As every Morrissey fan knows, there’s nothing more fun than a good old bit of navel gazing to make the universe seem even more cruel and indifferent than it actually is.
So kick back, relax and wallow in the happy misery of feeling blue as I take you through ten of the the best songs about love, loneliness and lunacy you’ll ever stuff into your brain.
1. Untitled (Hidden Track) – The Aliens
Hidden away at the end of ‘Astronomy For Dogs’ and running for just over a minute, played with nothing more than the upper scales of a piano accompanied by a violin, this ghostly melody is a riff from ‘Honest Again’, just the words ‘how long will it be till I see you again?’ repeated over and over… it KILLS ME. After travelling around the world for three and a half years alone and unaided, it’s the question I ask myself every day – The Aliens seem to know this and have made this track just to taunt me. Bastards!
Unfortunately nobody’s uploaded it to YouTube, so here’s ‘Honest Again’, just listen to the first minute or so and you’ll get the idea.
2. If The World Ends – The Guillemots
The Guillemots are renowned for making love sound like a mental health disorder, but this one goes beyond everything they’ve done before or since, we’re talking THE END OF THE WORLD here! Apparently it wouldn’t be so bad if you were by my side. Hell, “I think we could laugh enough to not die in pain” (that’s an actual lyric!). This is seriously bleak stuff, so epic, so tragic, so fucking miserable – Christ I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
I don’t think I ever heard you speaking, because I was too wrapped up in the dream I was dreaming…
3. Me Ne Quitte Pas – Nina Simone
You could really do with knowing a little French to get the full impact of this song, as the English-ised cover by Dusty Springfield really doesn’t do it justice. DO NOT LEAVE ME sung in plaintive tones, the sadness of this song goes beyond common sense and descends into stalker-like insanity… I’ll be the SHADOW OF YOUR DOG if it meant I could stay by your side. THE SHADOW OF YOUR DOG! Pure tragedy – the longing, the humility, the tragic depths you’d stoop to in order to keep that person in your life – this is a song about crawling naked on broken glass, reaching out for deliverance and being slapped in the face instead.
4. Exit Music – Radiohead
You could probably pick any Radiohead song and put it on this list, and to be honest Exit Music was neck and neck with Fake Plastic Trees and No Surprises, but this Romeo and Juliet-inspired masterpiece has the edge, something that can chime with teenagers in mad angry sexy love everywhere in the world… TODAY WE ESCAPE, WE ESCAPE. Thom Yorke on the altar, about to be sacrificed to the music Gods, building up to that final defiant cry WE HOPE THAT YOU CHOKE. A song that says KILLING YOURSELF is the only way you and the love of your life can be together, sung by RADIOHEAD!! Damn if your heart wasn’t ripped in two by this song the first time you heard it, you should possibly check for a pulse.
5. Bless His Ever Loving Heart – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
If I ever write a top ten funeral songs list, this Nick Cave B-Side would have to be number one. It’s probably the only track on this top ten that’s a straight love song (no death or tragedy in this one), but there’s something so tragic about it, something that exposes love as the mad, exhausting, pathetic calamity it is.
It’s sung by the one who got away, that dangerous crazy drug-taking motorbike-riding rocknroller that your father never approved of, meeting you for the first time in decades and imploring you to stay with your boring old husband because the rocknroller knows he’ll just break your heart again – it’s his nature. Brief Encounter through the medium of song. Epic.
6. The Desperate Kingdom of Love – Giant Sand
A cover of the PJ Harvey song, there’s something in Howe Gelb’s voice that floors me every time. Love as a terminal illness for which there is no cure, the bluesy piano solo – this is the sound of the old man with the white beard sitting at the end of a whiskey bar lamenting his life: the ones that got away, the trials and tribulations, the agony and the ecstasy. Wishing, praying, hoping for another shot – a second youth that he knows he’s never going to get.
7. Hope There’s Somebody – Antony and The Johnsons
It’s the middle of the night in the local mental asylum. One of the inmates has broken out of his room, his straight jacket torn to shreds. The nurses set off the alarm, but it doesn’t take long to find him: he’s hammering away on the piano and singing to himself in the dark, empty activity room.
Whereas most sad songs are about love and loss, this one is about your own death, specially the fear of dying alone and unloved. It would be tragic enough, but have you seen Antony? He looks like a Gorg from Fraggle Rock. It’s a bit like a a horrible monster raising up from the salty brine and singing you a song about nobody loving him in the most beautiful voice imaginable.
It all builds to an epic crescendo in a desperate bid to shoo away the ghosts and demons tormenting him. But it doesn’t work, and as the orderlies drag him back to his padded cell he knows he’ll be left to walk that final tragic journey alone.
8. Mad World – Michael Andrews feat. Gary Jules
Well, you can’t have a top ten miserable song list without a Christmas No 1 to really bum everybody out. The musical equivalent of Arthur Fowler crying himself to death in a jail cell, if you didn’t well up during the Donnie Darko Mad World Montage, you really should go and ask for your soul back.
But what’s really mad about Mad World is the weirdly upbeat original version by Tears For Fears. It’s quite frankly bizarre – these are some of the most depressing lyrics of all time: THE DREAMS IN WHICH I’M DYING ARE THE BEST I EVER HAD and Curt Smith is prancing around like Drunken Master on crack.
9. Slow Show – The National
Songs about loneliness and distance are always hit a certain resonance with me and Slow Show by The National is no exception. I WANT TO HURRY HOME TO YOU but I’m too busy getting drunk at a wanky party and trying to have sex with hollow people who don’t care if I live or die.
I MADE A MISTAKE IN MY LIFE TODAY – there’s no man in the world who can’t relate to this song. There’s someone in your life, maybe now or maybe from your past who you just want to return to, make them laugh and hold each other through the night.
But it’s the end when the epic tragedy of the song really kicks in – YOU KNOW I DREAMED ABOUT YOU FOR 29 YEARS BEFORE I SAW YOU? He’s waited 29 years for her to come along and now she’s gone, he’s alone in a room full of people, lying in the gutter screaming at the stars. EPIC.
10. Tiny Tears – The Tindersticks
Along with Radiohead, pretty much everything by The Tindersticks is guaranteed to make you quit your job, down a bottle of pills and go fling yourself at the sky, but Tiny Tears occupies a special place – this isn’t about tragic epic unrealised love, this about the everyday end of a relationship, the little things left unsaid and undone, the interstellar distance between two people only inches away.
All these small things have been building up over the years. YOU WERE TOO BUSY LOOKING INTO YOURSELF TO SEE THOSE TINY TEARS IN HER EYES – she’s going. She’s leaving. She’s signing the divorce papers and taking the dog and IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT.
Honourable Mentions: Fairytale of New York, Another No-One, No Distance Left To Run, Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me, Hurt (Johnny Cash version), Hallelujah (Jeff Buckley version), Song To The Siren (This Mortal Coil version).