Music is meant to be a joyful, delightful sensation. But unfortunately, mankind also saw that, in addition to happiness, music can also express sorrow. Sad songs have been with us for ever it seems, but with the advent of pop music, sad songs just got more prominent.
The following is a list of my personal top ten sad songs. I will stress the use of the word “my” in that sentence. I am not suggesting that my list is the absolute authority or the grand Bible of sad songs; they are simply the songs I personally object to on the grounds that I find them … well, sad:
Your Song – Elton John: Most people would probably suggest “Sorry is the Hardest Word” as Elton’s saddest song, but the accordion which gives the tune a slightly Gallic touch amuses me too much for me to consider it sad. I find his first chart success sadder. When Elton pleads, “I hope you don’t mind if I put down in words, how beautiful life is while you’re in the world,” it is a bit disturbing, as if he thinks the object of his affection will laugh at him for being so sappy.
Forever Autumn – Justin Hayward: The Moody Blues’ lead singer scored his first solo hit in 1978 from a concept album based on “War of the Worlds.” The sense of loss – “‘Cause you’re not here, ’cause you’re not here” – makes this song particularly sad, especially given all the minor chords this song is structured around. The flute notes that mark the end of every chorus are especially dirgeful.
Colour My World – Chicago: Again, as with Elton John, not many people would agree that this was Chicago’s saddest song, or probably not even sad at all. It is supposed to be uplifting, in a slow, ballady kind of way. However, the very fact that it is so slow and includes chord changes that I find unpleasing is why I find it a bit sombre. And, just as with “Forever Autumn,” the flute at the end doesn’t help.
Silent All These Years – Tori Amos: No-one ever partied to Tori Amos and this song is a very good example of why. Grief-stricken with every note played, Amos lets her heart bleed about the experience of rape. I’m not criticizing the song on that ground. If you’re going to write about rape, then “Silent” is the way to go about it, expressing perfectly the feelings of violation and loneliness resulting from such a horrible experience. However, it doesn’t mean I want to hear it. Whenever this song played on local pop radio back in 1997 when it was released, I had to walk out of the office.
Yesterday – The Beatles: The Fab Foursome certainly knew how to pen a sad tune, and “Yesterday” is the most doleful of the lot. Again, the minor chords, the violins, the sense of loss, the longing for a time when things were happy before they turned bad. Not a song I’m very fond of.
Everybody’s Talkin’ – Harry Nilsson: Nilsson had his fair share of woeful tunes. “Without You” and “Remember (Christmas).” But somehow, “Everybody’s Talkin’,” in my opinion, is just that bit sadder than those. I don’t know why, but the guitar playing in that song evokes loneliness to me.
Listen to Your Heart – DHT: I’ve heard this one enough on soft-rock stations to know that I’m sick of it. Another run-of-the-mill song about the breakup of a relationship. Sounds like a Tori Amos song. ‘Nuff said.
Separate Lives – Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin: A sorrowful dirge about a couple breaking up and going their separate ways. You can almost believe that Phil and Marilyn are a real couple singing their good-byes to each other. Definitely not a party tune.
Life In a Northern Town – The Dream Academy: What is it about this damn song? Everyone seems to love it. Some find it relaxing, some find it dreamy, others like it because it’s an ’80s tune. To me, the wind effects and the dreary guitar chords make it one of the saddest tunes I’ve ever heard. I hated this one the moment it came out.
Most people don’t seem to realize that the song was written about English folkie Nick Drake who died from an antidepressant overdose in 1974 (no-one can say whether the overdose was deliberate or just a tragic mistake). The fact is, he died, suicide or not, and the Dream Academy sang about it. A sunny morning that turns to a rainy evening, an entertainer who captivates a town that has nothing else to cheer it up leaving on a train for a final goodbye – is this not sad? It was a prominent example of post-punk folk rock and it sounded a bit Mamas and Papas-ish, so all the Baby Boomers naturally adored it, feeling like they were being taken back in time by listening to it. I don’t think that changes the fact that the song is sorrowful. Besides, I have a more personal reason for thinking of the song the way I do. When it hit the charts in February 1986, the Challenger shuttle had just blown up. So for me, for many years, the “northern town” full of despair was Concord, New Hampshire and the local hero that left town for good was Christie MacAuliffe.
My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion: Most people, when compiling a sad song list, would include this one. So I may as well do so. There really isn’t much to recommend this song. To her credit, Dion didn’t even originally want to record it. She had to be persuaded by her husband to do so. Not the saddest of the lot, but pretty depressing all the same.
So there you are, my top ten sad songs list. Agree? Disagree? Have any songs to add yourselves? Let’s hear them (or not, as the case may be)!