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Best Breakup Albums: 20 Essential Records To Mend A Broken Heart
Kelly Sikkema
List & Guides

Best Breakup Albums: 20 Essential Records To Mend A Broken Heart

Channelling pain and telling us it will all be OK, the best breakup albums see musicians laying their souls bare in order to soothe ours.

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Breakups always bring a mixed bag of emotions: anger, sorrow, regret, confusion. Music, however, can get you through the tough times. Each of our lives has a unique soundtrack, chronicling both the good and bad moments, and the best breakup albums are essential listens for anyone with a broken heart.

Listen to our Love Songs playlist here and check out our best breakup albums, below.

20: Linda Ronstadt: ‘Heart Like A Wheel’ (1974)

From singing with the force of a storm to caressing the lyrics with the softness of a gentle breeze, Linda Ronstadt displays ultimate power and control over her voice on Heart Like A Wheel. Opening track You’re No Good is perfect for when you’re ready to release your anger: in this soulful song, Ronstadt uses strategic grit and vibrato to create a sense of frustration in the lines “I learned my lesson, it left a scar/Now I see how you really are/You’re no good”. It serves as a reminder to not dwell on someone who didn’t treat you right. Elsewhere, the grief-stricken ballad It Doesn’t Matter Anymore finds the title acting as a palliative phrase to help you move on, while, in true country fashion, Faithless Love has a self-reflexive strain: “Faithless love, where did I go wrong/Was it telling stories in a heartbreak song?” As Ronstadt processes her emotional reaction to love gone wrong, listeners benefit from the sorrow in her voice. With numerous examples of how the best Linda Ronstadt songs can heal a broken heart, Heart Like A Wheel gracefully engages with multiple genres, including blues, rock and country.

Must Hear: You’re No Good

19: Rod Stewart: ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ (1971)

From its opening title track, Every Picture Tells A Story sets the mind travelling to the far corners of the world – Paris, Rome, Beijing – garnering vital life experience along the way. Lending his iconic rasp to Bob Dylan’s Tomorrow Is A Long Time, Stewart sings of a man unravelling without the girl he loves around. Listening to Dylan’s poetic lyrics about loneliness, delivered in Stewart’s sage-like voice, is perfect for remembering the one who caused you to feel so alone, while also encouraging you to search for that the silver lining. Perhaps the album’s best-known song, Maggie May truly secures Every Picture Tells A Story as one of the best breakup albums of all time: stinging lyrics such as “The morning sun, when it’s in your face/Really shows your age” and “All you did was wreck my bed/And in the morning, kick me in the head” capture disillusionment with not only a partner, but also love as a whole – and yet you can’t help but try to recapture it all over again.

Must hear: Maggie May

18: Carly Simon: ‘No Secrets’ (1972)

Carly Simon created one of the greatest singer-songwriter albums of all time in No Secrets. Deeply personal and incessantly groovy, the record tells tales of falling in love (The Right Thing To Do), describes the uncertainty of a relationship where everything is on the table (No Secrets) and provides a cathartic kiss-off to a narcissistic ex-lover (You’re So Vain). There is nothing more therapeutic than performing You’re So Vain in the mirror, hairbrush-microphone in hand, surrounded by the imagined audience of every single self-obsessed ex you’ve ever had. From its opening whisper, “Son of a gun,” to the sneering put-down “I’ll bet you think this song is about you/Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you”, Simon’s song has been a pop culture touchstone for generations, epitomising the breakup song.

Must hear: You’re So Vain

17: Willie Nelson: ‘Phases And Stages’ (1974)

When you think of concept albums, country music isn’t often a genre that comes to mind. Yet, in 1974, Willie Nelson wrote Phases And Stages, one of the best breakup albums of all time. The first half tells the story from the perspective of a woman who’s leaving a relationship, while the second moves to the point of view of the man who’s being left; the central theme is that everything in life happens in phases. The woman ultimately starts to fall in love again, but her ex is still on her mind; the man escapes into a “Bloody Mary morning”, or the smokescreen of cowboy machismo. The most moving song on the album is I Still Can’t Believe You’re Gone: the emptiness described in its lyrics (“I tried to put my thoughts in a song/And all I can hear myself singin’ is/‘I still can’t believe you’re gone’”) is echoed in Nelson’s voice, which is as worn and scraggly as the Texas plains.

Must hear: I Still Can’t Believe You’re Gone

16: Enya: ‘Watermark’ (1988)

Picture yourself on a rocky cliff on the coast of Ireland, with the mist in your face as you think about your unrequited love. That is where Enya’s 1988 album, Watermark, takes you. The Old World-meets-New World sound that she has mastered will envelop you, body and soul, as it whisks you away from heartache and into a daydream. Sometimes when a relationship fails, you don’t want to hear someone say that it’s all going to be OK – you just want to ruminate. And Enya’s oceanic ambience is perfect for that. Inspired by a poem written by her long-time collaborator Roma Ryan (“In your heart is the island/Where memories wash on the shore/Love is an ocean”), Watermark’s opening title track was eventually shaped into an instrumental (the lyrics were later printed in the 2002 reissue of the album), and it continues to endure among the best Enya songs, capturing the fluidity of emotions experienced during heartbreak.

Must hear: Watermark

15: Stevie Nicks: ‘Bella Donna’ (1981)

“Come in out of the darkness” Stevie Nicks sings, beckoning listeners into her fairy-tale land of moons, stars, glitter, lace and doves. With songs that both enchant and haunt, Bella Donna encapsulates the extremes of falling in love – and then falling out of it. From demanding Heartbreaker Tom Petty to Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, to falling head-over-heels in love with Eagle Don Henley in Leather And Lace, Nicks lays her own heart on the line. Her undeniable experience in the realm of romantic bust-ups is what gives the best Stevie Nicks songs such clarity, and it is surely no accident that Bella Donna’s title, which translates as “beautiful woman” in English, is also the nickname for an extremely poisonous plant – a perfect metaphor for love that fuels one of the best breakup albums of the 80s.

Must hear: Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around

14: Frank Sinatra: ‘In The Wee Small Hours’ (1955)

In The Wee Small Hours’ album cover a depicts Frank Sinatra alone under a street lamp, a cigarette burning in his hand – a hint at the contemplative nature of the album as a whole. The song Deep In A Dream finds him unfolding a beautifully heartbreaking vignette full of vivid imagery: as he falls asleep in his chair, the plume of smoke from his cigarette fashions a stairway for his past lover to descend into his dreams, where they can be together again. Unexpectedly, that same cigarette burns him awake – a perfect metaphor for the blistering pain of a breaking heart. A number of Sinatra albums could take their place among the best breakup albums of all time, but, exploring how life without love lacks magic, In The Wee Small Hours clinches it. From Nelson Riddle%E

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