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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Arbitrary List Response

Yahoo's 'Rock Backpages' compiled this list of the 20 most heartbreaking songs. Here's the FN's list. Only one of theirs would have made it, their #1, so I'll leave that George Jones number off. So, from their list of tear-jerks, here's our knee-jerk:



  1. Fields of Gold, Eva Cassidy: What, a cover? Not any cover, the greatest cover of all-time. A cover, which upon listening to, Sting broke down in tears. A cover that I can barely make it through. Cassidy, one of the great vocalists of her time, adds a new sensibility to this song about the bittersweet nature of love; that joy, and life, no matter how intense, will one day fade away. While it does leave room for hope, in that life around us continues while we will die, all of this is highlighted by the fact that Cassidy died of cancer two years before any of her recordings were released to the general public.
  2. Walking on a Wire, Richard and Linda Thompson: from the last album the duo released together, recorded during their divorce, the greatest female vocalist in British rock sings her soul out, and Richard plays an amazing guitar solo without overwhelming the fragility of a song that doesn't paint the best picture of him.
    Where's the justice and where's the sense?
    When all the pain is on my side of the fence
    I'm walking on a wire, I'm walking on a wire
    And I'm falling
  3. Crying, Roy Orbison: an earnest rockabilly sensibility to the back beat and the lyrics accompanied by Orbison's soaring vocals matched with bombastic strings.
  4. You Don't Miss Your Water, Otis Redding. Listening to Otis Redding's voice, even on recordings, is one of the great treasures of music. It's like listening to a Du Pre cello part, or a Coltrane live record. A song about an unfaithful lover, realizing how much of a mistake he made after his love leaves him. This is soul music.
  5. I Know It's Over, The Smiths. Morissey at his brooding best, delivering his deeply personal lines perfectly.
    Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head
    And as I climb into an empty bed
    Oh well. Enough said.
    I know it's over - still I cling
    I don't know where else I can go
    Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head
    See, the sea wants to take me
    The knife wants to slit me
    Do you think you can help me ?
    Sad veiled bride, please be happy
    Handsome groom, give her room
    Loud, loutish lover, treat her kindly
    (Though she needs you more than she loves you)
    And I know it's over - still I cling
    I don't know where else I can go
    Over and over and over and over
    I know it's over
    And it never really began
    But in my heart it was so real
  6. Holocaust, Big Star: The low (or high?) point of the most gorgeously sad album ever recorded, has a broken Alex Chilton trying to find some sort of analogy to the inward desolation of his soul. Anyone wishing for a little insight into what depression feels like should listen to this song. His pained voice and a haunting cello part adds to lyrics like:
    Your mothers dead
    She said, dont be afraid.
    Your mothers dead
    Youre on your own
    Shes in her bed

    Everybody goes
    Leaving those who fall behind
    Everybody goes
    As far as they can
    They dont just care
    Youre a wasted face
    Youre a sad-eyed lie
    Youre a holocaust.
  7. Gone For Good, Matthew Ryan: Ryan's written some of the saddest songs of the last 10 years; songs about loss, addiction, failure, alienation, depression like few else in recent memory. But this song is almost unbearable, in large part because its so brutally true. The song is to, and about, his brother, who was sentenced to a life term in prison.
    We were
    The lone ranger and tonto
    Stillborn to cold strangers In our own home
    But you took it hard
    You took it personal
    You know you never really should
    When you’re gone...
    …and gone for good

    Our igloo
    Will soon be
    In poisoned silver pools
    Where no fever
    Or cool breeze
    Will ever comfort
    Just dead silent still
    Forever and until
    Your landfill swallows every june
    And you’re gone
    …gone for good
  8. Tom Traubert's Blues, Tom Waits. The ultimate "Bawler," from Waits concerns his own experience being alone and drunk in a foreign country, as well as the story of the eponymous Tom, a friend of Waits who died in prison.
  9. Love Will Tear Us Apart, Joy Division. While not as hopeless as anything on Closer, this is an equally haunting and more accessible expression of similar themes. Ian Curtis' song, drawn from personal experience, about love gone hellishly wrong and out of control.
  10. If I Give my Soul, Billy Joe Shaver. One of the most powerful songs of which I know. A man who's lived a wild life has all of his sins catch up to him. Hitting rock bottom he comes to God and asks for forgiveness, mercy, and asking if he gives everything up if his wife will come back, and his son forgive him. The answer is left ambiguous in the song, rather its a powerful and specific recounting of the costs of alcoholism. The answer to Shaver, who lived the life of the man in the song, was yes, but with a brutal test of faith. Shaver became a devout Born Again Christian (he has a moving bit part in The Apostle), reunited with his wife, and made some peace with his estranged son, Eddy, even cutting a few records with him. In 1999, he lost his mother and his wife to cancer, and the following year Eddy died of a heroin overdose. On the haunting Window Rock, released right after these events, Shaver revisits this song, singing along with a guitar part by his deceased son, asking why God didn't take him instead.
  11. She's Got You, Patsy Cline. Perhaps the simple presentation of the song, a listing of all of her ex-lovers stuff she has but doesn't want compared to the woman who has her man, this is a powerful song.
  12. In a Ditch, The Scud Mountain Boys. The final album by this obscure and masterful alt-country band is one glass full of heartbreak after another. Country songs are known for their set ups, but this one is something else: the man who broke the heart of his ex, who turned to drugs, is notified when she's found dead in a wrecked car.
  13. $1000 Wedding, Gram Parsons: One of the all-time great country heart breakers. A groom jilted at the alter is told in two turns; one as the wedding, and one as the funeral which might as well happen now that his hearts' broken.
  14. Shipbuilding, Elvis Costello. A veiled protest song about the absurdity of the Falklands war. Shipyards experience increased business, but at the expense of death, where loved ones don't come back, and the families they leave behind must "dive for dear life, instead of diving for pearls." Jazz legend Chet Baker's trumpet solo, is the clincher.
  15. Nothin', Townes Van Zandt. The usually wry and clever, and underappreciated Van Zandt, uses his songwriting prowess to write a thoroughly heartbreaking song about a drug addict who's slowly broken down by society, family problems, until he has nothing and nothing to live for.
  16. Here, There, and Everywhere, Emmylou Harris. The masterful Harris takes the Beatles sentimental ballad, and turns it into a song about a woman who loves a man far more than he appears to love her, if even acknowledge her beyond petty promises. The mood is singularly somber, with the second saddest harmonica part in popular music.
  17. My Heart Cries out for You, Guy Mitchell. Also check out Bobby Bare's minimalist cover. The oldest song on the list, from 1950.
  18. The Grand Tour, George Jones. One of his many heartbreaking classics which border on being gimmick songs as well. Here, a man is selling a home full of broken hearts and dreams.
  19. Sealed with a Kiss, Bryan Hyland. As a kid this made me sad because they always played it on the radio when it was time for school to start. As I've got older, its become a heartbreaking song about a naive and doomed attempt to keep a long distance love alive. The saddest harmonica part in popular music. The key change 2/3 of the way through the song always packs a punch.
  20. Is that all there is? Peggy Lee. Despite its kitschy '60's appeal and ridiculously sad Thomas Mann inspired lyrics, this cabaret inspired torch song is still a rather effective piece. One in which nothing goes right or lives up to expectations, and the only respite from death is found in life is escape through alcohol and dancing. However, the final conclusion, that death really can't be that bad either, makes this somewhat less heartbreaking.

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