five songs for separation

Jojo Sommer takes us through a musical journey through the Everly Brothers, Phoebe Bridgers, and Pink Floyd.

Credit: VICE

Almost everyone in the world right now is separated from at least one of their loved

ones. Whether a sibling, romantic partner, best friend, or any number of the titles given to the

crucial people in our lives, it is troubling to not have a sense of when we will see each other

again.


In order to cope, here are five songs dealing with separation and the universal state of longing.


001. “All I Have To Do Is Dream” — Everly Brothers (1958)


This song is so sweet it gives me a toothache. It tugs at an impossible sense of internal

yearning beginning at the first breathless syllables of the word “dream.”


Released in 1958, this song is a prime example of the lofty, lush harmonies of the Everly

Brothers. Recorded in just two takes, the song tells of romantic physical distance through a

wistfully innocent sense of desire, using dreams as a way of keeping the burning embers of

affection alive, such as in, “I can make you mine, taste your lips of wine / Anytime night or day.”

It’s a song so unashamed and earnest that listening to it in its intended context is like living in

one of the banal moments of a musical (think Sandy serenading no one on her porch in

Grease). But, at the same time, it’s beautiful and there is no one around to watch you be

embarrassingly sincere anyway. So, think back to what it’s like to be thirteen and in some

resemblance of love for the first time, for no song matches the smitten, pining desire of what’s not readily attainable like this one.


002. “I Go To Sleep” — The Kinks (1965)


I was originally going to use the cover of this song by Anika before realizing that it was a

cover, let alone one by The Kinks. Ray Davies wrote the song for another band and never

officially recorded it, as it can only be found as a demo version on their second album, Kinda

Kinks. It makes sense that “I Go To Sleep” was not on the original tracklist, since it is entirely

strange and borderline unnerving in a way that doesn’t align with the straightforward pop songs

that kicked off the British Invasion.


The song is constructed of jarring, repeated piano chords and Davies’ voice chanting simple lyrics like staccato, creating a composition that feels like it’s missing something. Similarly, the speaker is clearly missing someone. The song is 14 lines like a distorted sonnet, with six of the lines containing the phrase, “I go to sleep, sleep, and imagine that you’re there with me.” The use of repetition adds to the manic feeling of the song, a result of being in a lover’s absence where waiting becomes a lifestyle. “I Go To Sleep,” is probably not a song to listen to forty times in a row as to prevent slamming your head into a wall, but it’s a great song to combat the sweetness of “All I Have to Do is Dream.” Nothing like adding an element of torture to desire in the wake of uninterrupted loneliness.


003. “Wish You Were Here” — Pink Floyd (1975)


There is certainly no shortage of published ruminations and meditations on “Wish You

Were Here,” as it is widely considered one of the greatest songs from one of the biggest bands in history. It has been covered widely, from The Milk Carton Kids to Wyclef Jean, for there is an

undeniable truth found within the grooves of David Gilmour and Roger Water’s song.


The title alone is a simple sentiment of aching and confusion over one’s absence, while the lyrics are mostly composed of unanswerable questions that make as little sense to the speaker as the departure of their lost companion. Gilmour has said the song is an ode to Syd Barrett, a founding member of Pink Floyd who spiraled downward at a young age. While the band was recording the album of the same name, a nearly unrecognizable Barrett visited them in the studio, disturbing his old bandmates. Soon after, “Wish You Were Here” was released with a clear goal of empathy and the desire for understanding, asking, “Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war / For a lead role in a cage?” There are few songs that reflect estranged

love as a result of reckless life so well.


004. “Demi Moore” — Phoebe Bridgers (2018)


The title of this song comes from someone mishearing the lyric, “I don’t want to be

stoned anymore” to be “I don’t want to be stoned Demi Moore” while Phoebe Bridgers was

recording. The use of this anecdote as the song’s title is where any elements of humor start and

end, because this song, like the best of Bridgers, is painful in a good way. The song starts off

sparse with tender, finger-picked guitar and wispy theremin before Bridgers starts humming and

singing, “Take a dirty picture, babe / I can’t sleep and I miss your face.”


The song acts as the script from a phone call as Bridgers creates a delicate scene that’s profound in the smallest way possible. The speaker is in a state of anxious desire, wishing for sleep, touch, purpose, and the person on the other end of the line. The chorus, “I don’t want to

be alone anymore,” is a simple utterance from someone who has proved she can write well

beyond her years, but demonstrates the defeating hopelessness loneliness brings where

language seems excessive. Gradually the song builds into a warm composition, when just past the 2:00 minute mark Bridgers sings: “I’ve got a good feeling/ It doesn’t happen very often,” leaving the song with just a sliver of hope to keep it going onward.


005. “So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings” — Caroline Polachek (2019)


This was the first single released in anticipation of Chairlifts’ Caroline Polachek’s solo

debut, Pang, and the name of the song alone made it worthy of attention. “So Hot Your Hurting

Feelings” is a song that sounds like crying on the dance floor. It’s no coincidence Polachek

references this exact moment of being embarrassed for tearing up over a song attached to a memory at the pre-chorus, because the song lives in a space that is just trying to dance through

the unavoidable, crushing weight of a long-distance relationship.


Luckily, the peppy drum machine, encouraging synth flourishes, and Polachek’s sense

of humor allow the song to transcend a melodramatic breakdown into a momentary celebration, a great example of the beautiful oxymoron that is a sad-pop song. Polachek refers to the bridge as “the first guitar solo I’ve ever done with my voice,” which, upon closer inspection is a theatrical rendition of the repeated phrase “show me the banana.” These amusing factors of the song are contrasted by the plainly spoken chorus, “I get a little lonely / Get a little more close to me,” showing that the best attempts to cure loneliness is with distraction. The speaker’s frustration in the song is tangible when Polachek sings, “You’re the only one who knows me, babe,” or “can’t deal,” as a result of the combined luckiness to know and love someone, with the mixture of anger and grief from constantly being separated from them. “So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings” offers no solution to this near-impossible dynamic, but it does offer an opportunity to forget for three minutes and four seconds, finding reprieve in the sacred dance floor of your bedroom.

Johanna Sommer is a young music appreciator and obsessive fan from Buffalo, NY. Currently, she attends Purchase College as a freshman journalism major. Johanna loves nothing more than to write about music’s universal capacity, and how it can unite people of all backgrounds. 

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