My Top Ten Sad Songs: Songs Of Sorrow, Songs Of Loss
I've picked my list of top ten sad songs: songs that I hear with a mix of pain and enjoyment, though the enjoyment is often tempered with the memory of someone or something gone. Younger readers may recognise some classics or know current versions, older readers will ask where the time went. The saddest songs bring back the deepest memories.
There's a list of Sad Songs towards the end of the page to add and vote for your own selection so please add and tell us about your favorite sad song in the comments section.
Image credits Amazon unless otherwise stated.
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Top Ten Sad Songs #1: Goodbye To Love: Carpenters
Giving up hope
No one ever cared if I should live or die
Time and time again
The chance for love has passed me by
And all I know of love is how to live without it
I just can't seem to find it
Karen Carpenter's lovely voice soars over the lament of a woman who has given up on finding true love. This is one of those songs where lyrics, melody, arrangement and performance all click to produce something special. Even if you're not a great fan of the Carpenters you'll admire this song.
Sad for the obvious reasons, sad because the singer has given up hope of love, sad because of Karen's personal miseries and untimely death at the age of 32. Whatever your taste in music this song has to be in your top ten sad songs.
Top Ten Sad Songs #2: At Seventeen: Janis Ian
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
Janis Ian's bitterly beautiful and saddest song, written at an age when black despair can be the most powerful emotion. The teenager who doesn't fit in, lisping her despair in a song that would become almost anthemic for girls who suffered real or imagined slights at seventeen. And for more than a few boys as well.
Musical talent dragged Janis through the sad years. Nowadays she's a proud and handsome woman, standing confident in front of an audience, a powerful performer, but these words can still send you back to younger, harder times. And once you've heard it it's probably in your top ten sad songs.
Top Ten Sad Songs #3: Cat's In The Cradle: Harry Chapin
Father/son relationship missed
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin' 'fore I knew it, and as he grew
He'd say "I'm gonna be like you, Dad
You know I'm gonna be like you"
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home, Dad
I don't know when, but we'll get together then
You know we'll have a good time then
But the father's too busy, and the years pass by. Then one day an old man tries to connect with the son and he's gone, grown up and departed. The time to bond and enjoy his child has passed by, one of the saddest ways to lose a relationship.
A simple message delivered by Harry Chapin in a song of wonderful lyrics: the failing of the relationship avoidable at every stage, in every verse, but still it happens. A top ten sad song even without the awful early death (aged 32) of Harry Chapin.
Top Ten Sad Songs #4: You Don't Bring Me Flowers: Streisand/Diamond
Love grown stale and cold
You don't sing me love songs
You hardly talk to me anymore
When I come through the door
At the end of the day
I remember when
You couldn't wait to love me
Used to hate to leave me
Now after lovin' me late at night
When it's good for you, babe
And you're feelin' alright
Well you just roll over
And turn out the light
And you don't bring me flowers anymore
A song that started life as a short throwaway TV theme but grew into a tale of a relationship grown cold and distant. Read the full story behind You Don't Bring Me Flowers on Wikipedia.
The clip below is Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond at the 1980 Grammys - a performance that blew the socks off the audience. It's good enough to make many a top ten - not just of sad songs,
Neil Diamond Box Set
This is a 3 CD set that includes most of Neil Diamond's best songs including a duet with Barbra Streisand of You Don't Bring Me Flowers. It amazes me how such a powerful voice can deliver such personal lyrics in intimate tones, yet next minute blast out a song like Coming To America.
Top Ten Sad Songs #5: And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda: The Pogues
Lives and limbs lost in the carnage of war
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then turned their faces away
Eric Bogle's incredible song: based on Waltzing Matilda, telling a tale of the Battle Of Gallipoli. The narrator is taken from his roving life and sent to fight in the disastrous landings at Suvla Bay in 1915, when Australian and New Zealand forces were slaughtered by entrenched Turkish machine guns and artillery.
This song doesn't preach, it's just quietly bitter and wondering from the narrator's point of view, but it's one of the most powerful comments on war you'll ever hear in song.and it's perfectly delivered by Shane McGowan and the Pogues.
Top Ten Sad Songs #6: Embrace Me, You Child: Carly Simon
Young child loses father
And God came down to earth and slipped away
I pretended not to know I'd been abandoned
But no one sang the night into the day
One of the monster albums of the Seventies was No Secrets by Carly Simon. You're So Vain was the main single but one of the eternally admired tracks is Embrace Me, a song mourning the death of a flawed but loved father. Lyrically, it's simple but inventive, musically it's a gentle howl of memory and loss. One of the saddest songs I know and one of the few such tracks you should turn up the volume for.
Top Ten Sad Songs #7: It Ain't Me Babe: Joan Baez
Relationship that never will be
Leave at your own chosen speed
I'm not the one you want, babe
I'm not the one you need
You say you're lookin' for someone
Never weak but always strong
To protect you an' defend you
Whether you are right or wrong
Someone to open each and every door
But it ain't me, babe
No, no, no, it ain't me, babe
It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe
Joan Baez version of Bob Dylan's sad song: a love unreturned, and the question whether it's the loved who is at fault:
Go melt back into the night, babe
Everything inside is made of stone
There's nothing in here moving
An' anyway I'm not alone
Why Baez, not Dylan himself? Because she uses that amazing voice to float the lyrics over, because she's the one person who does Dylan better than Dylan himself.
Why a top ten sad song? For me, the lyrics, the performance by Joan Baez, and a sad memory that goes with this song.
Joan Baez on Twitter
Bob Dylan's Original Version
A major blast from the past - 1964 this album was released but it's just about timeless - Chimes Of Freedom, To Ramona, My Back Pages and of course, It Ain't Me Babe. Songs that have entered the realms of music history yet songs you can listen to today and still marvel at the power of Bob Dylan's writing.
Top Ten Sad Songs #8: Without You: Harry Nilsson
Cry of despair to a parting lover
Or your face as you were leaving
But I guess that's just the way the story goes
You always smile but in your eyes your sorrow shows
Yes, it shows
No, I can't forget tomorrorow
When I think of all my sorrows
When I had you there but then I let you go
And now it's only fair that I should let you know
What you should know
I can't live if living is without you
I can't live, I can't give any more
Can't live if living is without you
I can't give, I can't give any more
Not the greatest lyrics but it's the melody and the delivery that make this song (originally by Badfinger) notable. Harry Nilsson blasts it out like he's channelling Streisand; you can hear the despair and the fake defiance in his voice.
Lost love is probably what makes most of us rate a top sad song - this is a pure howl of despair.
Top Ten Sad Songs #9: Whose Garden Was This? Tom Paxton
Ruining our planet
It must have been lovely.
Did it have flowers?
I've seen pictures of flowers,
And I'd love to have smelled one.
Whose river was this?
You say it ran freely?
Blue was its color?
I've seen blue in some pictures,
And I'd love to have been there.
Plaintive song by Tom Paxton: simple and unbelievable at first hearing, grimly accurate with every square mile that gets concreted over, every square mile of rainforest that gets slashed and burned.
Top Ten Sad Songs #10: Hey, that's no way to say goodbye: Leonard Cohen
The relationship is ending
Walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme
You know my love goes with you as your love stays with me,
It's just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea,
But let's not talk of love or chains and things we can't untie,
Your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.
Leonard Cohen's wonderful song about the time when a relationship is just breaking up. Convince yourself at the time it's the right thing - you know the pain is waiting.
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Not Just Sad Songs
Time Magazine's Top 100 albums of all time Lots of good stuff here and it's always fun to shout at other people's lists.
AllMusic.com A mixed bag but some interesting material on a growing site.
Loads of links: some will have you scratching your head, some are a delight to discover.
Jango Radio Free online music streams - and it's legal. Set up your own virtual radio station and compile your own playlists.
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NME's 50 Sad Songs
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