Thomas Larson on The Saddest Song Ever Written

December 12, 2010

Why do we love sad songs?  It’s true, we do, and it’s not just “Greensleeves” and “Yesterday.”  There’s a language of melancholy worth exploring.  The saddest music of all to many people is Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”  Thomas Larson is the author of “The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings” and he tells Anne Strainchamps how it earns that name.



It's _Wailing Wall_ by Todd Rundgren.

To my ears, Todd Rundgren sings "Wailing Wall" too sweetly for its sad lyrics to have much of an effect. Some of these are bordering on more "depressing" than just "sad":

Sunday Morning Coming Down by Kris Kristofferson
People Ain't No Good by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Holocaust by Big Star
Sweet Old World by Lucinda Williams
Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel
The Drugs Don't Work by The Verve
Love Hurts by Gram Parsons (with Emmylou Harris)
Hurt as sung by Johnny Cash (written by Trent Reznor)
These Days as sung by Nico (written by Jackson Browne)
Let Down by Radiohead

Yes, a few border on country - well then "if it sounds country, man, that's what it is."

To my ears, the rock song (not folk, not country, not a "rock ballad") that delivers the most mournful musical amalgam is Led Zepplin's remake of the Memphis Minnie classic, "When the Levee Breaks." The dirge-like beat, wailing harmonica, Robert Plant's incredible languid voice and Jimmy Page's hypnotic guitar produce a sense of total hopelessness. But in a good way!

Johnny Cash's cover of Trent Reznor's Hurt. I can't stand to listen to it! ….love it though

Stairway to Heaven- Led Zeppelin
When Will I See You Again?

Someone to watch over me

Good Morning Heartache by Billy Holliday. It's all in her voice.

I have to say that ever since the last episode of HBO's Six Feet Under, Sia and her haunting voice on "Breathe Me" has to be one of the most heart wrenching songs I have ever heard. It is such an unexpected song from a singer that is more known now for her poppy quirky fun songs.

Well, it isn't jazz, but certainly one of the saddest has to be Johnny I hardly Knew You, written in a minor key, & later turned into When Johnny Comees Marching Home Again, in a major key, the first a lament, & the second everyone knows.

"Without you" by Harry Nilsson. I cry every time I hear it.

September 15th by Pat Metheny

"If you leave me now " by Chicago.

The theme song to Cinema Paradiso by Ennio Morricone.

she's out of my life sung by Michael Jackson

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