Sad songs say so much

Venomous Kate is looking for the 50 Most Depressing Songs, apparently to inspire her upcoming novel. Please feel free to make recommendations to her.

I suggested Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” which is a world-class downer, but I didn’t mention this: at one time the song contained a spoken-word intro which was perhaps intended to set the mood, but which didn’t make it into the version released to the general public. After listening to it, I don’t miss it at all:

A world filled with love is a wonderful sight
Being in love is one’s heart’s delight
But that look of love isn’t on my face
That enchanted feeling has been replaced

Somebody, maybe Berry Gordy himself, heard that and thought it was just too much.

This isn’t quite an isolated incident: right before the last verse of the Shangri-Las’ heartrending “I Can Never Go Home Anymore,” at about the 2:30 point, Mary Weiss originally half-cried, half-whispered, “Listen, I’m not finished.” The line was mixed out of the 45 and wasn’t heard again for decades. (And this, too, is a Depressing Song, what with mother dying and runaway daughter contrite.)

Still, if we want Serious Discomfort in a pop tune, we call upon King Crimson, which in its first two albums was wont to work up implausible titles like “‘Epitaph’ including ‘March for No Reason’ and ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow’,” from which we extract this example of finely-crafted angst:

The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
As silence drowns the screams

Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying

This might be laughable were it not so perfectly orchestrated: the song (which runs over eight and a half minutes, with only one more verse and a repeat of the verse/chorus above) is carefully calculated to resonate against your last nerve, making seemingly-adolescent rubbish into a true Tale of Terror.

(Lyricist Pete Sinfield, incidentally, is responsible for the unofficial name of my workplace, but that’s another tale of terror story.)


  1. Mister Snitch! »

    4 November 2006 · 3:34 pm

    The most depressing song I ever heard was “Nobody Loves me but My Mother” by B.B. King. Goes like this:

    “Nobody loves me but my mother,
    and she could be jivin’ too
    Nobody loves me but my mother,
    and she could be jivin’ too
    Now you see why I act funny baby,
    when you do the things you do “

    After that, he’s just too depressed to sing anymore and gives up.

  2. Eric Scheie »

    5 November 2006 · 4:36 pm

    I nominate the Grateful Dead’s Althea:

    You may be Saturday’s child all grown
    moving with a pinch of grace
    You may be a clown in the burying ground
    or just another pretty face
    You may be the fate of Ophelia
    sleeping and perchance to dream –
    honest to the point of recklessness
    self centered to the extreme

    Ain’t nobody messin with you but you
    your friends are getting most concerned –
    loose with the truth
    maybe it’s your fire
    but baby…don’t get burned
    When the smoke has cleared, she said,
    that’s what she said to me:
    You’re gonna want a bed to lay your head
    and a little sympathy

    Catchy tune too — especially if you’re already down and like to dwell on the beauty of such things.

  3. robohara »

    6 November 2006 · 10:59 am

    I’ll nominate Life of Agony’s “Let’s Pretend” from their second album. It chokes me up every time.

    In the stillness of the night
    My eyes are closed, My mouth is wide
    I could see her face
    Her beautiful hair, I could recognize
    She looks at me cold
    She probably don’t know, who I am

    Mommy it’s me
    It’s Keith, You had me back when

    But sometimes I like to pretend
    That she knows me
    That she holds me
    I guess I can’t
    Because she doesn’t know who I am.

    My mind it’s dreaming
    God it’s so misleading
    Do you think it’s ’cause I’ve grown old
    Is it true what I was told
    You cried to leave me
    You know I know it’s not your fault
    You had a husband who was selfish and cold
    Believe me I know

    Now I hear you used to treat me cold
    You dissappeared and left me all alone
    I’m sure you didn’t know right from wrong
    ’cause both of you were always getting stoned

    But sometimes I like to pretend
    That she knows me
    That she holds me
    I guess I can’t
    Because she doesn’t know who I am.

RSS feed for comments on this post