Songs that will make you instantly weep
By Rob Hoffman on May 3, 2018 at 5:24 AM
If you’re a man of a certain age, (Let’s call that age 53 and 3/4) then there’s probably a pretty good chance you’re a fan of the movie This is Spinal Tap. The film directed by Rob Reiner, his very first movie, is the story of a fictionalized band by the name of Spinal Tap, and it chronicles its rise, fall, deeper fall, and sort of rise back to the middle. The movie is shot in documentarian style, and it began the genre’ often copied by one of the film’s writers and performers, Christopher Guest, known as the “Mockumentary.”
Many adult males who currently populate the United States, are walking around now as we speak, with a host of lines from this rather clever and often hilarious movie swimming around in their brains. Some of these lines are so famous, that anyone who has seen This is Spinal Tap even once would instantaneously recognize them.
- “This one goes to eleven.”
- “He choked on vomit, it was somebody elses vomit, you can’t dust for vomit.”
- “This one’s called “Lick My Love Pump.”
I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
There are literally an endless supply of classic lines in the film, however, sometimes it’s the little asides that grab one’s attention. In one scene, lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel, played brilliantly by Christopher Guest, is playing a classical piece that he wrote, as he is being interviewed by fictional director Marty DiBergi played by Rob Reiner. DiBergi comments on how the song is really beautiful, and Tufnel talks about how he enjoys writing in D minor, which he describes as the saddest of all keys. He then adds that he doesn’t know why, but it makes people weep instantly. While Guest’s character is not one of the great thinkers in film history, he may be on to something. True, there aren’t likely keys that bring people “instantly” to tears, but certainly there are a collection of songs that can cause even the most rugged amongst us to reach a cathartic moment, the type that our analysts would call a real breakthrough.
It should be noted that there are sad songs, and songs about being sad, and they are not in the same genre. For example, Elton John’s Sad Songs (Say So Much), isn’t really a sad song. Nobody is going to listen to this little pop “ditty” and start bawling uncontrollably. Yes the song is sad enough when you listen to the lyrics, but the melody is far too upbeat to succumb to the temptation of tearing up. Despite this failed attempt, Elton John knows how to deliver a sad song when he needs to. Daniel is a far sadder song with a far more depressing melody. Empty Garden, his tribute to his late great friend, John Lennon, was supposed to be sad, but if you didn’t know it was about the slain Beatle, it would most likely barely graze your heartstrings. I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, isn’t a bad attempt either when you consider that it’s about a soldier who is off to war hoping that his love will be true, but nobody is boo hooing over this attempt either.
Some songs attempt to be sad, and even try to manipulate their audiences with slow-moving melodies, most likely written in D minor, in order to elicit some kind of somber reaction. However, upon closer examination, many of these songs are so poorly written, that the lyrics actually damage the supposed meaning of the song, and people are left more puzzled than saddened. For example, the British hard-rock group known as Slade, which had a handful of hits in the early 1980s, aided by a cover version of Cum on Feel the Noize by Quiet Riot, which somehow turned into one of the biggest hits of the 1980s, also penned a tune that was supposed to be deep and emotional called My Oh My. It was performed in the format known as the “Power Ballad.” This type of song became very popular thanks to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, and perhaps the greatest power ballad ever written, Aerosmith’s Dream On.
Pretty soon, everybody from Guns ‘n’ Roses to Skid Row were trying their hand at showing their sensitive sides, attempting to bring their leather wearing teenage boy fans, and their hair product-filled female audience to tears and emotional orgasm. Slade, I suppose did not want to miss out on this latest fad, so they penned My Oh My. Again, I’ll give the boys an “A” for effort, but you tell me if these lyrics move you.
(I think these fellas are a little out of their depth on this one. I also can’t believe how many countless hours I wasted in my youth watching this drivel on MTV. If you want to cry about something, that’s what you should be feeling lament over. (You Tube)
If we can eliminate those tunes that are blatantly manipulative, as well as songs that pay homage to sadness, but aren’t necessarily sadness inducing, what then are the top sad songs in rock/pop history? I’m purposely discounting songs that are found in operas since those songs are all “blubber-fests,” and are meant only to bring an audience to tears. I will consider “Country & Western” songs, but buyer beware. Many country artists, especially those from the days of yore went out of their way to create a tenor of absolutely relentless sorrow, even though the issues they were kvetching about, really weren’t all that tragic. (I’m not sure these singers and songwriters possessed a whole lot of perspective when you consider that a white country artist in let’s say 1950 who proceeded to wail about his lover’s “cheatin’ heart” may have been a tad insensitive when you consider that the African-American population of the South was living under “Jim Crow” segregation, and had no civil rights whatsoever, but I digress.) Like any list, mine is subjective and based on personal preferences. Unlike almost all lists, mine is correct.
- Cat’s in the Cradle – Harry Chapin – On the surface, it’s not necessarily the saddest song of all time, but when you consider that Chapin died tragically in an automobile accident on the Long Island Expressway at the age of 38, and was a father of five children, the idea of a dad who simply doesn’t have the time he wishes he had to spend with his son, makes this Chapin hit a guaranteed eye moistener. If you’re skeptical, that’s fine, but I’ll almost guarantee that if you are, your father is still alive. When my father died, I couldn’t listen to this song for a year.
- Everybody Hurts – R.E.M – Everybody Hurts has practically become a funeral dirge. It’s also a song that seems to be crying out to those who have reached the end of their rope, and are considering doing themselves harm. Michael Stipe’s painful wail is simply the icing on the depressing cake.
- Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton – Honestly, this is the saddest song in history. Everything else is a distant second. While the song is beautifully sung as well as played on the acoustic guitar by the legendary Eric Clapton, it is the story behind it that has made it literally unlistenable, for me anyway. Clapton’s four-year old son Connor was playing hide and seek with his nanny in their New York City highrise apartment when he fell out an open window and to his death on the street below. The song reeks of tragedy, and I’m getting sad just thinking about it.
- Last Kiss – J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers/Pearl Jam – It’s not a song that’s going to make you burst into tears, but it does kind of give you that empty feeling as you sit there and stare off into space, pondering the idea of being lucky enough to find somebody who loves you just as much as you love them, only to have them die tragically in an automobile accident, that was most likely your fault. Go ahead. live with yourself…you monster!
- Sunday Morning Coming Down – Johnny Cash/Kris Kristofferson – Kristofferson knows how to evoke a feeling, and with Johnny Cash doing the crooning, a torpor like funk inducing tune is most likely on the horizon. The song is about a guy waking up on a Sunday morning hung over, nary a clean article of clothing in sight, and having to face what will most likely be a sad and lonely Sunday awaiting him as he already begins to attempt to drink his sorrows and his hangover away. “There’s something in a Sunday, that makes a body feel alone.”
- Candle in the Wind – Elton John – Any tune that features homage to Marilyn Monroe is bound to be depressing considering how sad and tragic her fate would turn out to be. The lyric that goes, “You lived your life like a candle in the wind, never knowing who to cling to when the rain set in.” kind of defines the legendary starlet’s life. Anybody who knows anything about Monroe’s life knows that most of her life was spent in search of people who would love her, and yet those who did, she usually kept at arm’s length. Sir Elton later adapted the lyrics for the song so it could be played as a tribute to his good friend Princess Diana, who died tragically in 1997.
- She’s Leaving Home – The Beatles – I don’t know why, but I always felt bad for the fictional parents depicted in this Paul McCartney sung tear-jerker from Sgt. Peppers. As a parent, it depresses me even more. The thought that this ingrate, whose parents sacrificed everything just to make her happy, ups and leaves without telling them so she can have a few kicks, makes me wish that these parents had delivered an occasional smack down on this little brat who thinks life should be non-stop fun. The lyrics, coupled with the sad violin being played that is backing the vocal, really makes one sit and ponder their life’s choices. Good luck on the streets sweetheart. It’s a cold world out there.
- I Will Remember You – Sarah McLaughlin – This song literally sounds like something you sing to somebody as they’re drawing their last breath. This is not a tune that you casually listen to, and then turn to your friends and say, “Who wants to go get some beer and wings?” It’s so slow and maudlin, that you can’t slow-dance to it, and you’re certainly not going to sing it while you’re in your car either. Next time it comes on, see if you can think about happy things. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
- The Rose – Bette Midler – I’m not exactly the president of the “Bette Midler Fan Club,” and her other big hit, Wind Beneath My Wings is practically enough to send me on a murderous rampage, but The Rose is a solid rock/pop ballad, and when you listen to it, it’s going to remind you of something pretty negative. When I hear it, I think of all of the great starts of rock ‘n’ roll who died too soon.
- Lullaby – Billy Joel – I’m not sure why this song depresses me. It’s supposed to be a tender song about a father singing a lullaby to his young daughter. What could be sweeter than that? However, don’t be fooled. Not only does Billy Joel bring out the fact that he’s divorced from the little girl’s mother, and that even though he promised he would never leave, that’s exactly what he ultimately is going to do, but then he points out that someday all of us will be gone, reminding us, as well as his little girl that life is short and fleeting, and none of us will be here forever. “Goodnight little girl, remember you are tragically mortal just like the rest of us.” I mean, what a bummer!
Obviously, this list barely scratches the surface. All By Myself by Eric Carmen reminds you of all of the time you’ve felt that you had no friends, while Harry Nilsson’s Without You is one of those songs that if you heard right after being dumped by your significant other would probably send you on the bender of your life. Most of us make the mistake of listening to sad songs when we are already depressed. For reasons I’ll never quite understand, people who’ve just been dumped will turn to one of those stations that play sad love songs, and wallow in their agony. The way to test a sad song is to listen to it when you have just received a promotion, or been proposed to by the love of your life, or maybe when you win the lottery? Then play a really sad song and see if it alters your mood. If it does, then all you can do is tip your hat to the songwriter, and then crawl off to die.