Only Love Can Break Your Heart

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"Only Love Can Break Your Heart"
Single by Neil Young
from the album After the Gold Rush
ReleasedSeptember 19, 1970
October 19, 1970
(U.S. 7" single)
RecordedMarch 15, 1970
GenreFolk rock[1]
Songwriter(s)Neil Young
Producer(s)David Briggs, Neil Young
Neil Young singles chronology
"Cinnamon Girl"
"Only Love Can Break Your Heart"
"When You Dance I Can Really Love"

"Only Love Can Break Your Heart" is a song written by Canadian-American singer-songwriter, musician, and activist Neil Young. It has been covered by many bands.

Genesis and recording[edit]

The song is the third track on Neil Young's album After the Gold Rush. The song was supposedly written for Graham Nash after Nash's split from Joni Mitchell,[2] though Young in interviews has been somewhat tentative in admitting or remembering this.[3] Released as a single in October 1970, it became Young's first top 40 hit as a solo artist, peaking at number 33 in the U.S.[4] The single was issued with a Crazy Horse version of "Birds" (rather than the solo piano version of the album) on the B-side, apparently accidentally.[5] The song is praised as a "seemingly simple song which display[s] considerable attention to detail in the deployment of instruments."[6]

Record World said that the song "has [Young's] magic touch."[7]

Saint Etienne version[edit]

"Only Love Can Break Your Heart"
Single by Saint Etienne featuring Moira Lambert
from the album Foxbase Alpha
  • "The Official Saint Etienne World Cup Theme" (UK)
  • "Filthy" (UK reissue)
  • "Stoned to Say the Least" (United States)
ReleasedMay 1990, August 1991 (reissue)
RecordedJanuary 1990[8]
LabelHeavenlyHVN2 / HVN12 (reissue)
Songwriter(s)Neil Young
Saint Etienne singles chronology
"Only Love Can Break Your Heart"
"Kiss and Make Up"

Nothing Can Stop Us

Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Music video
"Only Love Can Break Your Heart" on YouTube

In 1990, English band Saint Etienne recorded a cover version of "Only Love Can Break Your Heart", which was included on their debut album, Foxbase Alpha (1991). The vocals are by Moira Lambert (Sarah Cracknell had not yet joined the band as a permanent member).[11] The band recorded the song in producer Ian Catt's bedroom studio in Pollards Hill.[12] The recording, made in under two hours, got them a record deal, their first single, and their first hit.[13] Andrew Weatherall later remixed the song, further emphasising its dub bassline: this remix, subtitled "A Mix of Two Halves" (duration 8:49), was featured on both releases of the single and on the compilation Casino Classics. The U.S. and European releases contained a different extended mix by Flowered Up (duration 6:19), issued in the UK only on a flexidisc, though it was mistakenly listed as the "Mix of Two Halves". Weatherall had no involvement with this mix.


The song was re-released in the UK as a double A-side with the track "Filthy", peaking at number 39 in the UK Singles Chart. "Filthy", was later covered as "Jungle Pulse" by Etienne Daho.[14] The song remains Saint Etienne's only entry in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 97 in 1992.[15] It did, however, top the U.S. Hot Dance Club Play chart. The U.S. b-side to the single was the Foxbase Alpha album track "Stoned to Say the Least."

In December 1990, Melody Maker ranked Saint Etienne's version of "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" number 18 in their list of "Singles of the Year", writing, "A shimmering post-House triumph. Seduction had never sounded so sorrowful."[16] In 2003, Vibe listed Masters at Work's remix of the song as one of the "Top 25 remixes ever created."[17]

Critical reception[edit]

In contemporary reviews, Larry Flick from Billboard wrote that the band reinterprets the tune "into a glowing swing/hip-hop jam."[18] Ian Gittins from Melody Maker declared it as a "impossibly wistful wisp of coming-down pop", adding, "Second time around, St Etienne's delicate duffing-up of crinkle-chops Neil Young' tuff'n'tender lament still echoes poignantly, so transient and translucent, as if only synth and sighs prevent its heart cracking into a thousand lovely, lonely pieces."[19] David Giles from Music Week stated that the song is "sung in beautifully husky tones, and set to a snails-pace dance rhythm, that is already proving immensely popular at club level."[20] Roger Morton from NME felt that Saint Etienne's version "should nark a few old hippies because the original melody is thoroughly streamrollered by a crushing Soul II Soul type beat. Neo-lover's rock in feel, it scores points both for the idea and the execution."[21] A reviewer from Smash Hits called it a "brilliant dance version".[22]

In retrospective reviews, Justin Chadwick from Albumism described the cover version as "stirring", stating that it "manages to stay faithful to the original's melancholy weight while transforming Young's minimalist composition into a fresh and thrilling dancefloor-friendly affair." He added, "Propelled by multi-layered dub basslines, house rhythms, piano loops, and pounding drum breaks, the group's interpolation sounds little like Young's 1970 single, save for the equally plaintive power of Lambert's ruminations."[23] Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic said it is "not only cleverly ironic, but also works".[24]

Music video[edit]

Two music videos were released for the single. The original version was directed by Nicola Baldwin and partly shot by her in black and white Super 8. It depicts Lucy Gillie from early 90s pop trio Golden miming the vocals (Lambert refused to appear in the video).[25] The second features Cracknell miming to Lambert's vocals and depicts the band entering a cinema in a small French town (that inspired the group's name) where they see themselves in a movie. The act includes this song in their live shows with Cracknell performing the song.


Artist Chart (1970) Peak
Neil Young US Billboard Hot 100 33
Artist Chart (1991) Peak
Saint Etienne UK Singles (OCC) 39
Saint Etienne UK Dance (Music Week)[26] 22
Artist Chart (1992) Peak
Saint Etienne US Billboard Hot 100 97
Saint Etienne US Hot Dance Club Play (Billboard) 1
Saint Etienne US Alternative Airplay (Billboard)[27] 11

Other cover versions[edit]


  1. ^ Mason, Stewart. "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" at AllMusic. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  2. ^ McDonough, Jimmy (2003). Shakey: Neil Young's Biography. Random House. pp. 339–40. ISBN 978-0-679-31193-5.
  3. ^ Thompson, Ben (June 27, 1993). "Lives of the Great Songs: Soft, strong and not very long: Only Love Can Break Your Heart: It was written by one of Crosby Stills Nash & Young, for another, and later ruined by a third. Ben Thompson compiles the second in our series of song biographies". The Independent. Archived from the original on November 3, 2012. Retrieved July 28, 2009.
  4. ^ Lonergan, David F. (2005). Hit records, 1950–1975. Scarecrow. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-8108-5129-0.
  5. ^ McDonough, Jimmy (2003). Shakey: Neil Young's Biography. Random House. p. 750. ISBN 978-0-679-31193-5.
  6. ^ Echard, William (2005). Neil Young and the poetics of energy. Indiana University Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-253-21768-4.
  7. ^ "Single Reviews" (PDF). Record World. October 17, 1970. p. 124. Retrieved April 24, 2023.
  8. ^ Thompson, Dave (2000). Alternative Rock. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 605. ISBN 978-0-879-30607-6.
  9. ^ "Saint Etienne | Music Biography, Streaming Radio and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  10. ^ a b Berger, Arion (2004). "Saint Etienne". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 713–714. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  11. ^ Kelly, N (May 30, 2009). "Pop's never-never band return to the source". Irish Independent. Retrieved June 5, 2009.
  12. ^ "Only Love Can Break Your Heart". Saint Etienne. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  13. ^ Hodgkinson, Will (2008). Song Man: A Melodic Adventure, Or, My Single-Minded Approach to Songwriting. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-81581-2.
  14. ^ Warwick, Neil; Tony Brown; Jon Kutner (2004). The complete book of the British charts: singles & albums. Omnibus. p. 950. ISBN 978-1-84449-058-5.
  15. ^ "Music: Top 100 Songs | Billboard Hot 100 Chart". Billboard. Retrieved January 17, 2018.
  16. ^ "Singles Of The Year". Melody Maker. December 22, 1990. Retrieved February 24, 2023.
  17. ^ "Second Time Around". Vibe. March 2003. p. 160.
  18. ^ Flick, Larry (November 30, 1991). "Single Reviews" (PDF). Billboard. p. 82. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  19. ^ Gittins, Ian (August 24, 1991). "Singles". Melody Maker. p. 31. Retrieved May 1, 2023.
  20. ^ Giles, David (June 2, 1990). "Singles" (PDF). Music Week. p. 25. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  21. ^ Morton, Roger (May 26, 1990). "Singles". NME. Retrieved February 24, 2023.
  22. ^ "Down the Rave-up!". Smash Hits. October 3, 1990. p. 63. Retrieved October 19, 2020.
  23. ^ Chadwick, Justin (October 14, 2016). "Saint Etienne's Debut Album 'Foxbase Alpha' Turns 25: Anniversary Retrospective". Albumism. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
  24. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Saint Etienne – Foxbase Alpha". AllMusic. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
  25. ^ "Golden – Golden's Photos". Facebook. December 8, 2012. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  26. ^ "Top 60 Dance Singles" (PDF). Music Week. September 7, 1991. p. 22. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  27. ^ "Saint Etienne Chart History (Alternative Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  28. ^ High Fidelity Vol 28 #10 (October 1978) p. 154
  29. ^ "The Ultimate Stiff Record". Retrieved October 3, 2016.
  30. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Christian David Hoard (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide: Completely Revised and Updated 4th Edition. Simon and Schuster. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-7432-0169-8.
  31. ^ Cox, Bradford (August 13, 2007). "Atlas Sound – Only Love Can Break Your Heart (N. Young / Psychic TV Cover)". deerhunter / atlas sound / lotus plaza blog. Retrieved October 17, 2009.
  32. ^ "Graded on a Curve: Rickie Lee Jones, the Devil You Know". October 2, 2015.
  33. ^ "A COVER TRILOGY: Asami Zdrenka – Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Saint Etienne/Neil Young cover)". YouTube. August 26, 2015. Archived from the original on December 14, 2021. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
  34. ^ "Florence + The Machine". Retrieved May 28, 2016.