Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The soundtrack to tears

I'm starting a little project, collecting songs that made people cry and the story behind that reaction. So read on, then add a song in comments if you want.

Here are some songs that often make me cry. Whether it's the sentiments expressed, a crushingly sad melody, or just incredible beauty, I often go all blurry-eyed when I hear them. I've tried to include links so you can hear them, sorry if they're not in your preferred format. In no particular order:

"It's a Hard Life" - Nanci Griffith

It starts off a bit sappy I admit, but those 2nd and 3rd verses get the angry/desperate tears going.

"Mad World" - Michael Andrews & Gary Jules' version of the Tears for Fears song

For me, and many others I'm sure, this is inextricably linked to the final minutes of Donnie Darko when it all clicks into place. Definitely a case where the cover improves on the original (and I liked the original quite a bit). Donnie Darko is full of "oh yes" moments when songs kick in, and this one almost instantly had me choking back sobs.

"I'm Not the Man" - 10,000 Maniacs

Racial injustice and bassoon are a potent combination. I'm terribly disappointed in Natalie Merchant's post-Maniacs output, but while in the band, she was so great at narrative storytelling in rhyme.

"Untrustable/Pt. 2" - Built to Spill

I was listening to a promo tape of Built to Spill's Perfect From Now On album when this song came on. It punched into me so hard, I had to pull over on the side of the road. Really. Something about the almost constantly shifting and overlapping guitar lines gets to me.

"Annie's Song" - Sunshine Club's version of the John Denver song

John Denver is undeniably sentimental and squeaky clean in a way that can chafe, and yet, I absolutely love some of his songs ("High Calypso"? Yes please). This one penned for his wife is wonderful. Throughout he likens her to scenes of nature, powerful similes from a man who wrote so many songs about trees and mountains.

Sunshine Club's take marries stately instrumentation with fragile, slightly pained vocals that seem to say "I love you, please don't leave me."

"Velouria" - The Pixies

I don't tend to get worked up over weird love songs, but this one has something to it that's always put me on edge. When I finally saw them play it live, I said to myself "I am seeing The Pixies. I am actually seeing The Pixies and they are playing 'Velouria' and Frank Black's vocals sound awesome and I AM STANDING HERE SEEING THE PIXIES!!" Ergo, tears of joy.

"Russians" - Sting

Sting borrowed from Prokofiev and it's the music that saddens me, not so much the lyrics, which are rather leaden. I can't be sure, but I have a nagging suspicion that some ugly, familial fight happened in my childhood while Prokofieff's "Lt. Kije Suite" was playing.

"Staralfur" - Sigur Rós

This is what I want from art. Something to reach deep inside me and impel a flood of neurotransmmitters. When I saw them play in Austin, I honest-to-God went into a trance state during this song. Came out of it with tears in my eyes.

"Calling My Children Home" - Emmylou Harris version

This is a traditional old-style country song. Emmylou's acapella version with incredible four-part harmony is achingly gorgeous. When they hit the chorus, the sniffles start.

"They Don't Know About Us" - Tracey Ullman's version of the Kirsty MacColl song

Much like the above song, the key to this one is the harmony. The producer's got a Phil Spector-esque thing happening and Tracey Ullman (I know!) has a great girl-group voice, perfect for the song. Apparently female high harmonies flick a switch in my head marked "Sob". It's only gotten worse now that Kirsty MacColl died and I have that association.

"Pure" - The Lightning Seeds

This is all about my friends Jen and Scot; it's the song they danced to at their wedding reception. It made me tear up then and it's happened every time since. As I type, I'm listening to it with a smile on my face and wet cheeks.

What puts your waterworks in high gear?


  1. The last song I remember making me really sad was the Flaming Lips' Do You Realize (Scott Hardkiss Floating In Space Vocal Mix) from the Fight Test EP. It's not a particularily good music mix, it's just that the song is much longer and gives you time to space out and think about the lyrics more.

  2. "Lord, Can You Hear Me?" - Spiritualized

    Acutally, catch me on an off day and I can bawl my way through half of both Let It Come Down and Amazing Grace. Seeing Spiritualized live must have infected me with something because I never had that problem before then.

  3. Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah leaves me bleary eyed and blubbering.

  4. Definitely Bonnie Raitt's (live?)version of "Make Me An Angel(That Flies From Montgomery)." It's just an amazing song, with a backup vocalist who complements her perfectly--a beautiful mix of melancholy and longing.

  5. Freakwater's Forgettable Song made me bawl like a baby at their SXSW show a few years back. boo hooo hooooo.