Why We Love Those Sad Songs So Much: Because It Feels So Good To Hurt So Bad!

Posted by Billyjam, July 21, 2011 01:20pm | Post a Comment

The Smiths "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Today"

Why do we love those sad songs so much? What is It with songs that help us wallow in our misery? Those post break up anthems, or songs about loss and depression that just seep of sadness yet draw us like a moth to a flame. Why do people love Morrissey and the Smiths' sad songs about been miserable? Because - like hot tea on a hot day that fights fire with fire - so too do sad songs quell the sadness in our collective hearts. Some say that we like sad songs of others' tales of despair because we can indulge in their suffering from a safe distance. Like in the comic strip above we love/hate those sad songs so much we have to hit replay. "Please Mr Please" don't play B 17. I don't ever want to hear that song again," sang Olivia Newton John on the weepy Bruce Welch & John Rostill penned 1975 international hit - but you know she secretly indulged in hearing B17 again despite the sadness it aroused in her tortured soul.  Of all the pop hits over the past several decades Elton John's Bernie Taupin penned hit "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" sums up our need for sad songs: "It's times like these when we all need to hear the radio.`Cause from the lips of some old singer we can share the troubles we already know. Turn them on, turn them on. Turn on those sad songs when all hope is gone!" and the song's clincher line, "it feels so good to hurt so bad"

There are many discussions and blogs dedicated to this fascination and/or obsession with sad songs including billyanddad that writes, "So why do we like to suffer with the singer? According to Plato, because we like to feel sorry for ourselves. We like to feel that our destiny is out of our hands, that it’s fated that we suffer so." Luckily then we are never short of sad songs to play should we feel this way. Even though there is always that underlying dark sense of humor to Morrissey's work, the Smiths' Hatful of Hollow is a wonderful collection of dramatically tragic sad songs. A good chunk of the Carpenters catalog, songs like "Goodbye To Love" chillingly sung by the late great Karen Carpenter's hauntingly beautiful voice, also fits the bill.

And of course Patsy Cline is guaranteed to make you feel good about feeling bad  - as is so much of the greatest country music; a genre filled with tales of lost love and abandonment (EG my girl left me and my dog died this morning etc etc).  Of course the blues is built on sad tales in song, as is so much of popular music from the past century. Just the album art cover of blues great Sonny Boy Willamson's 1959 album Down and Out Blues (which is not the artist by the way) is enough to make you sad and blue.   Perhaps among the saddest (and most emotionally charged) songs of the past century is Billie Holliday's compelling 1930's recording "Strange Fruit" (based on a poem about lynching written by Abel Meeropol) with such vividly tragic lyrics, movingly sung by Holiday as, "Southern trees bear strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees."  Equally sad is Billie Holiday's "Gloomy Sunday" which ranks high on Spinner.Com's  25 Most Exquistively Sad Songs In The Whole World list. Others on this list include Sinead O'Connor's popular version of Prince's 'Nothing Compares 2 U," Sam Cooke's 1964 single "A Change Is Gonna Come," Beck's 2002 recording "Lost Cause," Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's "'Hallelujah," and Ben Folds Five's far from cheery song "Brick" about taking his high-school girlfriend to get an abortion on the day after Christmas.

         Billie Holiday "Gloomy Sunday"

Patsy Cline "Crazy" (live 1962)

Yesterday on my Facebook page I did an informal poll to see what some of my FB friends (all music fans, many DJs currently or previously) thought were the saddest songs of all time. Responses included Rick Arroyo who suggested "Butterfly Kisses" by Bob Carlisle ("brings tears to my eyes. thinking of my daughter growing up," he said), Jennifer Marie Joyce suggested Terry Jacks' 1974 hit "Seasons in the Sun," and Derrick James picked "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac. Noting how many of these songs were from the 70's Rick Arroyo proposed that the seventies, as a decade of pop hits, contained perhaps the largest ratio of sad songs.

Craig Jaime
suggested The Manhattans' ultimate break up song (another 1970's hit) "Kiss and Say Goodbye," DJ/remixer and former Amoeba San Francisco employee Jason Patrick "4AM" Chavez suggested Neil Diamond's "Shilo," while Mona Dehghan offered her top three sad songs of all time as Billy Childish's "The Bitter Cup," Spiritualized's "Broken Heart," and Richard Hawley's  "Precious Sight."

                          Manhattans "Kiss and Say Goodbye" (1975)

The website Sad Songs, Miserable Songs and Music Hits put together a top 50 chart of some of the standouts over the years. These include such tearjerkers as Boys II Men's "The End Of The Road," Judy Collins'  "Send In The Clowns," and Eric Clapton's 1992 hit single "Tears In Heaven" which grabbed everyone's attention due to its very real, tragic inspiration - the death of his 4 year old son Conor who fell to his death from a 25th story building. 

Then there is rap/hip-hop music: a genre often unfairly dismissed as merely comprised of misogynistic, hedonistic, consumerist themed party music. But just like rock hip-hop is rich with the variety of music and countless sub-genres it offers. One such sub genre, one that I started noticing in the mid 90's and dubbed it "Requiem Rap" - songs that lyrically spill a little on the curb for those who have passed on from this world. And with so many hip-hop artists tragically passing at young ages this is a prevalent theme in hip-hop. Perhaps the best example/biggest hit of "requieim rap" is Bone Thugs-n-Harmony's 1996 hit single "Crossroads" which was dedicated to their mentor -the late great Eazy-E.

Ultimately though sad songs work best only when you're miserably sad and blue. Kinda like that old saying about whiskey ("Whiskey when you're sick makes you well. Whiskey when you're well makes you sick") so too with sad songs: when you're up and feeling good about life they'll often drag you down. However when you're down in the dumps - due to  a broken heart, losing a loved one forever, or whatever ails that heavy heart of yours - you can't beat a good sad song because, as Elton sings, "It feels so good to hurt so bad" and be able to sing along, and hopefully sing those blues away!

Elton John "Sad Songs (say so much)" lyrics by Bernie Taupin

Of course Western Pop by no means has the copyright on sad songs. Bollywood movie soundtracks are packed with their share of sad songs to make you cry like the above CHAHA HAI TUJHKO.

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