There are sad songs — like Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You" or "The Scientist" by Coldplay — and then there are songs that induce such melancholia they make Kurt Cobain sound more like Jack Johnson.
Author Tom Reynolds analyzes the latter variety in his recently released book, "I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You've Ever Heard."
Both popular hits (à la Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You") and nearly forgotten songs (think Richard Harris' version of "MacArthur Park") are dissected with Reynolds' humorously acerbic insight. The "most depressing song mantle" carries certain characteristics, including maudlin or macabre lyrics, overwrought production or artistic pretension. In his introduction, Reynolds, a Los Angeles-based TV writer-producer, clarifies his methodology for selecting the music: "In short, sad songs offer the listener empathetic comfort, reflection, and wisdom. Depressing songs just make you want to stick a Glock-9 in your mouth."
Descriptive chapter titles help categorize the songs. John Prine's "Sam Stone" — about a morphine-addicted Vietnam vet — can be found in the "If I Sing About Drugs, People Will Take Me Seriously" section. "The Freshmen," in which the Verve Pipe describes a college coed's suicide from the perspective of two guys who dumped her, is filed under the "I'm Telling a Story Nobody Wants to Hear" chapter.
The best (or maybe worst?) depressing songs are classified as "Perfect Storms." One such tempest is Bobby Goldsboro's 1968 hit "Honey." Simply told, it's about a man mourning his dead wife, but according to Reynolds, the song reaches the upper echelon of depression because songwriter Bobby Russell's lyrics include every schmaltzy trick in the book — "blooming flowers, puffy clouds, angels, singing robins, planted trees, and the puppy."
Depressing music continues to infiltrate even the current pop charts. During a recent phone interview, Reynolds singles out James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" and Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" as two of today's more depressing songs. Because they're overplayed, he says, "whatever cathartic effect they had wears off."
So be careful the next time you change the radio dial or hit "play" on the iPod: You might think about hiding sharp objects and butter knives first.
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