Today UK singer/songwriter Raven Shelley is on the blog with a guest post about breakups and playlists. Please welcome Raven Shelly to the blog!
Guest Post by Raven Shelley
Ah, breakups. Most people have endured them at some point in their lives. And there are so many ways to cope with them, from the aggressive to the self-pitying to the completely bizarre.
This does, of course, mean that plenty of songs have been written about them. Having recently joined the long musical tradition of the breakup song with my latest release, ‘Do You Miss Me Yet?’, I’ve been thinking over which songs I seem to return to time and again when in the midst of the emotional turmoil which necessarily follows the end of a relationship.
Whilst this is by no means a comprehensive list, it does include some of my personal favourites. Those songs you turn to like old friends… (Warning: it will be slightly biased in favour of Bob Dylan and Ani DiFranco, but I have tried to restrain myself as much as possible).
1 – For When You’re Angry
Do You Miss Me Yet? – Raven Shelley (forgive me, I had to do a bit of self-promotion!)
You Oughta Know – Alanis Morissette
Positively 4th Street – Bob Dylan
Foundations – Kate Nash
Is there anything better than singing along (loudly!) to an angry breakup song? That cathartic feeling of letting it all pour out of you, as you wonder what on earth possessed you to stay for as long as you did with the idiot who is now – or soon to be – your ex.
I know I had been listening to the Kate Nash song when I wrote ‘Do You Miss Me Yet?’, and I think that might be obvious in verses such as:
“If I had to listen one more time
To some long-winded story of your fake bohemian life
I think I might have lost my fucking mind
I mean how are you not bored of yourself?
It’s bad enough dealing with you as someone else
But you have to put up with you every day of your life”
I was also listening to a hell of a lot of Dylan. He can write with a kind of scathing humour, and I’m not sure anyone else has ever topped it. But there is a pain as well as an honesty in that humour, as can be seen by:
“When you know as well as me
You’d rather see me paralyzed
Why don’t you just come out once
And scream it”
And as for ‘You Oughta Know’, you have to love the raw energy of the entire song, and the anger of lines like:
“Every time I scratch my nails down someone else’s back
I hope you feel it
Well, can you feel it?”
Talk about a way of getting revenge on the one that hurt you!
2 – When You Want Lines That Are Going To Hit Where It Hurts
She’s Your Lover Now – Bob Dylan
Graceland – Paul Simon
Dylan’s searing honesty is visible in the lines:
“Both were so glad
To watch me destroy what I had
Pain sure brings out the best in people, doesn’t it?”
Combine that with the venom of:
“Now your eyes cry wolf,
While your mouth cries ‘I’m not scared
Of animals like you’”
It’s an explosive mixture, guaranteed to make anyone feel better when blaring out at full volume.
Meanwhile, in ‘Graceland’, who could fail to be moved by this:
“She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead
And she said losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow”
3 – When You’re Leaving
A New England – Billy Bragg
It Ain’t Me, Babe – Bob Dylan
You Had Time and School Night – Ani DiFranco
You know that guilt you feel sometimes when it’s just not right for you, but the other person hasn’t necessarily realised it? I find it can usually be assuaged by Billy Bragg singing:
“I don’t feel bad about letting you go
I just feel sad about letting you know
I don’t want to change the world
I’m not looking for New England
I’m just looking for another girl”
And if that doesn’t work, Dylan comes to the rescue again with ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ – I think the title says it all.
On the other hand, I couldn’t have this section without including Ani DiFranco. ‘School Night’ is a painfully honest song about knowing it has to end, but still you build “a skyscraper of procrastination”, whilst “choking on the smoke/ of unthinkable choices”. Meanwhile, ‘You Had Time’ is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, both musically – with a gorgeous, building piano – and lyrically. It has a stunning opening verse:
“How can I go home, with nothing to say?
I know you’re going to look at me that
And say ‘What did you do out there?
What did you decide?
You said you needed time
And you had time’”
4 – When The Pain Is Excruciating
Independence Day – Ani DiFranco
Leave – Glen Hansard
There is an agonising poignancy when Ani DiFranco sings:
“You can’t leave me here
I got your back now
You’d better have mine”
Just as when Glen Hansard sings “Leave, leave,/ I don’t understand, you’ve already gone”. It’s a clearly a song written by someone who feels utterly betrayed, and eventually, the word ‘Leave’ turns into a howl of pain and anger. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
5 – When Trying Isn’t Enough
Both Hands – Ani DiFranco
Cigarette – Marika Hackman
Back to Ani DiFranco again. The opening track, ‘Both Hands’, off her debut album is a fantastic piece of poetry, full of metaphors:
“In each other’s shadows we grew less and less tall
And eventually our theories couldn’t explain it all
And I’m recording our history now on the bedroom wall
And when we leave the landlord will come and paint over it all”
Meanwhile the chorus contains this wonderful image:
“I am writing graffiti on your body
I am drawing the story of
How hard we tried”
I also include ‘Cigarette’ by Marika Hackman in this section. Think of those arguments which wipe out the entire evening, sometimes fuelled by alcohol (“drunk by the second course”//”I love it when we make a scene”), when everything comes out in a messy torrent of chaos. It’s all encapsulated in the lines:
“And I tried to hold my tongue
But you, you yanked it from my grip
Bathed it in petroleum, lit a cigarette and gave it a kiss”
The fact that the roles are reversed (“you tried to hold your tongue”) in the second chorus only emphasises the hopelessness of the situation, whilst showing that often both parties are equally culpable.
6 – For Soothing The Pain
Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye – Leonard Cohen
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright – Bob Dylan
I will never understand why people think this Dylan song is a love-song. You just have to read lines like “I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul” or the verse below to know that it’s not:
“I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right”
It’s a song for telling yourself not to revisit past decisions, it wasn’t right, and you needed to get out.
Leonard Cohen’s song is so beautiful it couldn’t help but soothe your soul. When it’s not necessarily circumstances one can control, when it has to end but no one wants it to, listen to this:“I’m not looking for another as I wander in my time,
Walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme
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,
But let’s not talk of love or chains and things we can’t untie,
Your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.”
And so there you have it. Breakup songs are many and varied, and everyone has their favourites, but these are some of my personal go-tos, for all situations. They’ve been much called upon at times, and they never fail to disappoint.
Finally, someone said to me recently, after listening to ‘Do You Miss Me Yet?’: “Remind me to never piss you off – I’ll end up in a song like that”. I dedicate it to everybody’s ex – have a listen and see if it applies to yours. Who knows, it might even make your breakup playlist!
– Raven Shelley