BitchTapes: Torch Songs for Broken Hearts

Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

We’ve covered different types of break-up songs here on BitchTapes before, but today I want to take things one step further. Today, I want to dig deep and mine the depths of the most pathetic sub-genre of break-up song there is: The torch song. The song that’s about how you’ll do whatever it takes to get someone back, even though s/he broke your heart. It is the most miserable of all break-up songs, and therefore kind of the best.

Without getting too personal, let me first say that I’ve been listening to torch songs a lot lately. The reasons for this are probably obvious, since these songs serve a very specific purpose and cater to a very specific type of sad person. Well, hell, if this is a post about torch songs I might as well throw pride aside, right? I got dumped. Bad. And in the midst of my despair, I turned to the Break-Up episode of This American Life, which is what in turn inspired me to make this mix. (If you haven’t heard the episode, it’s worth a listen even if your heart remains un-crushed.) In it, Starlee Kine describes the torch song thusly:

Torch songs are about the most pathetic, desperate, and lonely part of yourself. The part you’d never admit to your friends. The part of you that knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that you would take him back. Not only that, he wouldn’t have to beg, or even apologize.

You know when a break-up hurts so much that you think no one else could possibly understand how you feel? Torch songs understand. They feel your pain, and they channel it through the voices of like-minded torch-bearers who can sing much better than you can sing, and who are willing to do it for you. The embarrassing realization that you aren’t as strong as you thought you were, that you’re still carrying that torch long after it’s over, that you do want them back even though they hurt you—that’s what torch songs are for. I’d like to think that I’m the only person on the planet who needs these songs right now, but odds are there are more of us. So, with that in mind, here are some of the torch-toting singers who’ve been feeling my (our) pain recently:

“I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” by The White Stripes
This song perfectly captures the desperation you feel when you suddenly find yourself alone after a relationship—even going to a movie is now an exercise in excruciating loneliness. I’ve always preferred the Dusty Springfield version of this song, but now that I’m listening to torch songs in a sincere way I realize that no one does desperate quite like Jack White.

“Against All Odds” by Phil Collins
Sigh. A shining example of the torch song. Phil Collins perfectly captures that feeling that maybe, just maybe, if the person who left you could just see how sad you are that s/he would come back to you. Brokenhearted bonus: Phil Collins appears in the Break-Up episode of This American Life that I mentioned earlier.

“Fists Up” by The Blow
This song is deceptively upbeat, but if you listen to the lyrics, you’ll feel it’s torchiness. It was perfect, you know, with just one little problem / The fact that it turns out you don’t really want it.

“This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case
I love the tornado metaphor in this song, like Neko Case thinks maybe she was too much for her former lover to handle and that’s why they aren’t together anymore. But the tornado loves you.

“Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor
I’ve always loved the Prince version of this song, but Sinead’s is much sadder and therefore torch-appropriate. Since you been gone I can do whatever I want / I can see whomever I choose / I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant / But nothing / I said nothing can take away these blues. If only I didn’t know how she felt. Sigh.

“I’ll Dry My Tears” by the Casual Dots
Sure, you can dry your eyes for now, but you know in your heart that you’ll cry every night for the rest of your life unless s/he takes you back.

“I’m Not in Love” by 10cc
It’s only natural to pretend like you don’t care sometimes, but you can’t hide your true feelings forever. I like to see you, but then again / That doesn’t mean you mean that much to me. Right.

“You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” by Dusty Springfield
The title says it all. Also, this song has the most dramatic intro—perfect for a torch song.

“Without You” by Mariah Carey
This is another instance where I thought I preferred the more subdued version (by Harry Nilsson in this case) but once I entered true torch song territory I needed to hear the most embarrassingly needy version possible. Thank you, Mariah Carey.

“End of the Road” by Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men is beginning to understand that things are over in this song, but refusing to accept it, making it all the sadder. Although we’ve come to the end of the road / Still I can’t let go.

“Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx
A good torch song is about swallowing any and all pride you may have left in an effort to get your point across. Clearly this track list is my own personal torch song, because there was a time not so long ago when I wouldn’t have included a Richard Marx song on a public mix for fear of embarrassment and ridicule. We’re past that now.

“The Winner Takes it All” by ABBA
Sometimes getting dumped just makes you feel like a straight-up loser. Sometimes it also compels you to sing a song to the person who dumped you about how you are literally a loser.

“Waltz #2” by Elliott Smith
One of the saddest things in a break-up is the imaginary future that you’ll never have with the person who left you. I’m never gonna know you now / but I’m gonna love you anyhow. Brokenhearted bonus: Smith’s “Cathy’s Clown” reference just kills me.

“I Want You” by Elvis Costello
It’s the stupid details that my heart is breaking for.

“I Fall to Pieces” by Patsy Cline
The person who dumped you may have moved on to the point of encouraging you to meet other people, but how can you do that? You can’t. They walk by and you fall to pieces. Or you listen to this song and you fall to pieces.

“Bring it on Home to Me” by Sam Cooke
This was already one of my favorite songs, but as a torch song it just can’t be beat. There’s no statute of limitations here—Sam Cooke will always carry his torch. If you ever change your mind / About leaving, leaving me behind / Oh, oh, bring it to me / Bring me your sweet loving / Bring it on home to me. It doesn’t get much better (and by better, I mean worse) than that.

So there you have it, a mix full of the saddest, greatest, most pathetic break-up songs I can think of. You may not need it now—and I hope you don’t—but these songs will be here just in case. If you have any suggestions to add to the list, leave them in the comments section for others who might be in need. After all, a relationship may end, but a torch song is forever.

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21 Comments Have Been Posted

No breakup mix tape is

No breakup mix tape is complete without Call It Off by T&S

<i>Maybe I would have been something you'd be good at / Maybe you would have been something I'd be good at / But now we'll never know</i>

Yes yes yes

Aww man, that whole album is such a cathartic breakup album. Love it.
I'd also like to add a personal favorite of mine, "Couldn't you wait" by Silkworm. "Couldn't you wait / Until the thought had passed / That our love would never last / How could you devastate / Someone you claim not to hate".

Melissa E. is my go-to torch song-stress

The whole of Melissa Etheridge's "Yes I Am" album got me through my last serious break-up, but "I will never be the same" is probably the most heart-wrenching torch tune on the album.

When I'm overcome by

When I'm overcome by self-pity, I know I can always turn to "Why" by Annie Lennox and "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor. I know I've hit rock-bottom when Dashboard Confessional starts popping up on my iPod. And I'm on the way back out when I start listening to "No Children" by The Mountain Goats.

Bonnie Raitt - I Can't Make

Bonnie Raitt - I Can't Make You Love Me

Billie Holiday!!

I can't believe you don't have anything from Billie Holiday on this list! When I went through my last break up I found myself listening to her Lady in Satin album over and over again, crying along the whole time. There are so many great torch songs on that album that it would be hard to pick just one, but I'd choose I'm a Fool to Want You. The way Billie sang that song you just knows she knows exactly what it is about. It still makes me cry when I hear it.


If you need alternate ABBA, "Knowing Me Knowing You" will really kick ya in the groin. Or heart. Whichever needs it that day. Bonus points for the fact that the foursome wrote and performed it before the men unceremoniously dumped the women, making one a lifelong recluse. So you know, there's that. Hang in there :-/

thank you

Kelsey, thank you so much for this! i also just went through an absolutely horrendous breakup, although i didn't technically get dumped....i had to dump him because the fucker was too much of a coward to do it and preferred to put me through hell instead until I couldn't take it any longer. So this is perfect timing. I think (slash hope) I'm out of the torch song phase but every once in a while I know I'm not quite there yet....and now i have this to come back to! i hope you feel better soon, mi amor.


Indigo Girls' "Ghost" is the be-all and end-all break-up song in my book.

<i>I see your face before me
that could launch a thousand ships
to bring your heart back to my island
as the sand beneath me slips</i>

Supertramp's "It's Raining Again" is another great one, and if you can stand the falsetto, Robert John's "Sad Eyes."

Amy Winehouse. I locked

Amy Winehouse. I locked myself in my dungeon (basement room) listening to burnt cd of just Amy Winehouse during my last aweful break-up. Take The Box, You Sent Me Flying, Tears Dry on Their Own, Love is a Losing Game were great. However, To Know Him is to Love Him, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and Back to Black WILL make you more miserable.

The TAL Break-up episode!

I have listened that episode a few times now (locked on the iPod) and never tire of it. I love when Starlee says (paraphrasing), "at one point we stopped listening to Phil Collins ironically, and actually became fans." Also, so sorry you're in the "breakup" space, BTW. My go to recently is Florence & the Machine, Cosmic Love.

Good tip!

Thanks for the Badfinger link, Cat!


Sorry to hear about the craptastic situation, Kelsey. I don't have much to add music-wise; my first thought was <a href= "">"Have You Ever"</a> by Brandy, which operates under the guise of hypotheticals but is pretty clearly personal as far as I'm concerned. For the sad-but-semi-upbeat-sounding, there are the Cranberries' <a href="">"I Can't Be with You"</a> and Samantha Mumba's <a href="">"Lately,"</a> which is a cover, but I prefer it to the original.

My broken heart song is

My broken heart song is definitely Jewel, You Were Meant for Me...the routine generally involves watching the music video on YouTube as well.

hope it helps/hurts so good...

KELSEY! i don't even know if i should draw your attention to this song, because it should come with a puddle-creating disclaimer, but "baby, now that i found you" by alison krauss. i'm sorry/you're welcome in advance.

Oh my gosh...right in the

Oh my gosh...right in the deceptively upbeat category has to come Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes...the Perry Como version:
. 'Don’t let the stars get in your eyes,
Don’t keep your heart from me,
For some day I’ll return,
And you know you’re the only one I’ll ever love.

And the whole Forever Blue album by Chris Isaak. Jesus.
Oh,and C'Mon C'Mon by Sheryl Crow- there's a version on YouTube with Stevie Nicks and Natalie from Dixie Chicks that kills me every time.

I've been heartbroken a few

I've been heartbroken a few times, and each time, sad songs pulled me through. Guess that's why I know so many!

"All You Get from Love is a Love Song" (The Carpenters), "And I Miss You" (Everything But The Girl), "Cause I Love You" (Lenny Williams), "Emotion" (Samatha Sang), "Everybody Plays the Fool" (The Main Ingredient), "Goodbye to Love" (The Carpenters), "How Am I Supposed To Live Without You" (Laura Branigan), "I Miss You" (Klymaxx), "Just When I Needed You Most" (Randy Vanwarmer), "Love So Right" (The Bee Gees), "Storms" (Fleetwood Mac), "Tears of a Clown" (Smokey Robinson and The Miracles), "Touch Me in the Morning" (Diana Ross), "Tracks of My Tears" (Smokey Robinson and The Miracles"), "Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart" (Alicia Keys), "Where Did Our Love Go" (The Supremes), and "You Really Got a Hold on Me" (Smokey Robinson and The Miracles).

The songs below are my favorites. I can listen to each one over-and-over ... and sometimes do. They never fail to tug at my heart, and on occasion, solicit a tear or two.

"Breakeven" (The Script), "Hopelessly Devoted to You" (Olivia Newton-John), "Lonely's the Only Company" (Maxwell), "Long, Long Time" (Linda Ronstadt), "Misty Blue" (Monica), "Sometimes I Cry" (Eric Benet), and "White Flag" (Dido).


Gotta add another Patsy Cline song, "Crazy". Even if you're in a perfectly happy relationship, this will make you cry out of sheer appreciation that you aren't hurting as bad as Patsy. The sheer beauty of her voice and depth of her talent just swallows up all of the air in the room and leaves you wondering how that little lady could belt out so much emotion! Can't disagree with any of the other song mentioned on the list, but this one is a total classic. I belt out the Amy Winehouse, Chris Issak and Adele too when I need to vent.

I go to "goodbye to you" and

I go to "goodbye to you" and "one of these days" by michelle branch and "happy ending" by avril lavigne when I am feeling blue

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