Please recommend songs with sad/disturbing lyrics but a jaunty melody.
July 10, 2014 5:11 AM   Subscribe

My favourite song about depression is Dog by Andy Bull. (Don't Fear) The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult is another one that captures the kind of feeling I'm after.

I'm looking for other songs that have sad or disturbing lyrics with a really upbeat sound.
posted by h00py to Media & Arts (68 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

Bruce Springsteen: Johnny 99, Reason to Believe.
posted by No-sword at 5:20 AM on July 10

Almost anything by The Beautiful South
posted by mattholomew at 5:28 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]

The entire career of Morrissey. Here's a great example.
posted by jbickers at 5:32 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Elton John I Think I'm Gonna Kill Myself.

Fastball The Way.
posted by The Deej at 5:41 AM on July 10

The first song that came to mind is Ue o Muite Arukō by Kyu Sakamoto - the one that was racistly retitled to "Sukiyaki." Incredibly catchy and upbeat sounding, but sad lyrics.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:41 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

My Man by They Might Be Giants is a jaunty tune with seemingly goofy lyrics that eventually resolve into an extended metaphor for paralyzing spinal cord injury.
posted by psoas at 5:48 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]

A lot of Del Amitri.
posted by shallowcenter at 5:54 AM on July 10

Used To Love Her, Guns and Roses.
posted by Flunkie at 5:56 AM on July 10

"Please, Baby, Please" by David Bazan sounds upbeat, but it has pretty stark lyrics.
posted by schooley at 6:03 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Last year's Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men is open to interpretation (I maintain it's about being in love with someone who's irretrievably mentally ill) but the horns and hey!s definitely mask something much darker.
posted by psoas at 6:12 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

"Get a Room" by Jim O'Rourke: pleasant little indie riff, lyrics about a guy watching the lovers he's recently poisoned die.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:12 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Mountain Goats

1. The Plague

And rivers will all turn to blood
Frogs will fall from the sky
And the plague will rage

La la la la

2. No Children

I am drowning
There is no sign of land
You are coming down with me
Hand in unlovable hand

And I hope you die
I hope we both die

posted by maya at 6:18 AM on July 10

Lilly One-Ten-One-Forty™ by Dave's True Story.
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:24 AM on July 10

Depending on how you interpret the lyrics, My Last Breath by Evanescence might fit.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:25 AM on July 10

People Who Died
posted by HuronBob at 6:30 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

"Out the Window" by the Violent Femmes is the most cheerful song about suicide by defenestration you'll ever hear.

"See You When You Get You Get Here" by Lisa Mitchell is a sweet and lovely little chat between a dead person and their living friend.
posted by Jilder at 6:30 AM on July 10

First thing that came to mind was The Smiths' "Girlfriend in a Coma."
posted by MoonOrb at 6:36 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

I've always thought about The Clash - Train in Vain as you describe it.
posted by China Grover at 6:38 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Suicide is Painless, a pleasant little melody...
posted by HuronBob at 6:38 AM on July 10

Help by The Beatles

Pyscho Killer by The Talking Heads

Bad Bad Leroy Brown
by Jim Croce

Mack the Knife by Bobby Darin

Teardrops by George Harrison

Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles

and I'm trying to come up with something from The Wall. Maybe "Young Lust" or "Run Like Hell". Or "Happiest Days of Our Lives" (has a disco beat) and "Another Brick in the Wall" --So much of this album.
posted by GrapeApiary at 6:38 AM on July 10

Strangelove: The Greatest Show on Earth (yt), lyrics
Mary Poppins killed a dream today / Locked it up and threw the key away / It was a very old and dusty dream / Everybody knows - There's no time for happiness today
A bit of a slow start, but the jaunty melody kicks in at :14.
posted by orthicon halo at 6:40 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

GrapeApiary's mention of Bad Bad Leroy Brown made me think of Copacabana - a song of young love, resulting in depression and alcoholism. [Trigger Warning - Disco]
posted by China Grover at 6:41 AM on July 10

Oh and Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival? I never really noticed the lyrics till this cover by Rasputina came to my attention.

posted by Jilder at 6:42 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

You got one They Might Be Giants song above, but there are a ton of others that also fit the bill:

I Palindrome I
Turn Around
They'll Need a Crane
Spiralling Shape
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:46 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]

Ween, too, but someone more familiar with them might have a better take. I don't really know any deep cuts.

Ween - Zoloft

Ween - Push Th' Little Daisies
posted by GrapeApiary at 6:51 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Foster the People's Pumped Up Kicks
posted by Ms. Toad at 6:53 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Many songs by The Raveonettes like that.
posted by various at 6:56 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind
Pepper by Butthhole Surfers
I Don't Wanna Grow Up by Tom Waits

Belle and Sebastian seem to specialize in this. Try The Boy with the Arab Strap, A Century of Fakers, or I'm a Cuckoo
posted by Redstart at 7:09 AM on July 10

Definitely Morrisey and The Cure for sure.

Surprised nobody yet mentioned New Order.

Also, Less Than Jake's Hello Rockview might be the most depressing album of all time.
posted by General Malaise at 7:13 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon is a classic of the genre.
posted by alms at 7:16 AM on July 10 [4 favorites]

the Mountain Goats have plenty of these, some of which have already been mentioned, but I think Dance Music is a good example (lyrics are about JD's abusive stepfather and his own arrest for heroin possession).
posted by dismas at 7:22 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Jonathan Coulton - ShopVac. Quite a few of his have the jaunty tune/disturbing lyrics split.
posted by crocomancer at 7:24 AM on July 10 [4 favorites]

Isolation, Joy Division.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 7:26 AM on July 10

J Roddy Walston and the Business, "Don't Break the Needle".
Marah, "Round-Eye Blues".
The Hold Steady's made a career of this, e.g., "Two-Handed Handshake", "Stevie Nix".
posted by yerfatma at 7:42 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

The Replacements are also great for this.
posted by black_lizard at 7:48 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Tears for Fears' Mad World is much perkier than the cover you know from Donnie Darko.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:48 AM on July 10

I don't know if it's jaunty enough, but maybe Alone Again, Naturally?
posted by librarina at 7:52 AM on July 10

Sufjan Stevens' Casimir Pulaski Day? A sweet tune about a girl who dies of cancer.
posted by Gilbert at 7:53 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]

So many Beatles songs ... "Getting Better" is about domestic violence. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is about a serial killer. "Run for Your Life" — threatening to commit murder.

"Art Snob Solutions" by Of Montreal is a very cheerful song about mass murder.
posted by John Cohen at 7:58 AM on July 10

Oh! Also Deep Red Bells by Neko Case is about the Green River Killer.
posted by librarina at 8:01 AM on July 10

Another Of Montreal song (they have a lot of these): Old People in the Cemetery.
posted by John Cohen at 8:03 AM on July 10

Smashing Pumpkins - Today
posted by playertobenamedlater at 8:08 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Lots of stuff by Tom Lehrer.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:09 AM on July 10

The song that popped immediately to mind is Beulah's A Good Man Is Easy to Kill from The Coast Is Never Clear, but really Beulah generally has a lot of this--the lyrics get more... existential with each successive album, I think.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 8:18 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Hell's Ditch, The Pogues
posted by dilettante at 8:37 AM on July 10

For me the gold standard of happy fun music with lyrics of alienation and despair is most anything by Fastbacks
posted by whuppy at 8:38 AM on July 10

Born in the USA - Bruce Springsteen
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 8:52 AM on July 10

Charles Guiteau is about the execution of president Garfield's assassin, but it you ignore the lyrics it's a pretty peppy tune, so much so that I've heard that a couple requested it as a dance tune for their wedding.
posted by SandiBeech at 8:57 AM on July 10

In fact, a lot of Springsteen may fit the bill - Songs like Badlands, Backstreets, Dancing in the Dark, Glory Days.

Also, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 9:00 AM on July 10

Let's Get Lost by Elliott Smith.

Also, Memory Lane by Elliott Smith.

The music sounds happy but the lyrics are lonely and isolated. I always thought it sounded like he had accepted that his life was just lonely and depressed. And it isn't put on because dude killed himself not too long after these songs. Almost all his songs are about being depressed, but usually sound sad. Both of those songs were on the album he was working on when he died. Because he died while making the album, these two songs aren't full instrumentals or anything. You may enjoy his more polished songs more, like Miss Misery or Between The Bars from the Good Will Hunting soundtrack.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:20 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

The Genocide Ball by The Robot Ate Me

Warning- the video is disturbing!
posted by fourpotatoes at 10:53 AM on July 10

Oasis by Amanda Palmer. It's the story of a teenager's rape and abortion set to a jaunty pop melody.
posted by Sullenbode at 10:55 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Like the Weather, 10,000 Maniacs
posted by bricoleur at 11:35 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

It's a pretty good rule of thumb that the prettier a Wire melody, the more disturbing the lyrics. Case in point: French Film Blurred.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:29 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Safe and Sound by Electric President is a very cheerful song about a terminal diagnosis!
posted by Middlemarch at 12:50 PM on July 10

Bye, bye, love, by the Everly Bros. The lyrics aren't really disturbing, but the are at odds with the lively tune.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:28 PM on July 10

The title song for Pretty Little Liars (hey, we all deserve a guilty pleasure!), which Wikipedia tells me is "Secret" by The Pierces.

"'Cause two can keep a secret if one of them is dead."

My now disbanded favourite Japanese band, Garnet Crow, was also pretty good at packing potentially depressing thoughts into upbeat music.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 2:21 PM on July 10

I came to recommend many of David Bazan's songs, but "Please, Baby, Please" as mentioned above is the immediate choice.
posted by tacodave at 4:02 PM on July 10

Not sure if it's jaunty enough but Morphine was sure a fun band with some serious downer lyrics. Try Cure for Pain.
posted by Gotanda at 5:53 PM on July 10

My Name is Death by Red Wanting Blue fills the bill nicely.
posted by kate4914 at 7:16 PM on July 10

Australia by The Shins seems like one.
posted by tenlives at 1:38 AM on July 11

Queen of Denmark by John Grant, who is astonishingly talented.
posted by metasav at 7:11 PM on July 11

Doctor My Eyes by Jackson Browne
posted by sigmagalator at 1:23 PM on July 13

Ooh, one more! In the "surprisingly, parody can be horrifying" genre I submit: We're Not Young.
posted by psoas at 7:27 AM on July 20

Stars, and Neko Case.

Start with: Dead Hearts, or Personal (Stars) and This Tornado Loves You (Neko Case).
posted by ontheradio at 5:49 AM on August 1

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