The 25 Greatest Breakup Songs of the 1970s

We recently assembled the greatest love songs of all time, but let's face it: while love has inspired some great songs, the majority of classics come from a darker place. Our rules this time were simple: a breakup song can be vengeful, dignified, devastated, or whatever else, as long as the lyrics make explicit reference to a relationship that is ending or has ended. Again, we limited it to one song per songwriter (not necessarily per band). Come back next week for the best breakup songs of the '80s, and let us know what we missed in the comments. Also, feel better. You're going to get through this, and to help with that, here's a Spotify playlist of this week's list, and here are the greatest breakup songs of the '60s. — The Nerve Editors

25. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, "The Love I Lost" (1973)

Very few breakup songs make you want to shake your extremities, but sometimes that's the best cure for heartbreak. "The Love I Lost" has some somber lyrics, but the beat begs to differ. It's perfect for when you want to atone for your relationship sins on the dance floor. — Rachel Krantz


24. Leonard Cohen, "Chelsea Hotel #2" (1974)

The Hotel Chelsea has seen a lot, not least of which was a brief, unlikely fling between Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin. The honesty of Cohen's lyric about the encounter extends well beyond its frank sexual details. It's loving, but also distant — "emotion recollected in tranquility." — Peter Smith


23. Talking Heads, "I'm Not In Love" (1978)

David Byrne's early persona — kind of a visiting Martian's take on human experiences held to be normal — gets profound here. A relationship is falling apart, but Byrne's observing from a distance, trapped in his own head, cold, and unable to connect. "There'll come a day when we don't need love," he says, like some autistic visionary. Like many great Talking Heads songs, "I'm Not In Love" is both chilling and highly danceable. — P.S.


22. Rod Stewart, "Maggie May" (1971)

The deceptively nuanced lyrics, Stewart's wistful vocal, and the band's rustic, ramshackle feel make "Maggie May" one of the most heartfelt portraits of a disintegrating relationship ever recorded. That it's a May-December relationship doesn't make any difference — this relationship wasn't a novelty to the people in it, and it shouldn't be to the listener, either.— A.H.


21. Led Zeppelin, "Tangerine" (1970)

"Tangerine" should probably appear in the dictionary next to the word "wistful." With its sweet vocal harmonies and beautiful slide guitar, it's a perfect picture of a past relationship that hasn't quite lost its ache in the recollection. — P.S.


Tags Breakups

Commentarium (48 Comments)

Apr 02 12 - 12:37am

I like the list (most of it) but what, no Stevie Wonder's "Superwoman (Where Were You When I Need You?)"
The Delfonics: Didn't I Blow Your Mind
Al Green: Call Me (Come Back Home)
The Chi-Lites: Oh Girl
Daryl Hall & John Oates: She's Gone
and (seriously): The Carpenters: Superstar

Apr 02 12 - 9:07am

I second all the above picks.

Apr 02 12 - 12:53am

No Roxy Music? I don't get it.

Apr 02 12 - 12:27pm

"All I Want Is You" would've been #26.

Apr 02 12 - 12:56pm

Cool, or you could have gone with "Just Like you" or "A Song for Europe"

Apr 02 12 - 5:27am
How about....

Kiss and Say Goodbye by The Manhattans?

Apr 02 12 - 6:04am

I will survive deserves a much higher ranking. It's a classic for a reason.

Apr 02 12 - 12:04pm

all great songs of course, but The Carpenters Superstar is a glaring omission... Plus I would add Bad Liver and a Broken Heart by Tom Waits...

Apr 02 12 - 12:56pm
Mean Mr. Mustard

Although I appreciate your justification for Fleetwood Mac's "Never Going Back Again," there's no way I could leave off "Go Your Own Way." I remember when Rumours came out when I was a kid and that song still resonates 35 years later. It feels so personal because the two parties involved are in the same band and are singing it together.

I agree leaving "Superstar" off is a blaring omission. It would be in my top 10.

Apr 02 12 - 3:19pm
Pink Zeppelin

Or Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide"

Apr 02 12 - 3:21pm
Pink Zeppelin

Oops. Just noticed "Landslide" on here. Oh well, whatever, nevermind. :-)

Apr 02 12 - 3:26pm

Can't you read?

Apr 02 12 - 3:30pm
Pink Zeppelin

Skipped over it by mistake bmac. Big fucking woop. Don't cream your jeans there bmac.

Apr 02 12 - 1:21pm
Esteban H

Where the f*** is "Wish You Here"? Not a breakup song in the classical sense because it's about a friendship rather than a romantic relationship, but damn that's what makes it so devastating.

Apr 02 12 - 1:22pm
Esteban H

Meant "Wish You Were Here." Sorry about that.

Apr 02 12 - 3:16pm
Pink Zeppelin

Definitely agree on that. But I will say that "Wish You Were Here", despite being about friends, COULD be interpreted as a break-up song between lovers. So you are correct, and it can be interpreted many ways, which is the beauty of the song.

Apr 02 12 - 2:41pm

I'd have put "Single Again" by Gary Stewart on the list.

Apr 02 12 - 3:17pm
Pink Zeppelin

"Love Will Tear Us Apart" wasn't released until April 1980 (according to Wikipedia). Even if it was recorded first in 1979, it wasn't really released to the public in it's complete form until 1980. Technically, aren't you kind of cheating?

Apr 02 12 - 3:36pm

You are right. They were cheating. We (The FBI) will take care of this accordingly.


Apr 02 12 - 5:31pm

For Dolly, I would have swapped in "Jolene." I think it's a breakup song (wife confronts mistress begging not to take her man?); and all due respect to Dolly (and Whitney), "I Will Always Love You" isn't only an inferior tune, it's fucking grating.

Apr 02 12 - 5:34pm

I love these lists, but on this one I was really hoping to see Meat Loaf "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad," it's a devastating sentiment.

Apr 10 12 - 11:26am

I agree it should be on a list, but is was released in 1977. It should be on THAT list, but it isn't. Peace.

Apr 02 12 - 5:53pm

The Main Ingredient - Everybody Plays the Fool. Duh.

Apr 02 12 - 6:07pm

I have been waiting for the 70s list to be released just to confirm "It Makes No Difference" would make the cut. Just a brutal song and Danko's voice makes it even more so.

Apr 02 12 - 8:27pm
What The F%CK?

I tentatively went through this list knowing that THE greatest break up song of the 70s wasnt going to be on here and boy did NERVE drop the ball on this one! How could Al Green's "For The Good Times" not be on here? That song is the quintessential ode to a love affair ending and all the emotions that go along with it. Shame on you, NERVE. I have to say I am truly disappointed.motto rintod

Apr 02 12 - 9:12pm
Joy Division????

Never, ever heard that song. Ever. And I'm 51. Heard everything else. Not that one.

Apr 03 12 - 8:08am
ian c

you spent five decades with your head in a bucket?
you'll be needing some counseling, man, that's terrible what those people did to you.

Apr 04 12 - 12:40am

So you know Buzzcocks but you somehow never heard about Joy Division? You must be missing out on a whole bunch of Manchester bands, not to mention any of those influential post-punk bands.

Apr 04 12 - 1:48am

How is that possible? I bet my mom knows that song, for god's sake.

Apr 06 12 - 5:48pm
Nick the Pedant

Point of order: 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' come out in 1980. I think Mr 'never heard of it' is pullin yer legs. Nobody's that dumb. Also, I respectfully suggest Chris Bell's 'I am am the Cosmos'. Cheers.

Apr 02 12 - 10:29pm

I love Tangled Up in Blue, but I would have to go with If You See Her Say Hello, off the same record, which is Dylan at his best regretful heartbreaking melancholy.

Apr 02 12 - 11:21pm

Janis Joplin? How does a girl fix herself, anyway?

Apr 06 12 - 7:13am

She was a junkie in the Chelsea hotel. "You fixed yourself, you said - well, never mind; we are ugly but we have the music..." She cooked her hit, tied her self off and shot up. It ain't a pretty song, sweetheart.

Apr 03 12 - 7:13pm
Uh, Hm

No "Go Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac? Seriously?

Apr 03 12 - 8:53pm

It's because who wrote this probably just pulled this list from their iPod.

Apr 04 12 - 12:02pm

Did you read the intro? Or the writeups?

Apr 05 12 - 1:04pm

I think they did read the writeup and intro and are not swayed by your (feeble) argument.

Apr 04 12 - 12:09am

Carol King "It's Too Late"...a sin of omission...

Apr 04 12 - 12:39am

So just on a songs per breakup basis, is Rumours the all time best creative output from a single breakup?

Apr 05 12 - 4:41pm

Well, two breakups.

Apr 04 12 - 1:44am

One of my favorites, by the Kinks:

Apr 04 12 - 1:03pm

Landslide is one of my favorite songs ever.

Apr 05 12 - 5:39pm

I read Stevie Nicks say "Landslide" was abouWt setting free from her PARENTS whom sh.e was visiting in CO.

Apr 06 12 - 10:46am
Javier Chain

Stairways to heaven, from Led Zeppelin!!!!

Apr 07 12 - 9:30am

"50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" by Paul Simon.

Apr 09 12 - 3:20am
Fleetwood Fan

Yeah, there is no way "Landslide" is a break-up song, it was more about her dealing with uncertainty around her entire life at that point.

"Silver Springs" is the song that came from the Stevie/Lindsey break-up - and in my opinion it is the greatest break-up song of all time, let alone the 1970s. It didn't make the Rumours album, but it was the b-side to "Go Your Own Way." To this day, when you see Stevie sing it while Lindsey is playing it you can see them go through it all over again.

Apr 10 12 - 9:10am

I thnk Olivia Newton-John's "I Honestly Love You" should be on this list.

Apr 10 12 - 7:58pm
Captain Obvious

2 relatively obscure songs from Supertramp's "Crisis? What Crisis?" album top my list, mainly because I associate specific breakups with each song. "Ain't Nobody But Me" and "Another Man's Woman"