Country songs about depression

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Top 10 Saddest Country Songs: Critic’s Picks

The old joke about country music is that if you play a song backwards, you get your job and your spouse back, and your dog comes home. In the annals of the format’s history, there is a great deal of truth in that, as many of the genre’s top songs deal with loss — in one form or another.

Here are 10 moments that rank as some of the saddest country songs of all time. From losing a lover, a friend, a mother, or a beloved family pet, there’s something on this list that has grabbed us all emotionally — and will undoubtedly continue to do so for a long time.

See more: Top 50 Country Love Songs | Top 50 Saddest Songs | Top 25 Relaxing Songs | 20 Songs About Death | 22 Songs to Say “I’m Sorry” | 20 Songs About Being Strong | 10 Songs About Depression | 10 Songs About Missing Someone You Love | 10 Songs About Being Lonely | Top 30 Lullabies

10. Hank Williams – “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”

If you’re looking for this song on the charts for Hank Williams, you would be mistaken. The song served as the B-side of “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It,” a No. 4 hit in 1949. Still, the song made an impact with future generations. B.J. Thomas made it a pop hit in 1966, and artists such as George Jones, Gram Parsons and even Pittsburgh Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw recorded it, with the latter making it a Top-20 Country hit in 1976. And, if you had any doubt about this song’s inclusion on a list of sad country song, no less of an expert than Elvis Presley put those thoughts to rest, saying during his 1973 Aloha From Hawaii concert that “I’d like to sing a song that’s … probably the saddest song I’ve ever heard.” So, that works for us!

9. Diamond Rio – “You’re Gone”

Paul Williams is typically recognized for some of the greatest copyrights of the pop music era, but the tunesmith — also known for his acting work in the Smokey and The Bandit films — also had success in the country market with this masterfully written composition that Diamond Rio made a hit in 1998. The song details a man who is enduring the break-up of a relationship, but also knows that he’s better for the experience. Diamond Rio’s Marty Roe delivered a standout performance, but Williams’s inspiration for the song — penned with Jon Vezner — was about the loss of a close friend. In 1998, he told Billboard’s Deborah Evans Price, “It just seemed like what we should write about are the people who are no longer in our lives who had a positive effect on us. And it just poured out of us. The people that pass through our lives — we remember what they say to us, and we remember how they touch us.”

8. Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton – “Jeannie’s Afraid Of The Dark”

The early works of Dolly Parton are filled with moments of Appalachian-tinged tragedy. Whether it be the eventual passing of “Gypsy, Joe, and Me” or the devastating sucker punch of “Me and Little Andy,” Parton has an uncanny knack for the sad country song. Quite possibly the top moment of this chapter of her illustrious career was this weeping ballad about a small child being afraid of the dark that served as the flip side of the 1969 top 10 hit, “We’ll Get Ahead Someday.” While the A-side was a No. 5 hit compared to this song’s No. 51 ranking as an album cut, in country music circles, you might be surprised which song has most effectively stood the test of time.

7. Merle Haggard – “Misery and Gin”

Country music has long had a reputation for “Cry In Your Beer” ballads about love lost. Merle Haggard’s 1980 nod to heartbreak remains one of his most essential moments, even though the record only made it to No. 3. The tune, from Clint Eastwood’s Bronco Billy film soundtrack, features Haggard in a bar with the beverage of his choice, lamenting a break-up he had just gone before. “Misery” never sounded more beautiful.

6. Red Foley – “Old Shep”

Many of the younger readers of this post about sad country songs might not know this early country music classic from Red Foley. But, if you have ever endured the pain of losing a pet — either naturally or from having to put one down — this song will grab you. Originally written in 1933, the song’s subject was a dog that the Foley family had as a child. According to the highly respected journalist Charles K. Wolfe in his book Kentucky Country, “Shep” was actually a German Shepherd named Hoover that wound up being poisoned by a neighbor. The song earned a place in pop culture as Elvis Presley sang it at his first public performance at age 10, and Led Zeppelin referenced the song in “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp,” a song about Plant’s dog.

5. Martina McBride – “Concrete Angel”

As far as modern country music is concerned, Martina McBride handles the four-minute sad country song about as well as anyone in the business. At the heart of that distinction is this 2002 release about a child who endures the torture of physical abuse at the hands of her mother before succumbing to her injuries. The Stephanie Bentley / Rob Crosby trademark was a sobering reminder that child abuse — even in the modern era — was still a major problem of social significance.

4. Rascal Flatts – “Why”

Though the No. 18 peak of this 2009 Rascal Flatts single was lower than any of their hits to that point, the message of this song was as emotional as anything the band had ever recorded. A song from the collective pens of Allen Shamblin and Rob Mathes, this gripping ballad about a man questioning why a close friend chose to end his own life touched an emotional chord with anyone who had ever gone through that experience. What you might not know about this selection on our list of saddest country songs is that the song was originally recorded by Faith Hill, but didn’t make her 2005 set Fireflies. Her version finally made an appearance on her 2016 Warner Bros. platter Deep Tracks.

3. Vern Gosdin – “Chiseled In Stone”

Nobody — not even Jones, Haggard or Conway Twitty — could exude pain and loss in a song in such a manner as Vern Gosdin. After all, that’s why he earned the moniker “The Voice.” The Alabama native had never really gotten the spotlight he deserved until he signed with Columbia in the fall of 1987 after recording for a series of independent labels. At the centerpiece of his debut album for the label, the singer chalked up perhaps his greatest moment with this composition — penned with Max D. Barnes — about the ultimate loss. At age 54, it was Gosdin’s time in the spotlight, earning a CMA Song of the Year trophy for his pain-drenched efforts.

2. Patty Loveless – “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye”

With growing up, we all go through a huge sense of loss. This wistful Patty Loveless performance from the pen of Karen Taylor-Good and Burton Banks Collins details two important moments in a woman’s life — moving away from a friend at a young age and the end of a marriage, and how a mother’s love helped her to make it through the pain of the loss. However, the final verse — about the eventual passing of her maternal influence — knocks this one out of the tear-jerker ballpark, no doubt selling a lot of Kleenex boxes upon its release in the spring of 1994.

1. George Jones – “He Stopped Loving Her Today”

This 1980 George Jones evergreen routinely tops every list of this type — almost to the point that you can get immune to the lyrics from Curly Putman and Bobby Braddock about a man who takes his love for his former flame to the grave. And, it’s been played so many times that would be easy, but try this. Listen to the song line by line with an open mind — as if you never heard it before. Chances are pretty good that Jones’s timeless vocal will grab you even more than ever, but it’s impossible to discount the production of Billy Sherrill and the haunting funeral-like chorus notes of Millie Kirkham. It almost seems like a stock answer on lists such as these, but trust us, the song is just that damn good.

What are the best country songs about suicide? This list includes great country songs such as “Whiskey Lullaby,” “How Do You Get That Lonely”,” “Why” and “The Call.” Dealing with life’s us and downs can be a difficult thing to bare. Whether its a personal conflict or you know of someone who’s having a difficult situation there are many songs that also deal with this difficult subject. Often these songs can be uplifting, they can help us understand, and sometimes they can just make us sadder. Regardless of the type of approach they take to the subject of suicide, the best of these songs are on this list.

Songs have the ability to make us feel. We often feel an emotional connection to songs, particularly country songs. The southern and country way of life has a long history dealing with life’s hardships and tragedies. The best country songs tat deal with sucide are often the most moving of these songs because they tell a familiar and relatable story since we all deal with life’s ups and downs. No one these songs are meant to portray a way out, they are simply songs that people write as they deal with their own personal experiences.

These best country songs that deal with suicide are extremely emotional. They are heartbreaking and often make us cry.

These are songs from top country artists, both modern and classic, such as Rascal Flatts, Dolly Parton,Bobbie Gentry, and Garth Brooks. Vote up the greatest country songs about suicide if it isn’t already on the list.

Chris Stapleton’s Heartbreaking Music Video Addresses Pain Of Depression

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A Powerful Video With A Powerful Message

Following his performance during the 2015 CMA Awards, Chris Stapleton has found himself an instant country superstar. His debut album, Traveller, was showered with numerous awards, including some Grammys.

After all of that hype, Stapleton used his newfound fame and influence to help promote awareness for a good cause. In February 2016, Stapleton released his official music video for his song, “Fire Away,”and it proved to have the potential to change lives.

It was such an influential video that the CMA named it as the Music Video of the Year in 2016. It also took home the award for Breakthrough Video of the Year at the 2016 CMT Music Awards.

#CMAawards50 has announced another winner @ChrisStapleton will take home the Music Video Of The Year trophy for “Fire Away,” #Jaxcountry pic.twitter.com/i0xvPL9pDC

— 99.1 WQIK (@991wqik) November 2, 2016

How The Video Captures The Song

Co-written by Stapleton and Danny Green, “Fire Away” was included as the second track on Traveller. The song’s lyrics tell the story of a toxic relationship, with the narrator singing, “Pick up your sticks and your stones, and pretend I’m a shelter for heartaches that don’t have a home.”

In response to the pain and suffering the narrator experiences in the relationship, he tells his lover “Fire away. Take your best shot, show me what you got.”

The song’s lyrics take on an emotional new meaning in the music video, which follows a couple through multiple stages in life, including courtship, marriage, and buying their first house. But prior to all of that, we see the man walk into a bar alone, which sets up the premise that his love story doesn’t have a happy ending.

the fire away music video still makes me cry every time I see it. why do u do this to me @ChrisStapleton

— Bailey Stewart (@baileyyystewart) February 27, 2017

As the video progresses, it is revealed that the wife struggles with depression, and even tries to kill herself, but her husband rescues her in time. However, she tries again, and that time her husband is unable to save her life.

Stapleton only makes a brief appearance in the video as the bartender, but his vocals playing over the events in the video stand powerfully on their own.

Chris Helps Raise Awareness

The video and the song help bring awareness to issues concerning suicide and depression. Stapleton even mentions The Campaign to Change Direction at the end of the video, which is an organization that pledges “to change the culture in America about mental health, mental illness, and wellness.”

Stapleton expresses his support for the organization through the message in his emotional music video for “Fire Away,” which you can watch below. Be prepared to dry a few tears off your face once you finish.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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  • 1-800-273-8255 – Logic
  • 10 Years Today – Bullet for My Valentine
  • 3 Ways To See Despair – Manic Street Preachers
  • A Day Without Me – U2
  • Aberdeen – Kurt Cobain
  • Agnes – Glass Animals
  • Alone Again (Naturally) – Gilbert O’Sullivan
  • Back to the Otherside – Kid Rock
  • Bad Man’s World – Jenny Lewis
  • Baggage – Drive-By Truckers
  • Before You Go – Lewis Capaldi
  • Beyond The Gray Sky – 311
  • Big Quiet – The Dead Ships
  • Bleed – Collective Soul
  • Blue Pastures – James
  • Bob – Primus
  • Bonzai Kamikaze – Cavalera Conspiracy
  • Bulletproof Love – Pierce the Veil
  • Butcher Boy – Traditional
  • By the Grace of God – Katy Perry
  • C’est La Vie – Protest the Hero
  • Can’t Stand Losing You – The Police
  • Cementality – King Krule
  • Cemetery Drive – My Chemical Romance
  • Circle ‘Round the Sun – Matthew E. White
  • Citycide – The Dead Ships
  • – The English Beat
  • Come Join The Murder – The White Buffalo & The Forest Rangers
  • Coming Down – Five Finger Death Punch
  • Crackle And Drag – Paul Westerberg
  • Damn it Rose – Don Henley
  • Darcy Farrow – Ian & Sylvia
  • Dead Boys – Sam Fender
  • Death of a Cheerleader – Marcy Playground
  • Disengage The Simulator – CKY
  • Don’t Close Your Eyes – Kix
  • Don’t Try Suicide – Queen
  • Downfall – Children of Bodom
  • Drag Me To The Grave – Black Veil Brides
  • Elizabeth On The Bathroom Floor – Eels
  • Emma – Hot Chocolate
  • Everything Ends – Slipknot
  • Failure Games – Flobots
  • Far Away – Marsha Ambrosius
  • Fireflies – Leona Lewis
  • Four Walls – Staind
  • Ghost – Badflower
  • Give Me Novacaine – Green Day
  • God Is A Lie – Wednesday 13
  • Golden Gate Jumpers – Cold War Kids
  • Goodbye In Gasoline – Less Than Jake
  • Haunted – Kelly Clarkson
  • Heroes – Guy Clark
  • Hit Me More – Scott Stapp
  • Hold On – Good Charlotte
  • Hole in the River – Crowded House
  • Home Sweet Home – Peter Gabriel
  • How Do You Get That Lonely – Blaine Larsen
  • Hurt A Long Time – Jerry Cantrell
  • I Drove Her Out Of My Mind – Johnny Cash
  • I Need A Miracle – Third Day
  • I Should Have Helped – The Cribs
  • I Thought About Killing You – Kanye West
  • I Won’t See You Tonight – Avenged Sevenfold
  • In A Week – Hozier
  • Inside The Fire – Disturbed
  • Into The Ocean – Blue October
  • It’s Over – Filter
  • Jeremy – Pearl Jam
  • Jocelyn Flores – XXXTENTACION
  • Julian – Mongrel
  • Jumper – Third Eye Blind
  • Just A Thought – Gnarls Barkley
  • Last Resort – Papa Roach
  • Last Year – Alt-J
  • Let It All Work Out – Lil Wayne
  • Let You Down – P.O.D.
  • Light House – Future Islands
  • Listen Before I Go – Billie Eilish
  • Local Boy In The Photograph – Stereophonics
  • Maggie – Colin Hay
  • Make It Stop (September’s Children) – Rise Against
  • Moody River – Pat Boone
  • My Suicide Note – Stacy Barthe
  • Neon Gravestones – Twenty One Pilots
  • Never Too Late – Three Days Grace
  • No Place For You – Paul Westerberg
  • Nothing to Lose – Billy Talent
  • Oh Candy – Cheap Trick
  • On A Bus To St. Cloud – Trisha Yearwood
  • One More Suicide – Marcy Playground
  • Otherside – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Over – Kings of Leon
  • Paper Wings – Barclay James Harvest
  • Phoenix – A$AP Rocky
  • Poetic Tragedy – The Used
  • Red Water – Rehab
  • Remember Me – The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
  • Sail – Awolnation
  • Save Me – Shinedown
  • Scarecrow in the Garden – Chris Stapleton
  • Seeing Black – Lucinda Williams
  • Seems So Long Ago, Nancy – Leonard Cohen
  • Self Defense – Paul Westerberg
  • Self Suicide – Goldie Lookin Chain
  • She Falls Asleep (Part 2) – McFly
  • Skin O’ My Teeth – Megadeth
  • Slip Out The Back – Fort Minor
  • Sloth – Buckcherry
  • Song For Josh – Frank Turner
  • SRXT – Bloc Party
  • St. Andrew’s Fall – Blind Melon
  • Staircase at the University – Morrissey
  • Straight A’s – Dead Kennedys
  • Sugartooth – Brandi Carlile
  • Suicidal Dream – Silverchair
  • Suicide Solution – Ozzy Osbourne
  • Suicide? – Barclay James Harvest
  • Surrounded – Chantal Kreviazuk
  • Survive – Rise Against
  • Sweet Old World – Lucinda Williams
  • That Year – Brandi Carlile
  • The Blood That Moves the Body – a-ha
  • The Delayed 3:15 – Elbow
  • The Final – Dir en Grey
  • The Final Cut – Pink Floyd
  • The Last Night – Skillet
  • The Ledge – The Replacements
  • The Priest And The Matador – Senses Fail
  • The Reasons Why – The Cure
  • The Way You Lived – CKY
  • Tina – Flyleaf
  • Tomorrow Wendy – Concrete Blonde
  • Top Floor (Cabana) – Naughty Boy
  • Torches – Lamb of God
  • Tourniquet – Evanescence
  • Turning the Gun On Myself – Teddy Thompson
  • Underneath The Gun – Limp Bizkit
  • Wake – Dir en Grey
  • Waste – Staind
  • Way Out of Here – Porcupine Tree
  • We Both Go Down Together – The Decemberists
  • What a Catch, Donnie – Fall Out Boy
  • What’s This Life For – Creed
  • Who You Are – Pearl Jam
  • Whole – Flaw
  • Why – Rascal Flatts
  • Why’d You Change Your Mind – The Answer
  • William’s Last Words – Manic Street Preachers
  • Wings – Vic Mensa
  • Wings of Angels – Judy Collins
  • With Lights Out – Red Light Company
  • Wonderful Life – Hurts
  • X-Kid – Green Day
  • XO Tour Llif3 – Lil Uzi Vert
  • You Feel So Lonely You Could Die – David Bowie
  • You’re Only Human (Second Wind) – Billy Joel
  • Your Love Alone Is Not Enough – Manic Street Preachers
  • Zero – Hawk Nelson

Country Music Is Linked To Suicide (Yes, Really) 

David Long/Getty/Antonio Manaligod/Dose

This is not a punchline.

Country music fans, be warned: Research shows a link between country music and metropolitan suicide rates.

Researchers Steven Stack of Wayne State University and Jim Gundlach from Auburn University hypothesize that topics often present in the lyrics of country songs — such as “marital discord, alcohol abuse and alienation from work” — can foster a suicidal mood among those who are already at risk.

Stack and Gundlach performed a multiple regression analysis of 49 metropolitan areas and found the greater the airtime devoted to country music, the higher the suicide rate. In their paper, the researchers explain that “the effect is independent of divorce, southernness, poverty and gun availability.”

Their analysis looked at 1,400 popular country songs and found that about three quarters contained lyrics related to the “travails of love.” Additionally, country songs often portray alcohol consumption as a “necessary method for dealing with life’s problems,” and touch on themes of hopelessness, dissatisfaction with work, financial strain and loneliness. Furthermore, Stack and Gundlach note that many of these topics have strong links to increased rates of suicidal thoughts.

Obviously, just listening to country music is “not expected to drive people to suicide.” So if you’re a country music fan you shouldn’t necessarily feel the need to immediately stop listening to your favorite songs. However, Stack and Gundlach suggest that stress themes common in country music can lead to an increased risk among people with preexisting suicidal moods.

Critics of the original study suggest that reverse causality could be at play. This means exposure to country music might not cause an increase in suicide risk, but that depressed people are likely to seek out country music, which would lead to higher demand for it in cities with higher suicide rates. Additionally, Stack and Gundlach published their findings in 1992, and over the past two decades the country music landscape has undoubtedly been influenced by pop music (thank you, Taylor Swift), and the stresses and causes of depression that lead to suicide are likely to have also shifted.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 1–800–273–8255 to speak with someone from the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org to chat with someone online.

Clichés about sad country songs ring true, considering how often death has reared its ugly head into various artists’ material.

Fortunately, there isn’t a set formula for this genre trope. Some of the best country songs about death sometimes open dialogue about public safety, addiction, suicide, domestic abuse and other social ills. Other songs use death to add immediacy to the heartbreak and hard drinking also associated with country songwriting. There’s also a heaping helping of tracks that pay tribute to lost friends, loved ones and the military, furthering some artists’ reputations for singing about real-life emotions.

The following 25 songs rank among the saddest country music and demonstrate the range of emotions and themes songwriters have explored while grappling with mortality.

“Careless Driver,” Maddox Brothers and Rose (1947)

One of early country’s most influential family bands explored how the growing number of motorists posed safety threats to children with this incredibly gruesome track.

“The Funeral,” Hank Williams A.K.A. Luke the Drifter (1950)

Among the many country song tropes pioneered by Hank was the use of modern terminology to address death and other eternal matters. A Will Carleton poem about the funeral of an African-American child provided these poorly-aged lyrics, brought to life here with evangelistic fervor.

“One Dyin’ and a Buryin’,” Roger Miller (1965)

Few in country’s long history could turn a phrase or pick a guitar like Miller, as evidenced by this tune from his career-defining album The 3rd Time Around. It laid the modern template for singing about death as the only respite from heartbreak.

“Ballad of Forty Bucks,” Tom T. Hall (1968)

Hall’s first top ten hit is a semi-autobiographical tale of a cemetery caretaker who’s become a calloused onlooker at funerals. In the end, we learn that the narrator wasn’t too fond of the deceased–he still owed him $40.

“Waiting ‘Round To Die,” Townes Van Zandt (1968)

One of the greatest songwriters of his generation, regardless of genre, focused a lot on mortality. His saddest composition cast many of this list’s themes, from parental abuse to love gone bad, on an overburdened drifter.

“Letter to Heaven,” Dolly Parton (1970)

This seemingly tender story of a naïve young girl wishing to send a letter to her deceased mother takes a dark turn. After preparing a letter asking God if she could see her mommy again, the child gets struck and killed while taking it to the mailbox.

“Desperados Waiting For a Train,” Guy Clark (1975)

This often-covered classic revisits Clark’s close relationship with his grandmother’s boyfriend, Jack. It’s a powerful song for anyone who’s lost a childhood hero to old age.

“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” George Jones (1980)

The crowning moment of Jones’ early ’80s return to the spotlight remains the greatest country song about heartbreak and death. The main character holds on to the memories of a lost love who doesn’t return until his funeral.

“Pancho and Lefty,” Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard (1983)

One of Townes Van Zandt’s most widely-covered compositions became modern-day murder ballad under the watch of two fellow outlaws.

“Chiseled in Stone,” Vern Gosdin (1988)

This classic by one of the ’80s greatest vocalists explores the long-term heartache felt by anyone who outlives a partner or spouse.

“Ships That Don’t Come In,” Joe Diffie (1992)

Soldiers who make the ultimate sacrifice are honored in this cut from Diffie’s breakthrough second album.

“She Thinks His Name Was John,” Reba McEntire (1994)

Reba McEntire used her stardom to draw attention to the many lives lost to AIDS with this powerful single. The song tells of a woman who regrets all she’ll miss by dying young, all for a one-night stand with a stranger. Co-writer Sandy Knox wrote the song in part to pay tribute to her late brother.

“Go Rest High On That Mountain,” Vince Gill feat. Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless (1995)

Inspired by the deaths of Keith Whitley and Gill’s older brother Bob, this fine addition to the country-gospel canon looks to faith to lessen death’s bitter sting.

“Holes in The Floor of Heaven,” Steve Wariner (1998)

Can departed love ones in Heaven witness our happiest moments on Earth? Wariner thinks so, based on this CMA and ACM Song of the Year.

“Goodbye Earl,” The Dixie Chicks (2000)

This macabre tale of black-eyed pea-flavored revenge is light-hearted without overshadowing the seriousness of spousal abuse. It remains one of the Dixie Chicks’ best-loved songs, and it’s at least their second best-known socio-political statement.

“The Little Girl,” John Michael Montgomery feat. Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski (2000)

The saddest country song in recent memory tells of a little girl whose abusive parents never took her to church. After losing both parents to a murder-suicide, the girl was taken to a foster home and allowed to attend Sunday school for the first time. There, she recognized Jesus as the stranger who protected her the night she lost her mom and dad.

“Concrete Angel,” Martina McBride (2001)

This song’s lead character is a 7-year-old girl, beaten to death by an abusive mother after neighbors and a teacher ignore tell-tale signs of serious abuse. The song’s music video encouraged viewers to be proactive, sharing the American Child Abuse Hotline’s phone number.

“Three Wooden Crosses,” Randy Travis (2002)

Travis’ country gospel classic ends with a surprising yet rewarding surprise. A farmer, a teacher, a preacher and a hooker are riding a bus struck by an 18-wheeler. Three of them pass away, with the song explaining the farmer and teacher’s lasting legacies. The narrative is then revealed to be part of a sermon, with the preacher holding up a blood-stained Bible from the accident. It’s not the same preacher from the wreck, as he ends up being the third victim. Instead, the hooker survived, keeping the deceased preacher’s Bible before giving it years later to her adult son, now a preacher himself.

“Whiskey Lullaby,” Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss (2003)

In this tear-jerking tale of broken hearts, a returning soldier discovers that his wife is having an affair. He responds by drinking himself to death. Out of guilt, the woman spirals toward the same self-inflicted fate.

“Sissy’s Song,” Alan Jackson (2008)

Alan Jackson used his personal faith and Hall of Fame talent to pay tribute to former housekeeper Leslie “Sissy” Fitzgerald. She died in a May 20, 2007 motorcycle accident.

“Cryin’ For Me (Wayman’s Song),” Toby Keith (2009)

Keith pours genuine emotions into this tribute to former NBA star, jazz musician and fellow son of Oklahoman Wayman Tisdale. Tisdale lost his battle with cancer earlier that year.

“I Drive Your Truck,” Lee Brice (2012)

Despite its title, this isn’t yet another pickup truck song about frivolous partying or promiscuity. Instead, Brice sings about a man who proudly drives the truck of a sibling who passed away while serving his country.

READ MORE: How the Father of a Fallen Soldier Inspired Lee Brice’s Hit “I Drive Your Truck”

“Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road,” Shelby Lynne (2012)

Sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer were orphaned as teenagers after witnessing their father murder their mother before killing himself. Twenty-five years later, Lynne boldly addressed her dark past with this song, sung from her father’s perspective.

“Over You,” Miranda Lambert (2012)

Lambert co-wrote this song with Blake Shelton in memory of his older brother who was killed in a wreck. It captures the grief, guilt and resentment resulting from an untimely death as well as any song on this list.

“Drink a Beer,” Luke Bryan (2013)

This heart-wrencher, co-written by Chris Stapleton, finds a man responding to a buddy’s death by cracking open a beer and watching the sunset while reflecting on a life lost. It shows the vulnerability and emotion often absent from today’s pop-country.

Honorable Mentions: “If I Die Young,” The Band Perry; “If Tomorrow Never Comes” by Garth Brooks; “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw

Now Watch: Shane Owens Shares the Story Behind the Song “Country Never Goes out of Style”

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15 Sad as Heck Country Songs

When a country music fan needs a good cry, these 15 unbelievably sad songs are the prescription. Breakup songs, abuse songs and songs about death that try to be poignant but still leave us crying make up this week’s episode of This List.

We asked country fans to weigh in on the saddest songs and received several hundred responses on Twitter and Facebook:

The most popular suggestion comes from a late legend, while ballads from Tim McGraw and Martina McBride move the conversation into the 1990s. More contemporary songs from Lee Brice, Luke Bryan and Cole Swindell are included to prove that no generation has been saved the delightful misery of crying because of country radio.

The body count is high across this list of sad country songs, but each death is met with dignity and courage, or at least respect. Blake Shelton mourns his mother. Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss describe lovers that lose their way. George Jones sings of a man finding harmony only when he closes his eyes for the very last time.

Together, the 15 songs make a playlist we won’t recommend for anyone, but when clipped together the pain is an oft-needed reminder of how good it feels when the sun is shining. Watch this week’s episode of This List and then subscribe to Taste of Country’s YouTube channel to never miss one of these weekly conversation thought-starters. One of the most popular episodes concerns country hits that weren’t. Check it out!

10 Hit Country Songs That Actually Weren’t!

Mark My Words!

Every few months I get on a music kick, usually triggered by something, that results in me gobbling up a plentiful dose of a certain kind of music from a certain genre, usually from a certain timeframe. The combined triggers of a miserable love life and the empty, dark hours of winter have recently pushed me straight into the throes of stone cold country music heartbreakers. Now an important distinction has to be made about what I’m going for here. I love tearjerker country songs and thematically dark country songs, and sometimes those songs overlap with the depressing “downer” songs I’ll be profiling below, but this list is comprised entirely of songs that don’t drive me to tears or goose bumps, but which accommodate a tearless yet mellow and defeated mood with their lyrics and arrangement. To the people who don’t like country music because it’s “depressing”, these are the exactly the kinds of songs they’re talking about. But to those of us who feed off of emotional dysfunction, these are the kinds of songs that make country music exceptional.
I was planning to make a top-25 list here but honestly couldn’t find 25 songs that genuinely fit this list’s limitations. There are literally fewer than two dozen songs out there that I run to when seeking to feed a sadness fix, at least for songs released as singles. I have a considerably larger number of songs on this pedigree as album cuts from my CD collection, but I’m only counting songs released as singles here. It’s quite fascinating how many first-rate singers who would seem capable of recording a perfect downer of a song never have, at least not as a single. Crystal Gayle and Don Williams’ musical legacy doesn’t consist of such a song. Nor does Martina McBride who has a number of dark and tearjerking songs, but her songs that are simply downers were not worthy of making this list.
And when comprising this list, I couldn’t help but notice that none of these songs predate my birth in 1977. Obviously there are a lot of great downer country songs from before my era, but it’s harder for me to connect with most of those songs especially on the arrangement front. Country music production values progressed considerably in the mid-1970s and the quality of the musical arrangement is often just as consequential to a good depressing country song as are the lyrics. And even among songs from my era, some songs just don’t take me down personally the way they do others. For instance, George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” would be the song that most country music aficinadoes would rate as the hands-down best song to fit this list’s metric. While acknowledging that it’s a great song, it doesn’t hit me the way the songs on my list do. Ditto for Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”, an indisputable country classic that for whatever reason just doesn’t hit me in the gut. And contemporary crooners who pride themselves for their mastery of these honkytonk weepers like Alan Jackson and Mark Chesnutt have a bunch of really good songs that qualify for my list, but nothing that I find myself specifically turning to when looking for a downer country song fix. And another song that I’ve always loved that fits this criteria is Gary Allan’s “Smoke Rings in the Dark”. Here’s a song that’s among my top-100 country songs of all-time, but for me it doesn’t work as a bring-me-down in the sense of many others. Needless to say, the list is kind of hard to define in a measurable way….it’s just based on my personal instinctive reactions to certain songs.
With those qualifiers out of the way, here’s my top-20 list which I will begin with two “honorable mentions” for songs I couldn’t go without discussing….
Honorable Mention #1. Not a Day Goes By–Lonestar (2002)…..Fewer songs qualify for my list in a more tangible way than this top-5 Lonestar ballad from last decade, but I still couldn’t quite bring myself to put it in the top-20 because it’s a little bit over-the-top in a “drippy” way. Richie McDonald’s powerhouse vocals shone brightly as always, but in this case overshot the runway, at least for it’s impact on being a true “downer” song. Still, it doesn’t get much more deliciously depressing than the lyric “I still wait for the phone in the middle of the night…Thinkin’ you might call me if your dreams don’t turn out right”.
Honorable Mention #2. Sticks and Stones–Tracy Lawrence (1991)….The ascent of Tracy Lawrence came at the tail end of country music’s New Traditionalist era, and managed to persevere well into the “Hot New Country” era with a decidedly traditional country sound and song selection. But the most impactful song of his career was this midtempo ballad about a man lamenting the heartbreak of a marriage at the onset of its dissolution with a clever lyrical hook about their broken home that “these sticks and stones may break me, but the words you said just tore my heart in two”.
#20. I’d Rather Miss You–Little Texas (1993)…..Very few would equate the musical legacy of Little Texas, a Hot New Country-era hybrid of 80s hair bands and pale Eagles ripoffs, with greatness, but they had one song that in my opinion stood out amongst the rest of their body of work, and interestingly it was not one of their biggest hits, only going top-15 in the summer of 1993. A perfectly melancholy musical arrangement accompanied solid harmonies and the great lamenting lyrics of “If I have to choose between living without you and learning to love someone new…Then I’d rather miss you”.
#19. Some Fools Never Learn–Steve Wariner (1985)….Steve Wariner was one of the pioneers of the modern mellow heartbreak classic, his smooth voice and guitar wizardry combining to make some of the best country music of the 80s. The best song of his career was 1987’s “The Weekend” and in all honesty that song should be on this list but because of its thematic similarity with another ahead on the list, I decided to go instead with this very relateable downer about a guy who keeps going for the wrong girl and sets himself up for inevitable heartbreak time and time again.
#18. I Never Quite Got Back From Loving You–Sylvia (1984)…..For my tastes, the 80s were the heyday of depressing country songs, with the right mix of capable, distinctive vocalists and musical arrangements with just the right level of production (there was too little production in country music before the 80s and too much after the 80s). Sylvia had a number of great sad songs, all brilliantly sung, but the purest heartbreaker of her career was this 1984 ballad where the narrator can’t move on from a broken relationship and is “still out there…in that world you took me to”.
#17. One Solitary Tear–Sherrie Austin (1997)….Australian-born country singer arguably overpowers the vocals a bit on the choruses here, but the case could also be made that she sold a more believable emotional attachment to the song with the power vocals. Either way, it’s a great song where every little nugget of the daily grind is a reminder of love lost, best illustrated with the lyric “The mailman still brings all your catalogs…The radio just keeps on playing our songs”.
#16. Addicted–Dan Seals (1988)…..Dan Seals vocal stylings were perfect for these kinds of songs, and he knew it as clearly they were in both his vocal and songwriting wheelhouse. In this song, a woman in a one-sided marriage drives herself delirious with despair and a slow-motion trainwreck of coming to terms with a husband who doesn’t love her. Some of the rawest anguish ever conveyed in a commercial country song along with a memorable chorus assured this song would make my list.
#15. Home Ain’t Where His Heart is Anymore–Shania Twain (1996)….For my tastes, Shania Twain was a net negative for country music by forcing a rising emphasis on image over substance coupled with the mostly immature body of musical work that she brought to the table. But the one song of her career that was a true gem was this mellow ballad from her breakthrough album that nobody would ever describe as immature. The narrator’s grief is less raw and self-destructive as the narrator from the previous song on the list, but the sorrow of a loveless marriage is conveyed well its own way, coupling fond memories of the good old days with the pure exhaustion present-tense of trying to make something work that isn’t working anymore.
#14. Inside–Ronnie Milsap (1983)….Nobody else in the world of country music was better positioned to make the stylistic leap into the country music of the 1980s than Ronnie Milsap with his wide vocal range and being his generation’s premier maestro of the keyboard. Couple that with Ronnie’s long-standing preference for some of the saddest heartbreak songs ever set to music and you had a match made in heaven. The musical arrangement here was one of the most sophisticated for any country songs at the time and it’s “tear in my beer” musical grooves really punch the listener in the gut when “Suddenly it occurs to me…she’s trying to say goodbye” even though the listener pretty much knew that before the narrator’s epiphany.
#13. Why They Call it Falling–Lee Ann Womack (2001)….While her album cuts are full of awesomely depressing ballads to the point of making her this generation’s top auteur of sad songs, Lee Ann Womack never released too many of her unparalleled downer songs as singles. But the song that was easily the darkest of her career was also the most depressing, particularly given how bubbly and flowery it starts. But after the second verse, reality sets in and the narrator who was previously “walking on the ceiling” gets the answer to the song’s core question after darkly acknowledging that “It’s a holler…it’s a cave…it’s kind of like a grave….when he tells you that he’s found somebody knew.”
#12. Has Anybody Seen Amy?–John and Audrey Wiggins (1994)…..Most songs on this list are about love lost, but the outlier of the group is this tale of a narrator’s return to a hometown that he no longer recognizes and feels empty and alone in, sung by the underrated brother-sister vocal duo who never had a major hit besides this song. There are a couple brilliantly haunting arrangement riffs in this song that add to “lost in his own hometown” lyrical overtones where “I can’t see the stars through the neon lights”. I always look back at 1994 as the best individual year in country music history, as it’s a shame that a song this good mostly got lost in the shuffle a generation later.
#11. Rose Bouquet–Phil Vassar (2001)….One of the most promising starts to a country career came with the first-rate debut album of singer-songwriter Phil Vassar. He has in no way lived up to the high standard of that rookie effort with subsequent albums, but nothing will take away from the extent to which Vassar hit the ball out of the park in his first at-bat. And he earned a berth in the depressing country song Hall of Fame with this nicely arranged weeper that looks at lost love through the prism of a magical wedding day where everything seemed so perfect until “we threw it all away like your rose bouquet”.
#10. My Heart Will Never Know–Clay Walker (1995)…..Clay Walker danced on the edge of being a cut above the wave of “hunks in hats” that took over the charts in the mid-90s, but ultimately rode a safe, commercial-friendly road to oblivion in the second half of the 90s. But he still had some great songs in his early albums, including this first rate heartbreaker about a narrator who refuses to even accept that the love of his life has left him for good, always thinking she’ll come home any day after leaving without saying goodbye. “It’s been a long, cold December….the snow outside keeps falling…I’ll light a fire for when you come home”. Nothing like being a third-party watching a naive slug set himself up for a major league faceplant.
#9. Heart Half Empty–Ty Herndon and Stephanie Bentley (1995)…..Most country music duets are uninspired affairs with powerhouse vocalists collaborating for a song with the quality of the song being more or less an afterthought. One of the best exceptions to that trend came with two rookie artists who managed to find one of the best depressing country songs of the decade and giving just the right level of vocal flare to a very cleverly written metaphor of a departing couple’s bottle of wine that precedes their separation. “Will your memories taste sweet as they linger….or the bitterness stay on my tongue….Is my heart half full of the love you gave me…or my heart half empty…because your love is gone”. Soul-crushingly depressing country songs rarely come with cooler lyrics than that.
#8. Whiskey Lullaby–Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss (2004)…..One of the best country songs of the last decade would be amongst the top-five on any list of the darkest country songs of the last few decades, but also clearly works as a song to help suck the life out of anybody in a good mood. My one grievance with this song is that the double suicide narrative seems a little melodramatic without context, but this song has one of the best videos ever made and the context necessary to make the song work is delivered in spades with the video.
#7. When You Think of Me–Mark Wills (2003)….I hesitated to include this song on the “merely depressing” list because it’s emotionally charged enough to qualify for the “tearjerker” category, but thematically it comes closer to being a depressing song than the template for most bona fide tearjerkers. The narrator tries to find the best way to “leave with dignity” without seeming like a complete asshole, but finds that easier said than done, ultimately walking away in the middle of the night while she sleeps and hoping she remembers the good times rather than his gutless departure. It’s almost as if he’s written his “dear jill” letter in his mind with the lyrics “I think about the time I met you…I said I’d never forget you…and I won’t.” Something tells me it’s gonna be awhile till that pacifies her, and unlike most songs on the list you sympathize not with the narrator, but with the person on the receiving end. Mark Wills gets a lot of perfectly fair criticism for gooey songs, but I found him to be pretty good at emotionally interpreting a good sad song, and never better than on this one.
#6. Matches–Sammy Kershaw (1998)……Here’s a truly storybook country heartbreaker if there ever was one….the kind of song that could drag you down no matter how good of a mood you’re in with haunting music and vocals along with masterful lyrics. Very rarely has metaphorical allegory been employed as brilliantly as when the narrator uses the book of matches where he wrote the number down of the girl who would be the love of his life later gets employed to commit felony arson. “Everybody at the Broken Spoke….they all thought my crazy story was a joke…now they’re all out in the parking lot staring at the smoke”. Yikes! Something tells me the narrator’s clever fit of passion will be seen as a miscalculation when he’s stepping into the prison shower in a few short months.
#5. Till Summer Comes Around–Keith Urban (2009)…..Since the dawn of the “redneck and proud” era of country music in the past decade or so, the depressing country song genre has taken it on the chin more than previous eras of my lifetime. The one golden exception to the trend was this masterpiece by Keith Urban from five years ago. Set to a genuinely haunting guitar backdrop, the narrator keeps returning to his lame summer job at the carnival year after year to rekindle the summer romance of the girl who “promised she’d be back again”. The narrative is entirely relateable as I did a less melodramatic variation on this gambit during my college years, with equally disastrous results. But this narrator still hasn’t gotten the hint that the love of his life won’t be coming back although the final lyric hints that he finally sees the writing on the wall…”Baby I’ll be back again….You whispered in my ear but now the winter wind is the only sound…and everything is closing down….Till summer comes around”. Keith Urban has been all over the map going back and forth between excellent songs and very mediocre songs, but it’s a safe bet for me that he’ll never top this….and that nobody in the current list of country artists is capable of a song this deliciously depressing.
#4. Still Losing You–Ronnie Milsap (1984)…..I already established that Ronnie was a maestro at crafting the perfect sad country song and this was the most melancholy, slit-your-wrist depressor he ever recorded, or at least that he released as a single. Set to an elaborate jazz-meets-rhythm-and-blues musical arrangement, the lyrics are stone cold country and Ronnie’s vocals seal the deal with one of the most shamelessly moribund songs around, hitting one sad theme after another from the “fleeting memory in the image of your face” to the undeliverable phone call to the “party you have tried to reach has recently moved away” to my personal favorite “And so I paid my check and I buttoned my coat….Stepped into an evening rain…Made my way down the avenue….Softly whispering your name”. And best of all, the narrator was the one who initiated the break-up. Dude, you screwed up big time!
#3. Broken Hearted Me–Anne Murray (1979)…..I look at this as the first modern country heartbreak song. Anne Murray built a name for herself in the 70s with mushy love ballads that seem too saccharine by the today’s standards, where sentimentalism is ridiculed. But the production polish she brought to those glossy, sappy ballads ultimately delivered in this gloomy love-gone-wrong ballad that has stood the test of time better than many of Murray’s biggest hits of the late 70s. The sweeping arrangement was quite unlike anything heard in country music before and can turn any smile into a heavy-hearted frown 35 years later.
#2. Everything That Glitters Is Not Gold–Dan Seals (1986)…..The song that most music critics agree is the best song of Dan Seals’ career almost serves as an anthology of every downer metric that can be pushed in a country song, with Dan Seals’ vintage lyrical tricks on full display, giving the narrator false motivations early on only to reveal his true feelings. In this case, the embittered narrator spews venom about the woman who left him and his young daughter while selfishly pursuing her rodeo queen dreams, but ultimately still can’t get his love for her out of his head no matter much he resents himself for it. Seals’ vocal stylings on the choruses really take this song to the next level and no depressing since has depressed us so skillfully in the nearly three decades since.
#1. Blue Moon with a Heartache–Rosanne Cash (1982)….If there was only one depressing country song that I could listen to for the rest of my life, this would be the one. Johnny Cash’s daughter proved her artistic mettle on her breakthrough second album, and put together one of the darkest, droopiest, and most melancholy songs ever recorded, the kind of song Rosanne Cash excelled at in subsequent albums but never quite captured the dreary heartbroken funk of this song featuring lyrical gems such as “I’ll play the victim for you honey…but not for free” and “what did I say to make your cold heart bleed this way…maybe I’ll just go away today”. Even more than the lyrics, however, the musical arrangement seals the deal for this song, such a downer that you can practically feel your heart drop in your chest as it plays. I suppose it’s possible for another country song this depressing to be recorded again, but it could easily be another 32 years into the future before it happens.
Perhaps in the months ahead, I’ll compile separate lists of country music’s best tearjerkers and darkest songs and all categories have a number of songs worthy of acclaim, but for now I’m gonna revisit some of these classics again as they continue to fit my mood at this bleak juncture of winter 2014.

50 Songs About Depression

Songs about depression can be the best place to turn when the black dog comes around. Depression’s a subject that crops up in music of all kinds and from all eras – from The Rolling Stones to Kanye West. We asked the whole NME team for their top picks of what to listen to when the going gets tough, and this is what we came up with: 50 of the best songs about depression, old and new. The common thread of them all, though, is that they all help put dark thoughts into perspective.

50 ‘I Feel Like Dying’ – Lil Wayne

Drugs are the mentally debilitating antagonist in this cut from 2007 compilation ‘The Drought Is Over 2’.

Key lyrics: “I am a prisoner, locked up behind Xanax bars / I have just boarded a plane without a pilot”

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49 ‘Adam’s Song’ – Blink 182

These dark lyrics were written while the band were on tour, after they heard about a teen who left a suicide note for his parents. Guitarist Tom DeLonge said, “It’s one of those things, a story of a kid not being happy in his life, crossed with us being really lonely on tour. At the end of it there’s a better way out, there are better things to do than kill yourself.”

Key lyrics: “Another six months, I’ll be unknown / give all my things to all my friends / you’ll never step foot in my room again / you’ll close it off, board it up”

48 ‘Paint It, Black’ – The Rolling Stones

This sitar-backed, up-tempo track was originally released as a single in 1966 before being added to the US version of fourth album ‘Aftermath’. Its lyrics are intermittently angry and melancholy, wanting to cover up all the brightness in the world.

Key lyrics: “I look inside myself and see my heart is black / I see my red door and must have it painted black / maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts / it’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black”

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47 ‘Everybody Hurts’ – R.E.M.

This much-beloved anti-suicide anthem uses an understated drum machine to place all the emphasis on Michael Stipe’s voice and the song’s lyrics. “I don’t remember singing it,” he once said, “but I still kind of can’t believe my voice is on this recording. It’s very pure. This song instantly belonged to everyone except us, and that honestly means the world to me.”

Key lyrics: “Take comfort in your friends / Everybody hurts. Don’t throw your hand… If you feel like you’re alone, no, no, no, you are not alone”

46 ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’ – Biffy Clyro

The opening track to fourth album ‘Puzzle’ is “about hitting a low point and not giving a fuck,” says singer Simon Neil. “It was classic depression, I suppose. I think it has the attention and release that all good songs should have.”

Key lyrics: “Everywhere I look someone dies / wonder when it’s my turn”

45 ‘Hurt’ – Nine inch Nails

Johnny Cash famously covered Trent Reznor’s favourite song. “I’m not proud to say I hate myself and don’t like what I am,” he’s explained, “but maybe there is real human communication that ends up positive even though everything being said is negative.”

Key lyrics: “What have I become, my sweetest friend / everyone I know goes away in the end”

44 ‘Turn Blue’ – The Black Keys

Dan Auerbach drew on his painful divorce for these morose lyrics; he struggles to “stay on track just like Pops told me to.”

Key lyrics: “When the music is done and all the lights are low / I will remember the times when love would really glow”

43 ‘Black Eyed Dog’ – Nick Drake

There’s little to this that doesn’t sound forlorn and listless, although Drake’s keening guitar work is as deft and precise as ever. He died from an overdose less than a year after this song was recorded.

Key lyric: “I’m growing old/ And I don’t wanna know/ I’m growing old/ And I wanna go home.”

42 ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ – Tame Impala

‘Solitude Is Bliss’ was described by Parker as “the most sassy, confident-sounding song” he’d created for Tame Impala. It’s an anthem for introverts, depressed or otherwise.

Key lyric: “All the kids that I can’t compare to / making friends like they’re all supposed to / you will never come close to how I feel”

41 ‘Basket Case’ – Green Day

“The only way I could know what the hell was going on,” says Billie Joe Armstrong of his panic disorder, “was to write a song about it.” This is the frenetic result.

Key lyrics: “Sometimes I give myself the creeps / sometimes my mind plays tricks on me / it all keeps adding up I think I’m cracking up / am I just paranoid or am I just stoned?”

40 ‘Suicide Is Painless’ – Manic Street Preachers

To celebrate NME’s 40th birthday, a special album was created called ‘Ruby Trax’, featuring covers of past UK Number One singles. The Manics chose to record a cover of the theme from the 1971 satirical war film M*A*S*H.

Key lyrics: “Suicide is painless / it brings on many changes / and you can do the same thing if you please”

39 ‘People = Shit’ – Slipknot

Drummer Chris Fehn described the motivation behind this torrent of misanthropy: “Sometimes I just get that feeling when I look at society as a whole, my god, what a gyp.”

Key lyrics: “understand I cant feel anything / it isn’t like I wanna sift through the decay / I feel like a wound.”

38 ‘re:stacks’ – Bon Iver

Justin Vernon’s first Bon Iver album, recorded in a Wisconsin cabin, is hollow with grief, and ‘re:stacks’ is among the most lovelorn. His mum puts it best: “To me, it is not about getting over things and moving forward, it is about going through the sadness, taking some of it with you and being made whole because of it. I cry every time I listen to it.”

Key lyrics: “There’s a black crow sitting across from me / His wiry legs are crossed / And he’s dangling my keys he even fakes a toss / Whatever could it be that has brought me to this loss?”

37 ‘Loser’ – Beck

Supposedly written and recorded within six hours, this slide-guitar-filled song mocks Beck’s own rapping skills. “I thought, ‘Man, I’m the worst rapper in the world – I’m just a loser,’” he recalls, “so I started singing, ‘I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me.’ I’m always kinda putting myself down like that.”

Key lyrics: “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?”

36 ‘Waking Up’ – Elastica

Perpetual underachievement is the subject of this 1995 single from Elastica. It went on to be highest-charting song in the UK, and the album that followed hit Number One.

Key lyrics: “If I can’t be a star I won’t get out of bed / Waking up and getting up has never been easy”

35 ‘Nothin’ But Time feat. Iggy Pop’ – Cat Power

American singer Cat Power – aka Chan Marshall – wrote this 11-minute, piano-driven two-chorder for her boyfriend’s daughter, Lucia, who was being targeted by online bullies and found solace in Bowie’s ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust…’ It’s relentlessly optimistic: “Your world is just beginning,” she emphasises.

Key lyrics: “It’s up to you to be a superhero / It’s up to you to be like nobody”

34 A Better Son/Daughter – Rilo Kiley

Jenny Lewis’ lyrics were so affecting for Anne Hathaway when she was going through a difficult period in 2009 that Hathaway “couldn’t look at her” for the first two years of their acquaintance. “It just felt too personal. I just think she’s a powerful woman, her music is powerful, she finds great strength in her vulnerability. And I’m really grateful to her for having both of those things: Power and vulnerability. Cause I know I feel that way a lot of times.”

33 ‘Dark Times’ – The Weeknd

The brooding ‘Dark Times’ sits towards the end of The Weeknd’s 2015 break-out album ‘Beauty Behind The Madness’. Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd) said the collaboration with Ed Sheeran arrived after the pair met up following an awards show to party – they wrote the song the following day.

Key Lyric: “In my dark times I’ve still got some problems I know / Driving too fast but just moving too slow”

32 ‘Just’ – Radiohead

The melody for this was, according to Thom Yorke “a competition by me and Jonny to get as many chords as possible into a song”, but underneath it are lyrics about being relentlessly pursued by dark thoughts.

Key lyrics: “You’ve changed the locks 3 times / he still comes reeling through the door”

31 ‘Rock Bottom’ – Eminem

‘Rock Bottom’ was written about a time when Eminem had a young daughter had just been fired from his cooking job. “That was the worst time ever, dog,” he has said. “It was, like, five days before Christmas, which is Hailie’s birthday. I had, like, forty dollars to get her something. I wrote ‘Rock Bottom’ right after that.”

Key lyrics: “My life is full of empty promises and broken dreams / I’m hopin’ things look up; but there ain’t no job openings / I feel discouraged, hungry and malnourished”

30 ‘Suicidal Thoughts’ – The Notorious B.I.G.

Biggie phones Puff Daddy in the middle of night during this song, explaining his guilt and his suicidal intentions.

Key lyrics: “When I die, fuck it, I wanna go to hell / Cause I’m a piece of shit, it ain’t hard to fucking tell”

29 ‘Entropy feat. Bleachers’ – Grimes

Taking its name from a phenomenon that may eventually cause the heat death of the universe, this disaffected, but still euphonic tune was written with Lena Dunham’s boyfriend, Jack Antonoff (Bleachers) and used for a particularly downcast ending in an episode of Dunham’s show Girls.

Key lyrics: “How the birds can sing a tuneless song? / How can they stay in the sky? / Maybe they’re just screaming / maybe it’s not music and it’s all a lie”

28 ‘Down About It’ – The Lemonheads

The Boston band contrast intensely upbeat guitar with introspective, gloomy lyrics here.

Key lyrics: “You just don’t get it when I get so down about it”

27 ‘This Is A Low’ – Blur

Bassist Alex James claimed that this ‘Parklife’ track was penned by Damon Albarn right before a hernia operation and that the locations name-checked in the lyrics were inspired by a gift he bought Albarn for Christmas: “a handkerchief with a map of the shipping forecast regions”.

Key lyrics: “This is a low / But it won’t hurt you / when you are alone it will be there with you / finding ways to stay solo”

26 Summertime Sadness – Lana Del Rey

Some have interpreted this languid sleeper hit as a reflection on an unusual form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that strikes in summer, rather than winter. Others point out the crippling effects of //saudade// it portrays.

Key lyrics: “I’m on fire, I feel it everywhere / Nothing scares me anymore”

25 ‘I Know It’s Over’ – The Smiths

One of the dourest songs from Morrisey’s pen, ‘I Know It’s Over’ tackles love, loneliness and despair with a sprawling five-and-half minute epic.

Key lyrics: “Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head”

24 ‘Every Night’ – Paul McCartney

This song was written in the face of The Beatles’ breakup; it sees McCartney struggling to carry on.

Key lyrics: “Every night I just want to go out, get out of my head / Every day I don’t want to get up, get out of my bed”

23 ‘I See A Darkness’ – Bonnie Prince Billy

In 2001 Will Oldham said his bleak 1999 track was about “an essentially evil person who tries to do good in the world.” Whether or not that fits with your ideas about depression, this song captures lows, and the drive to escape them, perfectly.

Key lyrics: “You know I have a drive to live, I won’t let go / could you see its opposition comes rising up sometimes / that its dreadful anteposition comes blacking in my mind”

22 ‘Stan’ – Eminem

One of Eminem’s darkest tracks is written from the point of view of a fan whose world unravels after Eminem fails to respond to him.

Key lyrics: “You coulda rescued me from drowning / now it’s too late, I’m on a thousand downers now, I’m drowsy / and all I wanted was a lousy letter or a call”

21 ‘She Lays Down’ – The 1975

Matty Healy’s song about his mother, Denise Welch, explores her post-natal depression, a subject she’s also broached herself: “My mum knew I had to keep physical contact with the baby. I remember looking at bottles thinking it was like asking me to climb Everest. There was never any doubt from family that this wasn’t an illness.”

Key lyrics: “Well we got a plane, going to see my dad again / she prayed that we fell from the sky / simply to alleviate the pain”

20 ‘Mad World’ – Tears for Fears

1982’s hit single contrasted brash pop sounds with broken lyrics. Gary Jules later covered the song for 2001 film ‘Donnie Darko’, and it hit Number One in the UK for Christmas 2003.

Key lyrics: “The dreams in which I’m dying / are the best I’ve ever had”

19 ‘Sorrow’ – The National

Matt Berninger, frontman of the Cincinnati five-piece, called this track “a fun song, a celebration of sorrow. It’s a wallowing song,” later adding it was “a person’s relationship with their own sadness” – addressing it something that must be lived with. The band once played the song continuously for six hours as part of an art piece by Icelander Ragnar Kjartansson.

Key lyrics: “I live in a city sorrow built / it’s in my honey, it’s in my milk”

18 ‘Pain Pain Again’ – Glasvegas

Depeche Mode were playing when frontman James Allan started writing this song, the swooning opener from their 2011 album ‘Euphoric /// Heartbreak ’.

Key lyrics: “I’m overcoming the obstacles of the ubiquitous demon named ‘shame’”

17 ‘A Letter To Elise’ – The Cure

“The mood is generally resignation in the face of inevitable change,” said The Cure’s Robert Smith of this tragic letter in song form.

Key lyrics: “Every time I try to pick it up like falling sand / as fast as I pick it up it runs away through my clutching hands.”

16 ‘Needle In The Hay’ – Elliott Smith

One of Smith’s most famous songs, from 1995, is a reflection on the effects of heroin use.

Key lyrics: “I don’t want to talk / I’m taking the cure so I can be quiet whenever I want / so leave me alone.”

15 ‘What Sarah Said’ – Death Cab For Cutie

A friend inspired this song about the pain of losing loved ones, says singer Ben Gibbard of their song from 2005 album ‘Plans’. “She was walking with her husband one day and just burst into hysterical tears because she realized that one day one of the two of them would have to watch the other die.”

Key lyrics: “Love is watching someone die / So who’s gonna watch you die?”

14 ‘Red Eyes’ – The War On Drugs

Adam Granduciel was struggling with depression when he wrote 2014 album ‘Lost In The Dream’, from which this is the second track. “I’ve lived with it my whole life and I’ve realised what it is in the past year,” he said on its release.

Key lyrics: “Don’t want another dark time think to myself / I won’t get lost inside it all, I’m on my way / well I can see it the darkness covering my mind / well we can hear the voices war inside.”

13 ‘FML feat. The Weeknd’ – Kanye West

The darkest cut from Kanye’s 2016 album ‘The Life Of Pablo’ pits the phrases ‘fuck my life’ against ‘for my lady’, and sets his struggles with mental health against his love for his family.

Key lyrics: “You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than this nigga when he off his Lexapro / remember that last time in Mexico / remember that last time, the episode”

12 ‘Breathe Me’ – Sia

“‘Breathe Me’ is about feeling worried, generally anxious” says Sia Furler, the woman behind the 2004 hit. “Being overwhelmed by your own inner dialogue and having some sort of conniption fit and potentially doing yourself some harm, then asking for help.”

Key lyrics: “I have done it again / I have been here many times before / Hurt myself again today / And the worst part is there’s no one else to blame”

11 ‘u’ – Kendrick Lamar

‘u’, from the Compton rapper’s third album ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, has him locking himself in a hotel room to battle his inner demons. “There’s some very dark moments in there,” he’s said. “All my insecurities and selfishness and let-downs. That shit is depressing as a motherfucker. But it helps, though. It helps.” Later in the album, on ‘i’, Kendrick’s battled through, singing “I love myself”.

Key lyrics: “Bitch everything is your fault / faults breakin’ to pieces, earthquakes on every weekend / because you shook as soon as you knew confinement was needed”

10 ‘Should Have Known Better’ – Sufjan Stevens

After Stevens’ mother died he addressed the weight of his grief in his seventh studio album, 2015’s ‘Carrie & Lowell’. The end of the song sees him come to terms with his loss, and embrace the new life of his brother’s newborn daughter – “The beauty that she brings, illumination.”

Key lyrics: “I should have wrote a letter / and grieve what I happen to grieve / my black shroud / I never trust my feelings / I waited for the remedy.”

9 ‘To Ramona’ – Bob Dylan

Despite being released during Dylan’s more political phase in the mid-60’s, ‘To Ramona’ makes allusions to his failed relationship with fellow folk singer Joan Baez throughout.

Key lyrics: “I’d forever talk to you / But soon my words / They would turn into a meaningless ring / For deep in my heart / I know there is no help I can bring”

8 ‘Grief’ – Earl Sweatshirt

“Grief is a final lament and epilogue,” tweeted Earl before the release of his second album ‘I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside’ in 2015.

Key lyrics: “Feeling like I’m stranded in a mob / scrambling for Xanax out the canister to pop”

7 ‘How To Disappear Completely’ – Radiohead

Though this was supposedly based on a dream Thom Yorke had about floating down the Liffey in Dublin, paralysed, it’s come to mean something completely different to those struggling with depression.

Key lyrics: “I’m not here / this isn’t happening… in a little while I’ll be gone.”

6 ‘Avalanche’ – Leonard Cohen

Set to plaintive acoustic guitar, this brooding number sees a self-loathing Cohen express scorn on a lover who believes they can ‘cure’ his depression. “The crumbs of love that you offer me,” he sneers, “they’re the crumbs I’ve left behind.”

Key lyrics: “Well, I stepped into an avalanche / it covered up my soul”.

5 ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ – Nirvana

In 1993, Kurt Cobain told Impact magazine: “ is about a person who’s beyond depressed; they’re in their death bed, pretty much.” The word “pennyroyal” refers to pennyroyal herb, a natural medicine some claim can induce an abortion and Cobain hopes it will “distill the life that’s inside of me.”

Key lyrics: “I’m so tired I can’t sleep / I’m a liar and a thief”

4 ‘Lua’ – Bright Eyes

On this minimalist acoustic ditty, singer-songwriter Conor Oberst – aka Bright Eyes – relays the sad tale of two dysfunctional, substance-addicted lovers who are trying to help each other out, but just bring one another down.

Key lyrics: “I know you have a heavy heart; I can feel it when we kiss / So many men stronger than me have thrown their backs out trying to lift it.”

3 ‘Comfortably Numb’ – Pink Floyd

The working title of this epic rock ballad was ‘The Doctor’, which gives a clue to its message, as the narrator as a wonderous child reaches out to comfort the narrator’s adult self, who has become an alienated, depressed rock star.

Key lyrics: “There is no pain you are receding / A distant ship smoke on the horizon”

2 ‘Blue Moon’ – Elvis Presley

It’s the clip-clopping, muted percussion that makes this contemplative number, on which The King addresses the moon as the only one who understands him. It’s a heartbreaking ode to loneliness, but also conveys the comfort of solitude.

Key lyrics: “Blue moon / You saw me standing alone / Without a dream in my heart / Without a love of my own.”

1 ‘Atmosphere’ – Joy Division

Voted the greatest song of the millennium in 2000 on John Peel’s BBC Radio One show, it was also used to close out 2007 Ian Curtis biopic ‘Control’.

Key lyrics: “Don’t turn away, in silence / your confusion / my illusion / worn like a mask of self-hate”

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16 Songs to Help You Face Depression This Week

Facing the world each morning can be difficult when you live with a mental illness. Depression, specifically, can make everyday tasks seem daunting. Getting out of bed and out the door can be a major accomplishment. And although music can’t cure depression (we wish), it’s scientifically proven to reduce stress and even depressive symptoms.

So, each week, we ask our readers what songs and lyrics have helped them through depression. If you need an extra boost this week, hopefully some of these can help.

1. “I’m Good” by The Mowglis

“It’s been a long time living this way, worrying what people say, feeling like I don’t fit in, but I won’t give up, no I won’t give in.”

2. “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers

“I just might have a problem that you’ll understand. We all need somebody to lean on.”

3. “Dream Big” by Ryan Shupe & The Rubberband

“When you cry, be sure to dry your eyes, ’cause better days are sure to come.”

4. “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys

“Nobody knows that she’s a lonely girl and it’s a lonely word, but she’s gonna let it burn.”

5. “Stand By You” by Rachel Platten

“Even if we’re breaking down, we can find a way to break through.”

6. “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammer

“I know it’s hard to remember sometimes, but you gotta keep your head up.”

7. “Walk On” by U2

“And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off, and if your glass heart should crack and for a second you turn back, oh no, be strong.”

8. “Today Is Your Day” by Shania Twain

“Today is your day and nothing can stand in your way.”

9. “It’s Not Over Yet” by KING & COUNTRY

“To everyone who’s hit their limit, it’s not over yet. It’s not over yet. And even when you think you’re finished, it’s not over yet.”

10. “The River” by Garth Brooks

“I’ll never reach my destination if I never try. So I will sail my vessel ’til the river runs dry.”

11. “Better Days” by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros

“We might still know sorrow, but we got better days.”

12. “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles

“Here comes the sun, and I say it’s all right.”

13. “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac

“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here. It’ll be here, better than before. Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.”

14. “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World

“It just takes some time. Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride. Everything, everything will be just fine. Everything, everything will be all right.”

15. “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor

“I’ve got all my life to live and all my love to give and I’ll survive.”

16. “Once A Day” by Michael Franti & Spearhead (feat. Sonna Rele)

“So don’t you worry bout what people say. Raise your head up and be on your way. And it don’t matter if you fail today, just get up, get up, get up.”

What song do you listen to when you’re feeling depressed? Let us know and we may feature it next week. Check out our previous list here.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Article

Songs of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl Migrants

Poster for the Los Angeles production of Hall Johnnson’s “Run, Little Chillun”. Prints and Photographs Division POS-WPA-CA.01 .R96, no. 1 (H size). Select the link for more information and a larger image.

During the Great Depression songs provided a way for people to complain of lost jobs and impoverished circumstances. Perhaps the most famous of these is “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” by E. Y. Harberg, published in 1931. Songs could also be used to raise people’s spirits and give them hope for better times. “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” with lyrics by Lew Brown and music by Ray Henderson, also published in 1931, told listeners “Don’t take it serious, it’s too mysterious.” The song from the film Gold Diggers of 1933, “We’re in the Money,” with lyrics by Al Dubin and music by Harry Warren (1933), asserted that the depression had passed: “Old Man Depression you are through, you done us wrong.” But the effects of the Depression were far from over.

As part of a set of government-funded programs to put people to work, the Roosevelt administration’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) created programs to document the traditions of rural peoples through writing or sound recordings. Scholars from fields such as folklore, anthropology, sociology, and the nacent field of ethnomusicology took up the cause of documenting folk songs, narratives, and other expressions, by writing them down by hand or using recording equipment if it was available to them. The Library of Congress lent recording equipment to scholars as possible in order to obtain this documentation for the collections. “Bolero sentimental,” sung by Elinor Rodriguez is an example of a song about the depression in Puerto Rico documented by ethnomusicologist Sidney Robertson Cowell in central California in 1939 as she attempted to locate singers and musicians of many ethnic groups, particularly recent immigrants. “The United States Needs Prayer, Everywhere,” sung by Lulu Morris and chorus, which expresses the hopes and concerns of a troubled nation, was documented by folkorist Herbert Halpert in Mississippi in 1939. In Florida, folkorist Stetson Kennedy headed a project to document the songs and tales of the diverse groups in that state. Among the participating scholars was anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. Since Hurston had done much of her PhD research without sound recording equipment, using her memory and transcriptions alone to document African American songs, Herbert Halpert and Stetson Kennedy recorded her singing a few of the songs she collected and then describing their uses, such as the recording of “Halimuhfack,” in which she describes how she learned songs.

Depression-era programs, such as the Federal Theatre Project and the Federal Music Project also created opportunities for artists to have their work presented to audiences that would not have otherwise been able to afford to attend. Free concerts and other productions provided educational experiences for the public and work for artists. Composer Hall Johnson, whose musical, “Run, Little Chillun,” showcased formal arrangements of African American sprituals that he had heard in his father’s church in Georgia, is an example of an African American artist whose work was made more widely known as a result of these programs. The show first appeared on Broadway in 1933, but was shown in other parts of the country with support from the Federal Music Project.

Will Neal plays the fiddle while being recorded by Robert Sonkin (just to the right of Neal) and Charles “Lafe” Todd (wearing headphones). Select the link to view the larger image available in the online collection.

The Roosevelt administration also created public works projects in order to improve the country’s infrastructure while creating jobs. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was one such project, that put people to work on roads, dams, and the national parks. “Loveless CCC,” sung by Tommy Rhoads, is a blues song composed by a CCC worker about the hardships of such work (select the link for the illustrated video version of the song. For the unillustrated field recording select ). Songs sung by three CCC workers on the Shasta Dam, brothers Pat, Bogue, and Warde Ford, were recorded by Sidney Robertson Cowell in 1939.

The Dust Bowl

An environmental disaster accompanied the economic disaster of the depression as man-made-erosion and a natural drought combined to create what came to be called the “Dust Bowl.” People of the middle and south western states left their destroyed farms and became migrant workers in unaffected states, such as California. Government studies showed that these people spent more than they earned on transportation to and housing in places where they harvested crops, so assistance was provided in government-run camps. Available in this presentation are songs, poems, stories, and camp meetings of Dust Bowl migrants, many describing the loss of their homes and subsequent difficulties documented in California Farm Security Adminstration camps by ethnographers Robert Sonkin and Charles L. Todd.

“I’m Going Down this Road Feeling Bad,” is a traditional song that may date from an earlier period, but that expresses sentiments surely felt by displaced workers during the Great Depression. In this presentation there are versions sung by Warde Ford, who traveled to Wisconsin to California to find work with the CCC and by Dust Bowl migrants Ruth Huber and Lois Judd.

Resources

  • Art, Culture, and Government: The New Deal at 75, American Folklife Center symposium.2008, Library of Congress. Includes webcasts of the events.
  • California Gold: California Folk Music from the Thirties. American Memory, Library of Congress.
  • “A Convesation with Stetson Kennedy,” interview with Peggy Bulger. Botkin Lecture Series, 2005. Library of Congress.
  • Federal Theatre Project, Library of Congress resource guide.
  • Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections (1937-1942). American Memory, Library of Congress.
  • “Hard Luck Blues: Roots Music Photographs from the Great Depression,” presented by Rich Remsberg. Benjamin Botkin Lecture Series, 2010. Library of Congress.
  • New Deal Programs: Selected Library of Congress Resources. Library of Congress resource guide.
  • Voices from the Dust Bowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection. American Memory, Library of Congress.
  • “Songs of Social Change” (Songs of America)

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