The Proclaimers

1. Lucinda Williams, “Six Blocks Away” (1992)

When lovers are separated, any distance is unbearable, from one mile to a million. Lucinda Williams does songs about longing especially well; her lyrics often deal with regret and the passage of time, but it’s distance that haunts “Six Blocks Away,” the opening track on 1992’s Sweet Old World. On an album that deals with a profound loss—the suicide of one of Williams’ friends—the pain felt by the narrator of “Six Blocks Away” may seem inconsequential. He’s been dumped for reasons that remain unclear (“he doesn’t understand why she turned him away”) and is going through the motions of a normal life. But knowing the one he loves is physically close (“he can hear her heart beat six blocks away”) but emotionally unattainable makes moving on impossible. She lives six blocks away, but the gap between them has become as insurmountable as that between life and death. [KR]

2. Taylor Swift, “Thirteen Blocks” (unreleased)

In her unreleased song “Thirteen Blocks (Can’t Call It Love),” Taylor Swift drives 13 blocks to the house of the boy she’s going to break up with. Or does she? Swift doesn’t know what she wants, so she travels as slowly as she can, trying to convince herself it’s the right thing to do. Peppy banjos brighten some of her classic heartbreak lines—“I’m gonna miss you bad but / Can’t call it love if you ain’t in it”—but it also seems she’s simply with a guy who’s just not that into her. It’s a pleasant change from the usual Swift fare, in which she’s mostly a victim in the face of one-dimensional love. Here, “the feeling ain’t strong” and Swift appears more worried that she’ll be jealous when she sees him with someone else. Although the bulk of the lyrics point to an imminent breakup, the boyfriend at the end of the 13 blocks changes things: “You open up the door and I see you smile.” It’s a tonal departure from the rest of the song and a depiction of smitten, youthful teenage love—on the way over, Swift solidifies her resolve to break up with the dude, but when she sees him smile, her questioning, and the song, fades out with diminishing guitar riffs. [CPM]

3. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “One More Mile” (1966)

Although it was recorded by no less a blues authority than Muddy Waters, not to mention by James Cotton, who wrote it in the first place, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s version of “One More Mile” has probably gotten more mileage (no pun intended) than any other, thanks to its inclusion on the seminal Elektra compilation, What’s Shakin’, in 1966. In the song, the narrator laments about having had “such a hard, hard journey” on his way home to “the little girl that I love,” who—almost certainly by coincidence—happens to be “the richest in the state.” There’s a slight catch, though: The reason he’s on his way home is because, although he loved her, he thought he loved someone else more. “Oh, you know, I made a mistake for gamblin’,” admits Butterfield. “I was bettin’ on my baby, but she weren’t even at home.” As such, he travels that final mile singing, “Keep your light up burnin’, so I can know the score.” Here’s hoping it doesn’t end up being a wasted trip. [WH]

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4. Edwin Starr, “Twenty-Five Miles” (1969)

Edwin Starr’s biggest hit for Motown was “War,” but the singer was also good for a love song. His 1969 single “Twenty-Five Miles” has a simple, point-A-to-point-B premise: Starr is 25 miles from seeing the woman of his dreams, one who’s “got the kind of lovin’ and kissin’ / Make a boy go stone wild.” To get to her, he must walk. As the song progresses, Starr starts to tire, or at least he says he does; the music itself, riding a funky kick and a brassy vamp, never lets up on the romantic momentum. The song’s writers eventually had to share credit with the composers of a previous song—“32 Miles Out Of Waycross,” originally recorded by Hoagy Lands and also adapted twice in 1967 as “Mojo Mama” (by Don Varner) and “Mojo Mamma” (by Wilson Pickett)—since the similarity between those earlier singles and “25 Miles” is pretty indisputable. But that little quibble doesn’t dampen the pop and resonance of Starr’s gutsy, heartsick delivery. “War” was Starr’s on-the-nose condemnation of the Vietnam War. But “Twenty-Five Miles,” in a subtler way, must have rang poignantly with a generation of troops, estranged from home, who had far too much marching left to do before they got back to those they loved. [JH]

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5. Albert Hammond, “99 Miles From L.A.” (1975)

As a solo artist, Albert Hammond’s biggest across-the-board hit came courtesy of his 1972 single, “It Never Rains In Southern California,” which hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. But in 1974 he topped the adult contemporary chart with a number he co-wrote with Hal David, one that was quickly covered by both Art Garfunkel and Johnny Mathis. The lyrics of “99 Miles From L.A.” feature a narrator who has his eyes on the road, his hands on the wheel, and his mind on a woman, with every sight and sound causing him to imagine spending time with her (“Passing the white sand beach, we’re sailing / Turning the radio on, we’re dancing”). Unfortunately, there’s some question as to how mutual the feelings are: Despite the journey he’s embarked upon, he clearly hasn’t told her that he’s en route, as he repeatedly pleads, “Please be there.” [WH]

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6. The Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” (1988)

The Proclaimers’ signature song, first released in 1988, might have died quietly into oblivion if not for the 1993 movie Benny & Joon, on whose soundtrack it was prominently featured. As it was, it wormed itself into our collective ears: the song about a romantic so hopeless that he would walk 500 miles, and then 500 more, just to collapse at his lover’s door. The song is so firmly wedged in the pop-cultural subconscious that, as recently as this summer, cartographers were arguing over exactly where the Leith, Scotland-born twin brothers would end up if they walked 1,000 miles. The webcomic xkcd also uses it as a benchmark to explain the speed of the International Space Station: In the time it takes to listen to the song, the ISS will have traveled exactly 1,000 miles. [LMB]

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7. Dwight Yoakam, “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” (1993)

Dwight Yoakam is not feeling himself in “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere.” His lady has said some nasty things and kicked him to the curb. He looks in the mirror, and he doesn’t even recognize himself. Few can do the sad-sack country croon like Yoakam can, but the bluest part about “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” is that Yoakam doesn’t want to move closer or farther from love. Instead, he doesn’t really want to be any place at all. [ME]

8. Vanessa Carlton, “A Thousand Miles” (1995)

Punctuated by that insanely catchy piano riff, “A Thousand Miles” begins with Vanessa Carlton singing about how she’s blindly walking through the city just so she can get to her beloved. While she may only have to traverse city blocks, Carlton makes it clear she’d be happy to travel much longer than that just to catch a glimpse of her boo. Carlton never achieved the success of “A Thousand Miles” again, but her sole hit netted her Grammy nods for Best Record and Best Song at the 2003 awards. [ME]

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9. Pretenders, “2000 Miles” (1984)

The Pretenders always struck a balance between tough and tender, with the latter emotional state surfacing more frequently as the band evolved. It’s certainly dominant on the wintry “2000 Miles,” a beloved holiday tune that’s actually quite a downer: The soft rock song is about acutely missing someone who’s moved far away—2,000 miles, to be exact. The song never reveals a reason for the distance—a job? breakup?—but does make it clear that the separation is intolerable. In fact, if it wasn’t for the weather (“2,000 miles / Is very far through the snow”), it’s clear the protagonist would be going to her beloved in a heartbeat. [AZ]

10. Erasure, “2,000 Miles” (1989)

Chrissie Hynde may have been bummed by being 2,000 miles away from her significant other, but Andy Bell is definitely approaching the distance from a different direction in this track from Erasure’s 1989 album, Wild! It’s hardly surprising that he’d be in a snit over his loved one having “walked out my front door,” but as the departure comes on the heels of having seen his style cramped and the fact that “you’ve been bitching at me for a while,” Bell makes it clear that he won’t be accepting any apologies. “I’m not sad you’re gone away,” he clarifies, adding that not only will he not be “calling information / or waiting at the railway station,” but he’s glad he’s not coming back because, “I need to be at least 2,000 miles away from you.” Still, Bell’s not completely heartless: He throws in the advice to, “watch out for the danger man: He’ll eat you if he gets a chance.” [WH]

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11. The Plimsouls, “A Million Miles Away” (1981)

The Plimsouls was a California power-pop band that never quite scored, but came damn close with 1981’s “A Million Miles Away,” which sounds like a more polished version of what The Replacements were doing at the time. (Not to mention a precursor to what the Goo Goo Dolls would later do—they even covered “A Million Miles Away.”) The song isn’t technically about that impossible physical distance, but that feeling of being so far removed from your past that it seems like it’s another planet. And not only is it far, but “there’s nothing left to bring me back.” [JM]

12. Brook Benton, “A Million Miles From Nowhere” (1958)

Brook Benton made his living writing hits for other R&B artists before breaking out on his own with a pair of chart-topping pop tunes in 1959 (the rollicking “Endlessly” and his signature blues ballad “It’s Just A Matter Of Time”). But he scored his first minor hit one year earlier with “A Million Miles From Nowhere.” It’s surprisingly jaunty for a tune about feeling a million miles away from your former paramour. After a deceptively mournful a capella intro, the trio of a bouncy bass, guitar, and tambourine arrive to perk up Benton’s crooning. It’s a sound more befitting of the poppy theme song to some ’50s Western than a lover’s lament, which maybe explains why the track was later covered by The Browns, a popular country trio. [MG]

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13. The Wedding Present, “A Million Miles” (1987)

For the first few years of The Wedding Present’s existence, singer-songwriter David Gedge had the sad-sack/jilted-lover thing down perfectly, writing song after song about pining for someone who rarely pined back. “A Million Miles,” from the band’s 1987 debut, George Best, features a suave-but-fumbling narrator who’s pouring his heart out, accidentally saying the wrong thing before saving himself with, “You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met.” Then, romantically, he offers to walk her home, even though it’s out of his way: “I could walk a million miles today.” [JM]

14. Green Day, “2,000 Light Years Away” (1992)

Green Day didn’t get famous until the release of its major-label debut, Dookie, in the spring of 1994. But the writing was on the wall two years earlier—at least for those who had sampled the ready-for-radio songs off the group’s previous record, Kerplunk. One of the album’s catchiest tunes is “2,000 Light Years Away,” in which frontman Billie Joe Armstrong laments the absence of some unnamed woman while his bandmates supply a typically infectious blast of pop-punk. The title refers to the distance, not time, separating Armstrong from his beloved, who laughs somewhere in the distance as he sits alone in his bedroom “staring at the wall.” The girl’s voice must really carry, because 2,000 light years translates to a few trillion miles. Any sensible teenage sad sack would move on from this universe-traversing heartbreaker, but the upbeat melody suggests maybe Armstrong is holding out hope for a reunion—or worse still, contemplating a really long-distance relationship. [AAD]

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