Image Credit: Warner Bros / 1977
All good things must come to an end. Successful bands are no exception to this rule, and their break-ups are often messy. But whether this is the result of members leaving to go solo, the breakdown of romantic relationships, or ego clashes, artists deal with them in the best way they know how: by writing songs about one another. Here are my top ten band ‘break-up’ songs, ranked:
10: ‘Grow Up’ by Paramore
This song featured on Paramore’s fourth album, which came out after founding members of the band Josh and Zac Farro left. They claimed Hayley Williams had too much control and treated the band like a solo project. Williams hit back with this song, singing ‘I’m done with all of my fake friends/Self-righteous pawns in a losing game’. Brutal.
9: ‘Too Many People’ by Paul and Linda McCartney
‘Too Many People’ featured on the 1971 album Ram. McCartney admitted that the lines ‘you took your lucky break and broke it in two’ and ‘too many people preaching practices’ were aimed at John Lennon, blaming Lennon for breaking up The Beatles and referring to his newfound spiritualism. While this song is rather subtle in its condemnation of McCartney’s ex-bandmate, see number two on this list for Lennon’s vicious response.
8: ‘Dirty Laundry’ by Kelly Rowland
While this song isn’t strictly about the break-up of Destiny’s Child, it is a message to Rowland’s ex-bandmate and lifelong friend, Beyoncé Knowles. Written by The-Dream, the song explains Rowland’s resentment towards Beyonce : ‘bittersweet, she was up, I was down’. We get a heartfelt insight into Rowland’s difficulty to cope with Knowles’ success, a common struggle in musical groups where one person becomes elevated above the rest.
7: ‘Ego Agogo’ by Robbie Williams
Robbie Williams broke the hearts of Take That fans everywhere in 1995 when he announced he was leaving the group. The other members had become frustrated with his partying, while he felt his creative input into the group was being restricted.
‘Ego Agogo’, an attack on Gary Barlow’s egotistical nature, featured on Williams’ first solo album. The line ‘now you’ve gone stately, and yes you do hate me’ is a direct attack on Barlow, who bought a stately home in Cheshire in 1995. The two have since made up, but the song illustrates how easily clashing egos can destroy a boyband.
6: ‘Go Your Own Way’ by Fleetwood Mac
‘Go Your Own Way’ was written by Lindsey Buckingham about Stevie Nicks, who’d been in a relationship since they were teenagers. Buckingham laments his strong feelings for Nicks, asking ‘how can I ever change things that I feel?’ but ultimately he gives up on the fractured relationship, telling Nicks ‘you can go your own way’.
The dissolution of the band was a tumultuous one: Christine and John McVie got divorced during the Rumours tour, while Nicks had an affair with fellow band member Mick Fleetwood. Despite being painful for the members, the breakups made for brilliant songwriting and live performances.
5: ‘No Vaseline’ by Ice Cube
In 1989, Ice Cube left NWA over royalty disputes. ‘No Vaseline’ is a diss track directed towards both his ex-crew members and the record label. He accused his fellow crew members of being sell-outs, with the particularly pointed lines ‘yelling Compton, but you moved to Riverside’, referring to Ren’s move to Riverside, historically a more affluent area than Compton, and ‘I never have dinner with the President’ pointed at Eazy E, who had dinner with Republican President George H.W Bush.
Unfortunately, the ex-friends did not fully reconcile before E’s death in 1995, but ‘No Vaseline’ remains an iconic diss track that went on to inspire many others.
4: ‘The Winner Takes it All’ by ABBA
‘The Winner Takes it All’ was released in 1980. At the time, Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog were going through a divorce, and fellow bandmates Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad’s relationship was also breaking down.
The emotion in Fältskog’s voice as she sings the words ‘somewhere deep inside/you must know I miss you/but what can I say?/rules must be obeyed’ is unsurprising considering she knew that Ulvaeus wrote them with her in mind. Her powerful vocals accompanied by his moving lyrics make this one of ABBA’s most memorable songs.
3: ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ by The Libertines
Frontmen of The Libertines Pete Doherty and Carl Barât were close friends as well as bandmates. But Doherty’s drug abuse led to a rift between the two men, even resulting in him burgling Barât’s home in 2003.
‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ came out in 2004, when tensions between the bandmates were at an all time high. Lyrics like ‘you twist and tore our love apart’ were written by Doherty, but sung back to him by Barât. This became their most successful song: expressions of loathing between two people who were once best friends makes for a powerful listening experience.
2: ‘How Do You Sleep?’ by John Lennon
In his response to ‘Too Many People’ Lennon didn’t hold back, asking his ex-bandmate ‘how do you sleep at night?’. The line ‘the only thing you done was Yesterday’ is particularly scathing: it refers to The Beatles’ song ‘Yesterday’, written by McCartney, implying that this was his only commendable contribution to the band; it also suggests that McCartney’s best days are behind him.
Before Lennon’s murder in 1980, the two musicians reconciled. Nevertheless, this blatant attack deserves its place at number two on the list of band break-up songs.
1: ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac
Number one in this list can only be ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac. Nicks wrote the lyrics - allegedly in just ten minutes - while Buckingham wrote the music and produced the song, knowing it was about him. The song insists that Buckingham will be the one who is lonely and driven mad by ‘what you had/and what you lost’.
It is no surprise that ‘Dreams’, with its relatable break-up lyrics and ethereal feel, went to number one and sold over one million copies in the US. 44 years after its original release, the song went viral on TikTok and reentered music charts around the world, continuing to resonate with people everywhere.