In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week we ask, “What song makes you cry?”
Breakup songs are arguably more common than love songs in popular music, particularly in country music, but they’re rarely as emotionally affecting as the experiences they attempt to reflect, unless they’re being listened to in the midst of an actual breakup. (In that situation, just about any song can be a song that makes you cry.) The requirement of universal appeal in pop music can render this type of song generic, or even pandering, if it’s not pulled off in the right way by the right person. Luckily, there are few performers better equipped to handle romantic catastrophe than the classic country duo of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, who released a series of collaborative albums in the ’70s and ’80s, almost every one of which contains at least one solid breakup song. But the pair’s No. 1 single “As Soon As I Hang Up The Phone,” from 1974’s Country Partners, is perhaps the best display of how heartbreaking their inimitable chemistry could be when it was tuned to tragedy.
The conceit of “As Soon As I Hang Up The Phone”—a man calling up his woman to break it off—isn’t that unusual, but the song’s power lies in its spoken-word-plus-singing arrangement, combined with the grim determination of Twitty’s character, who clearly still holds a lot of affection for his soon-to-be-former lover. There’s something so wrenching about Lynn’s hopeful optimism about the reason for the call (“You gave me the will to go on / as soon as I picked up the phone”), which devolves into her wailing “oh no” while Twitty stammers and tries to let her down easy. Every time her voice catches and quavers, my heart breaks a little more. The story here has been told over and over pretty much since the invention of the telephone, but Twitty and Lynn’s performance makes it immediate and personal, the song equivalent of that stomach-dropping moment when you realize you’ve just been dumped.