Mister D: This is an edited version of the original article. I’ve cut it down by about half the songs, but the copy remains the same. I’ll have a link to the original at the end of the post.
Many lullabies have a sad quality. Meant to be calming, they are often slow, soft, and written in minor keys. The lyrics, too, are often laced with darkness, fear, or loss. Here are some sad lullabies that, while meant to send a little one off to dreamland, often aren’t the happiest. Here are the sad lullabies:
1. “Baby Mine” by Bette Midler
Song year: 1988
If you’ve seen either the original animated or the live-action remake of Dumbo, you already know how sad this song can be.
Bette Midler’s version of “Baby Mine” appears on the Beaches soundtrack, and if you’ve never seen that movie, it is no less sad. Along with a slow, soft piano, Midler floats her vocals with control and is full of emotion.
The song is from the perspective of someone reassuring a bullied child of their worth and specialness. Its lyrics, written by Ned Washington, have a haunting quality that captures the special bond between a parent and child.
2. “You Are My Sunshine” by Johnny Cash
Song year: 2003
“You Are My Sunshine” has been sung by parents as a lullaby to their children or as an anytime-of-day proclamation of their love since first published in the 1940s.
Surprisingly, “You Are My Sunshine” is about separation. The song’s speaker has been left by their lover and is crushed. That context gives extra layers of sadness to this version as Johnny Cash only lived four months after the death of his wife, June Carter Cash.
3. “Frog Went a-Courting” by Bob Dylan
Song year: 1999
Another traditional song that traveled overseas to the American colonies, “Frog Went a-Courting’” has been speculated to be about François, Duke of Anjou’s pursuit of Elizabeth I of England. While that theory has been dismissed due to date discrepancies, the lullaby nevertheless first appeared in England and Scotland around the 1500s.
Bob Dylan’s version is a lively folk song with a darker ending than most interpretations.
4. “Blackbird” by The Beatles
Song year: 1968
Some songs in this list aren’t traditional lullabies, but they are often used as such because they capture their sweet and sad vibe.
Paul McCartney was inspired to write “Blackbird” from the struggle for civil rights for African Americans in the United States.
As the title suggests, the simple lyrics focus on a blackbird flying into the dead of night. The images in the song lend themselves to a lullaby interpretation, helped along by its calming melody.
5. “Rainbow Connection” by Sarah McLachlan
Song year: 2002
Initially sung by Kermit the Frog, Sarah McLachlan’s “Rainbow Connection” dials the sad lullaby energy. This wistful song wonders why people believe so hard in magic, rainbows, and wishing stars. It indulges in and doubts the fantasy at the same time.
6. “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” by Bette Midler
Song year: 1977
“A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” is another lullaby that is sweet on the surface. It talks about the power of dreams, but at its heart is a song about not having control in your life and wishing, dreaming, and hoping things will improve.
7. “La La Lu” by Peggy Lee
Song year: 1955
This charming song from Lady and the Tramp by the incomparable Peggy Lee is not as sad as many others.
Its lyrics are gentle and loving, but the mother is tucking her child to sleep, and sadness comes from her being unable to protect him while he’s in slumber.
8. “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” by Billy Joel
Song year: 1994
In the song, the speaker is singing a lullaby to his daughter, and answering that the lullaby, and her remembering it, and singing it to her children, will mean that a piece of him will always live on in her.
9. “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby” by Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, and Allison Krauss
Song year: 2000
“Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby” by Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, and Allison Krauss
Song year: 2000
“Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby” is a song with murky origins and various theories as to what it means.
What is evident in this sad lullaby is that the baby’s mother has left, and the father will take care of the little one he’s singing to as best he can. The overriding sentiment of the song is that they don’t need her anyway.
10. “Moon River” by Frank Sinatra
Song year: 1964
Frank Sinatra croons “Moon River” in his inimitable swaggering style. That doesn’t change the fact that this song is about pining for a better life and getting out of the town or situation you’re stuck in.
Popular Sad Lullabies, Final Thoughts
Some sad lullabies weren’t meant to be lullabies. Over time, they were passed on from generation to generation, becoming songs people sang to their children to sleep without realizing the sadness.
There’s something inherently sad about putting a baby to sleep, something that makes parents feel a loss or the fear of loss. Maybe it’s that, more than anything else, that makes so many beautiful, sad lullabies.