Twelve of the saddest songs ever

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Twelve of the saddest songs ever

sad songs
Words by David Ellis

Sad songs that make you cry (and a few that maybe don’t anymore)

We all know that a good cry can be extremely cathartic, and what better to bring that out of you than some sad songs?

The last few years have been rough, and, with so much still going on in the world from wars, more rampant covid, potential bigger wars, and the lettuce at your local supermarket needing a loan to buy – everyone is entitled to shed a tear or a thousand to help you cope.

So we’ve compiled a list of crushingly sad songs to help you shed a tear or two when you need to. Whether that’s sitting in the car by yourself, curled up in bed hugging a pillow, or in the middle of a crowded street, these songs are set to have the waterworks running in no time.

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‘You’re Gonna Miss This’ – Trace Adkins

It’s easy to see why there’s a bit of country on this list of sad songs. Country music after all, is just stories written to a simple progression. And while this song isn’t sad immediately, it’s a song which does two things: tries to put an old head on young shoulders, and also laments life as it’s passed people by.

It’s a tale about people not realising they’re living in a great moment of time, a great moment of their life – and only recognising it upon someone actually pointing it out – or more accurately, when it’s all gone.

Poignant line: “These are some good items, so take a good look around – you may not know it now, but you’re gonna miss this”

‘Whiskey Lullaby’ – Brad Paisley

Hooo boy. Arguably one of the great sad songs on this entire list (and we’d argue ever), ‘Whiskey Lullaby’ is a depressing tale of suicide, loss, and heartbreak. The song essentially centres around the idea of someone drinking themselves to death after a tragic event.

Which in this case, is losing someone near and dear to you. But worse than that, not just a quick death – this is about drinking yourself to death. Arguably one of the worst ways to go, which just goes to show how deep in a funk the protagonists were. And if that’s not the epitome of hopelessness, we just don’t know what is.

Poignant line: “Life is short, but this time it was bigger, than the strength she had to get up off her knees”

‘One More Light’ – Linkin Park

The song that caused millions of fans to bawl in 2017 after the suicide of lead singer Chester Bennington. Written by Mike Shinoda and Eg White, the duo had unwittingly penned Bennington’s unofficial obituary with a song written about, and dedicated to, friend of the band Amy Zaret who had died suddenly following a cancer diagnosis.

The song raced up the charts (and the sad songs list), despite the hate that Bennington got for singing it, and was the last single recorded by the group before Bennington took his own life. After Bennington committed suicide, the band wrote: “‘One More Light’ was written with the intention of sending love to those who lost someone. We now find ourselves on the receiving end.”

To say that this is a rough listen is an understatement – especially for those who were fans of the band.

Poignant line: “Who cares when someone’s time runs out? If a moment is all we are, we’re quicker, quicker”

‘Hurt’ – Johnny Cash

Arguably the best covers of all time, Johnny Cash’s version of the NIN song ‘Hurt’ is a painful look back at his life, and recognising that it’s all going to come to an end – and it ponders the question ‘did it really all matter?’. Written by Trent Reznor in 1994, officially it’s about drug addiction and the glimmers of hope at one might feel at their lowest point. But, what’s incredible about this version of the song is not just the incredible nuance that Cash delivers it with, but the amazing orchestration.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sustained and constant staccato of a piano sound so haunting and driving at the same time. Not only this, but the film clip (which won a Grammy, by the way) leans heavily into this writer’s interpretation of the song’s lyrics.

Poignant lines: “If I could start again, a million miles away, I would keep myself, I would find a way”

‘Sacre Coeur’ – Tina Dico

Officially, this is a song about having incredible options, and having to decide about them. However, don’t think that’s all it’s about. The reason this song is one of the most incredibly sad songs is because of what it sets up – the future potential for severe regret. The protagonist finds herself sat in Paris staring at the sunset, and realising that she is supposed to go home to her amazing life which is everything she’s wanted.

But then the voice creeps in – ‘What if?’ Is she only wanting it because that’s what society has told her to have? Is what she really wants is to disappear into the night in the middle of France, and start something brand new, and see where it leads? Does she take a risk, and see where it leads her for better or worse, or go home and forever wonder ‘what if?’?

And, if that doesn’t sound sad, then you’ve clearly never had your heart torn between what you ‘should’ do, and what you ‘want’ to do. And trust me – it’s heartbreaking.

Poignant line: “It’s all there if I want it, but the sad thing is, I don’t know which I prefer”

‘If She’s Anything Like Me’ – Malinda

This is one of the most truly heartbreaking sad songs. On the surface, it’s an upbeat song about new love, and a well written one at that. However, when watched with the film clip, it’s a wholly upsetting tale of the protagonist watching the one she’s not quite over yet move on, and trying to be happy for the new lovers. Deep down, she’s happy, but she’s still grieving for that which has been lost. Which is what sets this track apart from so many others.

It deals with a rarely-broached subject when it comes to romance in pop music – moving on and the grief associated with it. Overall a wonderful song, well written, but that film clip turns it from a good pop song, to a true heartbreaking masterclass of pop music.

Poignant line: “I guess my healing is a little slow, but your new-found fire is free to grow, besides it’s her time to bask in its glow”

‘Sun and Moon’ – Above and Beyond

What is a list about the saddest songs of all time, without a little bit of trance music, eh? ‘Sun and Moon’ – arguably one of the most iconic songs from British trance mega house Above and Beyond is a track all about shooting your shot – and missing.

It’s not a typical thing to hear in songs, and like the Malinda song above, deals with a very rare, introspective chain of events that you don’t normally get to see. But what is really incredible about this song is the passion and love that it ignites within the fanbase of the group.

We’re certain there have been so many broken hearts healed with this short track – and a million more who have found solace in its words.

Poignant line: “I’m sorry baby, you were the sun and moon to me, I’ll never get over you, you’ll never get over me”

‘Coyotes’ – Don Edwards

If you’ve ever seen the 2005 movie Grizzly Man you’ll know this track as the final track from the movie. Or, if you’re a fan of country (see, I said there was a bit in this list), then you’ll know what this one is all about. Storytelling, storytelling, storytelling.

It’s essentially about what happens to someone who finds themself disassociated with the world around them. Maybe they don’t see what the deal is with this newfangled music and book face things, maybe they just see less of themselves in the world as it changes around them.

Either way, these people feel like they disappear – and the protagonist in this tune does just that like everything he recognised himself in.

Poignant line: “He’d say all that’s left now of the old days, those damned old coyotes and me”

‘Don’t Let The Old Man In’ – Toby Keith

More well known for his tongue-in-cheek songs like ‘As Good As I Once Was’, Toby Keith’s 2018 track was selected to be on The Mule’s soundtrack because, I think, of its introspection and bittersweet hopeful message. Essentially, it’s an ode to those who don’t let their age dictate what they can or cannot do – which is an incredible idea.

However, the song takes a depressing turn when you consider that this kind of introspection only comes when someone is in their twilight years. They can see the ‘rider on the horse’ coming to find you, and the best thing you can do is look him right in the eyes, smile, and think ‘I’m not afraid’.

That takes a scary amount of courage to do. The kind of courage that people only really get at the end of their life.

Poignant line: “Ask yourself how would you be, if you didn’t know the day you were born”

‘Blue Ridge Mountain Song’ – Alan Jackson

Ah man, again with the country. And this time, this song epitomises the old adage: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”. We see a couple’s life and love unfurl before us, from dancing in the porch light, marrying in their “Mommas wedding gown”, buying a home, and creating a life for themselves.

That is, until one of the pair “gets called home by Jesus” (for all of you who aren’t fluent in bible speak, it means that she straight up died). Now the guy is left all alone in their home, dreams of her, and wishes she’d come back. It’s truly one of the most crushingly, depressing sad songs.

Poignant line: “Just let her sing a little Blue Ridge Mountain song, like she has all along, and I’ll dance with her ’til dawn, on a hillside all alone”

‘Heart Attack in a Layby’ – Porcupine Tree

Akin to the Tina Dico track above, this song is depressing. It tackles a soul-crushingly horrible instinct that all humans have – regret. And not only that, but what regret can do to the soul, especially in the face of death.

Straight from the mouth of lyrical genius and musical mastermind Steven Wilson, it is about a man dying in a lay-by queue, and thinking about the arguments left unresolved, the things he could have changed and how life could have just been better if he weren’t so bitter and twisted about things that didn’t matter.

But there is also a sense of impending doom as we see the protagonist making horrible life choices – smoking, looking for his phone while driving, and eventually having this heart attack which kills him in the end, leaving things unsaid.

Poignant line: “If I close my eyes, and fell asleep in this lay-by, would it all subside, the fever pushing the day by”

‘COMA’ – Yann Tiersen

No lyrics to speak of in this one, just a beautifully melancholic, depressing piano piece by French composer Yann Tiersen. Originally featuring in the movie Goodbye Lenin!, which if you haven’t seen it you simply must, it is a sad and pervasive piece of music amidst what is otherwise a bit of a black comedy.

Yes, the title of the track does correlate to what is happening in the film at the time but on its own, the track stands as one of the more emotional pieces of music, I think, ever. Try to listen to it without crying, I dare you.

Poignant line: None.

Note: The video for this song is missing – as it’s notoriously difficult to find anywhere. But there are a million different versions online you can find of people playing it – so feel free to take a gander!

‘The Last Battle’ – John Williams

We end this list with an absolute classic track, from an absolute classic movie that was completely robbed of an Oscar. ‘The Last Battle’, takes place in Saving Private Ryan’s final battle scene, but outlines not only the final battle of the movie, but the final battle of the protagonist, and the titular character in a roundabout way.

Every time I hear those french horns starting up, I get a little teary eyed and even want to salute the stars and stripes, even though I’m not from the USA. It is a completely incredible, nuanced, perfectly constructed eight-minute piece which rounds out the best war movie of all time.

And yes, it’s just as good without the characters behind it.

Poignant line: None.

Some more sad songs to wallow in:

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