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Things I Think About, by Peter Bowditch

Sad Songs

Today’s musical selection is sad songs – songs that make me sad, songs that should make everyone sad, songs sung by sad people, songs about sad things, and permutations and combinations of these.

I’m deliberately leaving out songs that refer to specifically identified people, so you won’t be hearing “Candle In The Wind”, “Wish You Were Here”, “Tears In Heaven” and others that I can’t think of right now. Some songs are obviously about specific people but their identities have always been in dispute.

Here’s a happy song about sad songs. After all, who could be sad if they could get Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton to play in their band?


It’s Sunday morning, so it seems appropriate to start with a melancholy song about feeling sad and lonely on a Sunday morning.


This is the song that inspired this collection. I was driving in my car and this came on the radio. I hadn’t heard it for years and the sadness is because in a decent society people would listen to this song and ask “What on earth is she singing about?”, but unfortunately we immediately know the singer’s story.

When this song first came out Suzanne Vega was criticised for exploiting domestic violence. As sane people thought that she was drawing attention to an often-hidden problem the critics simply demonstrated that some people are so stupid that their brains have sufficient density to emit the newly-discovered gravitational waves.


I remember the first time I ever heard this song. It was just a few days after someone I cared about had died and as is always the case there were things that could and should have been said but hadn’t been.


I’m not sure how it happened, but Leonard Cohen passed me by back in the day. Oh yes, I knew about “Suzanne”, that great song sung at parties by those who had consumed an excess of certain chemicals, both legal and otherwise, and there was the inexplicable chart success of “First We Take Manhattan”, but I didn’t know much about him. One day I was riffling through the bin at a second-hand record shop and picked up a CD of Cohen’s songs. This was on it and I’ve been a fan ever since.

If you think this isn’t a sad song, just how sad does a song have to be to make the composer cry?


Speaking of back in the day and those parties we went to, several of my friends from those times didn’t get to be as old as I am.


There’s an old saying that there should be an instruction manual for parenting but there isn’t, which is why we, all of us, get it so hopelessly wrong. The amazing thing is that our children survive the neglect and mistakes and generally turn out to be pretty good people.


Sometimes you just need great visuals to bring out the power of a song, even if you use the song sarcastically. Maybe especially if you use sarcasm. I think this should get a Perpetual Oscar for the Best Adaptation Of an Existing Song In A Movie. (Other contenders are “Twist And Shout” in “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” and every song in “The Blues Brothers”, but those are all happy uses.)


Here’s one of those songs that seems to be obviously directed at a certain person who is no longer around but is missed with regret, although opinions differ as to who that person might be. I’ll give you two versions because I can’t decide which one is the best. “Let’s do some living, after love dies”.

Susan sings the final verse of the song in her CD version, but not in any of the recorded live performances for some reason. Also, several of her live videos on YouTube are spoiled by audience halfwittery. And a note for the Autotune generation – both of these are live, one-take performances.


This was a really happy, optimistic song when it came out in 1964. Five decades later politicians are possibly even more disgusting and nothing else has changed. This makes me sad.


This was a pessimistic song from the same era (by the same composer), and the sadness comes from the fact that we still need to ask these nine questions today and nobody seems to know how to find the answers.


How could anyone not get a little teary eyed at the lines “I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday, holding Bobby’s body next to mine”?

(Sorry – couldn’t find a decent live version of this. I was given my copy of the “Pearl” album – yes, on vinyl – by someone who had received it as a gift but had never played it in case he didn’t like it.)


Here’s another song where everyone knows who it’s about but they all differ on her name, how she died, etc. (As far as I know, Taylor has never identified the subject.) What is important about the song is that it speaks to everyone who has lost someone permanently and always thought that they would see them one more time again.


I’m a great Elvis fan and not so much for Willie Nelson, but I think this is the best version. It is highly identified with Elvis because he recorded it at the time his marriage was very publicly breaking up, but Willie’s voice somehow seems to capture the hurt, the disappointment and the regret better.


And finally a song that I actually can’t listen to all the way through. Suicide has come too close to my family and Marianne’s cracked voice perfectly captures the total despair of someone who has given up all hope. She had been there and come back, but not everyone can do this.

Marianne Faithfull is probably best known for the song she recorded as a teenager, “As Tears Go By”. It is also a song about lost hopes and dreams and she re-recorded it many years later with the ravaged voice you hear in this video. She said at the time that it was a ridiculous song for an 18-year-old to sing, and she was right.

Oh, OK – here’s a bonus.


That’s it for this week. There will be another collection in a couple of weeks or when I get around to it, whichever comes sooner.

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