11/6/08

Music Lists #1: Depressing Songs of the Seventies



The 1972 hit "Alone Again (Naturally)" by Gilbert O'Sullivan is without question the most depressing song ever recorded. It describes the singer's plans to commit suicide and goes on to describe in excruciating detail the death of his parents. The rhythm is so plodding and downtempo that it would be devastating without a single word being sung.


The seventies had their share of depressing songs. "At Seventeen" by Janis Ian and "Diary" by Bread come to mind. Perhaps even sadder still is the Henry Gross song "Shannon" about the death of a dog owned by one of the Beach Boys. Listen and read about that one here.

So it is no small feat to be the saddest song in a decade with such stiff competition. But here's another claim to fame for "Alone Again" - it caused hip-hop artists to have to actually acquire permission to sample music. The Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc case involved rapper Biz Markie and ultimately changed the face of hip-hop.

The critics weren't exactly kind to O'Sullivan. In 1972, the United Press International (UPI) called Gilbert O'Sullivan "the worst potential influence on the direction of pop music since Tiny Tim." However, his song did win three Grammies and spend six weeks at number one.

Gilbert himself is a rather interesting character. In the beginning he often sported clothing monogrammed with a giant letter "G" and a pudding bowl haircut.

Of course, it wouldn't be long before ol' Gil started showing us his lady killer side.


Obviously, which song stands out as the single most depressing is a matter of taste. I've already mentioned a few personal joy killers. Here's some more morose music:

"Wishing You Were Here" by Pink Floyd.
The band's leader had long since gone insane, and their feeling of loss is palpable in this song. During the recording, Syd Barret actually showed up in the studio horribly overweight, head completely shaved, and manically brushing his teeth. A disturbing image to say the least.

"Dust in the Wind" by Kansas
I know life is short and sort of meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But somehow when Kansas says it, the brevity and insignificance of life becomes all too real. Now, if only I could get the hilarious image out of my mind of Will Ferrel singing it in Old School it would be sad again.

"Reflections of My Life" by Marmalade
Wanna kill a happy mood? This may be the worst three minutes you ever spend. Lip quivering lyrics include: "The world is a bad place. A bad place. A terrible place to live. Oh but I don't wanna die ...".
I wrote an entire post on this underrated band here.

"Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin
"Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks
"Rainy Days and Mondays" by the Carpenters
"All By Myself" by Eric Carmen
"One" by Harry Nilsson or Three Dog Night

Freddie Gage's LP below wins the prize for most depressing album cover.

Freddie released one of my favorite off-beat albums, Drugs and Youth - an anti-LSD record which can be found here. It's kind of psychedelic and the album cover proclaims :
HEAR THE TURNED-ON PREACHER.
HE IS OUT OF SIGHT.
HE IS ON THE "IN" TO WHAT IS HAPPENING

But I digress. Back to "Alone Again (Naturally). Here's the lyrics to the song and a video clip.

In a little while from now,
If I'm not feeling any less sour
I promised myself to treat myself
And visit a nearby tower,
And climbing to the top,
Will throw myself off
In an effort to make it clear to who
Ever what it's like when your shattered
Left standing in the lurch, at a church
Where people saying,
"My God that's tough, she stood him up!
No point in us remaining.
We may as well go home."
As I did on my own,
Alone again, naturally

To think that only yesterday,
I was cheerful, bright and gay,
Looking forward to, but who wouldn't do,
The role I was about to play
But as if to knock me down,
Reality came around
And without so much as a mere touch,
Cut me into little pieces
Leaving me to doubt,
Talk about God and His mercy
For if He really does exist
Why did He desert me
In my hour of need?
I truly am indeed,
Alone again, naturally

It seems to me that
There are more hearts
Broken in the world
That can't be mended
Left unattended
What do we do? What do we do?

Alone again, naturally

Now looking back over the years,
And what ever else that appears
I remember I cried when my father died
Never wishing to hide the tears
And at sixty-five years old,
My mother, God rest her soul,
Couldn't understand, why the only man
She had ever loved had been taken
Leaving her to start with a heart
So badly broken
Despite encouragement from me
No words were ever spoken
And when she passed away
I cried and cried all day
Alone again, naturally
Alone again, naturally


19 comments:

  1. These are some depressing songs. There did seem to be many of them in the 70's. I can many felt it to be a depressing time in our country and the world. I'm not as big of a fan of a lot of music in the 70's as I am that in the 60's. I take that back. I do like much of the disco that came out as the 70's went on. Have a great weekend.

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  2. Yea that was one sad song but I always liked it. I did not like the lush strings (so many songs from that period were ruined by lush strings)but I have always been drawn to this tune and like the video.

    Another really sad number was the song by Harry Nilsson (or just Nilsson) called Without You. I am sure you know it. Just wrenching. A rockisg cover was made by Badfinger that I liked too, but Nilssons voice was so grueling and forlorning on the original.

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  3. Keith - I think that songs of the seventies were so wonderfully varied that you can't really say they were depressing because of the tone of the country. Think of all those upbeat songs by ABBA, Captain & Tennille, KC & the Sunshine Band, ... the list goes on and on. In the seventies you simply had great variety: depressing like Alone Again (naturally) or upbeat like Don't Go Breakin' My Heart by Elton John and Kiki Dee. I love it all.

    Willy- I don't know how it is, but Nilsson can sometimes sound so absolutely lonely. His version of "One" is incredible in its sadness. His song for Midnight Cowboy isn't exactly peppy either.

    Another depressing song - "He Ain't Heavy (He's My Brother)" by the Hollies. Holy shit that's depressing!

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  4. My old buddy in Seattle is obssessed to the stalker poitn almost with the blonde gal in ABBA and he tell me she has some sort of serious mental disorder now???? It does not deter him of course.

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  5. Willy- Agnetha Fältskog I'm sure has no shortage of stalkers - I can't think of a more beautiful woman in music ever. Benny was a lucky, lucky man.

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  6. You are sooo right Alone Again Naturally is SUCH a sad song but it sounds so peppy til you listen to the lyrics!

    Have you ever heard of Unemployed Skeletor? It's this slightly out of shape guy who dresses up like skeletor and posts videos on YouTube in character many of them are really, really funny...but he has a video for Alone Again, Naturally that is GREAT!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67-0gla-_Qk

    Dance!

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  7. becca - Thanks so much for the link - I checked out the Unemployed Skeletor and loved it.

    Thank God for YouTube. Where else can you see a depressed Skeletor singing Gilbert O'Sullivan?

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  8. Ha. I actually like "Alone Again." Have the sheet music as well!
    It's rather proto-Morrisey. I'm surprised he never cover it.

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  9. anonymous- of course, it would have been only natural for Morissey, the guy responsible for "Girlfriend in a Coma", to cover "Alone Again"!

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  10. It's obvious that the persona in "Alone Again (Naturally)" inherited his tendency toward depression from his depressed mom. It's tough when it runs in the family like that.

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  11. It was post 60s, post Vietnam, post Watergate, with inflation and gas lines. The children of the 60s were finding out that it was not a simple as they demanded a few years back. They had the vote now and the ugly head of responsibility was rearing up.

    Of course songs were going to be depressing.

    You forgot one other small hit.
    "Blind Man In The Bleachers" by Kenny Starr.

    Not that this brought tears to any of us real men . . . of course . . . just wanted to make sure your list was complete . . . only reason I brought it up . . . Never affected me of course . . . Father watching his son play for the first, the first . . .

    excuse me for a minute.

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  12. The name of Pink Floyd's song is not "Wishing you were here" but "Wish you were here".

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  13. AnonymousJuly 18, 2011

    Let's not forget Roger Whittaker, especially "The Last Farewell". WTF was that all about? It was played to death on a lot of pop stations in the SF Bay Area. I couldn't see the reason why.

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  14. The songs are not depressing , the songs CAN make you feel depressed. And if they do , and you don't want to feel depressed , don't listen to them.
    To me the songs are just about life and if you have a wrong idea about life ( like life is a fairy tail ) try to see life as it is : all we are is dust ( in the wind at the end ) and so what ? What's wrong with dust ?

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  15. one of the only songs that make me unquestionably anxious to death for some reason.

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  16. I remember a song when I was young it was about a son and father that didn't get along and it was more of a talkover then singing. In the end there is a phone call to the boys house and its the police notifying the parents that their son is dead. What I remember at the end is either mom/dad is screaming dead what do you mean dead. This is a crazy depressing song, and I can't remember the name.

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    Replies
    1. Is it " Georgie's Dead " by Rod Stewart ??

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  17. AnonymousJuly 29, 2015

    Me and my arrow makes by harry nilsson always seems to get me to water up. Miss my dog.

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