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Why Do People Like Breakup Songs?

Songs about ending relationships can be emotionally engaging and soothing.

Some people react to possible romantic endings by playing their favorite breakup songs. The end of a treasured relationship is always difficult, but music can be soothing. Below I list more than 50 great breakup songs from the 1930s to the 2020s that might take your mind off your misery. They are also worth listening to even if you are happily coupled or contentedly single. I think that the best breakup song of all time is "The Thrill Is Gone" by B. B. King. Other lists of breakup songs can be found on Apple Music and Spotify.

Public domain.
Broken Heart by Dawn Hudson.
Source: Public domain.

The appeal of breakup songs has several sources. Because of their lyrics and melodies, breakup songs are emotionally engaging, which is more important than being happy, as I argued in my blog post on sad songs. Moreover, breakup songs can provide a kind of reverse empathy as you feel for another person going through what you are experiencing. This feeling can help you recognize your own feelings and also distract you from your own predicament.

Finally, breakup songs can suggest directions for improving your current situation. Most such songs have the typical characteristics of sad songs that include slow tempo, low pitch, and minor scale. But some are more up-tempo and therefore, might help to transition to a better mood. In my list, I have marked with an * some examples of unusually upbeat breakup songs that might contribute to emotional change.

Compared to the hordes of songs about breaking up, I haven’t been able to think of many songs about making up, but I did add a few at the end. Perhaps the reason that there are so few making up songs is that their emotional role is filled by the enormous number of songs about being in love.

Going from being in love to breaking up, and from breaking up to making up, are important kinds of emotional change that it would be interesting to map and explain. Chapter 4 of my book, Mind-Society, describes the mental mechanisms of romantic relationships.

Breakup Songs

  • "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" by Paul Simon *
  • "A Fine Romance" by Fred Astaire
  • "Almost Over You" by Sheena Easton
  • "Alone Again (Naturally)" by Gilbert O’Sullivan
  • "Back to Black" by Amy Whitehouse
  • "Belleville Breakup" by Justin Rutledge
  • "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" by Neil Sedaka *
  • "Bye Bye Love" by the Everly Brothers
  • "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" by Glen Campbell
  • "Cut You Off" by Selena Gomez
  • "Didn’t We" by Richard Harris
  • "Die From a Broken Heart" by Maddie & Tae
  • "Different Drum" by Linda Ronstadt
  • "Do What You Gotta Do" by Linda Ronstadt
  • "Done" by Frazey Ford
  • "Faded Love" by Patsy Cline
  • "Foolish Games" by Jewel
  • "Forget You" by Ceelo Green *
  • "Go Now" by The Moody Blues
  • "Goodbye My Lover" by James Blunt
  • "Hit the Road, Jack" by Ray Charles
  • "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye
  • "I Will Always Love You" by Dolly Parton and by Whitney Houston
  • "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor *
  • "I’ll Do It All Over Again" by Crystal Gayle *
  • "I’ll Get Over You" by Crystal Gayle
  • "Irreplaceable" by Beyoncé
  • "It Ain’t Me Babe" by Bob Dylan *
  • "It Must Have Been Love" by Roxette
  • "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue" by Bob Dylan
  • "It’s All Over Now" by the Rolling Stones
  • "It’s Over" by Roy Orbison
  • "It’s Too Late" by Carol King
  • "Just When I Needed You Most" by Randy VanWarmer
  • "Last Thing I Needed the First Thing This Morning" by Willy Nelson
  • "Let Me Down Easy" by Bettye Lavette
  • "Long Long Time" by Linda Ronstadt
  • "Love Hurts" by Buddy Holly and by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris
  • "Love Yourself" by Justin Bieber *
  • "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart" by Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus
  • "Nothing Compares 2 You" by Sinéad O’Connor
  • "One" by Three Dog Night
  • "Only the Lonely" by Roy Orbison
  • "Paper Doll" by John Mayer
  • "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele *
  • "She Never Knew Me" by Don Williams
  • "So Long It’s Been Good to Know You" by The Weavers *
  • 'Solitary Man" by Neil Diamond
  • "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye
  • "Someone Like You" by Adele
  • "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" by Elton John
  • "Take a Bow" by Madonna
  • "Thank God and Greyhound" by Roy Clark *
  • "That’s What You Get for Loving Me" by Gordon Lightfoot
  • "The Thrill is Gone" by B. B. King
  • "The Winner Takes it All" by ABBA
  • "These Boots are Made for Walking" by Nancy Sinatra *
  • "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia
  • "We Are Never Getting Back Together" by Taylor Swift *
  • "Where the Blues Begins" by Buddy Guy
  • "Your Side of the Bed" by Little Big Town

Making Up Songs

  • "Back in Baby’s Arms" by Patsy Cline
  • "Can You Believe It" by Martha Wainwright
  • "The Things We Do For Love" by 10CC
  • "Together Again" by Emmylou Harris
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