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

“Breaking up is hard to do,” sang Neil Sedaka in 1962, in a piece of chirpy understatement that’s on a par with Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon’s 1912 assessment of the Titanic sinking being “a rather serious evening.” Yes, breaking up is hard to do—so hard, in fact, that most of the best pop music ever produced has sprung from its well of agony. But as tough as it is to dump or be dumped, when you find the right soundtrack to your suffering, it can also feel weirdly enjoyable—as tracks by such pop poets as Alanis Morissette, Kanye and, of course, expletive king Cee Lo Green attest. So we invite you to celebrate the heartbreak—whether angry, homicidal or just a bit sad—with our collection of the best breakup songs ever recorded. Hurts so good, don’t it?

Written by Michael Chen, Brent DiCrescenzo, Jonny Ensall, Adam Feldman, Sophie Harris, Oliver Keens, Tim Lowery, James Manning, Amy Plitt, Jenna Scherer, Hank Shteamer, Bruce Tantum, Kate Wertheimer and Kristen Zwicker.

Need a lift? Check out our list of the best love songs ever made

50–41

“Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye featuring Kimbra

Wouter De Backer, a.k.a. Gotye, didn’t have a duet in mind when he first put pen to paper for “Somebody That I Used to Know,” but when he reached the end of the first verse, he knew it needed a little something more. Along came fast-rising New Zealand singer-songwriter Kimbra, whose impassioned delivery bolstered the tune with a new, fiery perspective. The result was a wildly successful crossover hit, which topped the charts in 18 countries and took home Record of the Year at the 2013 Grammys.—Kristen Zwicker

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“Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)” by Eamon

Eamon is pissed. He dated a ho who gave some other guy head, and he got hurt real bad. While 2003’s “Fuck It” may walk a pretty thin line on the edge of misogyny, replace ho with dick and you’ve got an aggro R&B ballad that doesn’t discriminate. (Alternatively, check out Frankee’s “Fuck You Right Back,” featuring the velour-clad comeback “Your sex was wack.”) Hey, we never said all these songs were classy.—Kate Wertheimer

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“Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus

When the edgy Terry Richardson–directed video for Miley Cyrus’s power ballad was released last year, 400 million YouTubers dropped their jaws at the sight of a naked Cyrus straddling a massive steel ball. All snickers and parody videos aside, the track stands on its own as essential listening for dumpers and dumpees who have gone full-tilt into relationships and wound up emotionally demolished. And the racy video antics? Well, as BFF Lesley told us long ago, she’s just being Miley.—Michael Chen

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“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s penchant for mining her own relationship drama to find songwriting gold is well documented; when the results are as catchy and downright fun as this kiss-off gem, we have no complaints. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” finds the country-pop starlet and her ex (reportedly actor Jake Gyllenhaal) traipsing about in that awkward on-again, off-again state of limbo. The back and forth goes on, the ex’s transgressions pile up, but ultimately, “swift justice” wins out and we’re treated to one of the best breakup songs, like, ever.—Michael Chen

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“Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson

You may hate American Idol. You may hate power pop. You may hate it when people use u instead of you. But here’s the deal: You may also really hate your ex. And this song (off of Clarkson’s 2004 album, Breakaway) is so goddamned catchy, you can’t not belt out the chorus every time—with feeling.—Kate Wertheimer

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“Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia

Lurking behind the glossy sheen and shimmering guitars of this 1997 global pop hit is the age-old story of a relationship gone sour. “Torn” was originally recorded by American alt rockers Ednaswap, but saucy Aussie Natalie Imbruglia’s rendition perfectly encapsulates the unhappy transition from honeymoon optimism to the realization that “Illusion never changed / Into something real.” Seriously, we totally hate it when that happens.—Michael Chen

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“Un-Break My Heart” by Toni Braxton

Queen of ’90s R&B heartache Toni Braxton delivered more than just another sad love song when “Un-Break My Heart” hit the airwaves in 1996. A mélange of Spanish guitars and Braxton’s sultry contralto vocals, the Grammy-winning single builds a quiet storm with a dramatic crescendo as Braxton pleads with her ex to rewind their doomed relationship back to happier times. If the song’s video is any indication, those happier times included playing Twister and sharing a shower with hunky Polo Ralph Lauren model Tyson Beckford. So, yeah, we feel ya, Toni.—Michael Chen

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“Always on My Mind” by Willie Nelson

It’s been a hit for other artists—notably Elvis Presley and the Pet Shop Boys—but “Always on My Mind” has never packed more wallop than in Willie Nelson’s recording, the title track of his eponymous 1982 album. Humble and sincere, Nelson’s plea for forgiveness exudes the quiet wisdom of genuine contrition: Having finally opened his eyes, he allows himself to hope that they can still make contact.—Adam Feldman

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“Cry Me a River” by Julie London

This devastating torch song was written for Ella Fitzgerald in 1953, but Julie London managed to release it before the Queen of Jazz was able to get a version out. It became London’s signature song: Backed by a late-night thrum of guitar and bass that teeters ambiguously between the minor and major keys, her hushed vocals waver between tender, haughty and devastated. And then there’s that classy “too plebeian”/“through with me and” rhyme. They don’t write ’em like this any more.—James Manning

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“Walk On By” by Dionne Warwick

The 1960s songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David found their perfect interpreter in Dionne Warwick, whose breezy style made the duo’s character-driven, rhythmically challenging tunes sound deceptively simple. In 1964’s “Walk on By,” one of her first Bacharach-David hits, Warwick teases out the smooth dignity in a song about the pain of rejection.—Adam Feldman

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40–31

“I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5

What the hell does an 11 year old know about loss? With a tip of his giant purple pimp hat, Michael sang this Motown peak with a mile-wide smile on Ed Sullivan in ’69. Still, the kid sold it like nobody else, over chords that rise and fall like a roller coaster. And nothing hurts like first love.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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“September Gurls” by Big Star

In the encapsulation of fall-semester romance, Alex Chilton plays tough: “I loved you, well, never mind.” Never mind, he shrugs. Right. By the next line he’s confessing, “I’ve been crying all the time.” Ah, being a teenager. Listening to Big Star, it’s impossible to forget.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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“Dry Your Eyes” by the Streets

Men’s emotions can sometimes be harder to read than a pureed copy of Proust. In 2004, however, the Streets’ Mike Skinner just laid it right on the line. While Skinner’s verses found him crestfallen at having been chucked, it’s the choruses that made the tune so beloved, delivering man-to-man comfort and kindly reassurances that there are “plenty more fish in the sea.”—Oliver Keens

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“Don’t Speak” by No Doubt

“Don’t Speak” was released in 1996 as the third single from No Doubt’s third album, Tragic Kingdom. The song, which Gwen Stefani penned in response to her breakup with bandmate Tony Kanal, became the band’s most successful international single—and a rallying cry for lovelorn souls the world over to go right ahead and bury their head in the sand.—Kristen Zwicker

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“Crying” by Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison’s 1961 ballad is sensitive almost to a fault: the confession of a total bawler, reduced to tears even by touching the hand of the woman who broke his heart. But the emotion soaked into Orbison’s rich, quavering voice is offset by the singer’s disciplined, deadpan cool. Even when baring his sobbing soul, he somehow seems unflappable.—Adam Feldman

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“Skinny Love” by Bon Iver

You don’t even need to be able to understand the words in this 2007 hipster breakup anthem to recognize that this is the sound of a man in pain. Justin Vernon’s post-breakup isolation in a rural Wisconsin cabin for one lonely winter is now the stuff of indie-folk legend. But for a singer-songwriter who became known for his ethereal falsetto, it’s surprising how truly angry he sounds here. The lyrics are obtuse, but the clearer ones (“I tell my love to wreck it all / Cut out all the ropes and let me fall”) paint a vivid emotional picture.—Jenna Scherer

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“No Distance Left to Run” by Blur

From the bleak opening line—“It’s over, you don’t need to tell me”—to Damon Albarn’s final cries, this song is like a punch to the gut. Written, allegedly, about Albarn’s split with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann, the tune perfectly encapsulates the weariness and resignation all too often experienced during a breakup, in that period between acceptance and finally moving on. Sigh.—Amy Plitt

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“Teardrops” by Womack & Womack

A classic in the genre of Songs to Cry to in Clubs, this 1988 electrodisco anthem tells the tale of a cheating heart haunted by its infidelity. “Footsteps on the dance floor / Remind me, baby, of you / Teardrops in my eyes / Next time I’ll be true.” This silky cut comes from Cecil (brother of Bobby) Womack and his wife, Linda—a formidable musical partnership throughout the ’80s and ’90s. This is their biggest and best hit, however, and responsible for plenty tear-stained dancing shoes over the years.—Jonny Ensall

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“Believe” by Cher

If you don’t think this is a brilliant song, then it’s probably only because you’ve heard it way too many times. Cher’s (temporary) resurrection as a dance-pop diva in 1998 has raised plenty of hackles over the years—not least for its then-unprecedented use of Auto-Tune—but at its heart it’s simply a great breakup song in the air-punchingly empowered tradition of “I Will Survive”: “I’ve had time to think it through / And maybe I’m too good for you.” When we’re going through a rough time, we could all use a bit of that attitude.—James Manning

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“Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” by Soft Cell

“Take your hands off me!” cries Marc Almond on this 1982 synth-pop tearjerker. “I don’t belong to you, you see.” The follow-up to Soft Cell’s hit single “Tainted Love,” “Say Hello” perfectly encapsulates the ambivalence and denial at love’s end. Almond reflects that the pair must’ve been “the standing joke of the year,” adding later, “I never knew you / You never knew me.” And of course, were any of this true, you wouldn’t be crying now, would you?—Sophie Harris

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30-21

“I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” by Michael McDonald

We don’t typically think of the breakup song as a climate hospitable to sultry funk, but somebody forgot to notify Michael McDonald. On this 1982 lite-rock staple, the former Doobie Bro laments being hung up on an ex, as a rhythm section stocked with session aces glides through a monster groove—famously sampled by Warren G on 1994’s “Regulate.” Whoever the subject of the tune was, it’s hard to imagine her not shimmying back into the husky crooner’s arms when she heard this immortal jam.—Hank Shteamer

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“Blame Game” by Kanye West featuring John Legend

Mark this down: November 2010. The last time Kanye demonstrated vulnerability on a record. With an Aphex Twin sample, West balanced anger, pain and smartassery like no other MC can. It’s touching. That is, if you plug your ears before Chris Rock comes in for the coda, exclaiming, “This is some Cirque du Soleil pussy now!” By the next album, Yeezus would be a married man, grudge-rapping about fisting and ejaculating on fine fur coats.—Brent DiCrescenzo

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“Irreplaceable” by Beyoncé

The Destiny’s Child songbook is a bible for the woman looking to keep her man on his toes. Just in case “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Say My Name” and “Survivor” didn’t send a clear enough message, Beyoncé reiterated her “Don’t get too comfortable” party line on this, the ultimate kick-you-to-the-curb anthem. The singer doesn’t sound the slightest bit perturbed as she shoos a disappointing lover out of her crib, advising him that he’ll find his worldly possessions “in a box to the left.” You’re tempted to shout out an “Amen,” but Queen Bey seems to be doing just fine without any reinforcement.—Hank Shteamer

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“Ex-Factor” by Lauryn Hill

“Doo Wop (That Thing)” may have been the flagship single from Lauryn Hill’s post-Fugees solo debut—1998’s multi-Grammy-winning The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill—but it was the languid, lovely “Ex-Factor” that rocketed the disc into the realms of extraordinary. Perfectly piquant down to the name of the song, “Ex-Factor” longs for things to be different while knowing they can’t be, ringing with frustration (“I keep letting you back in”) but humming with a love that refuses to fade.—Sophie Harris

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“The Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Ah, the tears of a clown. Smokey might, indeed, “be the life of the party,” but “deep inside [he’s] blue,” people. As with the best soulful weepers, “Tracks” beautifully and economically articulates the pain of missing the one that got away. This summer-of-’65 staple—a cocktail of Smokey’s golden voice, swirling strings and horns, and a sing-along-worthy chorus—rings just as true today.—Tim Lowery

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“Pain In My Heart” by Otis Redding

Over and again, whether hopeful or heartbreaking, Otis Redding’s exquisite love songs bring us to our knees, like this title track off the soul icon’s 1964 debut album for Stax Records subdivision Volt (which also includes the imploring “These Arms of Mine”). If you’re really in the mood to wallow, mourn the fact that Redding perished in a plane crash at age 26, just three days after recording “Dock of the Bay.”—Kate Wertheimer

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“It’s Too Late” by Carole King

Carole King’s era-shaping 1971 album, Tapestry, was in some sense a declaration of independence from Gerry Goffin, her former husband and songwriting collaborator. The album’s first single, “It’s Too Late,” treats the end of a once-cherished relationship with bittersweet maturity, strength and striking lack of recrimination: “Still I’m glad for what we had / And how I once loved you.” It’s a song about being realistic about the end—a sentiment made all the more moving by its initial pairing, as a single, with the tremblingly erotic “I Feel the Earth Move.”—Adam Feldman

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“Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley

Think your breakup is sad? This song’s lyrics were inspired by a 1956 newspaper article about a man who jumped to his death from a hotel window, leaving a note with the single line “I walk a lonely street.” But suicides don’t sell records, so Presley crooned instead about a place where the bellhop’s tears flow, the desk clerk dresses in black and brokenhearted lovers can cry away their gloom. (And potentially hook up? Was this place also a brothel? No? Opportunity lost.)—Kate Wertheimer

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“I Fall to Pieces” by Patsy Cline

We’ve all been there: certain that you’re finally, finally over your ex, and then you run into them on the sidewalk, or hell, someone even mentions their favorite kind of muffin in passing, and you’re Jell-O on the floor. Patsy knows, child. And Patsy understands. Curl up in this 1961 tune's velvety vocals and keening pedal steel, and just let it all out.—Jenna Scherer

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“Come Pick Me Up” by Ryan Adams

A complimentary shot (or five) of whiskey ought to be issued with every copy of Ryan Adams’s 2000 disc, Heartbreaker (his debut album after leaving Whiskeytown, as it goes), such is its drink-away-the-despair musical might. “Come Pick Me Up” is gloriously masochistic, its chorus a veritable lunge of awful longing and too many cigarettes—“Take me out / Fuck me up / Steal my records / Screw all my friends.… / And then do it again / I wish you would”—followed by a killer harmonica caterwaul. Does it help to know that the album was named after the Mariah Carey song?—Sophie Harris

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20-11

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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10–2

“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston

Dolly Parton wrote and recorded this song in 1973 as a rueful envoi for her mentor and champion, Porter Wagoner, and later reprised it in the 1982 movie musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Although both of those versions hit the top of the country charts, the song reached its cultural apotheosis in Whitney Houston’s epic 1991 version from the soundtrack to The Bodyguard; at the time, it was the best-selling American single in history. In Houston’s soulful account, the song moves from a quiet, a cappella intro to a blast of gospel-inflected nobility and suffering—and then drifts upward into quiet again at the very end, as though ascending to a state of grace.—Adam Feldman

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“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” by the Righteous Brothers

Love crashes into a wall—specifically, producer Phil Spector’s trademark “Wall of Sound”—in this blue-eyed-soul lament, the 20th century’s most-played song on radio and TV. Cowritten by Spector and Brill Building hit makers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the song begins with a sharp observation (“You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips”) that leads to the chorus’s pained conclusion. But the song’s slowness and length—in 1964, 3:45 was an eternity for radio pop—give it an aching tenderness that makes its final exhortation to “bring back that lovin’ feelin’ ” sound like it has some hope of success.—Adam Feldman

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“Someone Like You” by Adele

You’d have to be some kind of monster not to mist up a bit at Adele’s 2011 tear tugger. A Saturday Night Live sketch has been written about its irresistible emotional pull; even dogs, it seems, are not immune. Part of what gives the song this power, paradoxically, is its rejection of sadness. The heartbroken singer enacts a performance of brave stoicism (she’s fine, she’ll move on, she’ll find someone else), but we know that she is fooling herself (she’s a mess, she’s still stuck, the best someone else is still the guy she has lost). But her willful refusal to cry about it lets us do the sobbing for her.—Adam Feldman

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“Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac

From one of rock’s most painful breakups came one of rock’s greatest breakup songs. The fallout from Lindsey Buckingham’s split with Stevie Nicks in 1976 may have made the recording of Rumours a living hell for its creators, but who cares? It spawned one of the most defiant and furious songs of a generation. No pain, no gain.—Oliver Keens

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“Tangled Up in Blue” by Bob Dylan

Jakob Dylan once said that listening to his father’s 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks, was like listening to his parents fighting. You can hear why on its opening track, “Tangled Up in Blue”—a song that feels lived-in, true and intimate, and at the same time assumes an Odyssean quality. Inspired by Dylan’s split from his wife Sara, the song finds our narrator caught between throw-in-the-towel resignation and deep, soul-shuddering longing: tangled up in blue.—Sophie Harris

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“Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye” by Leonard Cohen

Tear-jerking Canadian troubadour Cohen has many a song in his arsenal to reduce grown adults to pathetic wistfulness, but this 1967 beauty is the most effective of them all. Its setup is simple—two lovers remember the happy times even as they part, via Cohen’s sweet, sad lyrics: “You know my love goes with you as your love stays with me / It’s just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea.” What makes it a classic, however, is how upbeat Cohen’s picked guitar, mouth harp and evocative similes feel against the reality of the situation, deftly demonstrating that losing someone can be painful but cathartic.—Jonny Ensall

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“What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” by Jimmy Ruffin

What becomes of the brokenhearted? They end up listening to this solid-gold soul classic, over and over again, is what. The sad and newly-single can find solace in its driving, determined verses; tantalizing string refrain; major-to-minor key changes; and knowledge that yes, we’ve all been through it, and survived. Recorded in 1966 for Motown, the song is among the label’s most-covered hits. Anyone who’s turned to music for comfort (that’ll be all of us, then) will understand why.—Sophie Harris

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“Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor

Originally written and composed by Prince, “Nothing Compares 2 U” didn’t reach iconic, heart-decimating status until a certain headstrong Irish singer-songwriter tried her hand—and those sad, sad eyes—at covering it in 1990. The video, which alternates between a stark close-up of O’Connor’s despair-wrought face and shots of the dark-cloaked songstress roaming through the Parc de Saint-Cloud (a historic park just outside of Paris), was cited by Miley Cyrus as the inspiration for her 2013 “Wrecking Ball” video. Whatever your opinion of that spectacle, it can’t be denied that more than two decades later, O’Connor’s wrenching rendition still packs a punch.—Kristen Zwicker

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“You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette

Purported subject of this song Dave “Uncle Joey” Coulier insists that his breakup with Alanis was amicable. But there’s nothing well-wishing about this most vengeful of jilted-lover odes, the object of many a cathartic karaoke jam since its release in 1995. Like all great rages, Alanis lets hers build: The tune begins like an unexploded bomb, and you can almost smell the cordite in the air as she murmurs: “I want you to know / I’m happy for you…” And then the guitar kicks in, and the uncomfortable questions begin: “Is she perverted like me? / Would she go down on you in a theater?” By the time she’s growling about scratching her nails down someone else’s back and hoping you feel it, it’s already too late, Coulier. This one’s for the most demonstrative of your five stages—white-hot anger.—Jenna Scherer

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No. 1

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division

Sting gurgled, “If you love somebody, set them free,” and Bono wailed, “I can’t live with or without you.” But neither of them got close to the exhausting, depressive reality of a tortured love affair. Their lyrics never fully summed up the paradox of attraction and repulsion, or the bittersweet pang of nostalgia that comes when something beautiful is dying. They were not, in other words, Ian Curtis.

The lead singer of seminal Manchester, U.K., band Joy Division, Curtis was one of indie rock’s greatest losses—a troubled genius who let his shyness fall away onstage, but lived his personal life in quiet agony. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is Curtis at his most melancholic, and the ultimate chronicle of a relationship’s breakdown.

“When routine bites hard / And ambitions are low / And resentment rides high / But emotions won’t grow / And we’re changing our ways / Taking different roads…” The lyrics are ostensibly about Curtis’s relationship with his wife, Deborah, but they also refer to the inner rifts that contributed to his fragile psychological state and his eventual suicide in May 1980—a mere five months after this track was recorded.

For listeners, though, its eternal chorus—“But love, love will tear us apart again”—says everything there is to say about the mixed pleasure and pain of being in thrall to another human being. The music is postpunk at its minimal best, a sparse synth hook adding a touch of optimistic light to the shade of Curtis’s themes.

It is, without a doubt, the best breakup song ever created: Not just a ditty about dwindling affections, but a searingly precise evocation of human fragility. We are simple beings, it seems to say, made and broken by small moments, and powerless against the tide of our own emotions.—Jonny Ensall

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