No Sharp Objects

Perhaps this isn't the best idea, since both Kerri and I recently quit therapy, but Rich just sent me this article from the Guardian, listing the 25 most depressing songs ever. Great, just what I need! Here are the highlights (lowlights?):

25. Sam Stone John Prine (1972)
A grim song about a strung-out former soldier that remains a favourite of audiences who prefer their Vietnam vets to be total losers. Over finger-picked guitar, Prine sings about Sam Stone, a drug-addicted veteran who injects morphine and neglects his impoverished family before overdosing in a decrepit room "that smelled like death". Sam Stone is basically a composite for Hollywood's ideal Vietnam veteran: an hallucinating psycho with a Fu Manchu moustache who goes barking mad every time a Doors song comes on the radio.

Might I also suggest the Laura Cantrell version of this song, which manages to be as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.

14. Comfortably Numb Pink Floyd (1979)
This classic rock dirge appears on Pink Floyd's notorious magnum opus The Wall, the one album you can never listen to in its entirety unless you own a bong the size of a mop. In Comfortably Numb, bassist/grump Roger Waters plays the unctuous doctor who medicates tortured rock star Pink voiced by guitarist/better singer David Gilmour. Disturbing references to pricking needles and hallucinatory ships abound, with Waters singing like a demented Peter Lorre. A great pile-driver guitar solo by Gilmour at the end prevents us from wanting to bury ourselves alive.

I point only because the mere mention of Pink Floyd depresses me. Sorry, I know there's this whole subculture of Floyd-LSD-Laser Light shows, but for the life of me, I just don't understand the appeal. I'll take the Scissor Sisters version of this song any day!

13. Brick Ben Folds Five (1997)
(NB: Many listeners, including me, first assumed Brick was about a relationship ending. We discovered later that it's about a couple getting an abortion. The following is based on the first scenario. Therefore it's all wrong.) A gloomy piano-and-voice song about a couple breaking up (wrong), Brick tells of a guy who picks up his girlfriend, bitches, takes her someplace, bitches, waits for her, bitches, then brings her back home, referring to her as a "brick" (this is true). We never learn what's transpired in between (this is wrong). All that's certain is the couple wants to split up (this is wrong). Brick offers the same pleasure that comes with dropping one on your foot (this is really true).

As the author notes, he got it all wrong. This is (supposedly) the true story of a young Ben Folds taking his girlfriend to get an abortion, and to this day makes me cry. Want more depressing Ben Folds? Check out "Magic" from The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. If you listen to that song without shedding a tear, you are a heartless bastard.

7. Strange Fruit Billie Holiday (1939)
Strange indeed and insufferable, too. This notorious anti-lynching song unfortunately helped cement Billie Holiday's reputation as a wounded torch singer, gardenia optional. Musically tedious, Strange Fruit is outfitted with grotesque lyrics ("bulging eyes", "twisted mouth", "burning flesh") which exploit the horrors of lynching more than they condemn it. Holiday began her career as a superb interpreter of swinging pop songs but eventually succumbed to the melodramatics of songs like this. While some Holiday acolytes feel that no vocalists are worthy enough to cover the song, it's really the other way round. It's impossible for anyone to sing Strange Fruit without sounding like an agitprop fanatic.

How is this not number one? I was pretty cool with the list until right now. Insufferable? I have a feeling that Brits are so emotionally repressed (sorry Rich!) that hearing Billie's heartbreakingly tortured account of a lynching offends their stiff-upper-lip stoicism. Or maybe it's just another example of the infamous British "Mustn't Grumble" mentality!

1. The Christmas Shoes Newsong (2000)
Never heard of it? Well, you should. This serotonin-draining Yuletide song, based on an apocryphal story passed around the internet, hit no 1 on the adult contemporary charts in the US while spawning a best- selling novella and a top-rated TV movie. It tells of a disgruntled holiday shopper who encounters a lone dishevelled little boy trying to buy a pair of shoes for his dying mother. The lad doesn't have enough money and pleads with the man to help so mummy can look good when she "meets Jesus tonight". The man's Grinch facade melts and he chips in some cash. The little boy runs out of the store by himself while the guy thanks God for reminding him about the true spirit of Christmas. Following this logic, then, Christmas is about afflicting a boy's mother with a terminal disease so a self-absorbed moron can feel good about giving a few quid to an unaccompanied seven-year-old. The Christmas Shoes is smug, saccharine and more depressing than the Cure's entire career. And because it's Christmas-themed and we have to hear it year after year in the US, it gets my vote as the most depressing song ever. Download at your own peril.

WHAT? No, this isn't depressing, it's fucking cloying and terrible! I demand a re-count; the only thing depressing about this song is that anyone bothered to record it in the first place!

I'm also disappointed that one of my favorite depressing songs didn't make the cut. Check out Borderline by Chris Mills, and see if you can make it through the entire song without eyeing any sharp objects.

And feel free to suggest more depressing songs for our dear readers to check out. Just not too depressing, okay? Wouldn't do to kill the readership off!

annamaria at 12:55 PM

7 spoke


at Friday, June 10, 2005 1:35:00 PM Blogger person x said...

Why do I have no idea what this "Christmas Shoes" song is all about? If it is so ubiquitous in the US, I guess I'm living under a rock - or just luckily avoided this musical turd.

at Friday, June 10, 2005 2:04:00 PM Blogger annamaria said...

Consider yourself lucky, Jen. It's the worst piece of musical tripe I've ever had the misfortune of hearing. It ranks up there with that Lee Greenwood "Proud to be an American" song on the list of songs most likely to make Annamaria shove pencils in her ears because she would rather be deaf than hear another note.

at Friday, June 10, 2005 2:12:00 PM Blogger person x said...

Speaking of "Proud to be an American," I had to sing that song in choir when I was younger. Granted, I didn't hate the world back then, but I sure as hell hate it now. I hate myself even more for still knowing all the words. I'll sing it to you next time I see you...

Okay. Here is my list of songs I think are particularly sad:

"I Don’t Really Love You Anymore" – Magnetic Fields (Despite its uptempo-ness, pretty depressing)
"Oh These Walls" – Julie Doiron
"Hallelujah" – Jeff Buckley
"I Can’t Make You Love Me" – Bonnie Raitt
"Tears in Heaven" – Eric Clapton (I mean, how can you get sadder than a song about a dead son who fell to his death out of a window, and a father and hoping that his son will remember him when he sees him in heaven? Jesus.)
"Company Calls"/"Company Calls Epilogue" – DCFC (Interesting "what I would like to do/what I actually did when the girl I love got married to someone else" companion of songs.)
"Hurt" – Johnny Cash

That's all I got right now, off the top of my head.

at Friday, June 10, 2005 2:17:00 PM Blogger annamaria said...

Ooh, can I also add Whiskeytown's "Houses on the Hill" to this list? Man, Ryan Adams was so much more brilliant when he was hitting the booze, rather than the coke.

at Friday, June 10, 2005 2:29:00 PM Blogger person x said...

Ugh! I was thinking of that song and forgot to add it. Such a great song. I miss the Whiskeytown days.

at Friday, June 10, 2005 2:31:00 PM Anonymous Rich said...

The most depressing songs I know:

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - I See A Darkness (at least the Johnny Cash cover has a hint of redemption in it - this is just bleak.

Tom Waits - Fall Of Troy (the most funereal and morose song on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack - says it all, really!)

Okkervil River - The War Criminal Rises & Speaks (just edges another Will Sheff miserabilist classic - "Listening To Otis Redding At Home During Christmas")

Songs: Ohia - Coxcomb Red (...and this might not even be his most depressing song for all I know.)

Leonard Cohen - Dress Rehearsal Rag (yes, including a Leonard Cohen song is a bit predictable, but still...)

Tindersticks - Cherry Blossoms (you only need to look up the lyrics to see why this one makes the list.)

Damien Jurado - Medication (same with this one, actually!)

Alright, I'll stop there before I think of a bunch more. Apparently my record collection is way too fucking depressing!

at Thursday, June 16, 2005 5:08:00 PM Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

Lynching of black people having been more or less taken care of at this point, I thought it might be OK to retool "Strange Fruit" toward the lynching of science


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