Sad Songs Say So Much

Friday, July 23, 2010

I've been thinking a lot lately about my favorite sad songs - not because I am a Debbie Downer, but just because I'm fascinated by the power of music to transform our emotions. Upbeat music can make me high on the rare days that I am sad, and the following songs can give me a heavy heart even during the giddiest of moments. These are my favorite sorrowful songs that I also think are beautiful in their own way. Not surprisingly, they all deal with failed relationships. Of course I realize I'm omitting a ton of favorites for some folks, but these lists are personal. I break out the Kleenex for...

S.O.S. by ABBA
Before you say anything against ABBA (if you're not a fan) just know that both Pete Townsend and John Lennon loved this 1975 hit, and Lennon actually said it was his favorite pop song. The descending chords are said to mimic breaking down in tears, and the video, which shows the groups faces being distorted in reflective surfaces, is a bit depressing to me.

Hanky worthy lyric: "When you're gone, how can I even try to go on? When you're gone, ooh I try, how can I carry on?"

Alone Again, Naturally - Gilbert O'Sullivan
Another upper - a song that contemplates suicide! Actually, forget the song for a moment - Gilbert's hair makes me want to cry.

I recently heard this 1972 hit close out an episode of Life on Mars (the British version of the series) and it seemed so sad and poignant, since Sam Tyler is stuck and alone in the 70s decade. Thank goodness O'Sullivan insisted that the song is not autobiographical.

Hanky worthy lyric: "At sixty-five years old, My mother, God rest her soul, Couldn't understand why the only man, She had ever loved had been taken. Leaving her to start, with a heart so badly broken...despite encouragement from me, no words were ever spoken."

I'm Not in Love - 10cc
Hmmmm...are we starting to see a trend with 70s songs here? Who knew the decade was this much of a bummer. I love this song, though...not sure why. The lush multi-tracking and overdubbing background makes me think of Phil Spector's wall of sound technique. The "Be quiet. Big boys don't cry, big boys don't cry..." whisper was contributed by the recording studio's receptionist, Kathy Warren.

Hanky worthy lyric: "So if I call you, don't make a fuss. Don't tell your friends about the two of us."

Didn't Want to Have To Do It - The Lovin' Spoonful
I don't recommend listening to this one if you've recently broken up with someone or worse, if someone has broken up with you. This John Sebastian composition is painful enough to listen to when sung in his gentle voice, but an alternate version with Cass Elliot seems to take it to an ethereal level. Really sad and beautiful.

Hanky worthy lyric: "Was a time that I thought our love could fly and never never fall...Why should I suppose we were never really meant to be close to each other at all?"

The End of the World - Skeeter Davis
I would imagine many teen girls found solace in this country twinged song from the early 60s, but I mostly remember it when a character in the movie Girl, Interrupted takes her own life. It's been covered by soooo many artists but I think Davis did it the most justice.

Hanky worthy lyric: "I wake up in the morning and wonder why everything's the same as it was. I can't understand, no I can't understand, how life goes on the way it does."

Remember (Walking in the Sand) - The Shangri-Las
This style (melodramatic doo-wop, complete with ominous opening piano notes and seagull sound effects) would never top the charts today, but The Shangri-Las' follow-up to Leader of the Pack was a 1964 hit. Aerosmith covered it in 1980 but they missed the mark IMHO - it's best when sung by a love-angst teenage girl.

Hanky worthy lyric: "And then this letter came for said that we were through, he found somebody new. Oh, let me think, let me think, what can I do?"

Somebody's Crying - Chris Isaak
Not quite as retro (it was released in 1995) as my other choices, but a coworker years ago told me to listen to it and I've never forgotten it. It was especially hard hitting when I realized I had been led on by a guy I had a one-sided crush on around the time.

Hanky worthy lyric: "Return the love you took from me, or let me know if it can't be me."

Red Red Wine - Neil Diamond
Yes, the UB40 reggae version from the 1980s was a hit, but the 1968 original, as sung by Diamond (who also wrote it) has a country western flavor. I like it better...the sadness factor was definitely diminished when it resurfaced as a dance track.

Hanky worthy lyric: "I'd have sworn that with time, thoughts of you would leave my head. I was wrong, and I find just one thing makes me forget."

Yesterday/You've Got to Hide Your Love Away by The Beatles
Yesterday is the creme de la creme of sad songs...not much else to say except classic! However, I'm giving You've Got to Hide Your Love Away equal billing because I believe it's a very underrated John Lennon composition that was written around the same time, but overshadowed by McCartney's Yesterday. YGTHYLA was featured in the movie Help! and meant to emulate Bob Dylan's style.

Hanky worthy lyrics: Why she had to go I don't know, she wouldn't say. I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday."/"If she's gone I can't go on, feelin' two-foot small."

I am now officially ready to listen to C'mon, Get Happy...want to share your favorite sad songs with me? Please do.


  1. Wow, that's a wonderful blog post. I love sad songs. And I love songs that might not be sad but illicit sad emotions from me, like when I listen to Patsy Cline or the Carpenters. Of course, not all the time. I prefer to keep it upbeat, but sad music really serves a real purpose.

    It's not retro (and not for everyone), but Courtney Love just put out a song about Kurt on her last CD. It's called Honey. Wow.

  2. I heard "The End of the World" on one of my Pandora stations the other day. I remember hearing it on the radio a lot as a kid and it ALWAYS depressed me - though not necessarily in a bad way. I think a good sad song can be cathartic sometimes.

  3. 10cc, Abbas SOS are also my favorites but did not recognize them as sad until you told me! haha. I also submit Mike and the Mechanics "Living Years" as it reminds me of the tenuousness and shortness of a lifetime, and while not necessarily a sad song (unless you are a cynic) Satchmo's "Wonderful World" and Devo's video of "Beautiful World" always elicits a strong response from me.

  4. That is a very good song list...hard to add to, but I'll try. Not complete, of course!

    "Landslide" (Fleetwood Mac)
    "She's Not There" (the Zombies)
    "Don't Dream It's Over" (Crowded House)
    "Hackensack" (Fountains of Wayne)
    "Piano in the Dark" (Brenda Russell)

  5. I like both those Beatles songs. I'll have to think about sad songs that I like later. Sometimes my mind gets on a theme so I've got rain songs in there right now.

    I also like The Living Years, Don't Dream it's over and the Carpenters.


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