Sunday, July 29, 2007

MUSIC: The Saddest Music In The World

As my introduction to the blog, instead of telling you my favourite t-shirt or the last fast food meal I ate, I decided to take a cue from Guy Maddin's film The Saddest Music In The World.

What is truly the saddest music in the world?

Now there's a difference between sad and bitter. Sadness, in my eyes, is about loss. A sorrow that cannot be hidden or "forced". To a musician, such unhappiness is usually a blessing and a curse.

We have lost many a beloved depressing idol (Nick Drake, Jim Morrison, Elliott Smith) and have nearly lost many others such as Matthew Good, Cat Power and Trent Reznor.

The goal of this post is not to dwell on how much of a bummer Nine Inch Nails are at their best. Nor am I here to tell you my favourite Nirvana songs.

I have selected 25 essential depressing cuts that speak to me on some previously unheard of level. Now before I begin and people start to disagree with me, I want to state that these are cuts from my personal collection.

My selections tend to favour North American artists; however I've tried to keep my search as wide as I could given certain limitations.

I would love to hear about the picks of everyone who visits here, so simply email me or post here with any suggestions. Being an avid music fan, I will likely (as long as you put it nicely) listen to your recommendations.

And because I'm in an extra good mood I have available here a podcast which includes the Top 10 Saddest Songs on my list.

Enough said. Let the countdown begin.

The TOP 25 SADDEST SONGS:

25. I've Been Thinking (Handsome Boy Modeling School feat. Cat Power)

This collaboration between Cat Power and Dan The Automator (Gorillaz, Deltron 3030) proves one of the most fruitful ones on Handsome Boy Modeling School's latest LP White People. Chan Marshall contemplates the state of her relationship in such a sexy, suave way that it would make Feist jealous. The rainy-day vibe, a la Riders On The Storm, guarantees this song's inclusion on this countdown.

24. Non-Zero Possibility (At The Drive-In)

Being the last cut on At The Drive-In's last album Relationship Of Command, this song gets me every time. How I wish I had written this song. The punk attitude gets a literate treatment and as much as people knock Cedric Bixler Zavala's lyrics for being too nonsensical, the line "let's just paint you a pretty face" should be as well-known as Trent's "I hurt myself today". Even though the band was falling apart during the making of this album, that fact allowed them to reach ever greater heights.

23. Dead Meat (Sean Lennon)

I'll be the first to admit Lennon's latest album Friendly Fire was certainly not worth the 8 year wait. This being said, being the son of the ridiculously talented John Lennon and Yoko Ono, some talent's bound to rub off. "Dead Meat" is Lennon's send-off to his ex-girlfriend Bijou Philips, who weirdly enough, sings back-up vocals on the track. This is an expertly constructed song filled with passion and is one of the best songs of 2006.

22. Take You On A Cruise (Interpol)

I'm not exactly sure how Interpol can be completely engaging yet a tad bit disappointing at the same time. Much like Damon Albarn of Blur fame, I believe these guys still haven't written their best material. Their live shows often boast identical setlists for months on end, but they weather the criticism and Joy Division jokes to make incredible rock songs. "Take You On A Cruise" is a beautiful lullaby drowning in guitars and reverb that is better than any drug.

21. Parting Ways (Pearl Jam)

Here we go, I'll say it. Eddie Vedder is the emo artist of the 90's. And what happened to one of the 90's biggest icons when the decade came to an end? His relationship with his then-wife Beth Liebling came to a bitter halt. And although he's "too big a man to say" he knew they'd soon be parting ways.

20. Asleep (The Smiths)

I'm sure this song could bum even Andy Dick out. Mr. Self-Deprication (a.k.a. Morrissey) is the poster boy for these kinds of lists and it just wouldn't feel right without him. What was the B-side to "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side" turns out to be the real winner and one of The Smiths' best songs.

19. Afraid Not Scared (Ryan Adams)

Not being as big a Ryan Adams fan as many of my friends doesn't stop me from recognizing the genius in much of this man's work. I recently read his celebrity playlist for iTunes which was loaded with hip-hop. I first thought this was really weird, but after giving Love Is Hell another listen, I realize that Adams probably listens to agressive music to allow himself to write the many haunting ballads he is arguably best known for. The man sums it up best himself; it sounds "like someone possessed".

18. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles)

Forget all the Sgt. Pepper's hype for a minute. I believe The Beatles self-titled "white album" captures them at their best. After watching the film Concert For George that captures an all-star tribute to the songs of George Harrison, I was reminded of how much of a gem this song is. Paul McCartney on piano. Eric Clapton on lead guitar. Songs shouldn't be allowed to be this good. It depresses the rest of us.

17. Seule (Patton / Kaada)

This short-lived collaboration between Norwegian icon John Kaada and the schizophrenic musical mastermind Mike Patton (ex-Faith No More, Peeping Tom) produced a song so potent with death that it sounds like a 3-minute funeral. And I'm inclined to have this play on repeat for a while.

16. The End (The Doors)

Without even having seen Apocalypse Now, this song should still be able to resonate with all music fans. All it took to ensure The Door's legacy is a story that includes references to the oedipus complex. This song shows us why The Doors still matter today. Now if only I could shake the memories of Ian Astbury singing this.

15. The Slaughter (John Frusciante feat. Flea)

I just wanted start by saying if I were to ever pick a favourite song, this might be it. A depressive vibe isn't the only thing it has going for it. That explains its place here at number fifteen. This song represents what the Red Hot Chili Peppers would sound like without their weakest link (Anthony Kiedis). I take this song literally as John's explanation of his breakup with actress Milla Jovovich. But its greatness is not contained to the reality of John's situation at the time. John sounds more emotionally complicated than I've ever heard him. And he's certainly not one to shy away from sharing his feelings. Brian Wilson-esque harmonies, Depeche Mode synth parts and standup bass. Oh, and this song has both real drums courtesy of Chad Smith and a programmed beat. I could go on forever so I'll just stop now.

14. Concerto De Aranjuez (Francis Goya)

It's weird how I came upon this guy. It was mostly by accident. I was looking for music that sounded Mexican and this Belgian artist came up. I was blown away by the passion he plays with and the emotional highs he can reach given only a short time-frame. I dare you to find a song this sexy and sad.

13. Grapefruit Moon (Tom Waits)

"Everytime I hear that melody, something breaks inside
And the grapefruit moon, one star shining, is more than I can hide."

Along with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits has to be one of the greatest living poets. Here's the thing though, he's also a incredibly skilled musician. "Grapefruit Moon" appears on his debut album Closing Time, and even though I enjoy all things Waits, this song should have been way more popular. Maybe it's just best as a secret in the Waits community. If you haven't heard this, you don't know what you're missing. Even though you'll feel like a moping regular in the local piano bar, you'll be hearing some of the finest music there is to hear.

12. Avalanche (Matthew Good)

I don't know what it is about avalanches. They inspire the best of us. A total of three artists on this list have all written songs with Avalanche in the title (in case you're wondering, the other two are Ryan Adams and Sufjan Stevens). Matthew Good has recently shed some light on his emotional state during the making of his debut solo album Avalanche on his blog. It's a depressing read, but it's good. Matt has taken the time to shed light on bipolar disorder as it affects many people who don't even know about it. Back to the song "Avalanche"; this marked a new complexity in song-writing for Good. The song builds and then dissolves to come full circle back to the first line and melody. Based on a few listens, Good's new album Hospital Music (which is available everywhere July 31st) proves even more promising than this.

11. Battery In Your Leg (Blur)

The last song Blur's original lineup ever recorded together. Guitarist Graham Coxon (also an accomplished solo act) wrote a haunting riff that digs the band's grave. Since Think Tank, Blur have decided to record again (with Coxon), but the skeptics insist that Think Tank will never be lived up to. Lead singer Damon Albarn has said the lyrics to this song are written about the state of the band, a kind of ceremonial love song saying goodbye to Coxon after they grew apart.

10. Your Ex-Lover Is Dead (Stars as remixed by Final Fantasy)

This first Canadian entry on the countdown hits with twice the emotional punch. Final Fantasy (a.k.a. Owen Pallett of Arcade Fire fame) puts his subtle, melodic touch on a song that was already great. This song eliminates the grandiose feel of the original with sparse piano parts and carefully crafted violin harmonies. This is a remix that works, which is a rare occurance. Too bad Final Fantasy is the only one Stars should have trusted to remix their songs on their album Do You Trust Your Friends?.

9. Poke A Pal (Mugison)

Icelandic singer/songwriter Mugison is part of a dying breed. Pop musicians that make albums, not just filler noise. Mugison's story is engaging in its own right (he was considered "handicapped" because he couldn't write things down logically) but his music stands above any image that could be created. Thanks to Mike Patton's recommendation on a French radio show, I checked out this man's catalogue. If anyone is interested, most of his stuff is available as a free download on his website. I don't know how he makes money, but I don't think he cares. For Mugison, it's all about the songs, and "Poke A Pal" is outstanding.

8. The Needle And The Damage Done (Neil Young)

Harvest to this day remains a folk gem. "The Needle And The Damage Done" makes me proud to be Canadian. Neil Young can do more with a guitar and a microphone than most current bands today. A song that touches on the abuse of drugs, as is fairly obvious, it hurts to hear Neil Young hurt.

7. Already Dead (Beck)

Look only at the title and you'll know that Beck is a mess in this song. The end of a tumultuous 9-year relationship must be a bummer. I can picture a bed-ridden Beck calling Nigel Godrich (Radiohead) and asking him to come over. The "bendy" guitar solo in this is also haunting as hell. Sea Change is Beck's singer/songwriter album and while I don't wish a breakup upon anyone, I wonder if Beck will ever be this good again.

6. Twilight (Elliott Smith)

In case you didn't know, Elliott Smith took his own life. Perhaps the 90's answer to Nick Drake, it was apparent Smith felt really out of place. You can't argue with the appeal of this song, released posthumously on his album From A Basement On The Hill. I have a friend who, according to his iTunes count, has listen to this song the equivalent of over two days. That's impressive longevity.

5. Crowd Surf Off A Cliff (Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton)

The Metric front-woman's side project seems to matter so much more than her day job it's weird. Critics like the Toronto Star's Ben Rayner will probably disagree with me, but this is Haines at her best. She doesn't need loud alt-rock riffs to feel at home. The daughter of the acclaimed poet Paul Haines, Emily's literate side really rears its head here.

4. John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (Sufjan Stevens)

Ambitious is a word often associated with Sufjan Stevens. But writing a pretty song about a child-rapist that makes us feel his guilt? That's damn near unheard of. This ballad off Sufjan's award winning Illinois album is so creepy but brilliantly arranged and written most will love it, but won't want to listen again. The thought is just too scary.

3. One Hundred Years (The Cure)

What would a list like this be without The Cure, one of the most influential bands of the planet? It's a shame they mostly influence shit like Fallout Boy, but they are truly Gods at what they do. A song that includes the lyrics "waiting for the death blow", "it doesn't matter if we all die" sung over a bass-heavy hypnotic riff is a winner in my books. And don't think The Cure have gotten sick of this song. This first track off Pornography has been played on every tour since its release.

2. Street Spirit (Radiohead)

Thom Yorke says to "immerse yourself in love" at the end of this song. What's the point, Thom? I can't even think about love when listening to this song. Yorke has said "Street Spirit", unlike their other depressing material, "has no resolve". Maybe it's good I don't listen to this too intensely. They lost me at "cracked eggs, dead birds".

1. Fire And Rain (James Taylor)

What could be more depressing than Radiohead? James Taylor? Before your write me an angry email, consider this. James Taylor tells the story of his friend Suzanne's sudden death. Unlike the other songs on this list, this song actually has a twist of optimism looking back on its meaning. Taylor was so distraught by losing a close friend that this taught him to appreciate every day even more. He never wanted such an unfortunate circumstance to get the best of him again. In the end, James Taylor's best song has shed some light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

2 comments:

Alex said...

Hrm. Sad's a pretty subjective word, but a good list non the less. Of course, there's a tear drop sized hole where Nick Drake should be.

NATHANIEL R said...

omg. i'm mortified at how few of these songs i've ever heard.

love Tom Waits though. love love