The Sadness Soundtrack

We’ve commissioned two of our writers (one male, one female) to delve into their own personal break-up Hell history, compile a list of their top 6 Heartbreak songs and create their own “Sadness Soundtrack.”

A Man’s Perspective A Woman’s Perspective

Everybody has experienced loss in their lives. It can be as tragic as the death of a family member or something less tangible like the loss of someone’s trust or a job. The ways to deal with loss can be as extensive as the reasons and whatever feels right probably IS right. I’ve always fallen on music as a melodic crutch to get through these times since it’s much cheaper than Prozac and it doesn’t cross the line with my AAallergic reaction to alcohol (which wasn’t always the case). These 6 songs are my equivalent to free medication and therapy. I’d say “enjoy” but that would just be cruel.

“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” William Congreve or as we know it today, “Music soothes the savage beast.” Music can be one of the most healing forms of therapy for anybody suffering a heartbreak. It’s tantamount to group therapy whereby you can sit in a room and sing along with the other heartbreak sufferers. So the next time you’re feeling down and out or long in the tooth…or any of those other lovely phrases, turn on one of these favorites and sing your heart out. Trust me, you’ll feel better.

Ray Price

I learned this healing process (or form of dementia) of dealing with a broken heart from my mother, who was married 5 times and subsequently, went through 4 divorces. Her initial divorce from my father brought “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul and Mary down on my young skull about 1000 times. Her 2nd D-I-V-O-R-C-E (sorry, Tammy Wynette) brought this classic from Ray Price. I recall singing it to a freshly-exed teenage girlfriend in an attempt to convey in song what I didn’t have the words, knowledge or tact to say. Her response ran along the lines of “shut the hell up.”

As I got older and actually listened to words and their meaning, the song became much more than a band-aid. Price’s rich baritone told me to “…hear the whisper of the raindrops, flowing soft against the window and make believe you still love me one more time…” Having shared that last dance of a love gone south, the pain in this song is palpable. When my mother passed away in 2005, Ray Price reminded me, once again, that it was over.


How can you NOT include this song as one of the truest heartbreak songs out there? The moment it is played in supermarkets, elevators, iPods and elsewhere is the moment the listener’s mood changes from anything else to heartbroken. You don’t even have to be suffering from a heartbreak, just listen for a few bars and you will be transported to another time when your heart WAS broken.

Adele’s voice has a raw and guttural quality; as if her heart has been recently ripped from her body with her tears still flowing in between the words. Her chin tilts up as she wails for him not to forget her, her rhythms lilt and sway in an almost-but-not-quite off-tempo way. It is in there that you share her pain and add a touch of your own. “Who would have known how bittersweet this would taste?” Yeah, reminds me I need to get Kleenex.

Fairport Convention

This Gene Clark composition has had many incantations but this little remembered folk group (had Richard Thompson on guitar) from the late 60′s somehow turned this country approach into a gut-wrencher. Fueled by the subtle yet evocative emotion in Sandy Denny’s harmony, it helped me realize why they really had to go. The morose layer of her beautifully stunning voice seemed to broadcast every romance I couldn’t maintain and “…so I sit right up and look right past the pain because I’ve been in love before and I can love again” are words that I lived by in the 80′s and reminded me that it was okay to feel like a kicked dog when I probably deserved it.

Julie London

“Now you say you’re sorry…” It’s what every girl in a break-up yearns for; the ex- crawling back to them, begging for another chance. Your lover has left and like a game show host now seems devoid of any real emotion. Up until now you thought you would do anything, and I mean anything, to get him to return to you. During those rare heartbreak moments where you have a spark of strength that you wouldn’t want him back, this song can feed and nourish that “fuck you” spark enough to build a fire, which may just get you through another day. I chose Julie London for this rendition because her voice is warm and soft, like a cashmere butter blanket.

Tom Waits

Say what you want about Tom Waits. The man has a corner on melancholy. First time I heard this song turned my booze-filled youthful giddiness into a weeping mass of humanity, the gravel-wretched vocal cut me to my core, the piano, dancing with the alto sax, poured salt right into my veins. His plea is just a page in a chapter of desolation and I experience the same sadness every time I hear it. Rich with 1940′s references and imagery, the done-in waitress of this greasy all night diner, armed only with an apron and a spatula, hides her sad past while the antihero, watches her over another cup of java. In the end, he thinks out loud about taking a job at the filling station “…cuz he can eat here every night, what the hell do I got to lose…” You mean other than everything? I’ve sat at this very counter and ate the same hash and drank the same weak coffee that couldn’t even defend itself. If you’ve never been this desperate, I dare you to listen to this song after a fight with a loved one

#4 ON MY OWN – Les Miserables
Samantha Barks

Les Miserables is a tragic story upon a tragic story upon a tragic story. Throughout the entire musical you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting some version of heartbreak. This song, however, oozes the cruelest of all loves: the “unrequited”. To love someone with every cell in your body and yet know that that someone would never even consider you as a possibility is heartbreaking. To make it worse, add a dash of hope; which in reality is really adding salt to your already gaping wound. You know he could never love you…but what if? That small dose of hope will keep you singing this same song and yet still realizing that it will never be. “…Without me his world would go on turning, a world that’s full of happiness that I have never known…” The song is belting and hypnotic and as it builds to a powerful crescendo it leaves the weaker vocalist muted. Samantha Barks (shown here) and Lea Salonga sell this song like they’ve lived it all their lives.

Dorothy Moore

If you like torch songs, this one is funded by Napalm, Inc. Lush with all the trimmings of that beloved 70′s soul, I’ve honestly seen this song make grown men cry on several occasions. Dorothy Moore starts off like any conversation with a long lost lover, light and airy, so sweet and like all conversations where love was left in a rainy parking lot, layers of history come back in hushed tones and recollections then denial, as not to lose face in this unexpected reunion but eventually acceptance and testimonial. The power of her wails add the final death stamp on a love gone wrong and possibly the most honest cries I’ve ever heard

Sunday in the Park with George

Musical theatre has carried me through many light, happy moments and dark, brooding times. There is something about singing a song while knowing an entire back story that stays with me. “We Do Not Belong Together” is one of those songs. Bernadette Peters is the voice that is both warm and wounded and Mandy Patinkin’s clear, demanding tone barely conceals the artist’s anguish. How do you stay with someone who isn’t able to give to you what you need to hear? Even while engulfed in a firestorm of passion? I remember sitting in my little rented room in a house filled with college students. I’d taped pennies to the doorframe as decoration and my mattress lay flat on the floor amongst books, clothes, dishes and cigarette butts. Saturated with heartbreak in a smoke-filled room I played this song on repeat and I cried with Bernadette as she begged him, “tell me not to go…”

Billie Holiday

I’ve often thought that Billie Holiday’s voice was comparable to looking through broken opaque glass, distorted and distant. Perhaps how one hears things while in a coma. Here she takes the 8 notes that she could sing and twists the joy out of every sweet memory you ever had and leaves you with the cold sweats of every mistake you ever made. Repeated listenings confirms that she is lying. Her reed-thin voice gives just a glimpse of her cruel secret … She won’t look you in the eyes; she moves her cheek as you try to kiss her. She is so close you can almost taste the recent cigarette but she is so far away. If you wake up from that coma, she won’t be there. Her subtle touch will be gone and the small cafe, the wishing well and the moon itself will only be your memories.

Billie Holiday

Yes, I’ve chosen the same song. This song is just … wow. Billie Holiday conveys the grief of lost love with such sadness and melancholy that it makes me teary even writing about it. The lyrics have such a finality to them that there appears no hope of ever seeing this person again. “I’ll find you in the morning sun and when the night is new. I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you.” Did the person die? Perhaps … which makes me even tearier … especially considering the circumstance of Billie Holiday’s own passing.

Otis Redding

Few can adequately put on paper what Otis can do to one’s senses. Personally, I’m embarrassed to try. How could I possibly convey the six notes he uses on the first three syllables of the staccato intro are like pushing that sled up to the edge of a 75 degree incline. Who am I to think I could put into words how in 2 minutes and 32 seconds you could literally taste kisses from 30 years ago, remember a soft embrace in the front seat of a fogged up car, hold a newborn baby against your chest while she sleeps, hear the whimpers of excitement only to have your heart ripped out by suffering through an absence, relive negligence, burn in selfishness and wallow in self-pity. Otis leaves me naked miles away from home in a place I vow never to return to but actually, I’ve never left. I miss my kids; I miss my mom and my dad. I miss the old Motorola Hi-Fi where endless 45′s spun like magic and burned me with thoughts and dreams that I could never attain. I miss the friendships I’ve destroyed and every love that I’ve killed. What I don’t miss is this song because I hear it every day.

Bonnie Raitt

This song was a favorite karaoke song of mine and I could belt it with the best of them. Who knew that this soon would become the theme song to my break-up? Internally I knew there was someone else; I knew that it was a matter of time before the silverware was sorted and the laundry was halved. On that stage, holding a poor man’s mic and without the need for lyrics on the screen, I looked deep into my lover’s eyes and I sang Bonnie Raitt’s words…but for that night they were mine. I had written them with my tears, I had sung them with my soul. I wailed for understanding and pleaded for more…but just as the song came to an end, I also understood that so had we.

Written by D.A. Latta Written by Cindy French

So do you have a heartbreak anthem? Can you identify with any of the songs listed above or do you have a completely different take on what makes a song heartbreaking? Respond via comments! We’d love to get your perspective!


One Response to The Sadness Soundtrack

  1. Pingback: Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On. Twice. « The Real Mr. Heartache

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