The 50 best breakup songs

Heaven knows you’re miserable now—so you may as well enjoy it with the best breakup songs ever made



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“Against All Odds (Take a Look At Me Now)” by Phil Collins (1984)

“Against All Odds (Take a Look At Me Now)” by Phil Collins

When you’re dumped, you’re allowed to indulge in melodrama. It is acceptable to sit around in a robe for days and take big bites of the pillow synthesizers, ice-cream crooning and cookie-dough drums comprising this most powerful and ballad-y of power ballads. A leftover from his solo debut that was recorded years later, in 1984, for a Jeff Bridges cheese-noir flick, “Against All Odds” gave the former Genesis man his first No. 1 hit in America.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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“Without You” by Harry Nilsson (1971)

“Without You” by Harry Nilsson

Always pushing his liver and vocal cords to the limit, Nilsson injected histrionics and heart into the songs he covered as if it were HGH. His take on Randy Newman’s “Living Without You” is downbeat perfect. A year later, this Badfinger tune amped up the woe-is-me. Fact: It is impossible to listen to this Kleenex-consuming epic without balling your hands into fists and mock-karaokeing along. Next song on the album? “Coconut.” Drink the pain away.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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“The Scientist” by Coldplay (2002)

“The Scientist” by Coldplay

So potent are the breakup songs on Coldplay’s second album, 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head, that it may as well come with an advisory sticker for the recently split up: These songs will make you wallow in heartbreak like it’s a warm, sad bubble bath. Which may be exactly what you need. “Nobody said it was easy,” croons Chris Martin. “No one ever said it would be so hard.” And then, after the song’s sucker-punch pause: “Oh, take me back to the start.”—Sophie Harris

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“How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” by Al Green (1972)

“How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” by Al Green

Look, just because you’ve had your heart broken, it doesn’t mean that your mojo has to wilt away and die too—and the Reverend Al is here to spell that out via his definitive 1972 version of the Bee Gees cut. He aches just like you, but his hope hasn’t died (“Please help me mend my broken heart / And let me live again”)—and Al’s signature slow, sensual soul arrangements prove that it’s not just his heart that’s stirring.—Kate Wertheimer

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“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye (1968)

“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye

You know even before the drumbeat kicks in that something is gonna go down in this song. And for anyone who’s had to hear the cheatin’, lyin’ news from someone else, this 1968 Motown single hits home. It’s become an acclaimed, Grammy Hall of Fame soul classic, covered by a range of musicians including Creedence Clearwater Revival (which made an 11-minute version for its 1970 album, Cosmo’s Factory) and claymation group the California Raisins (grapevine, raisins, see what they did there?).—Kate Wertheimer

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“I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” by The White Stripes (2003)

“I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” by the White Stripes

Though this song was originally sung by Tommy Hunt in 1962 (and has since been covered by myriad musicians, including Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Isaac Hayes and Elvis Costello), no one has been able to capture the desperation—and frustration—behind the lyrics quite like Jack White III. Recorded for the 2003 White Stripes release Elephant, this rock & roll version is perfect for the transition from heartbroken to pissed off. Bonus: Sofia Coppola directed a lingerie-clad, pole dancing Kate Moss in the music video, which should at least help get your blood pumping again.—Kate Wertheimer

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“Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (1975)

“Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes

Yes, there are other versions. Thelma Houston and the Communards both famously took this Gamble & Huff–written Philly disco cavalcade to the top of the charts. But nothing compares to the way Teddy Pendergrass’s rich and thunderous rasp emotes loss and completely connects the brain to the body.—Oliver Keens

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“Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse (2007)

“Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse

The late singer-songwriter crooned plenty about addiction, depression and heartbreak, but nowhere more brutally than in this moody torch song, which gave its title to her 2007 album. Winehouse penned this hit single about her falling back into bad habits after her very public break with husband Blake Fielder-Civil. The gloomy repetition of the word black during the bridge is the sound of a spiral into darkness—albeit a funky one.—Jenna Scherer

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“Fuck You” by Cee Lo Green (2010)

“Fuck You” by Cee Lo Green

An old-school Motown-style soul number with a gleefully foul mouth, “Fuck You” was Cee Lo Green’s first solo single after he’d spent years crooning for Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley. It’s a shout-along, four-minute middle finger to a gold-digging ex (despite Green unconvincingly recasting it as a dig at the music industry), packing in punning verses, a wailing bridge and that glorious quadruple-fuck chorus. Even though the version everyone heard on the radio was heavily censored and retitled “Forget You,” it was one of the biggest songs of 2010. Needless to say, no one was singing the bowdlerized version. Forget that.—James Manning

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“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor (1978)

“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor

Is there any song that combines female empowerment and discofied schmaltz with the same efficacy as Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”? With lyrics like “I’ve got all my life to live / I’ve got all my love to give / And I’ll survive, I will survive”—not to mention a soaring melody accented by horns and strings galore—probably not. In fact, we think the Grammy-winning hit, released in late 1978, is one of the best “screw you, loser—I’m over you” tunes of all time.—Bruce Tantum

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