I know I’m not the only one having a mercurial November. It’s an odd month for a lot of us (including the thermometer). In honour of the confusing nature of the in-between season, let’s pick up our spirits with some songs that are tragic but sound lively and fun. K?
- Tears of a Clown (1967) – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. A very distinctive song with its circus-type theme and high catchiness factor… but it’s all about loneliness and regret.
- Build Me Up Buttercup (1968) – The Foundations. So singable, such a fun song to listen to – especially considering it’s the words of a desperate man begging for scraps of attention.
- Bad Moon Rising (1969) – Creedence Clearwater Revival. Trouble starts with the fourth word of the song, and doesn’t let up. And yet, you could practically polka to this.
- I Want you Back (1969) – The Jackson 5. One of my favourite songs EVER, brimming with energy and awesomeness… and more begging, not to mention tear stains on the ground.
- You Left the Water Running (1976) – Otis Redding. (Actually that’s just the most famous version – he didn’t write it – and it was recorded in ’66 but not released until ten years later). My favourite rendition is from Huey Lewis and the News’ Four Chords and Several Years Ago – the piano part totally makes me dance around. (Not that this is hard to do.)
- Angel Eyes (1979) – Abba. There were actually several Abba candidates – “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is another one; and of course “Mamma Mia”… and they all rock so much it’s hard to decide.
- I Don’t Like Mondays (1979) – The Boomtown Rats. This song is about an actual school shooting perpetrated on a Monday in 1979 by a severely effed-up 16-year-old girl in California. She fired into a schoolyard from her house across the street, because she was bored. (Her dad gave her the rifle for Christmas, so there you go.) Horrible plot, great instrumentation.
- Hungry Heart (1980) – Bruce Springsteen. Festive song in which Narrator leaves his wife and kids in Baltimore in the second line – and we never hear from them again, poor folks.
- Jessie’s Girl (1981) – Rick Springfield. I think a lot of us can relate to unrequited love/lust for someone who’s already taken; we just don’t usually turn our angst into wicked 80s power chords.
- Invisible Touch (1986) – Genesis. About a woman who grabs right hold o’ your heart – and tears you apart. And I challenge anyone not to bop along to this infectious beat.
- A Little Respect (1988) – Erasure. Incredibly danceable. And again… we’re begging, forever blue.
- King of Wishful Thinking (1990) – Go West. I think we can all relate to this one too – pretending to be over someone you’re not actually over so you feel less like a loser. Though it would be impossible for these extremely cool guys to feel like losers.
- Lucky Ball and Chain (1990) – They Might Be Giants. Here’s another group with lots of songs that could fit the bill, since almost everything they write sounds like a merry jig, but many of their songs are sad (I think – the lyrics tend to be incomprehensible).
- Walking on Broken Glass (1992) – Annie Lennox. Another of my favourite songs ever – all about heartbreak. It ROCKS the strings and harpsichord, among other things. (And John Malkovitch and Hugh Laurie are in this video! It’s a whole story.)
- I’m Alive – (1993) – Jackson Brown. This one treads the lines between categories, since the lyrics do have some guarded hope, but there’s a lot of bitterness steeped in an upbeat, very sweet musical theme.
- Run-Around (1994) – Blues Traveler. Where did this song go?? It’s so awesome! A foot-tapping beat, kick-ass harmonica solos, and lyrics that are confused and frustrated while being funkily poetic. I remember being sixteen and totally moved by the line “I love you to the point you can no longer take…”
- Lovefool (1996) – The Cardigans. Exceedingly cute and poppy, but also maladjusted and self-hating, with a whiff of masochism.
- Last Beautiful Girl (2000) – Matchbox 20. Okay, this melody does have melancholic undertones, but it’s SO gorgeous. It lilts along talking about “the one that you wrecked”, saying fierce things in a softly harmonious way. Gives me goosebumps every time.
- Heartbroken (2010) – Meaghan Smith. This Canadian artist has such a wonderful, old-school jazzy style and a lovely voice – and even if you listened to this whole list, you’ve never heard a perkier song about being in anguish.
- Misery (2010) – Maroon 5. Almost comically buoyant tune about being slowly killed by a woman’s vagaries… Although the video suggests that he’s going to get killed a lot faster, due to said woman throwing him against a porcelain sink.
And finally, here’s a little bonus that I guarantee is not on ANY similar list on the WHOLE interweb:
Come Again, Sweet Love Doth Now Invite by John Dowland (1563-1636).
This goes out to my mom and my aunt, who both sang this very song in a Renaissance choir when I was younger. Absolutely beautiful, vivacious cadences, harmonizing words such as
I sit, I sigh, I weep, I faint, I die
in deadly pain and endless misery.
Point being… Motown didn’t invent this. People have been making delightful things out of their pain for centuries. And I say more power to them.
What are your favourite sad songs that sound happy?