My Top Ten Sad Songs: Songs Of Sorrow, Songs Of Loss

Everyone has a favourite sad song, a song that makes them cry, a song that instantly recalls a lost love, a time past, gone and never to be regained. A master of the sad song, Kris Kristofferson, sang "I'd trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday" and the lyric resonates. It may be lost love, a dead parent, it may be horror at what man does to man, what man does to planet, but somewhere it's been crystallised in a song.

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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  • burntchestnut Jul 20, 2014 @ 12:18 pm
    No, I hate sad songs. When I hear one on the radio, I shut it off. I was attracted to this lens to see what sad songs you list.

Top Ten Sad Songs #1: Goodbye To Love: Carpenters

Giving up hope

karen carpenter I’ll say goodbye to love
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.

Carpenters Official Site, authorised by Richard.

Karen Carpenter sings “Goodbye To Love” at the New London in 1976.
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Top Ten Sad Songs #2: At Seventeen: Janis Ian

Teenager's despair

janis ian at seventeen I learned the truth at seventeen
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.

Janis’s own site, free downloads, tour dates

Janis Ian sings “At Seventeen”.
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Top Ten Sad Songs #3: Cat's In The Cradle: Harry Chapin

Father/son relationship missed

harry chapin cats in the cardle My child arrived just the other day
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.

Chapin family’s site very well done
Well established fan site, range of info and pics

Harry Chapin and “Cat’s In The Cradle”.
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Top Ten Sad Songs #4: You Don't Bring Me Flowers: Streisand/Diamond

Love grown stale and cold

streisand diamond 1980 grammys flowers You don’t bring me flowers
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’s official site, done by Columbia, a bit stiff
Streisand’s official site, diva alert!

Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand: “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”.
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Top Ten Sad Songs #5: And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda: The Pogues

Lives and limbs lost in the carnage of war

waltzing matilda gallipoli anzac So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
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.

The Pogues, including what Shane’s up to

The Pogues deliver a magnificent “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”.
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Top Ten Sad Songs #6: Embrace Me, You Child: Carly Simon

Young child loses father

carly simon embrace me you child And then one night Daddy died and went to heaven
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.

Carly’s official site

Carly Simon: “Embrace Me, You Child”.
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Top Ten Sad Songs #7: It Ain't Me Babe: Joan Baez

Relationship that never will be

joan baez it ain't me babe dylan Go ‘way from my window
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’s own site, lyrics (of her own compositions), links, tour dates

Joan Baez sings Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe”.
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Top Ten Sad Songs #8: Without You: Harry Nilsson

Cry of despair to a parting lover

without you harry nillson No, I can’t forget this evening
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.

Harry’s official site, a little touch of Schmilsson …

Harry Nilsson sings “Without You” with the bonus of Pan’s People dancing.
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Top Ten Sad Songs #9: Tears In Heaven: Eric Clapton

The death of a child

Eric Clapton Tears In Heaven Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you feel the same
If I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven .

Clapton’s song in memory of his son Conor, tragically dead in an accidental fall when just four years old. I can’t imagine the pain that a parent would feel at the death of a child just starting his life’s journey.

Clapton’s official site, good for tour news but not too exciting otherwise.

Eric Clapton with “Tears In Heaven”.
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Top Ten Sad Songs #10: Hey, that's no way to say goodbye: Leonard Cohen

The relationship is ending

cohen no wat to say goodbye I’m not looking for another as I wander in my time,
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.

Leonard Cohen, worth it for the snippets of the IOW festival alone

Leonard Cohen with “That’s No Way To Say Goodbye”.
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Get My Top Ten Sad Songs As MP3s

Saddest songs, with you wherever you go.

My selected versions of these ten sad songs

Click the Play button to see the list.

Saddest Songs List

Add your saddest song

Feel free to add your favorite sad song and then refresh the page and vote for it.

Not Just Sad Songs

Much as we love a wallow with our sad songs, there’s a load more music out there. Try some of the links below and see what you think.

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. 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.

Sad love songs      Sad love stories

NME's 50 Sad Songs

NME Interesting set from NME, though some of theirs are more miserable than sad (Radiohead).

NME song list

A UK Newspaper List

The Daily Telegraph (quite conservative) has just had a vote on saddest song – most depressing really. Their list of candidates is a bit weak, in my opinion but have a look and see what you think.

Top Ten Sad Songs: Index Pic Credit

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  • CosmeticMom Jul 28, 2014 @ 8:14 am
    So many great sad songs to choose from, but I had to vote up Without You by Harry Nilsson!
  • burntchestnut Jul 20, 2014 @ 12:22 pm
    I don't consider all of the songs you listed as sad, thank goodness. However one song I can't listen to is "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro.
  • jewlsss Jul 18, 2014 @ 3:21 pm
    I have never heard of any of these songs and I´m always looking for new sad songs. Thank you therefore! One of my favourite sad songs is "9 Crimes" by Damien Rice.
  • brittabucketlist Jul 18, 2014 @ 1:44 pm
    Great lens! Thank you!
  • brittabucketlist Jul 18, 2014 @ 1:42 pm
    Great lens! Thank you!

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