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Five of the Saddest Songs Ever Written

Elton John famously sang that “Sad songs say so much” and it’s true, even though that song is too chipper sounding to make this list. When you’re down or unhappy, a sad song can sound so good and speak to what you’re feeling. Many of the most famous songs of woe include lyrics about a real-live event or tragedy, which make them even more poignant. Check out our list of five of the saddest songs:

“Everybody Hurts” – R.E.M.

R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” is a song urging someone not to commit suicide, backed by mournful verses, strings and an organ that sounds straight out of a funeral parlour. While the overall tone of the 1992 track is desperately depressing, the chorus is one of hope and inspiration. As guitarist Peter Buck said of the song, the lyrics are very straightforward because they wanted the song to resonate with teenagers – the group that has the highest suicide rates. This amazing track was used in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie.

“The Grace” – Neverending White Lights (Vocals by Dallas Green)

Written by Canadian Daniel Victor and sung by fellow Canuck Dallas Green, “The Grace” is another song about taking one’s own life. The narrator has lost hope in life and love, and begins wondering if dying is a positive thing given all the negatives surrounding him. It’s a sorrowful song where the narrator does end up committing suicide. Green’s vocal performance is nothing short of stunning. He adds the perfect inflection to the lyrics, as if he wrote them himself.

“All of My Love” – Led Zeppelin

Taken my most to be a love song, “All of My Love” from 1979’s In Through the Out Door is in fact a tribute to Robert Plant’s son, Karac, who died in 1977 when he was just five years old. He likely died of stomach enteritis. Knowing the song’s subject matter turns it into a father mourning his dead son and the lyrics take on a new life. Plant, in interviews, calls the song one Led Zeppelin’s “finest moments”.

“Empty Garden (Hey, Hey Johnny)” – Elton John

“Empty Garden (Hey, Hey Johnny)” deals with the 1980 murder of John Lennon, who was good friends with Elton John and Bernie Taupin, who wrote the song’s lyrics. John was even named godfather to Lennon’s son, Sean, in 1975. The melancholy music is perfectly suited to the words of the song as Elton struggles to comprehend the suddenness of Lennon’s passing after being murdered by crazed superfan Mark David Chapman. Over the years, John has rarely played this song live because the memory of Lennon’s death is too painful.

“Tears in Heaven” – Eric Clapton

“Tears in Heaven” is a Clapton acoustic ballad about the death of his four-year-old son after falling from the window of a New York high rise in 1991. It was co-written with Will Jennings. Clapton, who said writing the song helped him heal, wrote the words for the first verse, and urged Jennings to come up with the release (“Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees …”). The track was featured in the 1991 movie Rush.

Bonus: “Nutshell” – Alice in Chains

When an artist foretells his or own death in a song, it really hits home after the fact. That was the case with Alice in Chains’ “Nutshell” and vocalist Layne Staley, who died of a heroin overdose in 2002. Not only is the tone of the song about as sombre as it gets, lyrically Staley warns of fighting “this battle all alone. No one to cry to, no place to call home.” He sticks to the song’s mantra that “if I can’t be my own, I’d feel better dead.” And that was the case with Staley, who slowly became more and more reclusive after Jar of Flies was released in 1993 until he was found dead in his Seattle apartment.

Check out more of Cam Maxwell’s Rock ‘N Roll Insight.

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