Sometimes a song can be uptempo and peppy, while also being crushingly sad, but sometimes a song is just crushingly sad. Many are based purely on their writer's imagination, but for these songs, real life proved far more depressing than anything a musician could come up with. These famous songs and memorable tracks might be upbeat or seem like a lot of fun, but they all have super sad and depressing backstories, that will have you rethinking using Van Halen's "Jump" on your pump up playlist.
You know Eric Clapton wrote "Tears in Heaven" about the passing of his son, but what about the song "Circus"? Plenty of upbeat pop songs like "99 Red Balloons" and "Semi-Charmed Life" are actually about pretty dark subjects, like nuclear annihilation and addiction. As well, a number of the songs with sad meanings on this list were released posthumously, after the artist passed on, usually from reasons related directly to their sad song lyrics.
Here are songs that might be peppy, might be slow, might be epic - but all are based on really terrible things that actually happened. They might not seem like sad songs, but if you listen closely, you will likely shed a tear. Upvote the tracks and singles with the saddest true backstories below... but be sure to grab a box of tissues first.
While Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” is obviously about a boy shooting himself in front of his class mates, it’s less well known that the song is actually based on two different shootings. One was the suicide of 15 year old Jeremy Delle, who killed himself in front of his fellow students in January, 1991.The other inspiration was a classmate of Eddie Vedder’s named Brian who shot up a classroom in San Diego, though he didn’t actually hurt anyone.
Pop band Fastball’s only hit, “The Way” tells a romanticized version of a real story – about two old people disappearing. Lela and Raymond Howard left home in June 1997 to attend a festival in Texas, despite Lela suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and Raymond having recently had brain surgery.
Their bodies were found two weeks later at the bottom of a ravine near Hot Springs, AR, hundreds of miles away from where they intended to go.
Deeply troubled Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis wrote the band’s only real hit about the tempestuous relationship he had with his wife Deborah. It also reflected his state of mind in general – and if the song didn’t get across how depressed Curtis was, his suicide just a few weeks before the track was due to be released as a single did.Deborah Curtis would have the song’s title etched on Ian’s grave as a reminder of his genius, and of his pain.
Motown staff lyricist Rodger Penzabene wrote this heartbreaking ballad for The Temptations, and singer David Ruffin’s impassioned vocals drove it to #1 on Billboard’s R&B chart. But while Ruffin’s pain was a performance, Penzabene’s was real – he wrote the song in a fit of anguish right after learning his wife was cheating on him.
Just 22-years-old, the lyricist shot himself on New Year’s Eve 1967, weeks before what would be his biggest hit was released.