Monday Meh: Three Articulate Women (and a Man with the Blues)

Songs are poetry set to music. Some are the perfect marriage of sound and message while others are just wasted creative potential. Monday Meh is about presenting the best musical offerings and a little backstory to get you through to hump day.

It was really difficult wading through the mire of break up songs written and performed by women. Some have great music, and horrible lyrics… others have wonderful lyrics and half-baked music… I’m not going to name and shame anyone here because music is subjective. I found three different kinds of breakup songs, though the territory is somewhat depressing and maudlin coming from where I am in my life. But we’ve all been there.

Last week we had the Three Angry Men and it was fairly straightforward picking the ones I wanted to use. There is a subtle difference in the way the material is handled. I’m sure there are good examples from both sides of the fence (and in the gap in between), but I think good break up songs performed by women tend to tell some kind of story everyone can relate to on some level.

The first song I thought of was written by Dolly Parton. Elvis Presley wanted to perform a cover of it but wanted a share of the publishing rights, something Dolly Parton agonised over, but decided against. Whitney Houston made a brilliant cover of it but I think she really only borrowed it and made something that was beautiful to begin with, even greater.

“My songs were what I was leaving for my family and I wouldn’t give them up,” she told Mojo in 2004. “People said I was stupid. I cried all night. I would have killed to hear him [Elvis] sing it. But, eventually, when Whitney recorded it, I was glad I held out.”

The best break ups are like this. If only we could all be more like the elegant and gentile Dolly Parton. I have loved her for all my life and I am constantly in awe of her sheer amazingness. Relationship break-ups like this, don’t come around often (and admittedly this is more about the end of a business partnership than a personal one) but this is about that rare breed – a relationship that ends gracefully with minimal drama, where both people agree to mutually and respectfully move on as decent human beings because they’re done.

“So I sang this song, Porter [Wagoner] said you can go, providing I can produce that record… and he did… and it was the best song I ever had.” – Dolly Parton

And I hope life, will treat you kind
And I hope that you have all
That you ever dreamed of
Oh, I do wish you joy
And I wish you happiness
But above all this
I wish you love

Dolly Parton, 1974

For my second song, I thought about using Madonna’s Heartbreak City from her new album Rebel Heart. There’s some really biting lyrics in it. Unfortunately no live version with good production values exists yet. Recommend doing a search for it, hope it does well. It’s so angry and it is about the kind of breakup where one party has been taken advantage of and only discovers just how much afterwards. This seems to be a common theme in break up songs in general, “He/She gave them everything, they took it all, and left the musical party with nothing.” .

The second song is therefore, Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black and tells a story of her personal relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, giving away the most painful details, right at the heart of the issue.

It’s hard to watch videos of Amy without feeling a lingering sense of regret that her voice will no longer grace anything new. Perhaps she was doomed to feeling that way, but she was incredibly unhappy. It didn’t seem like therapy or rehab helped in a sustained capacity, perhaps it got way too hard when she was opened up to the brutality of online opinions by every human and dog able to pinpoint with peculiar accuracy everything she’d ever thought about herself in her darkest hours, and indiscriminately lay it open for hyper-critical dissection. I remember heckling a comedian at a comedy club one night who was hoping to have a laugh at the expense of Amy Winehouse’s cocaine addiction. Yes. Funny stuff huh. I don’t remember what I wrote on his little slip of paper he handed out trying to garner cocaine jokes, but he pointedly avoided all further eye contact with me sitting up there in the first row for the rest of the night.

This was the first song Mark Ronson wrote with Amy Winehouse. He is quoted in Mojo in June 2010: “I’ll never forget the first day I met Amy – because it changed everything for me. It was in New York, March 2006, in the studio I used to have on Mercer Street. She told me she presumed I was some old guy with a beard – like Rick Rubin. I just thought, Let’s talk about music, see what she likes. She said she liked to go out to bars and clubs and play snooker with her boyfriend and listen to the Shangri-Las. So she played me some of those records, which turned into a crash course in girl group productions. She was staying at the Soho Grand around the corner and I told her that I had nothing to play her right now but if she let me work on something overnight she could come back tomorrow. So I came up with this little piano riff, which became the verse chords to ‘Black in Black.’ Behind it I just put a kick drum and a tambourine and tons of reverb.”

Amy Winehouse disclosed in the Oct, 27 Sun Newspaper – “Back to Black is when you’ve finished a relationship and you go back to what’s comfortable for you. My ex went back to his girlfriend and I went back to drinking and dark times.” – Amy Winehouse

We only said goodbye with words
I died a hundred times
You go back to her
And I go back to
We only said goodbye with words
I died a hundred times
You go back to her
And I go back to black

Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson, 2006

The third song by Jewel is Foolish Games. For me, the worst kind of love is unrequited love. Breaking up with someone you never were really with, hung up on them for so many reasons – reasons that are over-articulated a million times more, made sense of, torn apart, put together, torn apart again, reinvented, reframed, reignited and even after years of being able to reconcile with the bitter disappointment, these people can still somehow get under your skin.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Jewel demonstrated how determined she is, “I can move every muscle in my face, I just remember, like in 4th grade science class, they said your muscles in your face were involuntary. And it just pissed me off. I was like ‘they’re my muscles. Bullshit! They’re my bitch. I’m gonna dominate!’” I know, I should have talked about that time she was Homeless because she refused to lay on her back for a recording deal, but everyone knows that story already. I can also move all the muscles in my face (and wiggle my ears) though it never really occurred to me that I couldn’t.

Her full name is Jewel Kilcher and she will be featured in future Monday Meh posts because she’s totally underrated. Her songs are lyrically amazing, accompanied by really good music that just gets better as the years march on.

You took your coat off and stood in the rain,
You’re always crazy like that.
And I watched from my window,
Always felt I was outside looking in on you.
You’re always the mysterious one with
Dark eyes and careless hair,
You were fashionably sensitive
But too cool to care.
You stood in my doorway, with nothing to say
Besides some comment on the weather.

Jewel, 1997

And as a Bonus just for today, you get a fourth track, Gary Moore’s Still Got the Blue For You, Just Because. It’s a brilliant example of an Unrequited Love Song, and his death anniversary was a couple of days ago. Released in 1990, he died of a heart attack in his sleep at age 58, 6 February 2011 – he’d had WAY too much to drink!

Who needs great lyrics when you can make your guitar cry like that?

Used to be so easy to give my heart away.
But I found out the hard way,
There’s a price you have to pay.
I found out that love was no friend of mine.
I should have known time after time.

If you’re looking for a lot more break up songs, do a google, bing or duck… there’s more out there for the sad and lonely than you realise. If you have any other information about these songs, or similar recommendations, other videos of the same quality… y’know… pop them in the comments underneath. I’d also appreciate a heads up if you find any broken links. Follow me for future updates.