I was listening to Pandora on shuffle this morning, and a couple of sad songs came on — when I’m feeling sad, I find it cathartic to sort of drown in these songs. I find it helps me purge my melancholia.
I developed an appreciation for sad songs when I was a kid. My mom loved music and would play old 45s and sing. One of my favorite weepy records in her collection was Patches, a Romeo-Juliet story about a dirt-poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks in love with a rich boy. The rich boy’s parents wouldn’t accept Patches as a suitable mate for their kid and kept him from meeting her when they had planned to run away together. Because these were the days before cellphones, Patches had no way of knowing why her love failed to show. She assumes he ditched her and kills herself.
I used to play this song over and over again, for no reason in particular, and just bawl my eyes out.
I thought I’d share the songs that really tug at my heartstrings now, as an adult:
- Falling Slowly from the Once soundtrack.
Once is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s such a simple little film with an unconventional love story about an Irish busker struggling to get his music heard. He meets a woman who’s his soulmate musically and possibly romantically, but the timing isn’t right. The emotion is expressed more in the music than the dialogue.
I love every song in that movie, but Falling Slowly is the best and most important to the storyline. You’re not sure if he’s referring to his ex-girlfriend, whom he still has feelings for, or the lovely pianist who inspires him and helps him produce his best music. No matter. The ambiguity is beautiful and inspires us to question the meaning of “love” and the concept of “soulmates.”
When the two of them belt out in perfect harmony, “Take this sinking ship and point it home, we’ve still got time…” it gives me chills.
2) My Immortal-Evanescence.
This song is like an exorcism. She’s trying to purge someone she can’t be with anymore — either because they died or left, it’s not clear.
“Now I’m bound by the life you left behind…these wounds won’t seem to heal. This pain is just too real. There’s just too much that time cannot erase.” I can relate.
Time is a great healer, but there are connections and loves that will always linger. This song captures that feeling so eloquently.
3) Greenville-Lucinda Williams.
Lucinda Williams is such a brilliant songwriter. Her voice may be crackly, gravelly, and offkey, but she sings her wonderful lyrics with such passion, you can get addicted to it. In Greenville, she wistfully lists all the reason her relationship is dysfunctional and her man is wrong for her (“you lose your temper when someone looks at your wrong”…”empty bottles and broken glass…busted down-doors and borrowed cash”). Sounds like Jerry Springer fodder.
When she sings “Go on back to Greenville”, her voice has the resigned, tired tone of someone who’s just had enough and has nothing left to say but “get lost, buddy.”
4) Eva Cassidy’s version of Autumn Leaves.
So many people have said that she looks and sings like an angel, and unfortunately, if there are angels, she is one now. Eva Cassidy was a back-up singer, but her voice was too perfect to hide in the background. She was just starting to perform on her own to rave reviews at places like DC’s “Blues Alley” and record her own records, when she was cut down by malignant melanoma in her 30s.
Any song she sings is poignant because of her early demise, but Autumn Leaves is simply HAUNTING. Her voice soars and transports you to another place, and you just want to pull her down from heaven and hug her, to make everything okay.
“And I miss you…most of all..my darling…when autumn leaves begin to fall.”
5) How to Save a Life-the Fray.
This song speaks to the sadness, helplessness and frustration of trying to pull a loved one off the ledge. It’s not clear what the subject of the song is suffering from, but to me it reminded me of the time I dated a very sweet guy with a very terrible drinking problem.
The grief and powerlessness is beautifully expressed as the singer tells you, “Tell him that you know best, cuz after all, you do know best.” Yeah, well, we codependent types always THINK we know best but, as the song points out, you often get to that point where all you can do is “pray to God he hears you.”
The song captures that “ between a rock and hard place” feeling we all suffer, like Sisyphus, after so many fruitless attempts. We begin to question the effort itself and whether it’s all worth it.
Honestly, who in this situation, REALLY knows “how to save a life”, when your loved one won’t take your outstretched hand? The title’s irony is heart-wrenching.
6) Prince’s Purple Rain.
What the hell is this song about? I’m not even sure. To me, it sort of reflects the strange superficiality and surrealness of the 80s.
But Prince is such an amazing musician and songwriter. He somehow makes a nonsensical concept like “purple rain” a passionate, meaningful anthem that you can’t help but sing along to, and maybe wave your hands along with, like you’re at a political rally. Now that Prince is gone, this song stirs me up even more.
And I think I’ve seen the movie over 50 times now. It’s truly one of the greatest concert films of all time, even if the story and writing is a little weak.
7) Ray LaMontagne — Trouble
I love Ray’s voice so much that he could be singing curse words and insults personally directed at me, and I would still swoon. This song is an anomaly in the sad song list, because while he sings about trouble and worry dogging him since the day he was born, there’s an uplifting chorus about being “saved by a woman” and “she won’t let me go.”
Somehow, though, you get the feeling he’s just captured a momentary break in his luck and the woman isn’t going to stick around long. Just a hunch.
8) Bill Withers -Ain’t No Sunshine
Certain songs cut at you like a knife to the heart because they personally resonate. This song reminds me of an ex who was a DJ. He had about 5000 records and a Techniques turntable system he would use to good effect whenever I was half out the door. He’d put on Bill Withers and cry his eyes out at me until I was helplessly frozen in place and resigned to stay.
I stayed with that manipulative, dishonest jerk 2 1/2 years. Screw you, Bill Withers.
9) Pearl Jam -Black
I don’t think any other song more perfectly captures the internal torment of unrequited love. Dude can’t even handle the kids laughing and playing outside without wanting to go postal. This song makes me want to tear my heart out. Still, I can’t help singing along whenever it comes on my Pandora.
10) Portishead-Wandering Star
This song captures how you feel when you just want to stay in bed with the covers over your head. It’s lovely but it’s such a depression anthem. Maybe TOO much so.
“Please could you stay awhile to share my grief
For its such a lovely day
To have to always feel this way
And the time that I will suffer less
Is when I never have to wake”
Yikes, Beth, your voice compares to none, but I think it might be time for someone to call the Suicide Hotline on your behalf.
11) Bang Bang-Nancy Sinatra
This is a minor chord-filled schoolyard dirge. Two little kids playing — one loves the other but gets “shot down.” Is this a premoniton? Did they end up marrying and have a dysfunctional relationship? Did he go from shooting her with toy guns to shooting her down with verbal humiliation? Whatever happened, he gone now.
“Now he’s gone. I don’t know why. And to this day, sometimes I cry. He didn’t even say goodbye. Didn’t take the time to lie.” What a jerk.
This is a DARK song that’s now not easy to disassociate from Kill Bill. It fits that movie perfectly. Funny that it was written by Sony Bono, who always seemed so..”sunny.’ Fun fact: Sony Bono became the mayor of Palm Springs in his later years and even served in Congress for 3 years. I couldn’t find anything about his record on gun control, though.