Erykah Badu, one of the most prolific and talented artists of her era, has released a slew of hit singles and gold records since breaking onto the scene nearly 20 years ago. But to this day, none resonate quite like “Tyrone.” The single, originally a live cut that found its way to radio, is among the more passionate and direct tracks in the Dallas R&B guru's extensive catalog. It’s also one hell of a breakup song.
Badu is scheduled to play Arena Theatre this Saturday and Sunday, and hopefully, “Tyrone” will be on the set list. Regardless, it ranks – alongside these ten tracks – among the greatest breakup songs of the past 20 years.
10. LAURYN HILL, “Ex Factor”
Before the retreat from the public eye, the sporadic musical output and the hit-and-miss shows, Lauryn Hill released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the best album of 1998 and one of the best albums of the 1990s, period. The highlight of that classic is “Ex Factor,” a song even more poignant considering it was allegedly written about former flame and Fugees bandmate Wyclef Jean.
9. MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE, “I Don’t Love You”
The “screamo” era didn’t bring a lot to the table, save perhaps for MCR’s masterpiece concept record, The Black Parade. This isn’t the best song on that album, but it’s probably the most poignant. Frontman Gerard Way has since moved on to solo success, but it’s a damn shame infighting did MCR in; the band really seemed on to something in the mid-2000s.
8. DRAKE, “Marvin’s Room”
The next time you’re up late, way into the booze, pining for an ex who has long since moved on to happier times with someone else, remember two things… 1. Drunk-dialing an ex rarely ends well… 2. …even if you’re a good-looking, successful pop artist like Drake.
7. BEYONCÉ, “Irreplaceable”
Long before Lemonade, Queen B knew how to lay down a diss track. “I could have another you in a minute,” Beyoncé says to her freeloading man, who has just been shown the door. Jay-Z and Beyoncé were already dating by the time “Irreplaceable” hit radio in 2006; he really should have taken notes on this one.
6. THE KILLERS, “Mr. Brightside”
The Killers’ breakout single was actually based in fact. Turns out front man Brandon Flowers caught his girlfriend at the time with another man at a Las Vegas bar. Guitarist Dave Keuning heard the story and wrote “Mr. Brightside,” which turned the Killers into a multiplatinum phenomenon. So that’s one way to get over a breakup.
5. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, “Cry Me a River”
This was the moment people realized Justin Timberlake was a little bit more than a pretty face with dance moves and a good voice. When JT found out former flame Britney Spears had stepped out on him, then begged him back, he did what many in his position would do – he reveled in her misery. Then, to top it off, dude made a music video in which he broke into a Britney lookalike’s house, filmed himself hooking up with someone else, stalked the ex-girlfriend, then left the hookup video playing on her TV. This is why people love Justin Timberlake.
4. EMINEM, “Kim”
Eminem always was a full-throttle kind of guy. Whereas some artists pen odes to their exes, begging them back or even blowing them off, Marshall Mathers wrote a song that gave a play-by-play in the murder of his ex-wife. “Kim” is haunting, violent and misogynist. It’s also the most brutal love song ever recorded.
3. AMY WINEHOUSE, “Back to Black”
Many breakup songs eventually yield happy endings. Sure, it ended badly, but you move on to someone else and find happiness (the next entry on this list is a textbook case). That’s what makes “Back to Black” so tragic – the clouds never parted for the late, great Amy Winehouse. This track details Winehouse’s very public, and very tumultuous, relationship with husband (and fellow addict) Blake Fielder-Civil. Blake keeps going back to his ex, and Amy? Well, she goes back to “black” – a street name for heroin. This song was released to critical acclaim in 2007; Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning only four years later.
2. ADELE, “Someone Like You”
If this supernova of a single sounds a little rough, that’s because the version released to the public was originally intended only as a demo. That version, one in which Adele’s booming voice actually cracks a little under the emotional weight of heartbreak, was so well-received by friends and confidantes that she and co-writer Dan Wilson (fun fact: lead singer of '90s one-hit wonder Semisonic) decided to make it the album version. They did the right thing; “Someone Like You” is one of the rawest breakup songs ever recorded, one whose beauty lies in its simplicity.
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1. JAY Z, “Song Cry”
For those who mostly know of Jay-Z as Beyoncé’s husband or the guy who puts out mediocre raps with Kanye West, go back to 2001, when Jigga-man put out The Blueprint, arguably the greatest rap album ever recorded (oddly enough, it was released on 9/11). The highlight of that album is “Song Cry,” a pitch-perfect track about love gone bad and the regret that ensues. This was Jay Z unafraid to show his tender side. This was also Jay Z at his absolute peak.
Erykah Badu and special guest Ro James perform Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29 at the Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway. See arenahouston.com for more details.