“I hope he breaks your heart. And I hope you cry all night. And I hope you feel the way I do now.” — American Aquarium, “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart”
We’ve all been there. Heartbreak happens. The blues come busting down your door since your better half (or worse half) has decided it’s about time you both called it quits. You’re down and out and bad turns to worse. Maybe your dog runs off too.
You end up splitting up after finally reading all the writing on the wall. Maybe it ends with fireworks and a fight. Maybe it’s the culmination of arguments you’ve both put off. It’s dividing the house and taking what’s yours. Or maybe it’s not that serious—but you’re young and dumb and thought it was something that it wasn’t. Regardless, you pick your records and drop off their jacket.
It’s quite immature, but this too happens. You end up splitting music and bands up too. Certain bands remind you of what’s-their-name entirely too much. Delete that playlist. Skip that song — maybe it was “your song.” It’s natural though. It’s the double-edged sword about music and memories. Songs become engrained and etched into memory. They attach to people, places and things. Usually, that’s a good thing. When it’s attached to an ex though, not so much.
So you’re down in the dumps. There’s no remedy or prescription that can cure what ails you—other than just a heartbreaker album. Just leave me alone with a jukebox filled with old tear-stoppers. Country music in particular, just seems to have a way of patting you on the back when the going gets rough. It’s reassurance that everyone goes through a rough patch.
When it happens, you end up having a go-to record. Throw on George Jones, Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, Ryan Adams — whoever the case is — throw on that album. It’s going to hurt. But, it’s the good kind. It’s sweating out a fever.
There’s plenty of choices out there. So what’s your Go-To Heartbreaker album? Maybe you want to crawl into a hole and spin Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Perhaps you channel your sadness with an angry singalong to Taylor Swift’s Speak Now. Willie Nelson’s Phases and Stages may be the choice for you who are more calm, quiet and despondent. Is down on the end of your bar with a bottle of whiskey? Well, there’s about 50 George Jones albums that should suffice.
We asked the Wide Open Country staff to choose theirs — even if it breaks their heart.
Thomas’ Pick: Love Is Hell, Ryan Adams
I have to start this off by saying I almost
picked Taylor Swift
’s Speak Now
simply for “Back to December.” The line “turns out freedom ain’t nothing but missing you” is one of the best lines ever and you’re lying to yourself if you can’t appreciate it.
Nobody makes me feel completely worthless like Ryan Adams
though. His brand of sad bastard alt-country influenced a generation of brooding songwriters who insisted on never brushing their hair. The easy answer is his solo debut, the uncompromisingly perfect Heartbreaker
. That’s the right answer (Hell, it’s the namesake of the article). But right there nipping at its’ heels is Love is Hell
, a 16-track winless streak full of repetitive bleak sadness.
Where Heartbreaker, for lack of a better term, celebrated the heartache, Love is Hell is after fall. There was hints of optimism on Heartbreaker, but those were all but ghosts on Love is Hell. Songs like the pleading “This House Is Not For Sale,” the fading memory of “Avalanche” and closer “Hotel Chelsea Nights” weren’t interested in getting over the breakup. They’d grown numb in the dark with an uneasy comfort. Adams was even able to suck out the bright cheer from Oasis’ ’90s Britpop anthem “Wonderwall” much to the delight of everyone. It’s a whiskey drunk blackout and the hangover from hell the next morning.
Yes, Love is Hell is probably a tad over-dramatic. You were going to get over her or him—and more importantly — over yourself. But for that period of time, it indulged you in ways most couldn’t. Adams wasn’t telling you to hit the gym and get back in the dating game. You were not going to prove them wrong and make them regret leaving. Love is Hell isn’t that. Rather, it fed your doubts and fears. It embraced them. Love is Hell is the “Inkwell” filter on Instagram. In many respects, Love is Hell was an attempt to wash away her or his memory, but things went array. You fell into a stark monochrome limbo all alone. Instead of scraping them away, you fell in love again—not with someone—but rather, with the actual process the whole damn thing. If that’s not a heartbreak, I don’t know what is.
Bobby’s Pick: D-I-V-O-R-C-E, Tammy Wynette
On paper, Tammy Wynette’s iconic 1968 album D-I-V-O-R-C-E is a product of its times. It appears to be yet another case where a record label tried to place a hit song in more homes by grouping it in with a bunch of covers and a handful of originals. Yet when Wynette sings like a broken-hearted casualty of what’s spelled out in the title, the sad undercurrents of songs like the Beatles’ “Yesterday” bolster what’s practically a concept album.
“Come on Home” and “Fire in Your Heart” find Wynette patiently trying to outlast a spouse’s interest in other women. Although she hopes for the happy ending described in “Kiss Away,” the realization of the title track eventually breaks her spirit. Despite her best efforts to preserve an institution at the heart of country music’s presumed family values, the album ends on “Lonely Street,” stifling any hope of reconciliation.
Rachel’s Pick: The Names of Things, Karen and the Sorrows
Fortunately, it’s been my longest stint since heartbreak so I had to dig a bit to figure out what the best of the best could be. After scrolling through Spotify, I found a playlist from last summer entitled “Ugh” — seemed to be the right place to look. While anything by John Moreland may be an obvious choice, that’s not the kind of despair I grok with. I think I need something that reminds me, even when I’m at my lowest, that life isn’t an unrelenting flood of despair. Karen and the Sorrows‘ 2014 release The Names of Things is the right kind of melancholy for any occasion. After all, romance may be unstable but it’s hardly the only reason to be sad.
The Names of Things entered my life as I was getting ready to move on from the school I was working at. I adored the students and my colleagues, but it felt like it was time to move on. As the feeling turned into a decision, I felt devastated. “Tender Buttons,” which is most likely the only country song about Gertrude Stein’s relationship with Alice B. Toklas, is a song that captures the exquisite agony of leavetaking. It highlights all the reasons to stay, the moment when the balance tips towards leaving, and the nostalgia that instantly crystallizes once the decision is made. I blasted this song in particularly on the surprisingly good speakers on my Smartboard every morning from May to June. This album’s been with me with all of the breakups and job changes since 2014. Luckily, I don’t anticipate needing to lean on it for a while.
It’s not all bad news, though. The album concludes with, “Star,” an all-around great sing-along and set closer. Some of my most magical concert moments come from the truly devoted who would stay at Karen’s Queer Country Monthly shows until the bitter end. The song itself has its own magic, affirming the power of strong, supportive relationships. The Names of Things is an album with serious staying power, containing both my favorite breakup song and my favorite love song of all time.
Jeremy’s Pick: The Weight Of These Wings, Miranda Lambert
It may not even be two years old yet, but that’s certainly not too early to hoist Miranda Lambert
’s ambitious double album The Weight Of These Wings
up to the rafters of all-time country greats. But what makes it so damn sad? Context, of course. The Weight Of These Wings
came after Lambert’s very public, very rumor-ridden divorce from fellow country star Blake Shelton. While Shelton’s post breakup album felt pretty much like, well, any other Blake Shelton album, Lambert took her time with The Weight Of These Wings
, crafting an album that really represents the full range of emotions that heartbreak encompasses.
In other words, if you think “heartbreak” is akin to “sad bastard music,” well you’re mistaken. Because heartbreak, just like love, is a messy affair that can yield spats of unquestioned confidence (“Pink Sunglasses”) to soul-squeezing laments (“Tin Man”). It can create moments of inward self-deprecation (“Vice”) and make you thankful for the ones who surround you with love (“We Should Be Friends”). And yes, while The Weight Of These Wings skews more somber and contemplative (if we have to pick a singular direction), what really makes it the greatest heartbreak record is just how complete of a picture Lambert paints of herself and what it truly means to go through heartbreak.
Bobbie Jean’s Pick: Out Of Hand, Gary Stewart
Gary Stewart was born to sing the kind of country music that hurts so good after a heartbreak. Even if song titles like “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” sound humorous on the surface, the subject matter is nothing short of devastating. Stewart’s country gold vibrato became the soundtrack to many a lonely night with tracks like “Drinkin’ Thing” and “This Old Heart Won’t Let Go.” Like George Jones, country’s original King of Broken Hearts, Stewart seemed to wear his pain on his sleeve for all the world to see. He sang of adultery (“Out of Hand”), addiction (“Back Sliders Wine”) and forbidden desire (“I See the Want to in Your Eyes”) with the fervor of an artist who lived out his lyrics. Out Of Hand is a reminder of why the name Gary Stewart is still synonymous with gorgeously sad country music.
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