Breaking up is hard to do, they say, but rock 'n' roll has long been a sounding board used to mine the emotional impact of the breakup for artistic returns.
After all, romance — or just plain lust — is a motivating factor for many rock songs. So it stands to figure that the unraveling of a romantic relationship would provide just as much creative fodder.
For those listeners interested in the harder-edged rock songs that deal with such subject matter, the 10 tunes below pretty much have you covered — from pumped-up kiss-offs to some of the most tragic-sounding breakup ballads ever conceived in rock.
Are some of them just a touch dramatic? Sure, but what's a breakup without a little bit of angst in between the cracks? Here are our top 10 picks for the best hard rock breakup songs.
Def Leppard, "Love Bites"
Thirsting for the sappy stuff? Hair metal has you covered. Right before you get to "Pour Some Sugar on Me," though, Def Leppard's "Love Bites" — one of the poppiest tracks on Hysteria — feels almost country-ish, as if the rockers are dusty troubadours moving on to the next town. It's not every day a hard rock song crosses over into that kind of territory, but when you have producer Mutt Lange at your disposal, almost anything is possible. The sting might hurt for now, but the traveler is moving on.
Queens of the Stone Age, "Gonna Leave You"
A stoner rock band doesn't really need a song like this in their arsenal. But in keeping with the eclectic scope of Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf, the "anything goes" approach yielded this song about kicking your significant other to the curb. Well, it could be about a cheating partner…or it could be about then QOTSA bassist Nick Oliveri's addiction issues. It works either way.
Foo Fighters, "Monkey Wrench"
Considering what a good guy Dave Grohl can seem, Foo Fighters' "Monkey Wrench" doesn't even feel much like a breakup song at first. On closer inspection, however, there's a lot of saltiness between the riffs — Grohl sings about not being pushed around by his partner anymore. Special points for the shout-along bridge where he really goes off the rails. Never before has a kiss-off felt so good.
Led Zeppelin, "Your Time Is Gonna Come"
When hard rock first started to become a thing, Led Zeppelin were one of the few that knew how to expressively take things down a notch yet stay just as powerful. On their debut album, some of the saddest material even seems a little bitter, especially when Robert Plant sings about his former lover eventually getting the comeuppance that she deserves. A gentle tune, but not necessarily something you'd want to add to a wedding playlist.
Bon Jovi, "You Give Love a Bad Name"
Here's some weapons-grade '80s cheese, as far as breakup songs go. After all, Bon Jovi pretty much crafted an empire around having your heart ripped out of your chest and stomped on the ground. But what's funny is that this song was first offered to the band Loverboy before singer Jon Bon Jovi realized the gold that he had on his hands. And out of all the great ballads to come out of the era of big hair, no other act could pull off something like this.
My Chemical Romance, "I Don't Love You"
No one's putting on My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade expecting a pick-me-up. Sure, "Welcome to the Black Parade" is poppy, but the effort as a whole stays pretty dour. To that end, "I Don't Love You" definitely twists the knife. Per MCR lore, the song is about the album's protagonist, "The Patient," cutting ties with his former lover before his eventual expiration.
Halestorm, "I Miss the Misery"
There's always going to be regret in letting someone go. Still, Halestorm's "I Miss the Misery" is one rockin' send-off. This is the kind of who-needed-you-anyway song to which any ex-lover can relate. You might miss the old times, but there's a reason you're no longer together, and you're stronger for it. Time to rock out!
Motley Crue, "Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)"
Here's probably the most heartfelt song we'll ever get from Motley Crue. Since their only other ballad ("Home Sweet Home") is about coming back home off the road, it makes sense that their other big singalong would be about telling off a lousy lover once they got there.
Killswitch Engage, "The End of Heartache"
Metalcore might not be known as sentimental. But this Howard Jones-fronted Killswitch Engage track is plenty tender, what with its lyrics about a lonely man looking for some comfort after being left by his girlfriend. Something this rare for the subgenre maybe shouldn't have worked, but when all is said and done, this track is utterly and unequivocally moving.
Compared to other radio-friendly Slipknot songs, "Snuff" is practically an alternate-universe Knot made for easy-listening stations — that can't be said for stuff like "Psychosocial" or "Pulse of the Maggots." Yes, there's pain in this song. But not as much anger as one might expect. Singer Corey Taylor comes to grips with an important person in his life who let him down. As hard as it might be, sometimes that's all breakups are. You can hope for closure all you want, but there's no guarantee that it's going to come.