Music is one of the few things that can instantly bypass traditional divides. Whether it’s the stadium metal style of Guns N’ Roses, the perky pop of Taylor Swift or the evocative art rock of Arcade Fire, music has the uncanny ability to instantly break down the borders that can sometimes seem so rigidly implacable in life.
“There is no feeling, except the extremes of fear and grief, that does not find relief in music”, said George Eliot of its innate power. In and through music, we have the ability to access emotions that otherwise might remain hidden or unknown, and nowhere are those feelings more accessible than with a song that tugs, most particularly, at the heartstrings. While some sad songs have served as a political statement, forcing us into a slow burn with the use of a simple chord, some drums and one really good line, there are also those that have channeled our most complex emotions and given us a passageway again to the part of ourselves that was left behind for the sake of life among the maddening crowd.
While Strange Fruit simmers as Billie Holiday relays the injustices perpetrated in America’s south, Jeff Buckley’s cover of Hallelujah teems with the desperation, and disappointment, of love. There may be no definitive marker for what makes a song truly sad, but the following can’t help but leave the listener a little speechless for the penetrating truth they rankle with or the hope that seems almost entirely lost.
10 10. Creep – Radiohead
9 Weeping Willow – The Verve
8 Imagine – John Lennon
7 Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
6 The Eternal – Joy Division
5 One – U2
4 Tears In Heaven – Eric Clapton
3 Twilight – Elliott Smith
2 All Apologies – Nirvana
1 Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday
Though Strange Fruit initially started out as a song Billie Holiday sang during her live performances, it was after it was recorded in 1939 that it found an audience and received wide acclaim. Written by songwriter Abel Meeropol, Strange Fruit sounds tempting enough but refers quite darkly to the lynching of black people that was a familiar sight in the Southern United States. Though Holiday’s version is striking and rendered with subtlety, you can feel the true horror of the subject when she unmercifully sings, “Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the Poplar trees.”
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