Heartbreakers part deux

I’m warming to my theme, now… I’ve been trying to think what separate those songs I mentioned before from common or garden heartbreak and misery songs, as to me they seem quite distinct. I think there are two factors. Firstly, the scenario is about a specific third person, and often gives specific details of events: they are really love triangle songs, sung from the perspective of the person who has come off worst. And thirdly, they have a directness and specificness: they do not adorn themselves with metaphor, allusion or innuendo; rather, they say what happened, and tell it straight.

Sam Holloway suggested a couple of excellent heartbreak songs to me on Facebook: Beck’s Lonesome Tears and It Started With A Kiss by Hot Chocolate. But now I have unfairly changed the rules, they don’t count. Also out of the running are more obvious contenders like I Know It’s Over by The Smiths, which doesn’t involve a particular love triangle – I think the bride and all that are pretty figurative, and certainly not the focus of the song, which is undoubtedly Morrissey’s own general misery. Also out is I Want You by Elvis Costello, which isn’t really any sort of narrative – we don’t know what happened, only the messy end result – and, while it has an undeniable emotional impact, is mainly hateful rather than heartbroken.

So, a challenge for you: what other songs fit into this slightly arbitrary category? I can think of only one that I missed yesterday, so far anyway: You Don’t Know by Ellie Greenwich. It’s a strikingly-arranged song, and while it has the simplicity and directness of a lot of her songs, it packs an emotional punch that a lot of her more fluffy offerings can’t match.

Any more?

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9 comments

  1. I’m very late joining in with this, but the reason Jonathan David gets a kicking is not because of its lyrics (and in fairness, I really don’t hate the song as much now as I did when it came out) it’s because it’s a big mess of notes that don’t sound like they are in the right order.
    But then I’ve always preferred Stuart Murdoch’s songs to anyone else in the band’s.

    In terms of songs that fit your rules, how about ‘C’Mere’ by Interpol? ‘The trouble is that you’re in love with someone else. It should be me’. It’s perhaps a bit too arch and matter-of-fact in delivery to qualify, but I reckon bonus points for directness.

    I’m sure I’ll think of some better ones.

  2. Cheers Sam – it’s a bit low on heartache and despair, isn’t it? Not sure I’d sound so smug if I was being two-timed. I can see the appeal of the chorus, though – cheesy, but rather excellent!

  3. Reading those lyrics has reminded me of a guilty pleasure that just about fits your requirements – “Little Does She Know” by the Kursaal Flyers ( http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZnQQF7ucdM ). Produced (and I think written) by Wombles->Melua creator Mike Batt, this is classic overblown mid-70s pop and I love it. Setting the song in a launderette provides the opportunity for such great lyrics as “I knew that she’d seen me/Because she dropped her bikini” and “Her escape was so urgent/She forgot her detergent”.

    (Off-topic, this song is notable for two other reasons. One – I was trying to find a copy in 1997, and eventually got one on 7″ single. Buying that record was what started me off on collecting 7″ singles; I now have nearly 6000. Two – I notice one of the ‘related videos’ on YouTube is Sherbet’s “Howzat”. This is the song that Tony Wilson always used to cite as epitomising everything that was bad about this era of pop music…)

  4. Cheers Sam – I can’t quite tell if one of the two versions you mention is the original EC one where he arranged it in 5/4 time in a fit of pique…

    A friend who shall remain nameless suggested this: http://www.lyricstime.com/the-wombats-my-first-wedding-lyrics.html. While it fits the bill, I feel the need to articulate a previously implicit criterion: “must not be shit”. I mean:

    “I stand by the buffet and submerse myself in brie
    I’m tactically positioned
    Yeah because the bar is near and the champagne’s for free ”

    Has rock’n’roll really come to this?

  5. I spent nearly an hour last night going through the subsection of my collection that exist digitally. Lots of classic heartbreak songs (Dolly Parton’s original wrenching “I Will Always Love You”, Jocelyn Brown’s “Somebody Else’s Guy”, REO Speedwagon “Keep On Loving You”) but none of them fitted your template. I agree that there is something magic about the love-triangle format. The closest I got was, again, Elvis Costello with “Alison” but perhaps the details of the incident are too vague.

    Then, this morning, breakthrough. I found myself listening to Roy Oribson’s ‘Mystery Girl’ album and, there it is, ‘The Comedians’. Until about 30 seconds ago, I didn’t know that this was – yet again – an Elvis Costello composition! But there appear to be two versions. Roy Orbison sings the lyrics about the ‘ferris wheel’, which are comedic in the setup and would turn to laughable bathos without Orbison’s insistent and passionate vocals. YouTube performance here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-vwkbAZ5Kw

    So there we go. It seems that EC and RO truly inhabit this heartbreaking space. And I used the word ‘bathos’, so I feel like a proper critic. It must be these new glasses that I’ve got.

  6. Further idea: numerous songs on the Long Blondes’ first album fit in this category. Only Lovers Left Alive is probably my favourite, but In The Company of Women is probably the very neatest fit.

    Further thought: 60s Bitch by Kenickie!

  7. OK, I’m trying to post this for the third time now. Maybe it’s just that I’ve had too much unrequited love in my life but I’m getting quite into this topic this afternoon!

    There are so many great examples of the genre generally. REM’s ‘Losing My Religion’ always struck me as the best piece of writing about obsessive unfulfilled infatuation and it always amazes me that people sing along to it with joy at stadium concerts. The best break-up song for me will always be Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ ‘The Tracks Of My Tears’ – sheer simple poetry. Bob Dylan’s ‘Up To Me’ (discarded from ‘Blood On The Tracks’ because it sounded too similar to ‘Shelter From The Storm’) strikes me as a great example because of its candid admission that male fear and indecisiveness is often the cause of relationship failure (‘I met somebody face to face, I had to remove my hat/She’s everything I need and love but I can’t be swayed by that/It frightens me, the awful truth of how sweet life can be/She ain’t going to make a move, I guess it must be up to me’).

    But as you say, your own category is more tricky. One good example is Arthur Alexander’s ‘Go Home Girl’, an admirably moral tale about resisting the temptations of your best friend’s girlfriend. http://www.mtv.com/lyrics/alexander_arthur/go_home_girl/3513455/lyrics.jhtml

    One of my BBC colleagues has suggested a more spiteful example – Del Shannon’s quite superb ‘Hats Off To Larry’.
    http://www.lyricsdownload.com/del-shannon-hats-off-to-larry-lyrics.html

    Patsy Cline, like Roy Orbison, used to completely inhabit the heartbreak genre (‘I Fall To Pieces’, ‘Crazy’ etc). One cruel example that turns this idea on its head is ‘Why Can’t He Be You’.
    http://www.cowboylyrics.com/lyrics/cline-patsy/why-cant-he-be-you-10503.html
    There’s also the more conventional ‘She’s Got You’.

    One exceedingly complicated love triangle song is Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’. Nobody else could write a lyric like this!
    http://www.songmeanings.net/lyric.php?lid=61039

    There’s Rilo Kiley’s ‘Does He Love You?’, much admired by Elvis Costello apparently.
    http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Does-He-Love-You-lyrics-Rilo-Kiley/BE15BFDB15B5F2C448256F71000C228C

    This certainly does not fit your criteria, but it’s worth highlighting a rather different approach to a love triangle. David Crosby clearly had no morals when faced with the situation of being in love with two women at the same time:
    http://www.lyricstime.com/byrds-triad-lyrics.html

  8. This is a good idea, and that Ellie Greenwich song is particularly outstanding.

    General heartbreak/unrequited love songs that I think are brilliant. REM’s ‘Losing My Religion’ – as powerful a study of obsessive and unfulfilled infatuation as I’ve heard. It always amazes me when people start singing along to it with joy in stadiums. Smokey Robinson and The Miracles – ‘The Tracks of My Tears’ – just about the best break-up song there is, sheer simple poetry. Bob Dylan’s ‘Up To Me’ has always struck me as a fine example of an unrequited love song for its candid admission that male fear and indecisiveness is frequently the cause of relationship failure (‘I met somebody face to face, I had to remove my hat/She’s everything I need and love, but I can’t be swayed by that/It frightens me, the awful truth of how sweet life can be/She ain’t going to make a move, I guess it must be up to me.’) Stephin Merritt is a master of this sort of thing too of course.

    But as you say, your category is a bit more tricky. Some possible contenders:

    Arthur Alexander’s ‘Go Home Girl’ is an example of self-discipline in resisting the considerable temptations of your best friend’s girlfriend. http://www.mtv.com/lyrics/alexander_arthur/go_home_girl/3513455/lyrics.jhtml

    A BBC colleague suggested a spiteful example in the rather wonderful Hats Off To Larry by Del Shannon.
    http://www.lyricsdownload.com/del-shannon-hats-off-to-larry-lyrics.html

    Patsy Cline, like Roy Orbison, always seemed to completely inhabit heartbreak songs (‘I Fall To Pieces’, ‘Sweet Dreams of You’ etc). One quite cruel song that turns the idea on its head is ‘Why Can’t He Be You’. http://www.cowboylyrics.com/lyrics/cline-patsy/why-cant-he-be-you-10503.html
    There’s also the more conventional ‘She’s Got You’

    An extremely complex love triangle song, is Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ http://www.songmeanings.net/lyric.php?lid=61039
    Nobody else could write a lyric like that!

    It definitely doesn’t fit your theme – but I always rather liked David Crosby’s less morally upright approach to being in love with two women at the same time:
    http://www.lyricstime.com/byrds-triad-lyrics.html

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