Monday, August 15, 2005

The Saddest Music in the World.

Make that the oddest movie in the world, the one directed by that Guy Maddin from Canada. The title does, however, implicitly pose the question: what is the saddest music in the world?

I nominate Elliott Smith's eponymous album, the one with "Needle in the Hay" on it; Joni Mitchell, For the Roses; Jackson Browne, Late for the Sky. Also Tonight's the Night, by Neil Young; "Hallelujah," written by Leonard Cohen but sung by Jeff Buckley; "Little Wing," sad in all iterations; Rickie Lee Jones, Pirates and "Last Chance Texaco" (off her first album); Annie Lennox, "The Gift," "Two Grey Rooms" by Joni M.; Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here; "Human Nature," but only (so far) as sung by M. Jackson (may he RIP); "Don't Talk," the Beach Boys; Paul Simon, Hearts and Bones.

Does the sadness inhere in the music itself, or is it because of the sad stories we attach to the music? For instance, I find all Nirvana heartbreaking (a form of soft-headedness my son-in-law ruthlessly condemns). I'm pretty sure, however, that I'd find "Hallelujah" devastating even if Jeff Buckley hadn't fallen into the river.

I remember lying on my bed as a teenager listening to sad music just for the pleasure of feeling sad. Long before Oliver Stone used it in Platoon, I used to listen to an old monaural recording that once belonged to my dad of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," for its waves of emotion, like an unstoppable sob.


  1. In high school I used to listen to Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and The Beatle's "Let It Be" and James Taylor "Fire and Rain" & "You've Got A Friend." I'm not sure if they are sad, or music that made me feel better when I was sad. I agree with your assessment of Eliot Smith and Nirvana. I think the saddest Nirvana song is "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" off the Unplugged album. (pardon me, I had to go put on some Leonard Cohen.) I think "Suzanne" is sad-ish. Also "Take This Waltz." I also think Michael Hedge's acoustic versions of pop songs have a melancholy edge to them. Which might explain the Johnny Cash effect on pop songs, like "Hurt." Now that's a sad song.

  2. In high school, I would pitch myself into a fit of melancholy listening to Pink Floyd on the way to basketball games. It's the "big game." So what, I thought, we're all just cogs in the machine. We're all going to die. I still find pleasure in Pink Floyd's excessively sentimental lyrics.

  3. actually that second "lynn" is middlebrow. He forgot to switch it to his "identity." He was doing a little internet cross-dressing.



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