The ex-files in music

Christopher Macsurak via Flickr

Spare a thought, if you can, for Russell Brand, Travie McCoy and Slinky Sunbeam. What do they have in common (and indeed, who’s the last guy?) They’re the men who can’t switch on radio without hearing their ex-girlfriends sing about how much they suck.

It’s early days for Russell. Katy Perry’s latest single Part of Me is a none-too-veiled snipe at their marriage (“so you can keep the diamond ring, it don’t mean nothing anyway”) but he’s probably not looking forward to popstrel’s next album. Katy has form- her first album had the scathing Ur So Gay directed at a hipster ex. Travie McCoy might find it hard find a date after Katy’s allegations that he falls asleep during foreplay in 2010′s Circle The Drain.

The mistress of bitter break up songs is of course, Adele. Only 23, she already has two break-up albums under belt, inspired by two different exes. 2008′s 19 centred on two exes- one a bisexual friend who cheated on her with a man, and another who she dated for four months. Ex number two asked Adele for a slice of the royalties as he felt he had inspired her creative processes. She told him to get lost. After such a bad experience, Adele was determined to make album number two a much more upbeat affair.

She sadly found sunshine and lollipops didn’t inspire her very much, and after the row which delivered the final blow to her relationship with Mr Sunbeam, she stormed into studio in a rage. Rolling in the Deep was born. Six Grammys and the 15 times platinum 21 later, Adele definitely came out on the winning side.

Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac via Wikimedia Commons

Of course the bitter break-up song is not alone the preserve of today’s pop princesses. The sixties were not all about peace and love, man. Even the usually mellow Beatles had their moments: Paul McCartney’s split with Jane Asher led to songs like For No-One and I’m Looking Through You (ouch). The lovely Norwegian Wood is actually about a man who gets revenge on a teasing woman by setting fire to her flat. Not an ex, exactly, but it was based on a woman John Lennon had an fling with. He couldn’t exactly remember who she was. Ouch again.

Still with the sixties, Bob Dylan banged out some very bitter love songs as well as more utopian tunes we associate him with, culminating in 1975′s Blood on The Tracks, a whole album about the breakdown of his marriage.

There’s also Fleetwood Mac’s famous 1976 album Rumours. The stories about the recording of this album are legion and legendary, but suffice to say, the complicated relationships in the band led to songs like The Chain and Dreams, listened to by many a dumpee since.

The best bitter break-up songs give us the fun of speculation. Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain is a mystery that may never be solved, as Carly won’t tell us who it’s about. Warren Beatty, Nick Nolte and Cat Stevens are all potential candidates. Likewise, Alanis Morrissette’s incendiary 1995 hit You Oughta Know could be about Bob Saget, music producer Leslie Howe, or (best of all in my opinion) Matt LeBlanc (Joey fromFriends). However, Alanis spoilt all the fun by revealing in 2008 that the subject was her ex, actor Dave Coullier.

The evil ex is just a much a theme of music as getting the girl/boy. And although it may be morbid, who doesn’t enjoy a good wallow now and again?

This article appeared on Studenty.me on April 1 2012. 

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