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The 25 Greatest Breakup Songs of the 1980s
We've been looking so long at these pictures of you.
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 '90s, 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 and '70s. — The Nerve Editors
25. Paula Abdul, "Cold Hearted" (1989)
You will dance through this. You will find someone better. Paula Abdul commands it, and the beat enforces it. Resistance is futile. — Alex Heigl
24. The B-52s, "Give Me Back My Man" (1980)
This surreal dance track tones down the usual zaniness of the early B-52s (no Fred Schneider on this one at all) for a weirdly devastated story with lyrical echoes of a sea shanty. For maximum tragic effect, check out this video; Cindy Wilson's frail-little-girl delivery makes the song all the more haunting. — Peter Smith
23. Jackson Browne, "In The Shape Of A Heart" (1986)
Apparently written about the suicide of Browne's first wife, "In The Shape Of A Heart" came out ten years later, and it has the feel of melancholic reflection at a distance. Browne sets up a romantic story about a heart-shaped pendant, then neatly inverts his song title for a grown-up, world-weary assessment of love and the unknowability of the other: "You try so hard to keep a life from coming apart / And never know what breaches and faults are concealed in the shape of a heart." Brutal. — P.S.
22. Tracy Chapman, "Fast Car" (1988)
"Fast Car" is one of the most crushing songs ever written about cyclical poverty, but it's also a haunting portrait of an aspirational partnership gone sour. The song's final kiss-off is painful — Chapman sends her man on his way, wanting more for him, but it's with the full knowledge of how trapped she really is. — A.H.
21. Tom Waits, "Hang Down Your Head" (1986)
Cowritten by Waits' wife, playwright Kathleen Brennan, "Hang Down Your Head" is one of Waits' most tender songs, capped off by a lyrical Marc Ribot guitar solo. (It's a rare instance of Ribot not attempting to strangle his guitar.) Playing into Waits' obsession with the archaic, it tells the the oldest breakup story in the book: "You have found another, oh, baby, I must go away." — A.H.