A lot of great movies contain the line (or something to the effect of) “take this record, it says everything I want to say.” And sure, you can’t rebuff a legitimate disagreement with a simple song, but they are a great way of showing you care, that you accept responsibility and that you want to reconcile with the other party. Plenty of songwriters have had a crack at it, and here are some of my favourite songs that fit the bill.
1. Carson, Christopher and James – Always On My Mind (1970)
Written by a team of Nashville stalwarts in the late 1960s, the famous track got its first taste of stardom when it was recorded and released to widespread acclaim by Elvis Presley in the wake of his 1972 divorce from wife Priscilla. It remains one of his most famous recordings, and has been covered by everyone from Willie Nelson to the Pet Shop Boys.
It’s the familiar lonesome cowboy story of a man having neglected his partner for far too long and paying the price, defeatedly declaring ‘you were always on my mind’ despite admitting to his failure to maintain the relationship properly. It’s a somber listen if you’re in a hard place but at least affirms to a listener that the singer admits their mistakes and wants to fix them.
2. Oasis – Don’t Go Away (1997)
This wasn’t actually written as an ‘I’m sorry’ song, but could easily be applied in a friend or relationship context. Hailing from the cocaine fuelled Be Here Now recording sessions in France, 1997, Don’t Go Away is an ode to Liam and Noel Gallagher’s mum, Peggy. Noel wrote it as a response to Peggy having had a cancer scare, which temporarily halted the vicious infighting that was plaguing the recording sessions and lent the band a sense of unity.
Noel laments the way his relationship with his mother has deteriorated, and vows to fix it before the inevitable death of one of them (neither of which has so far happened, thankfully.) But everyone can empathise with the song’s central message, Don’t Go Away, whether it’s a loved one, a friend, a family member, even a pet. The song is a great 90s reconciliation anthem.
3. ABBA – One Of Us (1981)
A brief listen to One Of Us, or it’s Mamma Mia movie counterpart, might inspire more hope than applied to the actual situation. It was the band’s last number 1, and the first to be released after the couples of which the band was composed had divorced. Its slightly darker and more meaningful content than previous songs like Waterloo or Dancing Queen was reflective of the songwriters’ growing discontentment, but nonetheless demonstrated emotional maturity and regret at having caused pain to someone they care about.
Leaning on the Mamma Mia context, the actual intention of the song isn’t as important as it’s easy to read the themes of accepting responsibility and seeking forgiveness in the lyrics themselves (“Waiting for a call… wishing she had never left at all.”) And even if the two ex husbands were slightly putting their emotions onto the song, it demonstrates massive emotional maturity on the part of the singers to record it.
4. Take That – Back For Good (1995)
On the face of it, Back For Good may seem a little more empty than the other entries in this top 5. It’s a boy band, it’s a basic pop hit, etc etc. But this was written and produced by Gary Barlow, rather than a collective of professional songwriters, and has earned the favour of diehard rock and roll fans like Noel Gallagher. So, there’s no doubt about Back For Good’s credentials as a quality song.
Like the other songs, Back For Good is about admitting you were wrong and begging for the other party’s forgiveness. If it’s a little problematic that Barlow sings ‘whatever I said, whatever I did, I didn’t mean it,’ at least we can take solace in the fact that he recognises he’s at fault and wants to make progress towards reconciliation. Back For Good is one of those great songs to bust out on the acoustic guitar (though watch out for that tricky falsetto on the chorus!)
5. Richard Rogers / Lorenz Hart – He Was Too Good To Me (1930)
A real blast from the past now, though I must admit, I am more familiar with Chet Baker’s 1974 version of this rejected Broadway number that eventually became a jazz standard. Sung from the perspective of a person lamenting the recent end of a relationship, longing for the companionship that they have just lost. As a jazz standard, it’s full of the poignance that you need to show someone how much you care after you’ve just had an argument. My Grandad plays the Chet Baker version to remember my late Grandma, so maybe that’s put a little bit of emotional bias onto it for me.
It’s really the mark of a great melody if it can endure 90 years and still sound pretty fresh, and He Was Good To Me hits the mark expertly. The lyrics personify the sense of longing two people in a relationship have for each other, even in a period of conflict (It’s only natural… I’m so blue… (s)he was too good to be true.) There’s a lot of love there, and it shouldn’t be unnatural to show that to prove that you’re really apologetic.