Yesterday on Facebook, local deejay Lin Brehmer of WXRT was taking suggestions for a list he was compiling of the saddest songs ever. I haven’t seen the final list, but the first song that came to mind for me was Bruce Springsteen’s “Stolen Car” from The River (1980):
She asked if I remembered the letters I wrote
When our love was young and bold
She said last night she read those letters
And they made her feel one hundred years old
And I’m driving a stolen car
On a pitch black night
And I’m telling myself I’m gonna be alright
But I ride by night and I travel in fear
That in this darkness I will disappear.
Yeah, that’s pretty … um … gloomy, eh?
Still, I can’t say it’s necessarily the saddest song ever. Scanning through my iTunes library, a few others occur to me … like the Replacements’ “Sadly Beautiful” from All Shook Down (1990). Here’s Paul Westerberg performing “Sadly Beautiful” live in New York in 1996 (appropriately enough, because All Shook Down was really meant to be his first solo record, not the Replacements’ final LP):
Of course, “Straight to Hell” by the Clash would also fit the bill:
As railhead towns feel the steel mills’ rust
Water froze in the generation
Clear as winter ice
This is your paradise …
Another worthy selection: James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” a song about the death of a close friend and Taylor’s own struggles with drug addiction, which might be one of the most finely crafted pop songs ever written:
And since we’re wandering all over the map, genre-wise, I’ll just go ahead and throw this out: Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain,” easily the saddest country/bluegrass song ever written:
Here’s another version, featuring Ricky Scaggs and Urbana, Illinois’ own Alison Krauss. (Religious implications aside, having lost two brothers I know whereof he speaks.)
Anyway, speaking of country/bluegrass/folk/etc., John Prine’s “Paradise” earns an honorable mention. This a live version from 1982 featuring Vince Gill and Marty Stuart that captures the song’s wistfulness and sense of loss:
And the Pogues’ “Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six” would certainly make my list:
You’ll be counting years
First five then ten
Growing old in a lonely hell
Round the yard and the stinking cell
From wall to wall, and back again …
You can’t have a list of the saddest songs of all time without at least one reference to The Old Sod, now can you?
Finally, I can’t overlook “No Woman No Cry” by the great Bob Marley (though it’s hard to think of reggae as “sad” …):
Anyway, I’m sure I’m missing all sorts of obvious choices, but that’s what I came up with off the top of my head. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments section …
UPDATE: So, my sister Joan alerted me to the fact that Lin Brehmer has now posted his list of “The Rock and Roll Generation’s Ten Saddest Songs,” and I note that Mr. Brehmer, my erstwhile Best Friend In The Whole World (as he likes to say to all of his listeners), did not take my suggestion and include “Stolen Car.” I still say the lyric about a guy’s wife reading his old love letters and them making her “feel one hundred years old” is, maybe, the saddest lyric I’ve ever heard, but whatev.
On the other hand, he has some excellent selections. I can’t believe I overlooked Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart,” although Bruce Springsteen’s cover of “My Ride’s Here” is nearly as poignant. It’s hard to top a song written by a guy who knows he’s dying and doesn’t want you to forget him, though. I also forgot about the Cure’s “Pictures of You,” which Lin lists at No. 5. Here’s a pro-tip. If your brother dies and you’re asked to find pictures of him for his wake: Do not listen to the Cure’s Disintegration while you’re doing it. Because “Pictures of You” will come on, and you will die. Trust me. I know this to be true.
So, there’s that.
But I still would’ve included “Stolen Car.”