They say great art is created out of sadness. If that’s the case, the following songs are the GREATEST PIECES OF ART EVER!!! Seriously, each of these tracks will make you stop what you’re doing and head home to curl up in bed. But, hey, sometimes that’s what you want. Looking to take a vice clamp to your ticker? These little ditties should do the trick. Here are some of the greatest sad songs ever recorded.
The Antlers – Kettering
The name of the album this track is on is Hospice. If that doesn’t put you in a certain frame of mind, we’re not sure what title will. A concept album, Hospice tells the tale of a relationship between a dying patient and the hospice worker caring for her. While the album gets progressively more upsetting, it’s the second track, “Kettering,” that has always stuck with us. The reason is, the song basically sets up all the trauma you, the listener, is about to endure. By the end of the record, you’re at tad numb, but when “Kettering” starts, you’re completely unprepared for this level of sadness. Some of the lines are pretty tough to handle, like: When I was checking vitals / I suggested a smile / You didn’t talk for a while / You were freezing.
Harry Chapin – Cat’s in the Cradle
Is there anything more universally depressing than the passage of time? One day you’re a carefree kid and the next you’re sitting at a desk, worrying about the health of your parents. Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” hits that note. The song is, at first, about a father too preoccupied to spend time with his kid. As the song gets closer to its conclusion, however, it’s about the boy, now grown up and with little time to come back and see the father who now wants nothing more than some QT. If there’s a song that will make you want to call up your pops for a game of catch more, we haven’t heard it.
Gary Jules – Mad World
For all the mind-fuckery that occurrs in Donnie Darko, few things messed with us more than the scene when “Mad World” played. While the song was originally recorded in 1982 by Tears for Fears, it’s the haunting version by the American singer-songwriter Gary Jules that resonates most with people. The song, when first recorded, was a bit upbeat, but then Jules came along and ripped all the feel-good notes out of it. Hey, when a movie constantly mentions that every living creature on earth dies alone, you can’t really put a Justin Bieber track behind it, right? Video
Sufjan Stevens – Casimir Pulaski Day
Even after you learn what Casimir Pulaski Day is, you’re not expecting this song to be so damn sad. (It’s a holiday observed in Chicago every March, by the way, in memory of a Revolutionary War cavalry officer.) The song has nothing to do with the Revolutionary War and everything to do with an old girlfriend’s battle with bone cancer. Yeah. Pretty heavy. Stevens has such a skill at composing story-driven songs that you feel you’re there with him on that cold Chicago day when he finds out how bad his love has it. Here’s a little taste: Tuesday night at the bible study / we lift our hands and pray over your body / but nothing ever happens. Yeah, you’re not going to be okay after a listen.
Pink Floyd – Time
Pink Floyd’s songs are both inspiring and depressing at the same time. They make you want to take action but also make you feel defeated before you begin. Few deliver on that better than “Time.” Listen to it as a teenager and the song feels like it’s just what you need to chase some goals and ward of procrastination. Listen to as a grown man and you’ll question every wasted second of your own pointless existence. Crank it!
Death Cab for Cutie – What Sarah Said
“What Sarah Said” is a 6-minute song with 3 minutes of vocals. Why is that a depressing thing? Well, before the lyrics stop, the band poses this easy, breezy question: “Who’s going to watch you die?” Fun! You can’t help but fill that void with incredibly sad thoughts. The song, which is off the 2005 album Plans, is from the point of view of a dying man in a hospital bed, discomforted by the feel and smell of an ICU. “Sarah,” of “What Sarah Said” fame, is the one who tells the dying man that “love is watching someone die,” which really does away with all the other happy stuff love is. Allow A.V. Club to drive you further into despair with this article.
Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven
Nope. Can’t do it. Here’s the story and the video.
The Barr Brothers – Widow’s Lawn
The Barr Brothers are a four-person group out of Montreal, who released the track “Widow’s Lawn” late last year. The song tells the tale of a young man going off to join the military. Everything builds to the moment his group is told they are going to war and they should write any loved ones. The young man does so and includes a lock of hair for his love back home. At this point, you’re emotionally prepared—at least somewhat—for the fact that he’s not going to make it back. But he does. All clear, right? Nope. The soldier finds himself back home in a hospital bed, injured in such a way that he needs a wheelchair. Then he sees the woman he loves. She’s holding a baby. The baby is not his. Game. Set. Match.
Radiohead – How to Disappear Completely
The idea behind this song is not all that sad. Michael Stipe, lead singer of R.E.M., told Thom Yorke that he’d do best with the trials and tribulations of touring by repeating to himself, “I’m not here, this isn’t happening.” Well, as Radiohead is wont to do, they took an idea and made it feel epically harrowing. Thom Yorke croons over the moody, atmospheric vibe present throughout Kid A and makes anyone listening question whether people even notice they exist.