The 30 Best Breakup Songs of All Time

18 minute read

Breaking up is hard to do, but music may just make getting over your ex a little easier. The best breakup songs provide a source of comfort to those dealing with the many stages of heartbreak. But just as no breakup is exactly the same, the same can be said of breakup songs. That’s why this list is broken up into four distinct categories so you can find the right song for those moments when you need a good cry or a good laugh—or, in Taylor Swift’s case, possibly both.

This list includes ballads that pair well with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and tracks that will make you want to dance again. And because there are just too many great breakup songs to choose from, we’ve included a few honorable mentions that didn’t officially make our list, but are certainly playlist worthy.

Below, the 30 best songs for getting over a breakup. 

Songs To Bawl Your Eyes Out To 

Joni Mitchell, “River”

Notwithstanding its Christmas bent, Joni Mitchell’s 1971 weepie is really a breakup song for all seasons, offering its most heartbroken listeners solace, while also imagining a world behind the grief they’re feeling. 

Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You”

Dolly Parton wrote “I Will Always Love You” in 1973 as her fond farewell to Porter Wagoner, her then business partner and longtime mentor. But when Whitney Houston re-recorded the track for The Bodyguard soundtrack nearly two decades later, she made the song all her own, turning it into a dramatic devotional to star-crossed love. This enduring ballad, whether belted out by Dolly, Whitney or Lorelai Gilmore, will always have the power to move even the strongest among us to tears. Our advice: let them flow. 

Adele, “Someone Like You”

For the last decade, Adele’s bittersweet 21 ballad has been the go to for anyone who is nursing a broken heart. Inspired by the singer’s own breakup with a boyfriend who went on to get engaged shortly after they parted ways, “Someone Like You” plays out like a sorrowful wedding toast to the one who got away. Cheers to Adele for making it totally acceptable to cry into your beer.

Lauryn Hill, “Ex-Factor”

On the soulful and sorrowful “Ex-Factor,” Lauryn Hill reckons with a toxic relationship over samples of Wu-Tang Clan and Gladys Knight & The Pips’ cover of Barbra Streisand’s heartbreaker “The Way We Were.” When Hill sings, “Where were you when I needed you?,” it’s nearly impossible not to shed a tear or two hundred.

No Doubt, “Don’t Speak”

After breaking up with her No Doubt bandmate, bassist Tony Kanal, in 1994, Gwen Stefani turned her agony into the alt-rock heartbreak anthem. The Spanish classical guitar riffs on “Don’t Speak” may leave you crying uncontrollably, but Kanal admits it used to be tough for him to play the track without getting emotional. “We were opening this wound on an hourly basis,” he told The Guardian in 2012 about those early days on tour. “It was so brutal but I don't know how we made it through.” As many can attest, listening to “Don’t Speak” on repeat often helps. 

Roy Orbison, “Crying”

Roy Orbison’s operatic voice with its impressive three-octave range never wavers on “Crying,” his 1961 ballad about a man who puts on a brave face in order to convince his ex he’s doing just fine without her. The truth is, the moment she walks away, he’s inconsolable—and so is everyone listening. 

Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”

Bonnie Raitt comes to a realization on “I Can’t Make You Love Me” that so many of the lovelorn do: you can’t force someone to love you, no matter how hard you try. On the pensive ballad, Raitt recounts what is likely her last night with her lover with enviable stoicism, the kind you wish you had in the leadup to a breakup, but almost never do. 

But Raitt wasn’t immune to the track’s effect on one’s tear ducts, admitting to Austin, TX radio station 107.1 KGSR in 2002 that she was so moved by the song that she couldn’t bring herself to do another take. “We’d try to do it again,” she recalled, “and I just said, ‘You know, this ain't going to happen.’” You may feel the same way if you dare to play this song more than once.

Harry Nilsson, “Without You”

The lovably schmaltzy power ballad written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of the British rock band Badfinger packs an emotional punch that can’t be denied. It’s probably why it’s been covered by everyone from Mariah Carey to Air Supply since it was first released in 1970. But it's eccentric crooner Harry Nilsson who, in 1971, turned “Without You” into a show stopping hyper-emotional, hyper-dramatic ode to lost love that can only be sung one way: at the top of your lungs with tears streaming down your face. 

Honorable Mentions: Toni Braxton, “Un-Break My Heart,” Lady A, “Need You Now,” Olivia Rodrigo, “Drivers License,” Bruno Mars, “When I Was Your Man,” Sam Smith, “Stay With Me” 

Wallowing Ballads & Bops

Hall & Oates, “She’s Gone”

Hall & Oates’ are never ever getting back together with this ex, someone they are convinced was the woman of their dreams. But moving on with their lives, as “She’s Gone” makes clear, is easier said than done. Luckily, even in the depths of despair Daryl Hall and John Oates’ harmonies are always on point, making their pain our gain. 

Carole King, “It’s Too Late”

Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” written by Toni Stern, sounds like a calm, cool, and collected breakup anthem. It doesn’t assign blame for the dissolution of this once happy pairing, but takes a truly levelheaded approach, laying out all the problems with their relationship in an orderly fashion. King repeatedly tells her ex that they can’t make it work, but there is a sense that the lady doth protest too much. That perhaps her pleas are her way of checking for one last sign of life, despite her better judgment. And who hasn’t been there when nursing a broken heart?

Natalie Imbruglia, “Torn”

When one is at their lowest point after a bad breakup, they might find themselves in the exact spot Natalie Imbruglia sings about on “Torn”: cold and ashamed, lying naked on the floor. Our advice: embrace the vulnerability; press play on the Aussie singer’s 1997 debut single and get real comfortable down there. It will get better, but, until then, put your faith in the fact that listening to “Torn” certainly won’t make things any worse.  

The Righteous Brothers, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”

With help from Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, the Righteous Brothers pull out all the stops to win back their ex. While “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” probably won’t help you bring back your lover, it may come in handy when you decide to dip your toe back into the dating pool. Heck, it worked for Maverick

Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis wrote “Love Will Tear Us Apart” while struggling with his own infidelity and debilitating epilepsy. Shame pulsates through the introspective track released a month after Curtis’ suicide in March 1980. The melancholic song’s title, which was inscribed on Curtis’ tombstone, was a sardonic reference to Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together.” But the song’s message, that love has the power to destroy us inside and out, has continued to resonate with anyone mourning the end of a love affair that seemed too good to be true.

Biz Markie, “Just a Friend”

Biz Markie based “Just a Friend” on a real life romance, which turned out to be nothing more than a friendship. To be fair to the woman who has been enshrined in hip-hop history, it’s unclear whether she and Markie were ever anything more than acquaintances. But this hasn’t stopped the 1989 track from becoming the go-to anthem for anyone who feels as if they’ve been unfairly relegated to the friendzone. 

Sinéad O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U”

When listening to “Nothing Compares 2 U,” it’s hard not to imagine Sinéad O’Connor’s face staring back at you, her glassy green eyes piercing your soul as she recounts the immediate aftermath of a devastating breakup. Written by Prince, the lovelorn 1990 track encapsulates the listlessness one feels after having their heart broken. But it’s O’Connor’s voice, filled with raw emotion, that lets the reader know, she knows the misery whereof she speaks. 

Robyn, “Dancing On My Own”

Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” offers the newly dumped a reason to get back on the dancefloor. Inspired by her own loneliness following a broken engagement, the Swedish indie pop star communicated just how earth shattering it is to realize your ex has moved on with someone new. Yet the exhilarating track with its chunky synth bass, electro beats, and self-flagellating lyrics encourages you to dance the pain away. Just be careful; freshly fallen tears are slippery. 

Patsy Cline, “Crazy”

On the Willie Nelson-penned “Crazy,” Patsy Cline croons about losing her mind post-breakup. Initially, Cline didn’t want to record a song that showed such vulnerability, but on the insistence of her husband she reportedly gave the track a try. Six decades later, “Crazy” is considered to be her signature song and an anthem for anyone who feels a little mad for trying to keep a dying love alive. 

Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain”

A punch in the gut and a shot of adrenaline to the heart, Guns N’ Roses “November Rain” may seem like an unconventional breakup anthem. But the 1985 arena rock classic is a somber meditation on the fleetingness of love that ends on a surprisingly hopeful note for those who think they’re doomed to walk the earth alone. “Don’t you think you need somebody?” Axl Rose asks over Slash’s wailing guitar, only to answer his own question: “Everybody needs someone.” 

Honorable Mentions: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, “Tracks of My Tears,” The Cure, “Boys Don’t Cry,”  Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Mariah Carey, “We Belong Together,” Usher, “Burn,” St. Vincent, “New York”

Kiss-Off Anthems

Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain”

With “You’re So Vain,” Carly Simon eviscerates a man so narcissistic he’ll probably think the song is about him. It was why she resisted the urge to reveal the identity of the mystery cad for over 40 years. In 2015, she finally confirmed to People what so many already believed to be true; the song is about Warren Beatty. Well, the second verse is about him, but the other two men who inspired the song will remain nameless for now. (Simon did, however, share their identities with one of her biggest fans: Taylor Swift.) But whether this song is about Beatty or Mick Jagger or her ex-husband James Taylor doesn’t really matter. It’s always been a requiem for those who have had their hearts broken by the self-involved scoundrels who inspire these kinds of kiss-offs. 

Erykah Badu, “Tyrone”

On “Tyrone,” Erykah Badu spends nearly four minutes roasting her former boyfriend for being immature, cheap, and always bringing his friends around on their dates. (An extended version clocks in at five minutes and 45 seconds of insults.) Once she has sufficiently read him for filth, she kicks him to the curb, but not without informing him that he needs to call his bestie Tyrone for a ride. “But ya can’t use my phone,” she declares with devilish delight. Let’s hope he had some quarters. 

Bob Dylan, “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”

On “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” a bitter send-off to an ex-lover, Bob Dylan attempts to play it cool, hiding his pain with indifference. But his acid-soaked fake pleasantries give him away. “I ain’t a-saying you treated me unkind,” he says, as if making an attempt to let bygones be bygones only to drop the facade seconds later to reveal his true feelings: “You just kinda wasted my precious time.” For those who also feel as if their time has been wasted, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan track offers a succinct way to put your ex on blast. 

Taylor Swift, “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)”

It’s worth carving out a 10-minute window to listen to Taylor Swift absolutely annihilate her ex (who may or may not be Jake Gyllenhaal) on “All Too Well.” Swift doesn’t mince words on the best Red track: she mocks this guy for being a performative feminist, chastises his casual cruelty, and calls him out for ruining her 21st birthday. But she saves the best insult for last: a casual Dazed and Confused-esque jab about this guy getting older, but his girlfriends staying the same age that lands like a kill shot at the seven minute and 22 second mark. But as T. Swift once said, all’s fair in love and poetry

Fleetwood Mac, “Go Your Own Way”

Fleetwood Mac’s seminal 1977 breakup record, Rumours, covers the many breakups of the band’s members. Namely Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who were on and off for years. But it’s “Go Your Own Way” that feels like the record’s raison d’etre. Named the group’s best song by Rolling Stone, the track is Buckingham’s tempestuous farewell to Nicks, a raucous temper tantrum that lays his pent up frustrations bare. Nicks has long resented the song, specifically the accusation that she was “shacking up” with other guys. But for those who aren’t that interested in being the bigger person, “Go Your Own Way” is required post-breakup listening.

Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone”

Here’s the thing: Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” might be the ultimate breakup empowerment anthem. The early aughts pop-punk rager gives Clarkson an opportunity to reassess her previous relationship. What she discovers is she’s actually much better without this guy, who clearly didn’t know what he had. After listening, you might have the same realization about your own ex. 

Alanis Morissette, “You Oughta Know”

Alanis Morissette doesn’t hold anything back on the raw and visceral “You Oughta Know,” which is why the Jagged Little Pill track might be hard for some to swallow. But that’s the point; this is a young woman who is mad as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore. She wants her old flame to feel the pain he’s caused her. By the end of the song, you’ll hope your ex can feel it, too. 

Honorable Mentions: Nancy Sinatra, “Boots Are Made For Walking,” Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats,” Miley Cyrus, “Flowers,” Blu Cantrell, “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!),” Linda Ronstadt, “You’re No Good”

Bangers To Help You Move On

Amy Winehouse, “Tears Dry On Their Own”

Propelled by its “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” sample, Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry On Their Own” finds solace in knowing that she may be sad now, but she won’t be sad forever. This heartbreak too shall pass, and when it does, she will dry her eyes and try to get on without her guy. The Back to Black track is a soulful anthem for all of the realists out there who know the truth: love is pain. 

Beyoncé, “Best Thing I Never Had”

Five years after Beyoncé told a cheating ex where he could find the box of his stuff (“to the left, to the left”), she returned with “Best Thing I Never Had,” a tongue-in-cheek ode to the one who thankfully got away. We couldn’t agree with Bey more: I bet it sucks to be him right now. 

Paul Simon, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”

On “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Paul Simon facetiously lays out a few different exit strategies from a relationship that is on its last legs: slip out the back or drop off the key or hop on a bus. Written after Simon’s divorce from first wife Peggy Harper, the playful breakup track feels aimed at those who are ready to move on and have no need to be coy about it.

Cher, “Believe”

Like a disco angel sent from Auto-Tune heaven, Cher looked to mend the hearts of the lovesick by asking the immortal question: “Do you believe in life after love?” After hearing this late ‘90s electro-pop scorcher, you might just find the strength to finally get back out there. 

Blink-182, “Dammit”

Blink-182 is not a band known for its maturity. Case in point: the “What’s My Age Again?” video. But “Dammit” is a pop-punk lesson in how to be the bigger man when you really don’t want to be. After seeing his ex-girlfriend with another guy, singer Mark Hoppus experiences all the feels; he’s bitter that she’s found someone new, mad that he’s now just a friend, and bummed to know all hope of them reconciling is lost. Yet, he comes to a rather rational conclusion about it all, even if he does so begrudgingly: “I guess this is growing up.” Truer words have never been spoken, which might be why they sound so comforting. 

OutKast, “Ms. Jackson”

Dedicated to all the baby mamas’ mamas, OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson” is a breakup song that dares to make amends. Inspired by André 3000’s own split with Erykah Badu, he wanted to reassure Badu’s mom that he would continue to be around for their son “on the first day of school and graduation.” It’s a lovely sentiment; that one’s commitment to another person can and should be able to withstand even the worst breakup. André’s lyrical gesture seemed to work; Badu told Rap Radar in 2016 that her mom bought herself a license plate that reads “MSJACKSON.”

Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next”

Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” is the rare breakup song that embraces one’s relationship failures, casting one’s exes as life coaches who can teach you a thing or two about love, pleasure, pain, and, most importantly, self-appreciation. That is, if you’re willing to listen. It’s safe to say, this track is only for the most advanced students of heartbreak university. But when you’re ready to let go of the emotional baggage that comes after a difficult split, “Thank U, Next” will be here for you.

Honorable Mentions: Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive,” Dua Lipa, “New Rules,” Lorde, “Supercut,” Kacey Musgraves, “Space Cowboy"

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