Thursday, August 18, 2011

Saddest Song Ever?

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:

“San Diego Serenade” by Tom Waits, another song from my misspent youth, certainly deserves consideration:

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.

Oh, and Hüsker Dü’s “Hardly Getting Over It” at No. 2? Well played, sir. Well played indeed.

But I still would’ve included “Stolen Car.”


  1. A great playlist of sad songs for today's politics, except there are no songs for the unending wars, all were written during the 60's and 70's during the Vietnam era. So many to choose from, thanks Dave for your selection.

  2. Dave, I agree that "Stolen Car" is among the saddest songs ever written, but "The River" is the one that always gets me -- as well as Bruce's rendition of Sinatra's "Angel Eyes".

  3. I would add Beck's 'Lost Cause' and ' I know Its Over' by The Smiths.But, maybe this is the saddest song i have ever heard: Malcolm Middleton's 'Carry Me' . I could only find a live version from a radio program.It still sounds wonderful.It helps to be able to understand the Scottish brogue, but google helps with the lyrics if not.

  4. Dave, you apparently got too close to the truth on the Ron Paul racist issue. Quite the blowback from his crowd.

    I see where he drummed up $1.6 million in individual contributions this weekend. Let's hope it was all large sums meaning a small head count.