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6. Jackson 5, "I Want You Back"
Written about a relationship that ended prematurely, and a lover hastily backpedaling to save it, "I Want You Back" evokes all the mistakes of young lovers in the heat of passion. Regardless of the upbeat tone (and the fact that it was sung by an unusually soulful eleven-year old), this song is a glum reminder that once a relationship is over, something will be lost forever and ever. — J.G.
5. Etta James, "I'd Rather Go Blind"
Over a hypnotic, two-chord vamp, Etta James bares her soul to the point of bloodletting. Her performance starts off relatively low-key and mournful, but by 1:30 ("I was just, I was just, I was just sitting here thinking of your kiss, and your warm embrace"), she's fully in the over-the-top truth of the song: sometimes, it'd be easier to never see again than see someone you love walk away. — A.H.
4. Nina Simone, "Ne Me Quitte Pas"
"Ne Me Quitte Pas" may not be Nina Simone's most well-known performance, but it's definitely one of her best. You don't need to speak French to hear that this song is about begging someone not to leave. A work of exhausted beauty, it's best listened to on repeat accompanied by a bottle of red and a good cry. — R.K.
3. The Beatles, "For No One"
Among Paul McCartney breakup songs, conventional wisdom would give the edge to "Yesterday." But while "Yesterday" is certainly beautiful, with its sweeping strings and simple lyrics, it's more adolescent in its mood than the brutally adult "For No One." Here, McCartney strips out all sentiment in favor of a crisp, hard-headed look at the end of a relationship. It's devastating (and very English). "Yesterday" feels speculative, and McCartney wrote it when he and Jane Asher were still happily together; "For No One," written while they were breaking up, could only have been written by someone who'd been there. — P.S.
2. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, "The Tracks of My Tears"
Smokey Robinson's gossamer vocals are downright angelic on this song: his voice is so pure, and his pain so impossibly transparent, it's like looking through a beautiful window into a house destroyed by fire. The song's dynamic shifts have a lot to do with its success as well: as the restrained verse accelerates into that skyrocketing chorus, the strings swell, the drums crash, and Smokey's voice wavers above it all, sounding, well, like an angel. — A.H.
1. Bob Dylan, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
Dylan wrote this classic after his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo (who appears on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan), told him she was extending her trip to Italy... indefinitely. In a perfect expression of rejection and bitterness, Dylan fills this song with slow burns like "I once loved a woman, a child I'm told/ I give her my heart but she wanted my soul," and of course, that final punch to the stomach, "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." There's really no better song to listen to when you're hurt but don't want to hurt your pride. — R.K.
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