Saddest Song Poll

Over the years I’ve mentioned one or two contenders for the saddest song ever.  The song “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics was mentioned in a book I was reading today.  It’s a pretty good contender.  So here’s are my nominations for saddest song ever:

1. “Tomorrow is a Long Time” – Bob Dylan (lyrics)

Here’s a YouTube version, but only the first minute or so is Bob’s version:

2. “The Living Years” – Mike and the Mechanics (lyrics)

This one is actually about the writer and his father.

3. “Closer to the Light” – Bruce Cockburn (lyrics)

A song written by Cockburn in response to the death of Mark Heard.

A cover version (unfortunately I couldn’t find Bruce’s version, which is much cleaner and personal, on YouTube):

4. “Seasons in the Sun” – Terry Jacks (Lyrics

5.  “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” – Sufjan Stevens (lyrics)

This is about the Chicago serial killer.

“Season in the Sun” was overdone on the oldies radio stations, but it’s still pretty sad in terms of lyrics. I was also going to include David Meece’s version of “We Are the Reason”, but I think I’ll save that one for the “Most Guilt-Inducing Song Ever“. In fact, let’s forgo that ballot and just give the man the award right here and now. Back in the day when I was a big David Meece fan, I used fast forward through that song, I just couldn’t listen to it. In fact, I’m not even sure how the rest of the lyrics go anymore–it might well be an uplifting song, for all I know.

Anyway, I’m giving a strong vote to “The Living Years” for Saddest Song Ever, with “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” in a fairly close second.

What do you think? Do you have any other contenders you’d like to add to the list (perhaps with some linkage)?

17 thoughts on “Saddest Song Poll

  1. Marc Post author

    Oh yes! I forgot about that one. Definitely sad.

    It wouldn’t get my vote for Saddest, simply because the music, though skillful and beautiful, doesn’t match the sadness of the song (IMHO).

    But it probably deserves to be on my list more than “Seasons in the Sun”. Good nomination.

  2. JeffW

    That Sufjan Stevens song was mentioned at the pop culture symposium last weekend. Were you there? Excellent example of a song without a strong moral voice, highlighting grace.

    As for sad songs, I’ll suggest one from a different perspective: Fade To Black by Metallica.

  3. Gavin

    I would think there are at least a dozen Sufjan songs that could make the list…. But I’m going to put in a vote for “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” by Richard Thompson – a perfect tragedy….

  4. Toni

    ‘Son of the world’ from Adrian Snell’s The Passion. The guitar solo at the end used to bring tears, even though I didn’t cry in those days; so sad, so beautiful. Unfortunately it’s apparently not on the web, and I don’t know where the LP is.

  5. Jyl

    I’m not sure what the criteria is for being considered a Sad Song, but I nominate “Starry Starry Night” by Don McLean. It’s always moistened my eyes, especially the line, “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you”.

  6. Scott

    I echo my lovely and brilliant wife. “Mad World” is way sadder than some of your others… no offence! It oozes with depression and helplessness…

  7. JT

    Mary-Chapin Carpenter’s “John Doe No. 24” – here is a link to the lyrics:

    and here is a link to her telling the story of the song and her performing it live:

    I’m fine until she gets to the part of his daddy reaching for his hand, and the lines “While I drew breath no one missed me/So they won’t on the day I cease” and then it just hits you.

    Runners up are Elton John’s “The Last Song”, and Rosanne Cash’s “Black Cadaillac”. Pink Floyd’s “Wish you were here” is a personal sad fave…

  8. Dixie

    When Scott mentioned a song with no lyrics, it reminded me of Steve Bell’s “Moon Over Birkenau”. You really need to hear the whole song, but here is a little clip:

  9. Thoddddy

    This post, and all the responses to it, are unfortunately rather unilingually anglo-centric. There’s a whackload of songs in other languages waaaay more profoundly sad and a great deal more poetic than anything written by mere Engish-speaking 20th century pop, rock and folk singers (and primarily American ones at that). Here is but ONE example that is achingly beautiful – the tragic tale of an unrealizable love – sung in but ONE non-English tongue (in this case Bulgarian, which, for the record, I do not speak). Take a watch/listen and expand your horizons just a wee bit:

  10. Collette

    ahh, The Living Years. definitely a classic sad one.

    the song that always, always chokes me up is “What Sarah Said” by Death Cab for Cutie. lyrics here. and song & video here.

    DCFC tend to write a lot of sad songs, but this one gets me every time. probably because I don’t have anyone to watch me die. (Sarah is dying and her partner is there and she says “Love is watching someone die.” and then the last line of the song, sung achingly over and over is, “who’s gonna watch you die?”)

    also, don’t let the word “death” in DCFC’s name throw you off. they are not metal in any way! aching, electronic inspired but piano-based indie pop. often mentioned in the same breath as Sufjan Stevens.

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