We need sad songs

Sad Songs: why do we love them?

I think we all have our favourite sad songs – songs that we turn to when we’re miserable and songs that make us even more miserable – but we can’t stop ourselves. It might be a chance playing on the radio, a snippet overheard as a car drives by, a random selection on the iPod. It might be a deliberate playing – curled up with a mug of hot chocolate or a glass of wine, the door still shaking after the row and the lover walking out – we have to put on music that suits our mood – misery needs feeding and a sad song is the best food for sadness.

Mind you, a song doesn’t have to be about lost love, it can be about anything going wrong. From Eric Clapton’s tears for his dead son to a lament for a lost cause, it’s sad if it makes us sad, it’s good if it makes us cry. Memories get stirred up, sometimes old hurts are brought back to be picked at until the blood runs. We’re daft to do it but the soul needs misery as well as joy.

I picked my ten favourite sad songs for a blog a while ago. I chose Janis Ian’s At Seventeen, I chose That’s No Way To Say Goodbye by Leonard Cohen. There’s Harry Chapin on a father’s neglect of his son and the loss of any relationship, there’s Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand with a majestic You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore. They’re all about loss and they’re all about self blame – we failed to control a bad situation or we just let it happen. Perhaps that’s why we like sad songs: they let us pretend we were steamrollered by life when really it was our own fault for not spotting the signs and acting.

Or perhaps we just like a good wallow: it reminds us that our lives aren’t too bad after all, that we can turn off the music and let the sadness end. For a time anyway. For a while we had a partner in our misery, someone who’d suffered like us, now we’re moving on. Until the next time.

Time to rack up Leonard Cohen and Dory Previn, time to put Tracy Chapman on endless repeat, or to play “our song” until the neighbours complain. Break out the booze or the ice cream, slob out on the couch – misery wears a ratty dressing gown and slippers – leave me alone, I have my sad songs.

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