Dilovely’s Playlist: 20 Sad Songs that Sound Happy

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. A Little Respect (1988) – Erasure. Incredibly danceable. And again… we’re begging, forever blue.
  12. 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.
  13. 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).
  14. 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.)
  15. 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.
  16. 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…”
  17. Lovefool (1996) – The Cardigans. Exceedingly cute and poppy, but also maladjusted and self-hating, with a whiff of masochism.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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?



One thought on “Dilovely’s Playlist: 20 Sad Songs that Sound Happy

  1. Auntie CL says:

    in the late 60’s there was a song called, i think, “red Rubber Ball” which is a jaunty tune about being heartbroken, but it does have hope – the red rubber ball, which is the morning sun…
    hey, thanks for the Dowland! Definitely a prototype – i also like this jaunty version by young people who probably haven’t experienced much heartbreak and also may not understand the lyrics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46Ch3sCobVE&feature=related

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