It’s one of the great chicken/egg questions. Which came first–the music or the misery? (Credit to Nick Hornby/Hi Fidelity for the wording.) People who are down in the dumps tend to listen to really depressing music. Why? Do they (ahem–WE) just like to revel in sadness? Or did the music make the sadness possible in the first place?
Who gives a damn? Here are ten great depressing records and why you should listen to them when you’re depressed.
- Lou Reed – Berlin
This one’s for the specific kind of misery where you want to check into a hotel, do a bunch of drugs, and die there. THAT kind of depressed…because that’s pretty much what the record is about. And that’s why we have records like this. When you feel that way, you put this on and listen to the plot and think, “Well… I certainly don’t want THAT. Thanks, Lou!” Plus, it’s a really great record (depressed or not). The guitar tones are amazing and it’s a true masterpiece. There’s actually HOPE to be found in it, if you’re a fan of music arrangement. I know it inspires me to write and to develop better tones in my guitar rig. And that’s no bad thing. In a lot of ways, this is the most beautiful, dark, depressing record out there.
- Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Jazz, my friends. Jazz was MEANT for depression. This is the kind of record that’s meant to be listened to on a rainy day with a glass of bourbon and the lights low…and if a woman just did you wrong, so much the better. One of the great records of all time, and definitely a good one to revel in if you’re feeling “kind of blue.”
- Aimee Mann – The Forgotten Arm
I love Aimee Mann. Almost any of her records would work as well as another on this list, but I’ve got a particular soft spot for “The Forgotten Arm.” It’s kind of a concept record, and it’s kind of grim and sad…but it ends happy. Because life does that. It gets grim and sad and happy all at the same time sometimes, and Aimee does a great job of capturing that in her music. She writes music that makes me want to cry and laugh at the same time…which is kind of what music is FOR.
- The Who – By Numbers
One of the sort of “sleeper” Who records. It’s not the one you’ll grab if you’re looking for the hits. Oh, it’s got some great songs on it, and “Slip Kid” was definitely a good single that some people would know…but it’s not “Pinball Wizard,” y’know? Still, this is a good “downer” listen. With songs like “How Many Friends” and “They’re All in Love” it’s got a little something to fit any sad mood. Also possibly one of the best lyrics Pete ever wrote (from “They’re all in Love”): “Goodbye all you punks, stay young and stay high. Now hand me my checkbook and I’ll crawl off to die.”
- Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
Part of the neo-classical movement. In fact, probably the MAIN part of the neo-classical movement. GYBE! is an act that writes lengthy, classical-syle pieces that also use modern instruments. Think if Yes had a weird mutant baby with Pink Floyd and Purcell and didn’t bother with all that “singing” nonsense. “Skinny Fists” is probably their best known record, and with good reason. It’s a masterpiece. It works well when you’re depressed if you listen through the first more-or-less “movement.” It starts out bleak and builds to…I don’t know…hopeful? That’s how it makes me feel anyway. Then, y’know…right back to bleak. But if you stop after the crescendo, you’ll be fine.
- Mark Lanegan – Field Songs
Lanegan doesn’t really do “happy.” No matter if he’s with the Screaming Trees, or an unofficial member of Queens of the Stone Age, or solo… Dude’s just kinda bleak. “Field Songs” is probably his best solo effort, in my eyes. It’s laid back and ambient. With the sounds of static and stuff (presumably) just being slowly drug over guitar strings as almost a part of the rhythm track, the record is less catchy than it is haunting, and in the best possible way. Perfect for putting on in the background and just LOSING yourself for a while…and who doesn’t want that when they’re feeling down.
- Rufus Wainwright – All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu
Written during a time where Rufus knew his mother was dying, “Lulu” comes from a very dark place. The record is composed of songs that feature JUST Wainwright’s voice and piano with no additional instrumentation. I’ve raved about it elsewhere, and it was one of my favorite records in the year it came out, so I won’t go much more into detail. Just a good “I’m bummed out and I want to hear a sad piano” record.
- Tom Waits – The Black Rider
One lyric sums it up, from “Lucky Day.” I’m sourcing the lyric from the live version on “Glitter and Doom” because that’s my particular favorite performance of it that I’ve heard. “Now when I was a boy, my daddy sat me on his knee and he told me many things. And he said ‘Son’–he always called me son–he said, ‘Son there’s a lot of things in this world you’re gonna have no use for’ (and he was right). ‘But when you get blue and you’ve lost all your dreams, there’s nothin’ like a campfire and a can of beans.’ So don’t cry for me, for I’m going away and I’ll be back some lucky day.” I find hope in there somewhere.
- RAMONES – Pretty much anything, really…
When you’re down and angry, punk saves the day. The RAMONES will throw a lyric at you that will make you smile. Guaranteed.
- Pink Floyd – The Wall
If I have to explain this one, you should have your ears revoked. If you do not have access to The Wall, Wish You Were Here or Dark Side of the Moon will also suffice.
…and there you go. Now go get sad and put one of these on!
No…wait…don’t do that. Maybe wait UNTIL you’re sad. That.