The Saddest Music, Part 6

BJ Thomas, Gravediggaz, The Smiths, Miserable vs. Sad
28. BJ Thomas, theme song from Growing Pains (1985)

I’ve always distrusted overtly happy songs—like they must be hiding something—although that probably says more about me than the song. Still, there’s definitely something odd and heartbreaking about the theme tune from Growing Pains: “Don’t waste another minute on your crying.” “We’re nowhere near the end.” “As long as we’ve got each other, we got the world spinning right in our hands.” That dude is in some serious denial. PI

Bonus Sitcom Sad: “Angela” (Theme From Taxi); Theme from Cheers

29. Gravediggaz, “Burn Baby Burn” (2002)

For those who think hip-hop is too macho to be sad, we say: Really? Have you heard any Tupac? And here’s “Burn Baby Burn” from the Gravediggaz, featuring the late Too Poetic (aka The Grym Reaper), talking about what it’s like to be dying of colon cancer: “Four years out of seven I remember tourin’ / And this year I’m measurin’ my urine.” He died in 2001, aged 36. PI

Bonus Hip-Hop Sad: “Doo Rags,” by Nas; “Dead Homiez” by Ice Cube.

30. The Smiths, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (1986)

“And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die”

If a fine line exists between Sad and Miserable, no band has walked it so delicately as did The Smiths. Though together only five years, the band assembled a catalogue that makes the definitive accessory for a certain kind of morose teenage alien; rich in desperate romanticism, confused sexuality, literary references and the sense of a better time having passed into memory, their music all but slams the bedroom door behind you after a “Nobody understands me!” tantrum.

Ultimately, the difference between sad and miserable is that the former offers some catharsis—it lyrically or musically hints at some daylight at the end of the tunnel. The Smiths often veered to the bleak side, but on the climactic track of their 1986 LP The Queen is Dead they were perfectly astride the line. A gorgeous anthem couched in Morrissey’s trademark lyrical ambiguity, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” offers a narrator awkward in his own skin who thinks himself unwelcome at home. Driving at night with a companion—either a friend or a lover, or the subject of some confusion between the two roles—the narrator yearns for release via a fiery joint death. Few singers could elevate this stuff above the level of cheap melodrama; it’s to Morrissey’s credit that he manages it, with assists from Johnny Marr’s soaring melody and a smartly arranged string section. The beauty of the music and the prospect of escape hinted at in Morrissey’s final words elevate “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” above the miserable—and make it forever resonant with the 16-year-old inside each of us. JT


31. Brahms, Horn Trio Op.40., Second Movement

With thanks for the recommendation to Miss Mussel at The Omniscient Mussel.

32. Michael Nyman and Hilary Summers, “If” (2000)

Recommended by Walrus reader Cheryl D.

22 comment(s)

rachelleApril 17, 2008 11:22 EST

fernando — abba
daniel — elton john

those are my picks ... oh and some stuff by fairuz

clintApril 17, 2008 11:58 EST

Into My Arms - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

megApril 17, 2008 12:02 EST

Janis Ian - At Seventeen, especially if you're 17, which sadly seems in some respects better than 47.

PTApril 17, 2008 12:50 EST

1. I Can't Forget You - Cracker
2. Funny How Time Slips Away - Al Green
3. Catch - The Cure
4. Tom Traubert's Blues - Tom Waits
5. Not Dark Yet - Bob Dylan
6. Hung My Head - Johnny Cash
7. Emozioni - Lucio Battisti (Italian)
8. Hotel Supramonte - Fabrizio de Andre (Italian)
9. Zero Chance - Soundgarden
10. The Day John Kennedy Died - Lou Reed
11. I'll Believe in Anything - Wolf Parade
12. Autumn's Here - Hawksley Workman
13. Fake Plastic Trees - Radiohead
14. Mother - John Lennon
15. Bad - U2
16. Fiddlers Green - The Tragically Hip
17. Oh! Sweet Nuthin' - The Velvet Underground

Listen to this in your iTunes, and I bet you will want to be my friend

AliciaApril 18, 2008 13:41 EST

The Replacements - Here Comes a Regular. Very little question on that.

Maurizio2April 18, 2008 22:01 EST

Well, I've seen some of my favourite tracks in articles parts 2 to 6 (I can't read part 1, don't know why....) but real sadness? Maybe "Tears in Heaven" could be defined sad...

Try "Sad song" or "The bed" (better: the whole "Berlin" album!) by Lou Reed, "If you see her say hello" & "Knockin' on heaven's door" by Bob Dylan, "Things the grandchildren should know" by eels, or ALMOST ALL the songs in Bonnie "Prince" Billy's records.....and what about Nick Drake or Joe Henry?

HulkaApril 19, 2008 10:39 EST

Richard & Linda Thompson, "The End of the Rainbow."

"Life seems so rosy in the cradle
But I'll be your friend, I'll tell you what's in store:
There's nothing at the end of the rainbow
There's nothing to grow up for anymore."

m.oa.dApril 19, 2008 12:18 EST

"Afraid Not Scared" — Ryan Adams

Look, I know he can be kind of a jerk, but it's hard to argue with the depressive power of the atmospheric upward spiral of the song and lyrics like these:

"In the yellow lights of the city wasted as bodies
In bed with somebody a touch away with nothing to do
We're surrounded"

K.M. HarunApril 20, 2008 14:02 EST

The M*A*S*H theme song, "Suicide is Painless"

The instrumental seems kind of cheery on the show. However, I didn't know the title or lyrics until I watched the movie, yikes!

jessApril 22, 2008 14:38 EST

If you're looking for a sad instrumental, it HAS to be Barber's "Adagio For Strings."

WalkerApril 22, 2008 21:37 EST

i agree with The Replacements- Here Comes a Regular.

a couple other picks from rap:
Outkast- Da Art of Storytellin, Part 1
Andre3000's stories on that track is haunting, especially combined with those mournful, muted horn samples. "I kept on singin my song and hopin at a show/That i would one day see her standin in the front row/But two weeks later she got found in the back of a school/With a needle in her arm, baby two months due"

Outkast- Toilet Tisha
A better song about a suicide than Notorious B.I.G.'s track, in my opinion, especially with the spoken word interlude of the mother finding her dead daughter.

UGK- One Day
The bluesy, country-rap instrumental backing Pimp C and Bun B's lyrics of hard-living in Texas gave me goosebumps when are first heard it, and is even more tragic now that Pimp C's died, as well. "My man RoRo just lost his baby in a house fire/And then when I got on my knees that night to pray/I asked God why he let these killas live and take my homeboy's son away/Man if you got kids show em you love em cause God just might call em home"

Darcy McGeeApril 26, 2008 07:49 EST

Wilco - I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Sinead O'Conner - Nothing Compares 2 U
U2 - Bad (I second this nomination from above.)
Peter Gabriel - Biko

G LepineMay 17, 2008 19:25 EST

Peter Gabriel: Book of Love
Glen Hansard (ONCE Soundtrack): Falling Slowly

kilgore troutMay 23, 2008 05:48 EST

Soaky In The Pooper - Lambchop

This has to be the saddest song ever written - anyone agree?

'As his face turns bluish
And his eyes roll back into his head
The funeral was jewish
All the mourners traveled in one car
They remembered he had said
You're never lonely when you're dead
And as the final rights were read
The angels start to sing'

AnnaSeptember 15, 2008 15:32 EST

I'd like to recommend a song for this list: Love Vigilantes by New Order.

"when i walked through the door
my wife she lay upon the floor
and with tears her eyes were sore
i did not know why
then i looked into her hand
and i saw the telegram
that said i was a brave, brave man
but that i was dead.
i want to see my family
my wife and child waiting for me
i've got to go home
i've been so alone, you see."

SusanNovember 05, 2008 11:44 EST

The saddest song has got to be "Alone Again, (Naturally)" by Gilbert O'Sullivan.

"I promised myself to treat myself
And visit a nearby tower,
And climbing to the top,
Will throw myself off
In an effort to make it clear to who-
Ever what it's like when you're shattered."
That's one depressed dude!

AnonymousNovember 15, 2008 13:18 EST

You forgot Whiskey Lullaby by Brad Paisley...

AnonymousNovember 22, 2008 17:53 EST

Some glaring exceptions (in my book)

1) Old Shep by Elvis Presley
2) Watermelon in Easter Hay by Frank Zappa (I know, I know. Just trust me and listen to it)
3) Piano Man by Billy Joel
4) Black Night is Falling by Buddy Guy

What??November 26, 2008 12:53 EST

Sheesh, at least Meg caught Janis Ian! She should play left field for the Mets. Nice one!

Umm... the piano version of Here Comes the Flood by Peter Gabriel?!? I Can't Make You Love Me-Bonnie Raitt?!?

Sleeper: Saddest harmonica solo bar none - Every Grain of Sand by Dylan.

AnonymousDecember 08, 2008 09:56 EST

I can't resist the YouTube video Letting Go by Barbra Streisand... the one with just the piano and her voice... brings goosebumps... and if you or someone you know has been hurt by someone after a long relationship or you're missing someone who has died... there's going to be tears.

AnonymousJanuary 05, 2009 21:26 EST

A Fine Frenzy - Almost Lover
Athlete - Wires (about a sick baby, come on)
Iron and Wine - Passing Afternoon
Travis Tritt - I don't love you anymore
Foo Fighters - February Stars
Keith Whitley - Don't Close Your Eyes

poolishJune 27, 2009 19:02 EST

I agee with kilgore trout and his submission Soaky In The Pooper - Lambchop

I would add:

"An Open Book" - Stephen Duffy and Lilac Time
"Levi Stubb's Tears" - Billy Bragg
"The Wichita Lineman" - Glenn Campbell
"Lake Geneva" - The Handsome Family
"Ne me quitte pas" - Jacques Brel
"Wuthering Heights" - Kate Bush
"Learning to Hunt" - Guided By Voices
"Night Comes On" - Leonard Cohen
"Outdoor Miner" - Wire
"When Ye Go Away" - The Waterboys
"Song to the Siren" - This Mortal Coil
"Morning Glory" - Tim Buckley
"Shipbuilding" - Elvis Costello
"Roy Orbison Came On" - Ron Hynes
"Angel" - Everything But the Girl

... best to stop now, I'm getting depressed...

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