‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ by Neil Young is one of his most instantly recognisable songs. The third track on his 1970 album After the Gold Rush, the track features an all-star cast of musicians who helped the Canadian troubadour instil magic that remains timeless.
Featuring Billy Talbot, Danny Whitten, Ralph Molina, Jack Nitzsche, Nils Lofgren and Stephen Stills, the combined power of the band, in tandem with the warm production of David Briggs, elevated Young’s poetic lyrics and the central message that is made so clear by the title.
A touching tribute to the pitfalls of love and relationships, lyrically, the song is a concise account of love, and is one of the most evident reflections of Young‘s perception as a man and songwriter. Whilst it is probable that Young, who is best described as an autobiographical artist, dotted flecks of his own experience throughout the song, it was principally written about the end of the relationship between his CSNY bandmate, Graham Nash, and fellow Canadian folk star Joni Mitchell.
It is this that gives the song its melancholic feeling and what has made it such a go-to for those wanting a hearty sob after splitting from their partner.
This authenticity has spawned numerous covers, ranging from Saint Etienne’s dance-infused hit to Psychic TV’s atmospheric rendition. Even though Psychic TV’s undertaking makes a solid claim to be the song’s ultimate cover, the one that British indie rockers Florence and the Machine released in 2016 is also right up there.
A stripped-back take on the original, here we find Florence Welch’s unmistakable voice front and centre, backed by an acoustic guitar, piano and horn section. Her take on the chorus is exquisite, and the silk of the backing vocalists dovetails perfectly with the rawness of her delivery, bringing something new to the song.
Florence and the Machine released the track as the B-side to the Record Store Day single ‘Delilah’, and it’s quite surprising that the song is not spoken about more often. The band manage to be original whilst still being faithful to Neil Young, a reflection of their collective brilliance.
So, as the band gear up to release their long-awaited fifth studio album, Dance Fever, later this month, why not remind yourself of their talent with this cover?
Listen to Florence and the Machine cover ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ below.