We recently assembled the greatest love songs of all time, but let's face it: while love has inspired some great songs, the majority of classics come from a darker place.
Our rules this time were simple: a breakup song can be vengeful, dignified, devastated, or whatever else, as long as the lyrics make explicit reference to a relationship that is ending or has ended.
It builds from a lulled beginning to an explosive, cathartic end: "I don't want to die with you, or live in the same dark room…
I know the secret of your soul, and I just don't want to know." 24.
Aimee Mann, "Amateur" (1997) Over a carnivalesque instrumental track, Mann sings about hoping against reason to find something better in a person (and by extension, their relationship) than there actually is.
Articulating disappointment, but forgoing bitterness, Mann acknowledges her own blind spot: "I thought you'd be better, but I've been wrong before." 23.
Guns N' Roses, "November Rain" (1992) It's possible that no one since Axl Rose has written a breakup song this grandiose. There is also no human experience more grandiose, on the inside, than a breakup.
There's good reason for that; bombast on this scale calls for years if not decades of back-to-basics purification. Thus, when you need it, "November Rain" will serve you well. Red Hot Chili Peppers, "I Could Have Lied" (1991) There's no slap bass. There's just a beautiful guitar figure, a rare set of emotionally vulnerable lyrics from Anthony Kiedis, and not one but two guitar solos that define "wailing." Also, the song is allegedly about Sinead O' Connor, which gives this list a weird, "two people in the same room who used to date" feel. "I Miss You So Much" was lost among the hurricane of bravado that was "No Scrubs" and its follow-up empowerment anthem, "Unpretty," but it's a great slice of '90s R&B; a soft, delicate ballad that features absolutely zero attitude and a distinct paucity of condom-eyeglasses.
This is a TLC that didn't really come out that much — wounded and laid bare — which makes its rare appearance that much more effective. Bell Biv De Voe, "Poison" (1990) Some say this old-school classic plays to a new era of AIDS consciousness — meaning that, like poison, that girl is literally deadly.
I tend to think it's just about a toxic kinda woman, but what really matters is that this song stands the test of time.
The scratched record and beat are as catchy now as they were then.
And most importantly, this track teaches us an important life lesson: never trust a big butt and smile. Alice in Chains, "Heaven Beside You" (1995) Sung by Jerry Cantrell instead of Layne Staley, "Heaven Beside You" concerns the breakup of Cantrell's seven-year relationship, and it sandwiches perfectly between AIC's two primary moods: bleak and less stomping than the rest of Alice in Chains' catalog.
But the band's signature elements (CSNY-on-downers harmonies and epic guitar solos) are fully intact, making this the kind of breakup song acceptable to self-loathing metal dudes the world over. Mariah Carey, "Heartbreaker" (1999) Not all breakup songs have to feature sadness and acoustic guitars.