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.)