observations and opinion
There are a million songs (I actually counted) about having one’s heart broken. In the great ones, we have to presume the tune springs from a real life event – how else could the lyricist capture the pain so well? In some cases we don’t have to presume: the true story of the song is known to us.
Eric Clapton was a close friend of Beatle George Harrison. Harrison had married Patti Boyd (a cute extra in A Hard Day’s Night, actually) but things got rocky. Eric tried to be a friend to them both and as he sings in “Layla”
Tried to give you consolation…but like a fool, I fell in love with you.
I think it’s the greatest of the genre.
The End of the World
The lyrics to this aching little song were composed by 14 year old Sylvia Dee, on the death of her father. Years later Dee shared the lyrics with Arthur Kent, who produced a simple tune. Somehow the song, as performed by Skeeter Davis in the 1960s, became a plaintive and perfect statement of how impossible life feels in the well of grief.
The loss of a parent may be overwhelming, but the loss of a child simply re-sets the world on a new axis.
As a very young woman, Joni Mitchell became pregnant out of wedlock. She gave the baby up for adoption, a decision she writes about in coded verse in her lovely “Little Green.” This very sad story turned around decades later, when Mitchell and her grown daughter were reunited and developed a strong friendship.
My daughter, who knows these things, says Ed Sheeran penned this tune about his famous girlfriend Ellie Goulding. Not flattering about Goulding. The song has the dry, detached air of 21st century heartbreak.
Note that Ms. Goulding has recently denied this, rather vehemently.
The Heart of the Matter
“The Heart of the Matter” is about that terrible moment when you learn that the one you love, loves another. And about the relief and distance we gain from that heartbreak. Don Henley, whom I have described as a “romantic realist” wrote the lyrics with JD Souther, when both men had recently suffered break ups with their fiancées.
This Love of Mine
Go back 70 years from Ed Sheeran and you find this. The story behind the original song is lost to time (see my long ago piece on how the song may have been plagiarized) but the 1950s Sinatra recording is all about one true hopeless love: his, for Ava Gardner.
Tears in Heaven
Clapton again, years later, working through the agony of his young son’s death. Many people have learned to treat the song as sappy. In one case, I heard it sung at a wedding (completely out of context). It’s a lovely song and if you can park your baggage, listen to it again and hear a man’s dignified grief.
Goodbye to Love
This is a cheat – I don’t know whether Richard Carpenter had suffered any heartache when he wrote the first verse, or whether John Betts did either. But given Karen Carpenter’s miserable love life and self-inflicted death, the song speaks to a true and tragic loss. It became true later, which in some ways, is even more sad.