Music

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

Mike Rothschild
Updated March 7, 2020 93.4k votes 23k voters 1.7M 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 Cold War tensions 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.

Jeremy is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 25 Depressing Stories Behind Some Of The Most Popular Songs In Modern History
Photo:  Epic/Pearl Jam - Jeremy

While Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" is focused on a student taking his own life in front of his class in 1991 in Texas.

Is this dark?

More Jeremy 

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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/Fastball The Way

Pop band Fastball's only hit, "The Way," tells a romanticized version of a real story - about two elderly 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.

Is this dark?
Joy Division - 'Love Wil... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 25 Depressing Stories Behind Some Of The Most Popular Songs In Modern History
Photo:  Cleopatra Records/Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart

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.

Is this dark?
Circus is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 25 Depressing Stories Behind Some Of The Most Popular Songs In Modern History
Photo:  Rhino/Warner Bros./Eric Clapton - Circus

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 incident, when Clapton took him to the circus.

Is this dark?