staying at home watching YouTube videos with your best friend for one to two days is a pretty therapeutic thing to do, breakup or no. Definitely check out the videos.
“Black and White” by The dB’s
I’d say this is the best dB’s song. Some say this is the only good dB’s song. It’s the first track on their 1981 debut album, Stands for Decibels. I was at a party once where a girl put on this record and then dramatically got up to change it after “Black and White” because the rest of the album isn’t as good. It felt like an in-joke. I thought it was kind of abstractly mean. To be fair, If I were the dB’s, I probably would have sequenced the album differently. There are some total jams buried on side two, by the way (check out “Bad Reputation,” “Big Brown Eyes,” and “I’m in Love”). Anyway, “Black and White” is an amazing song. It does all the right things — it even comes to a complete silent stop in the middle! I love it when songs do that. And here’s the chorus: “Well I guess I just don’t enjoy you anymore.” Yes! That’s how it feels. You’re breaking up for a reason, you know? If you still enjoyed each other, you wouldn’t be breaking up. Another line from the song “Oh, we are finished / As of a long time ago / As of a long time ago.” That’s important to remember, too: If you’re breaking up, it’s been a long time coming. Things didn’t just suddenly get bad. In fact, you’ve been finished as of a long time ago — now you’re finally cutting the cord that’s been frayed for so long, and doesn’t it feel good? Doesn’t it feel like an impossibly bouncy guitar line that makes you want to get up and dance and wake up with a stranger?
“Amplifier” by The dB’s*
Breaking up with a self-obsessed musician? Great! I have just the song for that: It’s called “Amplifier,” and it’s another song by the dB’s. It’s got a strong narrative structure and sort of a country twang, and it starts: “Danny went home and killed himself last night.” Why did Danny kill himself? Because his ex-girlfriend broke into his house and stole everything — except for his amplifier. “She took his car, she took his bike / She took everything she thought he liked / And what she couldn’t take, she found a way to break / She left his amplifier.” Why is that especially depressing? Let’s look to the bridge for an explanation: “An amplifier’s just wood and wire / And wire and wood won’t do any good / When your heart is blazing like a wildfire / And all you’ve got to show for it’s an / Amplifier.” The music video is terrific. It features guitarist Peter Holsapple as Danny, who stands on a ladder with a noose around his neck, and later plays guitar while sitting on the ladder with the noose around his neck. Then, the other guys in the band heft up a piano so he can play piano while sitting on the ladder with the noose around his neck. Watch it until the haunting image of the towering amplifier rising out of smoke burns into your retinas. That’s how your self-obsessed musician ex-boyfriend feels right now: completely empty and lonely and starting to realize that he should’ve valued you more than his dumb gear. Or, he might be stoned and listening to Spacemen 3 and not thinking about you at all. But surely he’s having this realization on some level.
“No Guilt” by The Waitresses
This is really the best breakup song there is. And here’s a video of a spirited young woman lip-syncing it with a puppet — you’re welcome. The chorus goes: “I’m sorry that I don’t feel awful / It wasn’t the end of the world / I’m sorry that I can’t be helpless / It wasn’t the end of the world.” And the verses catalogue all of the improvements the singer has made to her life following the breakup, which are funny, quirky, inspiring, and spot-on. I’m going to quote some highlights: “Every day at seven, I’ve been watching Walter / I’ve been reading more and looking up the hard words / I’ve met people who get me on the guest list / My parents said that they would help me pay for grad school.” Also: “I know someone who really met Belushi / I fixed the toilet so it doesn’t always run / I moved a chair over by the window / I feel better if my laundry’s done.” In fact, you could use this song as a checklist to chart your own personal improvements after a breakup. Definitely move a chair over by the window if you haven’t done that already. It’s worth noting that the song starts, “Needed new posters, so I bought them.” This comes up a lot in breakup songs. Redecorating is important, and tearing down posters is very satisfying.
“Sleeping Aides and Razorblades” by The Exploding Hearts
Oh man, The Exploding Hearts. If you haven’t heard Guitar Romantic, the album this is from, you are in for a delight. I wish I could be there with you while you listened to it for the first time. Take a seat in that sunny chair I told you to set up and put Guitar Romantic on the stereo, and you won’t care about anything, because this record is one of the best things ever. Power pop from 2003. The vocals are so snotty and so sweet at the same time — yellow and pink, like the album art. And it’s not that the singer isn’t sentimental — he is; the song starts: “Well I felt so bad when I heard that song / Ya know it’s been such a long long time / It’s a little off-beat and it ain’t in tune / Ya know it’s just like this heart of mine.” But he also has his mind made up about how he feels about this girl and her decision to end the relationship: “And if it hurt (it hurt) when you left (you left) / Well girl ya know you only hurt yourself.” That is the takeaway from this song. Yep, he’s totally over her: “I got new girls and I’m runnin’ around / The house doesn’t look the same / I hung new posters on my walls / And the dog don’t remember your name.” What did I tell you? Another song about new posters!
“Picture to Burn” by Taylor Swift
This music video starts with a little scene — you know, like Bruce Springsteen’s video for “I’m on Fire.” Taylor and her best friend are spying on her ex-boyfriend with binoculars in his driveway (…), and they see him and his new girlfriend pull up to his house. Taylor’s friend is holding the binoculars, and exclaims: “He’s got a girl with him… She’s driving the truck.” Taylor, shocked, grabs the binoculars to see for herself: “He let her drive the truck? He never let me drive the truck!” And then the drums kick in, and the guitar, and we switch to a shot of a radiant and windblown Taylor performing the song on stage. She makes a wise observation in the second line: “I realize you love yourself more than you could ever love me.” I wish I’d thought about relationships that way when I was Taylor Swift’s age. I think it’s important to consider, after a breakup, the capacity that your ex has for love in general. It feels bad when someone doesn’t love you very much, but it’s nice to realize that it’s because they aren’t really able to love anyone very much. Moving on, the chorus is a perfect no-regrets breakup chorus, and it’s even better with her Southern accent: “I hate that stupid old pickup truck / You never let me drive / You’re a redneck heartbreak / Who’s really bad at lying / So watch me strike a match / On all my wasted time / As far as I’m concerned / You’re just another picture to burn.” Yes, Taylor, it was all wasted time. And that pickup truck you always wanted to drive? It is stupid and old. From personal experience, I do not recommend actually burning pictures. If you do feel the need to burn pictures, at least do it in a well-ventilated area.
* I’m going to be really nerdy and add this fun fact: There’s a They Might Be Giants song called “Twisting” (another really terrific break up song) that seems like it was partially inspired by “Amplifier.” John sings: “She doesn’t have to have her dB’s record back now.” And then the verse about amps: “She’s not your satellite / She doesn’t miss you / So turn off your smoke machine / And Marshall stacks.” Just like the amp rising from smoke in the “Amplifier” video, where the ex-girlfriend smashes the guy’s records. Just sayin. That’s probably why he picked the dB’s as the name to drop there. There it is: My contribution to all the epic TMBG song interpretations on the Internet.