No one likes to give up on something that’s important to them, but sometimes it’s the only option we have. For those times when surrender appears to be the only option that makes sense, I present to you some of my favorite songs about giving up.
Songs About Giving Up You Will Love
Let’s begin with an absolute classic by Bonnie Raitt.
I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt
Unrequited love is hard to take. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to make someone else reciprocate your feelings for them, but in reality, love isn’t something you can force, no matter how hard you try. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is all about the pain of unrequited love. Written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin, it became a hit for American singer Bonnie Raitt in 1991.
In this poignant song, a woman comes to terms with the fact that her lover will never feel as strongly for her as she does for him. She decides to spend one last night with him before parting from him.
Bonnie Raitt describes her futile efforts to deny his indifference to her before inevitably concluding, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t / You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t.” It’s heartbreaking in part because it captures the last moments of rapidly fading hope.
The woman in this song is desperately pretending that things are going her way, but deep down, she knows it is almost time to give up. So if you’re looking for great songs about giving up on love, this track by Bonnie Raitt should be at the top of your list.
Say Something by A Great Big World f/Christina Aguilera
Love isn’t always enough to sustain a relationship. In “Say Something,” by A Great Big World featuring Christina Aguilera, a man learns that no matter how much he loves his partner, he can’t make things work between them.
A Great Big World’s Ian Axel and Chad King wrote this touching piano ballad in 2013. It tells the story of a painful breakup in which a man admits that although he loves his partner and has done all he could for her, he recognizes that it’s time to admit defeat and “give up” on her. “You’re the one that I love / And I’m saying goodbye” he sings, acknowledges the painful irony in the song. There’s an overwhelming feeling of desperation in this song, as if the singer is clinging to every last shred of hope he has.
If the heartbreak in this song sounds authentic to you, that’s because it is. Ian Axel and Chad King claim they wrote this during a difficult time in their lives, and through it, they hoped to vent some of their pain. And this seems to have worked, because their recording of “Say Something” with Christina Aguilera catapulted them into fame and earned them their first Grammy.
I Can’t Help You Anymore by Aimee Mann
This song comes from Aimee Mann’s 2005 concept album The Forgotten Arm, in which a relationship is complicated by vice and addiction. In “I Can’t Help You Anymore” a woman sings about all the things she would do for her partner, but only because she hasn’t yet realized that he’s beyond her help, and that their relationship is actually making things worse for both of them. “And so I’ll fail you badly / When you really need me,” she admits.
Knowing that addiction and mental illness are common themes in Mann’s lyrics gives this song some context. This is a song about codependence, and a woman realizing that love alone is not enough to heal someone.
Mann’s mature songwriting ability shines through in “I Can’t Help You Anymore.” She chooses to tell the story from a unique perspective. Ostensibly, the woman in the song “doesn’t know” that things aren’t working out, but she wouldn’t be singing this song if she didn’t have some idea.
Yr Million Sweetness by Diane Cluck
From her 2004 album Oh Vanille / Ova Nil, folk singer-songwriter Diane Cluck brings us a song about admitting defeat in a romance gone cold.
Cluck sings about her realization that no matter how sweet her partner is to her, she will never be able to love him enough to commit to him completely. Ultimately, she decides that being alone is preferable to spending her life with someone she has no passion for.
Cluck reminds us that giving up on a lost cause can be a relief. She sings, “This is how I walk / When I have given up / Do you see how free the body moves? / The bones inside the skin are loose,” implying that she is finally able to rest now that she is no longer expending all her energy trying to sustain the relationship.
The lines “And I know if I could see you / That’d you’d be walking like this, too” suggest that the decision to split may have been a mutual one, but the song is much more bittersweet than outright happy. The stripped-down, minor-key acoustic melody tells us that the woman in this song has reached the inevitable conclusion she was hoping to avoid.
Sure, giving up may be the right choice sometimes, but that doesn’t make it easy.
That’s It – I Quit – I’m Movin’ On by Sam Cooke
On the other hand, there’s a certain degree of liberation in giving up on a relationship that’s making you miserable. Sam Cooke’s 1962 song “That’s It – I Quit – I’m Movin’ On” tells of man who walks away from a sour romance. He complains that his girlfriend doesn’t put in much effort anymore and suspects she’s being unfaithful, so he has finally decided to end things.
He doesn’t seem to have any malice or resentment toward her. He just doesn’t want to waste time and energy on someone who doesn’t do the same for him. “That’s It – I Quit – I’m Movin’ On” is really a song about standing up for yourself. The man in this song has too much self-respect to stay with someone who treats him poorly, and that’s why he’s decided to move on to better things.
Cooke’s arrangement includes a high-energy horn section and danceable rhythm, and he delivers the chorus as if he’s literally putting his foot down. It’s a moment of triumph, and the fact that the brow-beaten protagonist is finally setting some boundaries makes it very satisfying.
I Give Up by Roy Orbison
Rockabilly singer Roy Orbison softly admits defeat in his 1958 song “I Give Up.” Orbison sings about a man who’s tired of trying to make things work in his relationship. No matter what he does, he can’t seem to get through to her, and she continues “telling lies so sweetly” and hurting him.
Orbison puts it succinctly in the chorus when he sings, “I give up, I’ve done all I can do.” He’s finally come to the realization that he can’t change her behavior and make her love him more. It’s a simple song, but it delivers a powerful message: sometimes relationships are beyond repair, and this one isn’t worth saving. It’s time to give up.
I’m So Tired by Fugazi
American rock band Fugazi codified the straight-edge punk movement in the 1980s, but their 1999 song “I’m So Tired” is a solemn acoustic departure from their usual hard-core sound. “I’m So Tired” is a song of defeat in which a man muses on misery and disillusionment. His frustration with the world manifests in feelings of exhaustion and resignation. He feels powerless to make things better, so he decides to retreat inwards.
It’s a song that perfectly captures the weariness of giving up after a long, uphill fight. The slow, dark marching rhythm really does sound tried, and there’s a sense of fatalistic pathos in front man Ian McKaye’s vocals.
It all comes together to tell the story of a man who just doesn’t want to try anymore. In fact, he doesn’t even want to finish the song, and it ends abruptly on the line “I’m not sticking round.” We can only speculate as to what inspired Fugazi to write “I’m So Tired,” but McKaye has always outspokenly criticized the destructive behavior often associated with the punk movement, believing it to be an ineffective way of bringing about positive change, so it’s possible this was a reaction to the misguided chaos and self-destruction he saw around him.
Gave Up by Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails’ 1992 song “Gave Up” remains a staple of their live performances, and with its aggressive, angst-ridden tone, it’s no wonder it has the power to motivate the crowd.
With heavy instrumentation and distorted vocals, “Gave Up” expresses feelings of rage, disillusionment, and betrayal, culminating in the repeated lines, “I tried / I gave up.”
It’s difficult a parse out a coherent story from the lyrics, but that may be intentional. The song exudes confusion and chaos, and we aren’t supposed to fully understand what man in the song is experiencing because he doesn’t understand it himself.
One thing is clear: this is a song about losing hope and letting your pain get the better of you. The line “After all I’ve done / I hate myself for what I’ve become” is perhaps the most iconic moment of the song, and it encompasses much of the shame that comes with giving up and embracing cynicism.
La La Lie by Jack’s Mannequin
Giving up isn’t always a failure. Sometimes it’s a success. Jack’s Mannequin’s 2005 indie pop song “La La Lie” is all about embracing new beginnings after giving up on an unfulfilling situation.
Opening abruptly with the lines, “Guess what? I’m done writing you songs,” “La La Lie” goes on to tell the story of man who sets off in search of better things. Looking forward to the new opportunities he will find, he announces, “I’ve got friends who / Will help me pull through,” proving that he has faith in what is to come.
The song never explicitly tells us what he is giving up – it could be a lousy job, a toxic relationship, or a place he’s grown tired of – but we do know he’s happy to be leaving.
“La La Lie” reminds us how good it can feel to give up. Walking away from dissatisfaction is empowering, and that’s what makes this song such a positive anthem for those who have decided to follow their own bliss.
Let It Be by The Beatles
It’s possible to maintain hope while admitting defeat, and The Beatles give us a sign of faith in their 1970 single, “Let It Be.”
Written primarily by Paul McCartney, “Let It Be” tells the story of a man who is comforted in his grief by “Mother Mary,” who advises him to “let it be.”
By the time the song was written in 1969, The Beatles’ eventual breakup seemed increasingly inevitable, and despite his best efforts to keep the band together, McCartney faced a lot of grief in the coming years as he began to give up hope in the band’s future. As a sign of acceptance for what was to come, he wrote “Let It Be.”
The phrase “let it be” serves as a mantra for surrender and acceptance of loss as well as hope for new beginnings, and the gospel-like musical arrangement gives it a spiritual significance. It is a song of unwavering faith in the face of defeat.
Due to the references to “Mother Mary,” some have interpreted religious overtones in the song. In fact, “Mother Mary” actually referred to McCartney’s own mother, Mary McCartney, who had passed away when he was a child. He recalled that as he struggled to come to terms with the Beatles’ impending breakup, she came to him in a dream and counseled him to “let it be,” that is, to stop fighting a losing battle and accept his losses.
The song may have had a personal meaning for McCartney and the rest of the Beatles, but its message of faith and hope has resonated with grieving people all over the world, and it remains a popular choice for funeral songs.
Wrapping It Up
Giving up is a tricky subject. It carries a lot of emotionally weighty connotations, and for some, it comes with feelings of failure, but these ten songs about giving up teach us an important lesson: admitting defeat is sometimes the healthiest and most mature thing we can do. There’s no shame in calling it quits after you’ve tried your best, and giving up is often opportunity rather than a failure.