Riding in the car with Baph, who has all the best music, I requested that he play a particular song. After listening to it I said, “I love that song so much, but if depression had a soundtrack, that song would be on it. Have you ever noticed that when you’re feeling down, just the right sad song doesn’t make you feel worse, but better? It hits some sweet spot and it’s sort of exquisite.” Baph did not laugh at me. In fact, he agreed, and we started trying to name a few other songs that have the same effect. They make me feel more alive somehow, these sad, beautiful songs. They almost cross a fine line from pain into euphoria, and if that sounds crazy to anyone, well….as I’ve said before, it’s been a long year. Cut me some slack.
I’m picky about what I put in this category. Sad lyrics are not the key, although they may contribute to the overall effect. Depressing words with perky music – The Smiths, for instance – do not qualify. It’s a specific mood that I’m looking for, and I’m not musically articulate enough to define it. What I can do, is share my top five examples: my personal soundtrack to sadness. Go ahead, shed a tear if you need to. You’ll feel better when it’s all over.
5. I’m Set Free – The Velvet Underground
I can only take The Velvet Underground in small doses, but there’s something about this song… If it sounds a little too jubilant, well, bear in mind that this is freedom to “find a new illusion”. Sounds like a mixed, possibly drug induced blessing. But it’s gorgeous.
Almost Tie: These Days by Nico, because the strings and that Dietrich-y voice create some crazy magic.
4. Exile Villify- The National
The truth is, most songs by The National are a bit sad. There’s a natural muted mournfulness to Matt Berninger’s baritone that never gets old to me. And I just discovered that this song was written for Portal 2. What??? How did I not know that?
Almost Tie: Think You Can Wait by The National, because it always reminds me of the movie in which it was featured, “Win Win”.
3. Either Way – Wilco
At certain points this song becomes perilously cheerful instrumentally. But those opening lines, “Maybe the sun will shine today/The clouds will blow away/Maybe I won’t feel so afraid”, laid over the sweet melody – oh, it makes my stomach ache just thinking about it, but in a good way.
Almost Tie – Everybody Hurts by REM, because sometimes less is more, and this song is one of the purest and most honest songs of consolation ever written.
2. No Surprises – Radiohead
We couldn’t have this list without a Radiohead song, now could we? Just Google “Radiohead depressing” and see what happens. But, hey, who says that’s a bad thing? It’s hard to choose just one song, but “No Surprises” triumphs for the loveliness of the melody and Thom Yorke’s gentle, caressing delivery of some of most depressing lines in modern music (“A job that slowly kills you/bruises that won’t heal…..this is my final fit”).
Almost Tie – Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead, because their songs really are too sad to choose just one.
1. Guess I’m Doing Fine – Beck
And this is the song I requested in the car. It is my lasting regret that I was too busy listening to bad CCM in the ’90s to discover Beck when I should have. This song, o Lord, this song! It’s off the album Sea Change, written after a breakup with a longtime girlfriend. The whole album is a downer, but in the plaintive delivery of “Guess I’m Doing Fine” I swear you can hear Beck’s heart cracking.
There is no Almost Tie, because Beck, and because this song is perfect.
Pulling up You Tube clips of all these songs has left me with a very satisfying lump in my throat. But don’t worry about me, it’s only tears that I’m crying. Guess I’m doing fine.
Now, you! I know you have favorite blue mood songs. What are they? Share the sweet, sweet musical sadness with the rest of us!
*Special thanks to my musical consultant, Baph, for help with this post.