Sunday 22 September 2019

John Meagher chooses the 10 best break-up records in history


Wedding song: Bob Dylan and Sara Lownds were married for 11 years and divorced in 1977
Wedding song: Bob Dylan and Sara Lownds were married for 11 years and divorced in 1977
Wedding song: Dylan and Sara Lownds were married for 11 years and divorced in 1977
John Meagher

John Meagher

It has long been hailed as one of the greatest ever break-up albums, but the version of Blood on the Tracks that we have known for the past 43 years isn't nearly as heart-rending as the one that Bob Dylan recorded just a few months earlier.

In September 1974, as his marriage to his wife of nine years, Sara Lownds, was beginning to come to a bitter end, he went into A&R Studios in New York and recorded an album so raw and personal that his brother, David Zimmerman, urged him to rethink his decision to release it as is. It was, the younger man argued, too intimate, too autobiographical to release as it was. Nor, David suggested, was it strong enough to appeal to a wide audience.

Please log in or register with for free access to this article.

Log In

So, despite the fact that the album had had a December release date and the artwork had been completed, Dylan went back to studio the week after Christmas - this time at Sound 80 studio, Minneapolis, in his Minnesota home state - to re-record five of the 10 songs. He used a hastily assembled band of musicians and completed the task in just two days. The end result - released in January 1975 - was a batch of tracks that weren't quite as personal as he had first intended. But it hardly mattered. As soon as songs like 'Simple Twist of Fate' went into the public domain, nobody was in any doubt that a singing bard who had helped define the 1960s was baring his soul.

Now, thanks to the latest instalment in his long-running official Bootleg series, we're getting to hear the original cuts - and plenty more. More Blood, More Tracks is perfect for the Dylan completist and a remarkable artefact in its own right. It traces the path of some of the best-known break-up songs ever.

But if Dylan's 16th album is hailed as one of the great break-up records in history, there are plenty of other albums that could given it a run for its money - including, in chronological order, the following 10, all released this century.

Ryan Adams: Heartbreaker (2000)

He may have had his struggles with the quality control button - releasing songs that should have been left on the studio floor - but Adams' first solo album since the demise of Whiskeytown is a gorgeously downbeat affair. He had his heart broken and we, the listeners, are the lucky ones as we listen to songs as perfectly formed as the bittersweet 'Amy'.

Beck: Sea Change (2002)

One of the starkest break-up albums you're ever likely to hear was prompted by the end of Beck's nine-year relationship to stylist Leigh Limon. The song titles don't lie - 'Lost Cause' could hardly have been better named - and the overriding feeling is that of a singer and a man struggling to get his life back on track despite the sentiments of standout 'Guess I'm Doing Fine'.

Justin Timberlake: Justified (2002)

Break-up albums aren't supposed to sound this cheery or make you want to throw shapes on a dancefloor, and this first solo album by the former NSYNC star was motivated by his split from fellow Mickey Mouse Club member Britney Spears. The album's centrepiece, the sumptuous Timberland-produced 'Cry Me a River', suggested that Timberlake was the jilted party.

Amy Winehouse: Back to Black (2006)

The final album from the tragic Winehouse took the notion of dashed dreams and broken love and made something glorious and masterful out of the ashes. Mark Ronson's Spectoresque production abetted the singer's magnificent vocals especially on its stirring title track that sounded like a classic on first listen - and it still is.

Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)

The backstory is so well known it hardly bears repeating, but for the uninitiated, Justin Vernon - Bon Iver's frontman - was so dejected after a break-up that he hid himself away in a log cabin in the Wisconsin wilderness and came up with these songs that are both lovelorn and defiant. 'For Emma' is suffused with sadness and recrimination - "for all your lies, you're still very loveable" - but closer 're:stacks' is the sound of a man resignedly moving on.

Kanye West: 808s & Heartbreak (2008)

Mr Kim Kardashian doesn't seem overly sentimental these days, what with his bizarre Trump antics, but a decade ago West was going through a very bad time. His mother had died unexpectedly and Kanye was struggling for equilibrium following the demise of his relationship with fiancée Alexis Phifer. And while West displays a rare vulnerability - aided, oddly, by autotuned vocals - there's a cattiness throughout, too.

Adele: 21 (2011)

The biggest selling album of the decade may breed contempt thanks to our familiarity with the songs, but the English songstress's second album is a superlative break-up album. "We could have had it all," she sings on rousing opener 'Rolling in the Deep', a sentiment shared by most of those who have gone through a messy split from someone special.

Nas: Life is Good (2012)

Who's he kidding with a title like that? As if to underscore what he's lost, the rapper looks glum on the front cover as he holds the actual green dress worn by Kelis on their wedding day. There's a fair degree of self-aggrandisement -

the default setting for so many big-name hip hop albums - but he's in reflective mood, especially when weighing up the emotional cost of a marital split, not just for him but for his kids, too.

Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2014)

The American's second album plumbed all the emotions associated with a trying break-up - and those sentiments are best expressed on The Breeders-like 'Forgiven/Forgotten' in which she notes: "If there's one thing I fear/ It's only your arms/ So close, but not here." Elsewhere, it's the honesty that gets you: "I feel so lonesome, I could cry." We've all been there.

Robyn: Honey (2018)

The Swede is no stranger to great pop songs about broken-down love but this comeback album - her first in eight years - is full of them. Opener 'Missing U' cuts straight to the chase: "All of the plans we made, it never happened… there's this empty space you left behind now you're not here with me." Like Abba, her countrymen and women, Robyn mines chart gold from emotional wreckage.

Indo Review

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top