Melancholy Music Masterclass: 6 Songs That Help Us Cope With (And Sometimes Perpetuate) Sadness

Music is the mood maker. It really is. Put on some Marvin Gaye in the bedroom with some candles lit, it sends a very clear, non-verbal cue to your lover or spouse. Drive with some Metallica playing, blaring through open car windows while you scowl like an asshole sends the non-verbal communication that you are in an aggressive state. Perhaps calling music a mood enhancer would be more accurate in this case. Whatever mood you may be in, there is a music genre that can fit that mood, feed it, or heal it. Sometimes it can be nice to feed it. To feed the beast inside you with some hard, crunchy rock or to feed the still living teenager inside your dead, old frame pop music to liven you up. Hell, most 80’s music is straight up “good mood”, synth heavy music that can lift your spirits and energy like a shot of B9. But what about sadness? Do we feed our sadness musically or starve it in hopes of it scuttling off? We feed it. We recognize it is there, we recognize that it is a necessary feeling to have in life, and we feed it, so when it is nourished, it leaves us and in the meantime, sad music reminds us through lyrics and haunting melodies that we are never alone in that sadness. Someone else gets it, so much so, they wrote a song for that very feeling.

Here, for your future consideration on a sad, rainy Sunday, are 6 songs that help feed the sadness enough that it eventually moves on. Or in the very least, stands as a testimony to the fact that you, unlike most people, are not afraid to run from that and know sadness is needed or else we wouldn’t truly know happiness. If it didn’t rain now and then we would we still appreciate the sun? Think about it.

Keep in mind, list wise, some of the tunes and some of the subject matter in this piece may be heavy to some. Also, all areas of loss are presented here musically. From losing a parent to losing love to wanting to lose your own life. But please, only use these songs to help you face what you need to. Do not let them break you, as you are stronger than that, even if no one tells you that enough.

Codex by Radiohead

The sad and wonderful and brilliant thing about Radiohead is, no matter what album you listen to by this “maybe best band ever”, you are guaranteed at least 70% sad music. That is part of what makes Radiohead such a musical staple for so many. They allow you to bask in your sadness and then shut it off when it becomes too much. Though all their music is epic in scope and brilliant, there is a rawness to the track Codex of the In Rainbows album that just sounds JUST like what sadness feels like.

From the haunting, simplistic piano, to the swirtling ambient noises that accompany it, there is a line in Codex about jumping into a clear lake when no one is around, and this song sounds and feels like that. Like floating all alone in cold water and not knowing why you are drowning, but being fully aware you are.

Sad, yes. But breathtaking as well, as those two things need to mingle for sadness to be okay.

Hurt by Johnny Cash (and Original by Nine Inch Nails)

When I first heard Hurt on the Downward Spiral album by Nine Inch Nails, I was floored, literally. It was so sad it put me on the floor, face down. But it also captured a feeling of hopelessness in me and put it into words so astutely that I fell in love as hard as I actually fell on the floor.


Johnny Cash’s cover (and accompanying video seen above) is maybe some of the most poignantly sad music to ever be put together. When Trent Reznor sang about being hurt, he was a young man talking about being broken, but we knew he would get up. When Cash sang it we heard every year of that man’s life in his voice. We heard the loss of his soulmate. We heard a man on the very doorstep of death singing about how his life has given him a crown of thorns to wear (though trent called it “a crown of shit” in his version) and the burden that weighs on him. You feel it, all of it. And to top it all off, last music video Johnny Cash ever made.
If you can get through it without crying, good on you, but songs like this are cathartic in the sense they make us sob and in doing so, they get those feelings OUT from inside us. Out is safer, locking things away (especially emotions) can eventually drive you mad or even kill you.

Ruth Marie by Mark Kozelek

If there is a list on this song that I cannot listen to for just how gut-wrenching it is, it is Ruth Marie by brilliant singer songwriter Mark Kozelek (formerly of Red House Painters). A song that, based on composition alone, is achingly sorrowful, but once he begins singing the story of the song, you crumble faster than a Jenga tower being yanked on by kids with ADHD.

The song, sung from the perspective of the Ruth Marie character, is about being placed in an old folks home by your kids, being fully aware that she can no longer take care of herself and how when her kids are leaving, she weeps while looking into “the eyes I gave you.”

Hell, I am weeping right now just talking about it. It is like a gut punch but one we all need so as to better understand the elderly and how hard that must be on them, as opposed to making it all about how hard their aging is on US.

A song the world needs to hear, bit keep the tissues nearby, for real. We can all relate to this song on some level, but it leaves you weak in knees and wet in the eyes.

Mad World by Gary Jules (original ‘not-as-sad-sounding’ version by Tears For Fears)

All I have to do is say the name of the song, post the video, and walk away, The lyrics here say it all, and say it so succinctly that me adding anything would just detract from the true sullen power of this funeral march of a song.

But come on, on some really really REAL shit, we have all had days when we wish we could just curl up in a ball and die. Life is tough life that, and it is tough like to most of us.
At least Gary Jules’ cover of Mad World gives us an actual, literal soundtrack for those exact broken moments.

Just don’t play on repeat, as this one is so heavy it might break your back if you carry it too long.

Say Something by Great Big World featuring Christina Aguilera

Breaking up with someone you love is bullshit, but it is bullshit every single human being has in common with one another. It is bullshit we have ALL stepped in at some point, so the sadness that accompanies that is a sadness known by all. A universally recognized sadness, some may say. Though it could be said that there are LITERALLY thousands of break up songs that make you feel like shit when you hear them, Say Something goes one step further. It somehow steps into the room of your last, nasty breakup and says things you wish you could have. Just the simple act of begging someone you love to know why they are leaving or breaking you and they don’t even answer, that is the very definition of the word crestfallen. And hearing it all sung beautifully makes it even harder to digest. But remember, we do not move on until we face things, and songs like this help us face the very things that attempt to break us, which only makes us stronger.

But it is the hook in this song is just so damning that every time you hear it, it summons unfortunate memories of a time you loved someone when you shouldn’t have, as they were not worthy of it.

“Say something I’m giving up on you.”
That hook alone hits harder than any right hook I ever took to the jaw, and I’ve taken my share.

Honorable Mention (A.K.A sad song # 6): Gloomy Sunday. 

I can’t say it HELPS people with depression as the song itself has caused countless suicides throughout history. All I can say is, when it comes to sad song lists, you kinda can’t leave out the one song that is literally known to kill people. Click that link and do some research, it is kind of freaky, actually.

A song SO SAD it causes people who hear it to jump out windows. Really.
Just don’t listen to it if you’re sad. Fair? Save this one for a sunny day. Think of that as a song with a warning label. Do not consume while feeling less than 100%, music doctor’s orders.

And for those who found this list utterly depressing, here you go:

Cheer up, Bucko. Sadness is like clouds. They do come overhead and block out the sun sometimes. But the best thing is, you give even the grayest of clouds enough time, even they will eventually move along on their own, reminding you the sun was always there even if you lost sight of it for a second.