Heartache comes in all shapes and sizes, perspectives and packages. So often, music becomes a backdrop to the myriad different experiences and emotions we face in life. In times of heartache music becomes especially therapeutic in helping us cope, grieve, or process relationships that are either in turmoil or have recently ended. In my experience, music helped me process and ride the various waves of emotions I underwent as I dealt with the dichotomous feelings of sadness and freedom as the result of ending my 10-year relationship.
Here is a list of 10 songs—ranging from older to more current—that helped get me through and might help you in your own heartache.
1. “By The Grace of God” by Katy Perry
This track’s tenderness chronicles Katy Perry’s own experience with the deep sadness she experienced from her marriage ending. Leading in with piano and building as the song progresses, the ballad is a departure from the candy-coated pop for which Perry is more commonly known.
2. “Blue Jeans” by Lana Del Rey
Whether directly about heartache or not, all of Rey’s songs contain an undertone of sadness, atmospheric sexiness, and longing, but in its pacing and tone, “Blue Jeans” is particularly heart-wrenching because it speaks of loving someone until the end of time, even after one’s lover has left. Visually, the video is remarkably beautiful.
3. “Whole Damn Year” by Mary J. Blige
I have heard that after a breakup one should take four seasons to grieve. Whether that’s realistic or not, this song is a post-relationship grief poster child. “It took a whole damn year to repair my body,” MJB sings, “It’s been a bad five years,” paying tribute to the length of time it takes to get over someone and the toil it takes on someone physically. Whether you’re the one who left or whether someone has left you, a period of grief is always necessary.
4. Song Cry (Unplugged ft. Jaguar Wright) by Jay-Z
From Jay-Z’s 2001 Unplugged record and featuring the hip hop band The Roots and R&B singer Jaguar Wright, this track captures the complex nature of breakups. The song chronicles a relationship of two people who have stuck together through thick and thin, through various life struggles and victories, but which ultimately draws to an end. The contrast between Wright’s vocals and Jay-Z’s rap is raw, somber, and passionate. A go-to not only in my times of heartache, but because it’s a really incredible live track.
5. “It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over” by Lenny Kravitz
A mid-tempo ballad penned way back in 1991, Kravitz dedicated this song to his ex-wife Lisa Bonet after she left him. After repeated stops and starts, the relationship eventually ended for good. With Kravitz’s falsetto backed by lush guitar, this track speaks honestly about the various final stages a relationship undergoes until it’s finally done for good.
6. “Leave Out All The Rest” by Linkin Park
An apology letter to a former lover, making a plea to the former lover to recall the good things about a relationship as opposed to the bad things, I played this repeatedly throughout my period of heartache. With powerful vocals and strong guitar chords and a synth sound, the song is great for in the car and at the gym. Admittedly, I had never listened to much Linkin Park before hearing this song, but it has become one of my favorite go-to breakup songs and has given me newfound appreciation for the band as well.
7. “Early Winter” by Gwen Stefani
With the refrain being, “It looks like an early winter for us,” the season serves as the metaphor for the death of a relationship that’s reached its shelf life. Against a mid-tempo beat that is somehow as sexy as it is sad, Stefani’s voice sounds like velvet.
8. “I’ve Told You Now (Live at St. Pancras Old Church London) by Sam Smith
The pacing of this song is slow and deliberate, showcasing Smith’s amazing vibrato and range. An instrumentally spare track gives way to focus on the gut-wrenchingly honest lyrics. Though a deep cut of Smith’s, released on his Nirvana EP, I prefer this version over the track released on his recent LP; however, Smith is the king of heartbreak as evidenced in his full-length LP, The Lonely Hour. And when you’re ready to move on from your heartache? Listen to “Restart.”
9. “Love Is A Losing Game (Live on Jools Holland)” by Amy Winehouse
A heartache song list is not complete without the unforgettable late Amy Winehouse. She was either at her best or her worst live, and this track happens to represent Winehouse at her very best. Don’t be fooled by the richness of the full jazz band, because the minor chords threaded throughout demonstrate that this is a classic song of heartbreak.
10. “Tomorrow” by Madi Diaz
This track is about breaking free from a relationship, even in the face of the forlorn continuing to make contact. Choosing to move forward or to stay behind, the protagonist ultimately breaks free and is able to close the door behind her so she can open the door ahead of her. It’s an uplifting song about the potential that tomorrow brings. An apropos track for cruising in the car and working out at the gym.