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.