Saturday, January 26, 2008
With less than three weeks until Valentine's Day, I figured it was time to determine the greatest break-up song of all-time.
I know that some of you are probably thinking: "What the hell does Valentine's Day have to do with break-up songs?" If we could all only be so innocent.
In my experience with the fairer sex, I've noticed some variance in pressure and expectations come mid-February. You know, the kind of pressure which demands you be the greatest Casanova this side of Venice, and the degree of expectations that are so impossible to live up to that the failure to deliver ultimately winds up destroying the relationship you've been working so hard to keep together... Not that I have anything to worry about in that regard, unassailably living the life of the poor man's Don Juan the way I invariably do.
Some people are fortunate enough to fight their way through the contrivance and machinations of this impending insignificant Hallmark holiday. But some others will sadly find themselves on the wrong end of impossible expectations, ultimately resulting in an email estranging at best.
So in anticipation of the iminent carnage, here are my five favourite break-up songs:
I Will Survive
This Gloria Gaynor classic was perfected by CAKE, and for my money, there are few cover tunes better than this one.
What makes this song for me is the unaffected way that front man John McCrea sings it, taking this highly emotional and empowering girl-anthem and making it so matter-of-fact that the fact doesn't even matter. Entirely comforting in that "she never meant anything to me, anyway" kind of way, if that's what you're looking for... That, and the fact that the line "I should have changed that stupid lock" was altered ever so slightly, in turn becoming one of my favourite lines in the history of rock and roll.
Bonus Coverage: a link to the best video of all-time.
Bad Liver and a Broken Heart
For the uninitiated (shame on you), here are the lyrics:
Well, I got a bad liver and a broken heart
Yeah, I drunk me a river since you tore me apart
And I don't have a drinking problem 'cept when I can't get a drink
And I wish you'd known her, we were quite a pair
She was sharp as a razor and soft as a prayer
So welcome to the continuing saga
She was my better half, and I was just a dog
And so here am I slumpedI've been chipped and I've been chumped on my stool
So buy this fool some spirits and libations
It's these railroad station bars
And all these conductors and the porters
And I'm all out of quarters
And this epitaph is the aftermath
Yeah, I choose my path, hey come on, Kath
He's a lawyer, he ain't the one for ya
No, the moon ain't romantic, it's intimidating as hell
And some guy's trying to sell me a watch
And so I'll meet you at the bottom of a bottle of bargain Scotch
I got me a bottle and a dream, it's so maudlin it seems
You can name your poison
Go on ahead and make some noise I ain't sentimental
This ain't a purchase, it's a rental, and it's purgatory
And hey, what's your story, well I don't even care
Cause I got my own double-cross to bear
And I'll see your Red Label, and I'll raise you one more
And you can pour me a cab, I just can't drink no more
Cause it don't douse the flames
that are started by dames,
It ain't like asbestos
It don't do nothing but rest us assured
And substantiate the rumors that you've heard
Is there anyone on the planet cooler than Tom Waits? The answer to that rhetorical question is, of course, not a chance. Nobody does the maudlin barroom crying-in-your-beer song like Tom Waits, and for my money, this is his finest. Try singing this one to yourself without getting choked up when you're a bottle of bargain Scotch deep and your best girl has trampled your heart by running off with some lawyer you could never hope to compete with. Impossible.
Tom Waits is neck-and-neck with Robert Zimmerman when it comes to securing the title of "best song writer of the past half-century"; no small feat when put up against this:
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright
This Dylan classic might be the all-time musical kiss-off. I love the quiet resignation and the sense that sometimes you can do everything in your power to make it work, and that sometimes that isn't even enough ("I'd give her my heart but she wanted my soul..."). Blame it on the way things go; on the way they are. And blame it on the ever increasing entropy; on the history of the universe.
The last lines of this song are some of my favourite in music, and to me, they harken back to the greatest literary kiss-off of all-time, which can be found in the final lines of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, when our boy Jake puts Brett in her place once and for all-time.
I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
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
This song is the exact opposite of humble resignation. I have a good buddy who likes to say: "Don't be bitter; be better". Well, this is a song for those times when you'd just rather be bitter.
I love this live footage from Washington in 1994 because it reminds me of the first real rock show I ever attended (Green Day at the CNE Colesium in '94). The pan out to the crazy crowd surfing gave me a 'Nam-like flashback. You have to love Mike Dirnt stalking in the background like a caged tiger just itching to attack...
If your significant other has wronged you in an unfathomably cruel and devestating way, could there be anything more satisfying than screaming:
you're just a fuck
i can't explain it 'cause i think you suck
i'm taking pride
in telling you to fuck off and die
Song For The Dumped
"Give me my money back, you BITCH!" is still one of the funniest lines ever written; "And don't forget to give me back my black T-Shirt" is still one of the most honest.
Kudos to the Ben Folds Five for articulating what we've all felt at one time or another.
Obviously there are hundreds of other great break-up songs out there. Feel free to chime in in the Comments section with some of your favourites, and maybe we'll get around to listing some of them for the downhearted come the 14th.