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Tainted Love: These Songs Were Forever Ruined By Exes

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We all have them - songs that remind us of our exes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW")

GOTYE: (Singing) But you didn't have to cut me off...

CORNISH: Whether it's an oldie like "My Girl," or maybe your ex loved "Purple Rain." Or maybe it's this song by Gotye. Your ex has ruined it for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW")

GOTYE: (Singing) ...That feels so rough. No, you didn't have to stoop so low, have your friends collect your records and then change your number.

JESSICA ROY: Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" song was definitely submitted the most. I think anybody who went through a breakup in the last few years remembered that song.

CORNISH: That's Jessica Roy, an editor at The Los Angeles Times. She recently asked Times readers to send in stories of songs that their ex-lovers ruined for them. I spoke to her earlier about the responses she received. And I started by asking her to read one about both "Somebody That I Used To Know" and Adele's "Someone Like You."

ROY: (Reading) Living in LA at the time, I listened to Top 40 radio stations during my commute. It almost became hazardous to drive with the radio on. The 405 Freeway is scary enough when you're not ugly crying behind the wheel. You ruined Adele for me, David.

CORNISH: Rough. David, man, you really messed up.

ROY: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEONE LIKE YOU")

ADELE: (Singing) Never mind, I'll find someone like you. I wish nothing but the best for you, too. Don't forget me...

CORNISH: What's interesting about this is these are songs that are already about breaking up. Did you also have people who, like - there were songs that they really liked that had nothing to do with breaking up that were now ruined, songs that might have even been cheerful?

ROY: Yeah. There were a bunch. You know, a lot of people had songs that they had listened to a lot with their ex and had enjoyed but that were ruined looking back on them. Like, somebody said they were listening to Queen's "We Will Rock You" on the radio. And they were 16 years old and found out their boyfriend was cheating on them. And now it was totally ruined for them.

CORNISH: Gasp. Ruined Queen?

ROY: How dare you (laughter)?

CORNISH: How dare you?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WILL ROCK YOU")

QUEEN: (Singing) We will, we will rock you.

CORNISH: All right. It's very cliche to say it, but I will. Music is the soundtrack to our lives, right? So it makes sense that people would have songs that would be very connected to a certain period. But what did you take away from reading all of these responses?

ROY: What was so interesting to me was the way that people said that hearing those songs reflexively brought back these emotions. I interviewed professor Daniel Levitan (ph) for this story. And one of the most interesting things he told me is that, you know, you form memories when circuits activate in your brain. And when you recall those memories, some of those circuits reactivate. He said it puts you back in literally the same electrochemical state that you were in at the time. And, you know, he pointed out to me that in a song, there are so many triggers. There's the melody. And there's the rhythm. And there's the instruments. And there are the lyrics themselves - and that all of those things together can be really powerful.

CORNISH: Yikes. Another response that you got to that point was about "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight." And this is by the Postal Service.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE DISTRICT SLEEPS ALONE TONIGHT")

THE POSTAL SERVICE: (Singing) Smeared black ink...

ROY: The reader submitted, (reading) he used to play it all the time when we were together and even put it on a mix CD for me. For a good year after we broke up, I could just hear those opening keyboard chords and start crying - not even emotional crying, just reflexive watering of the eyes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE DISTRICT SLEEPS ALONE TONIGHT")

THE POSTAL SERVICE: (Singing) Where I am.

CORNISH: OK. This was a little bit downbeat for Valentine's Day, which I know some people are into. But what song do you think we should go out on?

ROY: One of my favorite submissions that we cut was somebody said "Kiss Me" by Ed Sheeran. They said, (reading) unfortunately, this song reminds me of my first kiss. I wanted it to be memorable. And thinking I was cool, I paused our makeout session to accomplish my goal by busting out my phone and playing that song on repeat.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KISS ME")

ED SHEERAN: Kiss me like you want to be loved.

CORNISH: Beautiful, beautiful. Thank you. Jessica Roy, audience engagement editor at the LA Times. She wrote a piece this Valentine's Day about songs your ex ruined. Thank you for sharing these stories with us.

ROY: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KISS ME")

SHEERAN: (Singing) This feels like falling in love, falling in love. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.