Mar 192012

Listening to some X today and got to thinking how much I love Under the Big Black Sun, but yet how sad it is. Songs like “Come Back to Me,” “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes,” and “Riding With Mary” all speak the pain of Exene’s tragic loss. I get a similar feeling with Neil Young‘s Tonight’s the Night album for a similar reason—death hangs all over that album.

Now I’d have to say the saddest album (IMO) is Big Star‘s Sister Lovers. Maybe it’s the “death of a band,” but the whole about-to-collapse-at-any-moment vibe of that album always seems to really bum me out, no matter how much I love it. And I think “Holocaust” maybe one of the saddest songs ever put on vinyl.

Not that I’m in a dark mood here—what with the amazing weather and all—but any contenders for Saddest Album in Rock? Break out those hankies.


  60 Responses to “Saddest Album in Rock?”

  1. First of all, despite the songs you cite I’ve never thought of Under the Big Black Sun as a sad album! It makes sense that one could hear it that way. I hadn’t considered it at all. I’ve always loved that album for its ability to rally in me a sense of dogged determination.

    I’m downbeat by nature, so I’ve always had an interest in sad songs, sad albums. Over the years I’ve been aware of how my emotional reaction to sad records can change. I wrote about this a couple of years ago, thinking about Elvis Costello’s “Kid About It,” and the “give me back my sadness…” line. That’s a song that still resonates with me on a sad level, but as an entire album Imperial Bedroom is not quite as sad a listening experience as it once was.

    The same goes for other go-to 3-handkerchief albums, such as the Neil Young and Big Star albums you mention, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Lou Reed’s Berlin, and the dBs’ Repercussions. When I was younger feelings of sadness were so much more black and white, so much more directly tied into my weekly disappointments and latest losses. These days I usually feel like the “games” have already been decided and the result was a sub-.500 record. However, I’m stronger as a result, the “organization” is as solid as ever, and we’re gearing up in anticipation of the inevitable loss, life’s greatest loss of all: death.

    Few albums speak to my present sense of trying to muster true grit in the face of mortality. One album from childhood that still gets me and that continues to speak to this current notion of sadness is The Band’s second album. The songs frame regular characters in a historical and geographical context that doesn’t have much to do with my experiences but speaks to the state of humanity as well as any album I can think of. When I read reviews of Springsteen albums I feel like they’re actually describing this album.

    These days I also like cranking up John Cale’s Fear when I feel the need to stew. That album takes a badass approach to sadness that I sometimes feel is helpful to take. It embraces it, then spits in its face.

    So, as I conclude possibly the most pretentious thing I’ve ever posted here, to me the state of the world is sad, but it’s rarely worth moping about in a darkened room the way some of my once-favorite sad albums used to help me do so well. I still love those albums, but I’m a little different than I used to be.

  2. Happiness Stan

    I’m another sucker for miserable records – immediately coming to mind are Dory Previn’s “Mythical Kings and Iguanas”, about which I wrote recently, although it is not so much sad as describing a bleak prison from which there is no escape.

    Joy Division’s “Closer” is another one, made even bleaker by the knowledge that Ian Curtis had hanged himself by the time it was released.

    Third up, but possibly top of my list, would be the album I have been mocked on here for enjoying, but not for several months so it’s probably time it was aired again, which is Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun”.

    His delivery, in his nasal, high voice, sounds as if he is about to burst into floods of tears on whatever he sings – he could deliver “The Laughing Policeman” and leave the audience sobbing. The album comes hot on the tail of the break up of the Poppy Family and his marriage to their singer Susan Jacks.

    My God the songs he wrote for them were bleak, and the “Which Way Are You Going Billy” album sounds like the Monkees would have done if Leonard Cohen had crept into the Brill Building and substituted Neil Diamond’s songs for his own, but in her beautiful crystal voice she sang them in a way which at least appeared to offer some sort of hope even if she couldn’t figure out what it might be, as if she would probably kill herself the day after tomorrow rather than the moment the song has ended.

  3. sammymaudlin

    There’s too much energy, life/vitality, in Under the Big Black Sun for me to think of it as sad. I’ve never heard Sister Lovers as Radio City starts to peter out on me. Can anyone else vouch for this?

    The boppin’ tunes on Repercussion yank it out of sadness too for me though they do belie the lyrics. Part of why I dig it so much.

    There are two albums that come to mind as so sad for me that I can’t listen to them anymore as I just don’t wan to go there. Lou Reed’s Berlin (thanks Mod for turning me onto this swinging noose of an album) and Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks.

  4. Here are a couple of albums that can bring you down.

    David Sylvian — Brilliant Trees — this was the first solo album from Japan’s lead singer. Out of print now, but perfect for killing a good mood. He’s seems to have gotten even more morose as the years have gone by — with albums like Dead Bees On A Cake.

    The Replacements — All Shook Down — Some overlooked gems on this one — Nobody, Sadly Beautiful, Someone Take The Wheel, The Last. I didn’t like this album when it came out, but its grown on me over the years.

  5. hrrundivbakshi

    I am reminded of one of my favorite Paul Weller lines, from “Paris Match” — a Style Council song:

    I’m only sad in a natural way
    And I enjoy sometimes feeling this way

    Early in the Style Council’s career, Paul knocked a few songs out of the park that were based on this concept of natural/organic sadness — the sadness of longing, or regret, or nostalgia. “Long Hot Summer” is particularly excellent in this regard.

  6. hrrundivbakshi

    Hey — I just realized Weller pulled the cheeseball “rhyme a word with the exact same word” move! I take everything I said back… dude sucks!

  7. misterioso

    The mere thought of Terry Jacks makes me sad.

  8. Decent call on Blood on the Tracks, but my vote would be for Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind. The vibe throughout the entire record is death and sadness. I suppose he was seeing his own final days as (from what I recall) this was recorded just after he had that infection in ’97 that almost killed him.

    I must listen to this record by myself. It sounds like a cold, rainy November night in upstate New York.

    Some one-liners from the album:

    “It’s not dark yet — but it’s gettin’ there.”
    “Tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door.”
    “I’m walkin’ through the streets that are dead …”
    “I’m drifting in and out of dreamless sleep, throwing all my memories in a ditch so deep.”
    “When I’m gone you will remember my name.”
    “Tomorrow night before the sun goes down, if I’m still among the living, I’ll be Dixie bound.”

    Whew. Heavy stuff.

  9. misterioso

    Big Star Third is a really good choice. It’s pretty damn sad in every sense. I think it is underrated, actually, as a record, but that’s another matter.

    Blood on the Tracks is pretty definitive in this category. Time Out of Mind isn’t exactly a yuck-fest either.

    Obviously a lot of Leonard Cohen’s records (ok, maybe all of them) are sad but I find Songs of Love and Hate most affecting.

    Then there is the much put-upon Who By Numbers, Pete’s cri de coeur. Saaaad.

  10. misterioso

    Sonny, as you’ll see (below) I am with you on Time Out of Mind, but the record was made before his brush with death.

  11. alexmagic

    “Moody” & Other Assorted Love Songs by Scuffy Shew

  12. machinery

    I hear ya about Under the Big Black Sun, but I guess it’s the backstory. Even the big chugga-chugga numbers feel like they’re walking uphill in the face of a bleak windstorm. And that cover art is seriously bleak.

    An album which I forgot to mention that is seriously sad from beginning to end is Beck’s Sea Change. I think he wrote it after a major relationship break-up, so it is super downbeat. Yet, since it’s his most stripped down, no-sample affair, it is my favorite of his. I honestly think it’s his best to date, since there’s no studio trickery or bag of tricks for him to lean on. It’s the one where you realize he can write songs.

  13. alexmagic

    Blur’s 13 is a more recent album that is pretty heavily steeped in some combination of depression, lonliness and resignation, both lyrically and musically. Like most that will probably come up here, it was inspired by a personal relationship that fell apart, but it also has the accidental “bonus” of being made by a band that hadn’t fully realized yet that it was about to break up, too.

  14. I’ll try to remember to burn Sister Lovers for you when we get together. I think you’d like it. It’s like Big Star’s Syd Barrett solo albums. Speaking of which, I pulled out those two albums, which I LOVED – and loved moping to – recently, and I simply couldn’t tap into that sense of neediness. I still love those albums, especially the second one, but I can’t feel them the same way. I must by applying too much Mandom. (Which begs the questions, is there such a thing as too much Mandom?)

  15. “Not Dark Yet,” which I tried again thanks to misterioso (if memory serves), definitely fits my modern-day ideal for an appropriately sad song!

  16. cliff sovinsanity

    Good call on Sea Change. As you mentioned, even though it’s stripped down by Beck’s standard there is a certain amount of flourish and keyboard blips to keep things interesting. I think he was hanging around Wayne Coyne at the time, so there is a certain amount of Flaming Lips influence that works. I’m waiting for the sequel.

  17. cliff sovinsanity

    The Scud Mountain Boys final release Massachusetts is an achingly sad but beautiful album. Songs like In A Ditch, Grudgefuck, Big Hole and Evil Kneivel are downright depressing but somehow hold up to repeated listening. Joe Pernice has made a career out of this style but never as perfect as this album.

  18. tonyola

    Sly & The Family Stone – There’s a Riot Going On. No more life affirmations, calls for action, or exhortations to get up and dance for this band. The album was the soundtrack for the slow junkie destruction of a once-great talent. Glimpses of the old spirit occasionally show through, but this was more about nodding out and stasis in a warm heroin glow. Sly Stone never really recovered.

  19. hrrundivbakshi


  20. My first thought on this was Tears for Fears The Hurting , which is just a straight misery. Unlike Joy Division, since they had an intensity in their sound that pushed back hard against the lyrics.

    Another all-purpose downer is Ray LaMontagne Trouble . Bleaker than it’s NPR-friendly reputation; the one uptempo song’s main hook is ” Man, killing man, killing man, killing man”.

  21. ladymisskirroyale

    See Saudade music – that sad, lonely, homesick sort of music.

  22. ladymisskirroyale

    There’s something about Spiritualized that bums the hell out of me. The music can be really lovely but the lyrics range from complete tear-jerkers to ones where I want to slap J. Spaceman silly. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but a couple of years ago, Mr. Royale and I went to see an acoustic Jason Pierce perform accompanied by gospel singers and strings. It was a beautiful show but completely gut wrenching. I ended up crying my way through the end of it. Here’s the worst of the lot:

  23. Thank you misterioso. Wasn’t quite sure on that.

  24. An album that never fails to depress me is Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach’s Painted From Memory. There was a stretch of about 6 months when my wife would ask me to turn that one off every time it was on. Hard to believe that album came out in 1998. I don’t think there’s been an album since that I listened to as much as I listened to that one.

    I must have been pretty depressed at that time!

  25. trigmogigmo

    Not the whole album, but the song “To Wish Impossible Things” from the Cure’s album Wish is unbearably sad.

    There are parts of Death Cab for Cutie’s Plans, terrific music, that I often just have to skip over.

  26. “Toledo” from that album brings out the lone teardrop in me! Funny you should mention Bacharach in the sad albums thread. Although not a particular album, any of my Dionne Warwick collections, driven by those Bacharach-David songs, stand the test of sadness.

  27. Bacharach-David were subversive when it came to sadness. You have these bouncy, uptempo songs and all the lyrics are sad. It was Hal David really. Even at first glance you don’t necessarily get how sad the lyrics are but then you pay closer attention and they are steeped in sadness. Check out Do You Know The Way To San Jose? for a good example.

  28. pudman13

    I doubt many, if any, of you have heard it, but the saddest album in rock is PURGATORY FALLS by Parthenon Huxley, about the death of his wife. It’s so sad that I can’t even stand to listen to it.

  29. mockcarr

    Where are all those Smiths and Fall fans?

    John Lennon’s – Plastic Ono Band, lots of backstory there.
    Chris Bell’s – I Am The Cosmos
    Steve Ward – See And Be Seen

    Pretty much all of Matthew Sweet’s albums are chock full of sad songs, but there’s always a few poppy melodies to break them up, kind of what Gene Clark does.

  30. mockcarr

    Yeah, that’s probably the first one that occurred to me too.

  31. Happiness Stan

    The Fall – sad? Incomprehensible perhaps, but surely not miserable. Please expand… ah.

    Don’t really buy into the Smiths reputation for gloominess either, there are too many jokes to render them merely as miserablists.

  32. tonyola

    To me, Plastic One Band is more anger and personal affirmation than sadness. I don’t see the Smiths as sad either. Somewhere out there is a morose tearjerker of a country-western album – all someone has to do is find it. I can’t be bothered.

  33. I love old country but the sad stuff seldom feels genuinely sad to me. It usually feels more like an act, like it’s trying to be sad because it’s supposed to be that way. A few George Jones examples:

    “Put the bottle on the table, let it stay there ’till I’m not able, to see your face in every place that I go…”

    “Just because I ask a friend about her, Just be cause I spoke her name somewhere, Just because I rang her number by mistake today, She thinks I still care…”

    And of course:
    “The race is on and here comes Pride up the backstretch, Heartache’s going to the inside, My Tears are holding back trying not to fall, My Heart’s out of the running, True Love’s scratched for another stake…”

  34. Shoot Out the Lights is kind of a depressing album given that they were going through a divorce around that time. Even the track listing lets you know what you are in for: Don’t Renege on Our Love, Did She Jump or Was She Pushed, Man in Need, Walking on a Wire

  35. You know what I find most depressing about that album? How boring and tubby it sounds. I read so much about that album when it came out. Luckily I’d already bought some other Richard Thompson-related albums first. I was expecting THE GREATEST ALBUM OF ALL-TIME. It was a tremendous letdown. I’ll stick with Shoot Out the Lights, Pours Down Like Silver, and especially Henry the Human Fly.

  36. Much like Dylan wasn’t sick when he made Time out of Mind, the Thompsons had no intention of splitting up when they made Shoot out the Lights.

  37. Mod, I agree that it does not live up to the hype, but it definitely has some great moments.

  38. But if they broke up before the album came out, it’s reasonable to assume that things were not going all that great at the time it was recorded, Linda’s pregnancy notwithstanding.

  39. I don’t know anyone over the age of 16 who takes the Smiths entirely seriously. Even a lot of the most overtly depressive songs have jokes in them.

  40. Yes, the guitar solo in the title track. I’m sure there are a couple of other great moments, but I’m still pissed at how little I like that album. It’s not your fault.

  41. mockcarr

    You have to admit that Morrissey’s enormous head LOOKS very sad.

  42. alexmagic

    Yeah, this is one that I wanted to bring up, too.

    Even earlier songs that are lyrically positive like “Stand!”, “Everybody Is A Star” and “Everyday People” have a sad underpinning in the music (which makes them resonate even more, for my money), the sound of someone who’s been taking an emotional beating. Which is understandable given the times, but also probably an early glimpse into what was going on with Sly himself and the direction both he and his music were heading.

  43. H. Munster

    “Songs of Love and Hate” does it for me. Even when I don’t know what he’s talking about I find it depressing. Beautiful.

  44. 2000 Man

    I always felt Under the Big Black Sun just had an underlying feeling of darkness, not sadness. It has sad parts, but Hungry Wolf and Because I Do are just such revved up blasts that I can’t feel sad when those are playing, and they set the tone for the sides.

    I think Big Star’s Third is pretty sad, but it’s sad in so many ways that it’s kind of hard to listen to the whole thing. When I want some Big Star I play the first two albums, generally.

    I think Jessica Lea Mayfield’s first album is sad. Her lyrics are a little high school relationship heavy, but she’s young and she’s got talent. Dan Auerbach produced it and plays a lot of instruments over her acoustic guitar. It could be more mature, but then it won’t be as sad. I think you tend to take things a lot harder when you’re young, so I’m glad someone got this stuff recorded, because I think one day she’ll be pretty polished and everything won’t seem like such a big deal. But I like the frankness of the lyrics and she’s got a great voice.

  45. Happiness Stan

    Good choice, I’ve been listening to quite a bit of their stuff recently and even though I Want To See The Bright Lights is more consistently miserable, Shoot Out The Lights sounds a lot more terminal.

  46. misterioso

    Well, yes and no. One might get the impression from your remarks that There’s a Riot… is less than a great record. (Though I don’t think that is what you meant; I take it you are referring to the positive outlook of the earlier Sly records.) For that matter, the next Sly record, Fresh, is also tremendous. After that, I think, special pleading is required.

  47. misterioso

    I only mean this to be half as snarky as it sounds, but does anyone listen to Tears for Fears anymore?

  48. No, Riot is a great record in its own way, but there was something terribly wrong with Sly by this point. He can muster up inspiration but not much energy, and it’s the rest of the still-active-and capable Family Stone who pretty much pull the album through. It’s sad because the vision is so dark and enervated compared to the earlier albums. Fresh was OK, but it was no Stand!.

  49. It’s hard to avoid “Shout” and “Everybody Want to Rule the World” on ’80s retro stations and channels. Also, there’s a goofily ambitious and overwrought charm to The Seeds of Love.

  50. I didn’t listen to them even back then. Everybody Wants to Rule the World is moderately listenable. The rest is horrible.

  51. alexmagic

    Last year, I randomly heard a song from one of their later albums (like, a reunion/comeback album, even?) that was even more of a Beatles-homage than “Sowing The Seeds Of Love” was, and I really liked it for what it was. But then I have a soft spot for people who pull that kind of thing off.

    Anyway, I still think “Head Over Heels” is perfectly good.

  52. Ah, but it is easy for me to avoid those stations!

  53. Nick Drake, Pink Moon
    Mickey Newbury, Heaven Help the Child

  54. Fair question. I brought up a cassette of The Hurting and Songs from the Big Chair within the last 6-8 months. I do that so as not to lose touch with that kind of stuff. Also, the slow cover of “Mad World” from Donny Darko is pretty well known.

  55. pudman13

    I can’t for the life of me figure out why Mr. moderator doesn’t find much to like about this brilliant album, but I’m not sure anything I could say would change his mind. But that’s not my point—my point is that this illustrates exactly why I chose PURGATORY FALLS as saddest album. SHOOT OUT THE LIGHTS captured a very turbulent and unhappy period of time, but that’s exactly what it was, a period of time, from which things were probably going to eventualy get better. PURGATORY FALLS is final, and even though it suggests that things will get better for the singer/songwriter, death is unchangeable. Lou Reed’s MAGIC & LOSS is another one. There’s one lyric I will never be able to forget from that one: “Now you were no saint but you deserved better than that”

  56. I’ll pull it out again, pudman13. I haven’t listened to it in ages, but in the days when I did listen to the record the songs sounded muffled. I don’t know how else to put it.

  57. misterioso

    I have fairly fond memories of Everybody Wants to Rule the World and its silly video from when it came out. (I wouldn’t construe this as meaning it is a great song so much as it evokes a time.) Other than that–nada.

  58. patrock

    Elliott Smith “either/or” comes to mind ….even more “upbeat” songs on that album have lines like “and when they close the street, I’ll be the only shit thats left behind”

    I also thought of the Costello/Bacharach, but both are more melancholy than sad really.

    Probably the saddest, most void of joy song I think I’ve ever heard is Phil Collins cover of “True Colors”. It has the sound of a truly broken man who’s given in to the fact that his creative self is dead. His delivery on this song is as if he was giving a eulogy for his soul, at a funeral being held well after the body washed up on the shore but was only recently identified…. it should be classified as Doom Metal.

  59. hrrundivbakshi

    Phil Collins/doom metal: HA

  60. Late to this after lurking too long, but if anybody is still checking this thread, I’ll nominate “S.F. Sorrow” by the Pretty Things. What a downer. Your dad works in a factory that manufacturers misery, you’re lonely and depressed. You meet a girl and fall in love during the one happy tune on the album–“She Says Good Morning”–but then the love your life dies in a blimp fire on her way to New York to be with you. Absolutely no hope for a happy life on this one despite quite a few good songs.

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