Music

25 Depressing Stories Behind Some Of The Most Popular Songs In Modern History  

Mike Rothschild
86.7k votes 21.7k voters 1.6M views 25 items

List Rules Vote up the songs you'll never listen to the same way again.

Sometimes a song can be uptempo and peppy while also being somewhat sad. However, sometimes a song is just.... sad. Many are based purely on the 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 (in fact, you might end up rethinking the inclusion of Van Halen's "Jump" on your pump up playlist).

Some are obvious - for instance, you likely know Eric Clapton wrote "Tears in Heaven" about the passing of his son. But, what about Clapton's song "Circus"? 

Moreover, plenty of upbeat songs like "99 Red Balloons" and "Semi-Charmed Life" are actually about pretty dark subjects, like nuclear annihilation and addiction. 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 are all based on really terrible things that actually happened. They might not seem like sad songs, but if you listen closely, you may shed a tear. Upvote the tracks and singles with the saddest true backstories below... but be sure to grab a box of tissues first.

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The Needle and the Damage Done is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 25 Depressing Stories Behind Some Of The Most Popular Songs In Modern History
Photo:  Reprise Records/Neil Young - The Needle and the Damage Done

While obviously about substance abuse, it's less well known that Neil Young wrote this song in 1971 about a specific person. Included on the 1972 album Harvest, "The Needle and the Damage Done" eulogizes the addiction of his bandmate, guitarist Danny Whitten. As the story goes, while rehearsing for a tour, Young gave Whitten $50 and a plane ticket for Los Angeles - where Whitten would pass from an overdose.

Young's guilt was reflected in a number of later songs, most especially "Tonight's the Night."

More The Needle and the Damage Done

#91 of 4949 on The Best Songs of All Time, Ranked #93 of 101 on Cover Songs That Are Better Than The Originals #16 of 288 on The Best Ballads of All Time #10 of 122 on The Best Songs About Pain

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Blondie - 'One Way or Another' is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list 25 Depressing Stories Behind Some Of The Most Popular Songs In Modern History
Photo:  Capitol Records/Blondie - One Way or Another

One of Blondie’s many hits, the poppy and up-tempo "One Way or Another," actually stems from a harrowing experience for lead singer Debbie Harry - being stalked by an ex-boyfriend. A closer examination finds a number of incredibly creepy lines about following, watching, and cataloging Harry's activities.

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I Wish It Would Rain is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 25 Depressing Stories Behind Some Of The Most Popular Songs In Modern History
Photo:  Motown Records/The Temptations - I Wish it Would Rain

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.

More I Wish It Would Rain

#5 of 12 on Famous Songs With Surprising Back Stories #18 of 138 on The Best Songs About Rain #21 of 95 on The Best Songs with Wish in the Title

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The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzge... is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 25 Depressing Stories Behind Some Of The Most Popular Songs In Modern History
Photo:  Rhino/Warner Bros./Gordon Lightfoot - The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The Gordon Lightfoot story-song isn’t a fanciful creation - it’s the story of an actual ship sinking. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was a real iron ore carrier that traversed the Great Lakes carrying ore pellets to various ports of call.

Or she did, until she sank in a massive storm with the loss of her entire crew of 29 sailors - just like the song describes.

More The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

#33 of 144 on The Best Songs About Water #5 of 78 on The Best Songs About History #2 of 238 on The Best Gordon Lightfoot Songs

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