Sad and gloomy – or, what makes music depressing

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antiditz

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I know there’s already a thread about sad/depressing music, but this is something different.

So I’ve been listening to a lot of Aqualung lately. And I’ve found that his music suits me most when I’m feeling a bit blue; actually it sometimes makes me feel like crying a little (hey, I’m a girl, it’s allowed!) Granted, with lyrics like I feel so grey, the world got smashed to pieces and put back together the wrong way and I'm losing faith/I'm losing all faith/you’re breaking my heart again it makes sense. But then again, even songs like Brighter Than Sunshine (What a feeling in my soul/Love burns brighter than sunshine/Let the rain fall, I don't care/I'm yours and suddenly you're mine), or 7 Keys (Darling believe you're closer than anyone has even been/Oh baby don't leave me alone/I'm yours for eternity/You hold the seven keys to my soul) give me that gloomy feeling.

And this got me thinking: What is it about music that strikes a melancholy chord in a listener? Is it melody alone, or lyrics, or a combination of the two? What about tempo – does a song have to be slow to be depressing? I guess its partly person-specific, but I’m curious as to the common denominator.

One of my friends, when asked about the saddest song she could think of, said REM’s Everybody Hurts. Now there’s a song with an uplifting message if I’ve ever heard one, and yet makes her feel sad. Seems almost oxymoronic. And there was a time when Metallica’s Black Album made me feel kinda depressed. Or maybe angry, I don’t know, I was a teenager then.

So, what's the saddest song you know? Basically, I’m interested in what songs affect you loungers in the way I’ve described, and what specifically about them (if you analyze that sort of thing) does.
 

iPod Master

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saddest song i know? probably windowpane by opeth. its kind of a slow song... its not the lyrics that hit me though. its the music itself. the part that hits me most is this one guitar solo... very sad sounding.
 

neb

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I think the tone of the song is highly dependent on the mood of the artist. A lot of albums sound sad because of what the writer is going through in their everyday lives. This may be an internal or external matter. While this has no direct effect on the BPM, tone, or what instruments are used, it's a powerful dictator in what lyrics the song may contain. It can be used to describe the success of many records down the line as people find themselves sympathising, relating and cringing at other's experiences. Albums are destined to contain a message, and unfortunately some of the time it's a sad message which makes the album appealling in the first place.

Rumours by Fleetwood Mac was written whilst their relationship with one another was strained, and as a result it's quite a dark album (...never break the chain...). Obviously drugs are a big feature of the music industry, more so than people credit. Drug addicts can convey all kinds of emotion, but drugs always win and as a result their is an air of doom and defeat with a lot of drug-related songs. Liam Gallagher wrote many of his best works whilst under the influence and the result saw the dominance of Oasis as a group in the early-to-mid 1990s.
 

raine

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M83 - Unrecorded. No real lyrics, but so powerful.
The Shins - Those to Come
Radiohead - Kid A (live) Thom, at the end of the song, starts yelling "Come on Kid A," and it's just amazing. I love it.
Sufjan Stevens - Both John Wayne Gacy Jr. and Casimir Pulaski Day

My favorite songs seem to be depressing. I dunno, sometimes these songs just make me happy because they're so good. But right now I feel like crap.
 

Provboy

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i think if there's a part that mimics wailing or crying, be it a guitar solo or vocals, then the song becomes sad or depressing. A lot of blues tracks have those features
 

c.you

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The most emotional song I have IMO is The Scientist - Coldplay. Probably my favourite song as well.
 

melsmusic

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Probably the most emotional song I have ever heard is:

"If I Can Dream" by Elvis Presley.

I think its the words, the way he sings it, knowing he was a person of passion & thought for the world. Sad knowing he died so young. And he is such a powerful singer when he sings his gospel music.

Another would be "An American Trilogy".

That man sends shivers down my spine and although I'm not a teary girl .... these 2 songs almost send me to tears.
 

dharmabum420

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Songs written in minor keys (D minor, most famously, in classical) often come across as very sad, assuming the instrumentation supports the feeling (there are a lot of metal bands that like playing in minor keys, but they don't exactly produce sadness).

Lyrics can have a lot to do with it, though... "Last Kiss", recently covered by Pearl Jam (I can't remember the original artist) is an up-tempo song that has absolutely crushing lyrics, a first-person narrative of a guy's girlfriend getting killed in a senseless car accident.

Personally, it's the combination of music and lyrics that can really get to me.. some Tom Waits stuff is actually kind of hard for me to listen to, it's so mournful and sad ("Martha", a song about two ex-lovers getting together after many years, or "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis", a narrative from an ex-prostitute who describes how well her life is going before breaking down, admitting she's lying and then begging for money). Here, more than anything, it's his choked voice emoting through the song so well (his "Charlie... for God's sake... if you want to know the truth of it..." in the latter song is just heartbreaking).

Don McLean's "Vincent", his tribute to Van Gogh and lament for his suicide, is pretty hard to listen to without getting awfully sad as well.
 

rooster

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dharmabum is right most songs written in minor keys produce a sad feeling and sound. it really just comes down to tempo and pitch. those are what really create the emotion in music.
 

vitosha

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I think one of the saddest pieces of music is Gorecki's 3rd Symphony, the "symphony of sorrowful songs." He wrote it in 1976, between the failure of the Gdansk protests of 1970 and the birth of the Solidarnosc movement in 1980. It reiterates the string lines, almost pulsing them, while a female vocalist sings in Polish (at least on my CD), which to my unPolish ears is just more instrumentsal music rather than a lyric I can follow. This is heart-breaking stuff, yet also uplifting in a way.

After I heard about the events in London last week, I pulled the B.B. King stuff I'd been listening to off my iPod and loaded Gorecki. Though King may be "the blues", it wasn't deep enough for London.
 

antiditz

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neb said:
I think the tone of the song is highly dependent on the mood of the artist. A lot of albums sound sad because of what the writer is going through in their everyday lives. This may be an internal or external matter. While this has no direct effect on the BPM, tone, or what instruments are used, it's a powerful dictator in what lyrics the song may contain. It can be used to describe the success of many records down the line as people find themselves sympathising, relating and cringing at other's experiences. Albums are destined to contain a message, and unfortunately some of the time it's a sad message which makes the album appealling in the first place.
I hear your point, but my question is why, in a case like the aforementioned "Brighter than Sunshine" where the artist is singing about the ecstasy--not the agony-- of love, does the song still give off that sad feeling? I don't think Matt Hales meant that to be a sad message. Must be the instrumentation in this case, then, or maybe it's his overall singing style.

neb said:
Obviously drugs are a big feature of the music industry, more so than people credit. Drug addicts can convey all kinds of emotion, but drugs always win and as a result their is an air of doom and defeat with a lot of drug-related songs. Liam Gallagher wrote many of his best works whilst under the influence and the result saw the dominance of Oasis as a group in the early-to-mid 1990s.
An air of doom and defeat by those who recognize, or rather admit, that the drugs have taken control of them. (like your hero, we all know who he is!! :D). But there are some pretty damn euphoric songs out there written under the influence as well. I don't think drugs=sad/depressing music.
 

neb

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O my! A discussion at the iLounge; surely not?

It is true that there is a certain romance with drugs; its effects can leave someone teetering on the edge of creative genius. An artist's relationship with their fellow musicians can worsen under the influence. I'm sure you don't need an example of that; there have been plenty of examples along the years (especially a certain band which I could name...). It's this conflict that can create an opportunity for sublime songs. There seems to be something about conflict which brings the best of people. Lyrics are more meaningful; guitar solos are more painstakingly beautiful. However, underneath this pretty façade there is a sadness, one which sees the decline of a relationship or the altering of the musical style of a band (there was this famous band in the 60s that experienced this, can't think of the name right now...:)).

These songs don't have to be necessarily sad in their delivery, but they appear this way once you've dissected them. There are going to be some exceptions, there are for every rule, but you'll find that this is the case for the majority of the time.

While the artists' happiness is not a prerequisite for the mood of the song, it's certainly a factor. A song could be what you make it. Songs are going to be interpreted in many different ways; this one is about drugs, suicide, happiness etc. It's the beauty of music, the ability to appeal to different demographics. It's why we're all in love with music, but not the same music.
 
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neb

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antiditz said:
An air of doom and defeat by those who recognize, or rather admit, that the drugs have taken control of them. (like your hero, we all know who he is!! :D). But there are some pretty damn euphoric songs out there written under the influence as well. I don't think drugs=sad/depressing music.
I agree with you there, drugs do not = a sad song. But drugs are more likely to mask certain feelings. While the song may appear to celebrate, it is in fact a cry for help, or possibly a rememberance of The good 'ole days.
 

dharmabum420

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It depends what kind of drugs you're talking about, too... I'm pretty sure nothing Marley or Tosh ever wrote was a cry for help...
 

antiditz

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It's the beauty of music, the ability to appeal to different demographics. It's why we're all in love with music, but not the same music.
Ah neb, you're a poet...

You put things across very well, but it still leaves open the question: is the music depressing because the songwriter was depressed and hence took drugs? Or is it the effect of the drugs and the subsequent repercussions that give off that vibe?

And I agree with dharmabum - not all musicians on drugs are sad or depressed. Some people/cultures take drugs as a celebration of life, not an escape from it.
 

Jutti

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Listen to some Bette Midler songs..
Try "To deserve you" (album: Bette of Roses), "Hello in there" (uhh, forgot which album and uhhh.. well, the list could go on and on.. check these songs in iTMS..
 

neb

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antiditz said:
Ah neb, you're a poet...

You put things across very well, but it still leaves open the question: is the music depressing because the songwriter was depressed and hence took drugs? Or is it the effect of the drugs and the subsequent repercussions that give off that vibe?

And I agree with dharmabum - not all musicians on drugs are sad or depressed. Some people/cultures take drugs as a celebration of life, not an escape from it.
:)

Who says it can't be both? Drugs can make you depressed, no doubt. It isn't a simple formula, which is a good thing. People react differently to drugs, I'm no expert, but I'm expecting this to be true. The results of taking ecstacy are said to leave to in a state of mind where you love everyone around you; be it in a night club or your something more general such as your family. Obviously this provides a superb platform for songs (and one which doesn't necessarily breed sad songs), relationships always do. Some drugs make you violent, and so the creative spark could be dark and dissmissive ( and so the hapiness level plummets the other way).

I also agree that not all drugs make the artist feel sad and depressed. There's a flip side to the coin. In a western society it's often preached that turning to drugs is a desperate measure, and so the connection between sad songs and drugs is made. I've no doubt that drugs are celebrated in other cultures, but it must be said that the results of taking them are going to be different to my society. It's the role of drugs in society that will detemine the levels of acceptance, and what is tolerated. This leads me back to the relationship connection; the more you can tolerate someone the more you like them.

I know that this has become rather side-tracked by one subject, but there must be some other factors which decide the level of sadness in a song? There are many different interpretations of songs, as there are with poems, so this could be said to be rather expected. Say, if there was a songs about moving on after a loving relationship, would the artist focus on the moving on part? Or the fact that it's over?
 
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