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.