The Top 11 Most Depressing Songs of All Time

January 29, 2009

There’s just something about a depressing song that can instantly shift your mood from light to dark. A lot of music listeners out there will even use gloomy and emotional songs to put themselves in a low-spirited state. If you're one of those people, these are the songs most likely to make you want to wallow in the darkness.

Photo: Gemma Levine / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

By Dustin Sussman

The following article does not represent the opinions of Spike TV or its affiliates.


11. “Yesterday” - The Beatles


Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This melancholy 1965 ballad about a serious breakup can put any heartbroken lover into a deeper funk than heroin addiction. The combination of Paul’s soothing vocals and a solid string quartet give “Yesterday” a simplistic brilliance that only a Beatle could pull off.

Not only is this song in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most cover versions of any song ever written, I’m also guessing that its been used in more Bar Mitzvah videos than Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young.”

My Nana loved this song.

10. “Mad World” - Gary Jules Version

Who couldn’t connect with a song about looking out at an insane world from the eyes of a young adult? And if that wasn’t enough to get suicidal thoughts running through your mind, composers Michael Andrews and Gary Jules somehow went ahead and made it even more dark and dreary than the Tears For Fears original.

I’m assuming the first time anyone heard this song at the end of Donnie Darko they ran to their local record store in a hurry for another fix. Listening to the sounds of a dreamy piano mixed with Jules’ adolescent-like vocal chops is a perfect way to help a dark moment last just a little bit longer.

9. “untitled 1 (a.k.a. Vaka)” - Sigur Ros

Some of you may not know this song and it might be a good idea to keep it that way. I made the mistake of watching this music video at work and I totally got caught by my boss tearing up in my cubicle. Burn.

Since day one, the Icelandic indie superstars have had a way with making music that invokes uncontrollable emotions from their listeners. With “untitled 1,” the band definitely made cups overflow with fresh hipster tears all around the world. The song’s ambient sounds and falsetto vocals are one of a kind and seem to have an intense reaction with its diehard listeners.

To be able to choke up a listener 5 seconds into a song is a pretty amazing task if you ask me.

8. “Sleepwalk” - Santo & Johnny

For most of us, this 1959 classic from the Italian-American Brooklyn duo is etched in our minds due to the dramatic ending of La Bamba when Ritchie Valens' brother Bob screams Ritchie's name up to the heavens. It seemed to be an extremely emotional moment that was heightened with the use of this steel guitar-based landmark.

Santo’s steel guitar playing on this track is also pretty timeless. Right when the first note drops, anyone in a 10-yard radius seems to melt into a puddle of sentimental goo. Their minds instantly travel back to the most epic days of their youth.

7. "How To Disappear Completely" - Radiohead


Photo: Jim Steinfeldt / Getty Images

There are seriously so many depressing Radiohead tracks to choose from, but I’ve always thought that this one took the cake.

When Kid A was released back in 2000, I remember this song having some kind of odd power over the ladies. They got so choked up and sentimental anytime it came on. Even if they were in the greatest if moods, “How to Disappear Completely” could put a serious damper on any situation.

6. “Strange Fruit” - Billie Holiday

This list would not be complete without some Billie. The thing that separates Billie Holliday from other run-of-the-mill singers is the fact that you can actually feel the pain with every note she releases from her body.

With "Strange Fruit," Billie condemns American racism and addresses the lynching of African Americans in the South. When you hear her singing lines about bodies of African American men being hanged during a lynching, you can’t help but be moved every single time.

5. “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want“ - The Smiths


Photo: Gemma Levine / Getty Images

Morrissey and his mates pretty much do tear-jerkin’ tracks better than any other band in the history of music. I could have thrown a number of wrist-slicing tunes on here, but this gem off of the band’s Hatful of Hollow compilation LP has always had a lil place in my meat-eating heart.

For a song that has very few lyrics and only runs around one minute and fifty seconds, it packs a serious punch. This song is a prime example of how easily Morrissey can wrap you up in his own little world and spoon-feed you infinite sadness with no questions asked.

4. “Perfect Day” - Lou Reed


Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Even though most of the “Perfect Day” lyrics seem to show Reed's romanticized attitude towards his own addictions, the song could really be interpreted a number of ways. I choose to think that the song is completely cynical and that the lyrics mean the opposite of what they really are. Either way, Lou’s epic Transformer lullaby could have a dramatic effect on even the coldest of eardrums. Lou has always had a special way of building you up and bringing you down all at the same time.

3. “Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley Version


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I’ve always found the original Leonard Cohen version of this song to be actually somewhat uplifting. On the other hand, Jeff Buckley’s 1994 take on the monumental track has a whole different feeling to it. Right when he starts up his breathy vibrato, it’s impossible not to become emotionally attached to the song with every fiber of your being. It seems in recent years that the cover has even become more emotional for listeners due to the fact that Jeff suddenly passed away back in 1997.

RIP Jeff.

2. “Hurt” – Johnny Cash Version

I can absolutely guarantee that there isn’t a single human being alive that can hold back the tears while watching this 2002 music video. Even if you don’t really know Johnny’s music that well, you’ll still somehow find yourself emotionally attached to every note and word of this Nine Inch Nails cover.

The Trent Reznor version definitely has its moments of darkness and depression, but the images of a visibly ailing Cash looking back on his legendary career makes for some serious drama that’s impossible to deny. Let the waterworks fly!

1. “Taps”

When thinking of a song that instantly depresses, "Taps" has to be the most powerful composition that comes to mind.

Whenever the song  is sounded by the U.S. military during flag ceremonies and funerals there is never a dry eye in the house. Each time the classic bugle call begins, an instant feeling of a chapter in someone’s life coming to a close emerges and easily brings on pain, love and nostalgia:

The dual connection of "Taps" with death and with extinguishing lights is reinforced by the modern expression, "lights out," often used as a slang expression for actual death, or more often for symbolic "death," such as a sports team's loss in a game or tournament.