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

Mike Rothschild
77.1k votes 19.8k voters 1.5M 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 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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Jeremy is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 25 Depressing Stories Behind Some Of The Most Popular Songs In Modern History
Photo: Pearl Jam/Sony Music Group

While Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” seems obviously focused on a student taking his own life in front of his class, you may not know that the song is actually based on two different shootings. One was a teen who took his own life, but the second is about a school shooting that leader singer Eddie Vedder experienced while he was in school. Thankfully, the second student didn't hurt anyone in the latter incident.

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The Way is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 25 Depressing Stories Behind Some Of The Most Popular Songs In Modern History
Photo: Hollywood Records/Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

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.

The couple was found deceased two weeks later at the bottom of a ravine near Hot Springs, AR, hundreds of miles away from where they intended to go.

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Joy Division - Love Will Tear ... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 25 Depressing Stories Behind Some Of The Most Popular Songs In Modern History
Photo: Joy Division/Factory Records

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 did not communicate how depressed Curtis was, the fact that he took his own life just a few weeks before the track was due to be released as a single did.

 

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Circus is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 25 Depressing Stories Behind Some Of The Most Popular Songs In Modern History
Photo: Eric Clapton/Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

While “Tears in Heaven” is famously about the passing of Eric Clapton’s young son, Conor, in 1991, it is not the only song about this subject matter. Another track, “Circus,” from his 1997 album Pilgrim, was also written by Clapton about the tragic accident and is just as sad and forlorn.

The song is about the last time Clapton saw Conor, the night before the accident, when Clapton took him to the circus.

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