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I don't listen to what they're saying because then I'd be crying instead of dancing...
April 18, 2008 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to put together a list of the happiest sounding songs with the saddest lyrics... can you help?

I'm looking for songs that people dance, sing and party to all the time seemingly ignorant of their lyrical content.

Here's a couple of examples of super upbeat songs with really sad lyrics to get started:

OutKast - Hey Ya
Len - Steal My Sunshine

As an aside, if it never occurred to you that Hey Ya was kind of a sad song, check youtube for Obadia Parker's acoustic version of it. Bonus points for pointing to cover versions like that one where the music embodies the feel of the lyrics more than the original...
posted by twiggy to Media & Arts (106 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
I should throw out there, for AskMe purists, that I'm not just trying to make a playlist. I am especially curious to explore the phenomenon of bands writing songs that sound really happy musically, but are anything but happy lyrically, and maybe write a bit about it.
posted by twiggy at 12:29 PM on April 18, 2008


Happiness Is A Warm Gun - The Beatles
Girfriend in a Coma - The Smiths
Seasons in the Sun - Terry Jacks
posted by punkfloyd at 12:32 PM on April 18, 2008


Nena -- 99 Luftballons
posted by jayCampbell at 12:33 PM on April 18, 2008 [8 favorites]


"Tomorrow Belongs To Me" from "Cabaret".
A show tune, but a show tune about how Great it is to be a Nazi and Rule the World...
All wrapped up in what starts like a lullaby and ends in some kinda pulsing manic oompah riff from hell.
posted by Dizzy at 12:34 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
Yeah, I know it's supposed to be a joke. Not laughing.
posted by mimo at 12:34 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Maxwell's Silver Hammer - The Beatles. I sense a pattern.
posted by jayCampbell at 12:34 PM on April 18, 2008


Most anything by Morrissey, I should think.
posted by Dizzy at 12:34 PM on April 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


Freedom - Wham
posted by boomchicka at 12:36 PM on April 18, 2008


Mack the Knife - Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht, Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald...
posted by jayCampbell at 12:37 PM on April 18, 2008


Excitable Boy - Warren Zevon
I Don't Like Mondays - Boomtown Rats
posted by mattybonez at 12:45 PM on April 18, 2008


Johnny Cash's arrangement of Ring of Fire.
posted by JanetLand at 12:47 PM on April 18, 2008


Sunday Morning Coming Down- Johnny Cash
posted by InstantSanitizer at 12:49 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Band of Gold - Freda Payne
posted by AquaAmber at 12:49 PM on April 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


Blind Melon - No Rain
posted by Sys Rq at 12:54 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


A lot of Death Cab for Cutie falls in this category. I Was A Kaleidoscope, Crooked Teeth, Title and Registration, and Photobooth are all good examples of upbeat songs with lyrics about regret or failing relationships.
posted by internet!Hannah at 12:55 PM on April 18, 2008


Pretty much everything that The Beautiful South ever recorded, and most of the Housemartins canon as well.

"Something That You Said" from 0898 is a good place to start, for the South, and "Me and the Farmer" is a seminal Housemartins "fiddle while the world burns" song.
posted by Shepherd at 12:56 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Born in the USA - Bruce Springsteen
I should be so lucky - Kylie Minogue
posted by iviken at 12:56 PM on April 18, 2008


A whole lot of bluegrass fits in this category. Right now I'm thinking of Ralph Stanley doing Waves on the Sea:

"Oh, the waves on the sea, how they roll
The chilly winds, how they do blow
My own true love got drownded in the deep
And the ship never got to the shore."

That's the chorus. It's sung like a lot like cheerful gospel tune, and even though some bluegrass performers can infuse it with something high and lonesome, the music is still pretty peppy. This is not at all uncommon throughout the genre.
posted by weston at 12:56 PM on April 18, 2008


Hollywood Nights - Bob Seger
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:56 PM on April 18, 2008


Keep the Customer Satisfied - Simon & Garfunkel

Happiness - Elliott Smith :)
posted by pumpkin11 at 12:56 PM on April 18, 2008


I'm a Loser - Bealtes. John wrote it to be slow, but they told him to play it fast so it would be more fun (if I recall correctly).
posted by prefpara at 12:57 PM on April 18, 2008


Reviewing my music, perhaps also some Eve6? On the Roof Again might meet these stipulations, as with Promise, or even Inside Out.
posted by internet!Hannah at 12:57 PM on April 18, 2008


Who Loves The Sun - Velvet Underground
Such a happy, springtime, tra-la-la tune...with such depressing lyrics. Good stuff.
posted by Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific at 12:58 PM on April 18, 2008


The Decemberists - O Valencia
posted by kuperman at 12:59 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


1999 - Prince.
posted by iviken at 1:00 PM on April 18, 2008


Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind. Very perky music, but the lyrics are about a relationship torn apart by drug abuse.
posted by amyms at 1:42 PM on April 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


susan by the exits

and, i'm sad to even say this, but britney's "baby one more time" is a thousand times better done with fountains of wayne because it's depressing.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:43 PM on April 18, 2008


Perfect Day - Lou Reed
There She Goes - The La's

Two happy songs - about heroin addiction.
posted by iviken at 1:43 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, now that I think of it, the Beatles are rich with this stuff.

I'll Cry Instead
Act Naturally
I'll Be Back
Lady Madonna
I'm Down
No Reply
Run For Your Life
Tell Me Why
What Goes on
posted by prefpara at 1:44 PM on April 18, 2008


A whole lot of They Might Be Giants songs fit this mold -- "Lucky Ball and Chain" and "Twisting" from the Flood record spring immediately to mind.
posted by camcgee at 1:44 PM on April 18, 2008


Artificial Flowers - Bobby Darin
posted by unsigned at 1:44 PM on April 18, 2008


Beautiful Day by U2, in a way.
posted by geeky at 1:55 PM on April 18, 2008


Stand Back by Stevie Nicks. Very danceable, but the lyrics are about rejection and a failed relationship.
posted by amyms at 2:00 PM on April 18, 2008


There are some songs by The Eels(and some of E's solo releases, pretty much every song on A Man Called E) that fit this mold.

Last Stop: This Town(Electro-Shock Blues)
Tiger In My Tank(Daisies of the Galaxy)
Mr. E's Beautiful Blues(Daisies of the Galaxy)
Wrong About Bobby(Shootenanny!)
Going Fetal(Blinking Lights and Other Revelations)
Old Shit/New Shit(Blinkiing Lights and Other Revelations)
Hey Man[Now You're Really Living](Blinking Lights and Other Revelations)
My Beloved Mad Monster Party(Useless Trinkets) - this one is an upbeat version of an older Eels song called My Beloved Monster. The original is sweet/sad and down-tempo. This one uses the sweet/sad lyrics but with more upbeat music.

There are probably more on Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, too, but I can't think of them at the moment. If you can't tell, I'm something of an Eels fan.
posted by owtytrof at 2:02 PM on April 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


"It's Not Unusual," by Tom Jones (peppiest depression evarr)
"Handle With Care," by the Traveling Wilburys
"Smile," by Lily Allen
posted by Madamina at 2:02 PM on April 18, 2008


Train in Vain has a cheerful beat and is pretty depressing lyrics-wise.
posted by pointystick at 2:02 PM on April 18, 2008


and its by The Clash, duh
posted by pointystick at 2:03 PM on April 18, 2008


While Tears For Fears' original version of Mad World was somewhat melancholy, Gary Jules' cover really does the lyrics justice. It's one of the most haunting, depressing, and beautiful songs I've ever heard.
posted by jluce50 at 2:07 PM on April 18, 2008 [4 favorites]


2nding a bunch of TMBG songs. Sarah Vowell pointed out in "Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns" that TMBG pretty much nailed this technique from the get-go.

Of particular note, Don't Let's Start:

No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful.
Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful.

Or They'll Need a Crane:

Don't call me at work again
No no, the boss still hates me
I'm just tired
And I don't love you anymore
And there's a restaurant we should check out
Where the other nightmare people like to go
I mean nice people
Baby, wait, I didn't mean to say nightmare.

See Also: End of the Tour, Narrow Your Eyes, Pet Name, etc. etc.
posted by SpiffyRob at 2:09 PM on April 18, 2008


ted leo & the pharmacists - me and mia

I love this song, but I never even noticed what it was about until a friend pointed it out...

[ video, lyrics ]
posted by lisawin at 2:10 PM on April 18, 2008


Pink Floyd - Free Four
posted by Wolfdog at 2:12 PM on April 18, 2008


Shakira - Estoy Aqui (here is the best English translation I could find, though it's not great)

Hanson - Mmmbop
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:16 PM on April 18, 2008


"Slide" by The Goo-Goo Dolls
posted by heathergirl at 2:17 PM on April 18, 2008


Early They Might Be Giants is almost all sad lyrics with uber-perky music.

"Don't Lets Start"
"No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful. Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful."

"They'll Need a Crane"
"They'll need a crane to pick the broken ruins up again, to mend her heart, to help him start to see a world apart from pain."

"Snowball in Hell", "Santa's Beard" and more than half of "Then" qualify as well.
posted by Gucky at 2:19 PM on April 18, 2008


Ahh. Sorry SpiffyRob. That's what I get for not previewing.
posted by Gucky at 2:20 PM on April 18, 2008


Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland, 1945. Fits well with the title, a comment a read was I don't know whether to dance or cry. About Anne Frank's death, very catchy.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:30 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


About Fun (Psapp) sounds happy, and actually has happy lyrics, but I always get the distinct impression that they're sarcastic. Don't know if that counts.
posted by jinjo at 2:44 PM on April 18, 2008


"Valerie," by Reel Big Fish.

"Valerie ... you're like a knife in my head, yeah! Valerie ... you make me wish I was dead, yeah. I'll never be the same—my life is ruined, you're to blame!"

This song also has an awesome guitar solo bridge in the middle.

A lot of Reel Big Fish songs have similar properties. "She Has A Girlfriend Now," "Beer," "I'll Never Be" ... pretty much the entire Everything Sucks album ... ditto Turn The Radio Off and Why Do They Rock So Hard?

And the best part is, it's been more than 10 years since all these songs came out, so you probably won't have heard most of them anywhere very recently.
posted by limeonaire at 2:45 PM on April 18, 2008


Also Goldfinger's "Youth."
posted by limeonaire at 2:48 PM on April 18, 2008


Whoa. Seriously, No Rain. Thanks Sys Rq.
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 2:51 PM on April 18, 2008


Saves The Day - At Your Funeral

If I flooded out your house
do you think you'd make it out
or would you burn up before the water filled your lungs?

And at your funeral
I will sing the requiem


And the music couldn't sound happier about it.
posted by rooftop secrets at 2:51 PM on April 18, 2008


OK Go: "Get Over It," "Don't Ask Me," "A Million Ways."
posted by limeonaire at 2:53 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Surprised nobody has mentioned Of Montreal yet...
Lysergic Bliss by Of Montreal
posted by tmcw at 2:53 PM on April 18, 2008


Oh oh, and Ludo's "Love Me Dead."
posted by limeonaire at 2:55 PM on April 18, 2008


Wyclef Jean, "Sweetest Girl"
posted by limeonaire at 2:58 PM on April 18, 2008


A lot of Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields, etc.) stuff. I'm especially fond of "Falling Out of Love (With You)" by The 6ths.
posted by deep_sea_diving_suit at 3:12 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Violent Femmes - He likes me
posted by davey_darling at 3:18 PM on April 18, 2008


"The Cat's in the Cradle" and "Sloop John B" come to mind. Also most Irish ballads about people strangling their babies, throwing them into the river, etc.
posted by Melismata at 3:18 PM on April 18, 2008


Having heard this version first, and live in a small club at that, I always found Natalie Imbruglia's Torn disappointing and annoyingly perky.
posted by ctmf at 3:27 PM on April 18, 2008


how is it possible that nobody has mentioned The Magnetic Fields? Pretty much every track from their 69 Love Songs album fits the bill. Also, Babybird, some Pogues, 2nding Elliot Smith, Decememberists, and The Beautiful South.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:32 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Barenaked Ladies: The Old Apartment, Enid, Get in Line (paranoia more than depression, but the lyrics are kinds dark)
Ben Folds: Annie Waits, Losing Lisa
XTC: The Disappointed, Earn Enough for Us, Living Through Another Cuba
posted by DiscourseMarker at 3:39 PM on April 18, 2008


"Alouette" - the bird dissection song!
posted by Iridic at 3:47 PM on April 18, 2008


Belle and Sebastian: "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying." Actually, a lot of their songs fit into this category: bummer lyrics, chipper melody.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 3:53 PM on April 18, 2008


Rilo Kiley - My Slumbering Heart
Morrissey - First of the Gang to Die
Modest Mouse - A Wild Pack of Family Dogs
Me First and the Gimmee Gimmees - I Am a Rock (ok, it's a cover)
posted by korres at 4:16 PM on April 18, 2008


The Cardigans:

Lovefool, Rise and Shine.
posted by sweetkid at 4:23 PM on April 18, 2008


Bob Dylan, You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.
posted by EarBucket at 4:25 PM on April 18, 2008


4thing They Might Be Giants, especially:

The World's Address, off Lincoln

Hopeless Bleak Despair, off Mink Car
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:52 PM on April 18, 2008


How about Neil Young: (Keep On) Rockin' In The Free World. I see a lot of people singing along with that one at concerts and always wonder if they realize what he's saying.
posted by kram175 at 4:54 PM on April 18, 2008


um.
'You are my sunshine'?

The original lyrics to 'Have yourself a merry little chirstmas'?
posted by Acari at 4:56 PM on April 18, 2008


The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize??
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:57 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sting loves this kind of thing

Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
Message in a Bottle
You Still Touch Me

And Lots of folks think "Every Breath You Take" is a love song when it's a little creepier than your standard

And I know most of these are Police songs but... you know
posted by Pangloss at 4:59 PM on April 18, 2008


New Order "True Faith"
lots of Pet Shop Boys rather sad, or at least bittersweet.. "It's a Sin," "Rent," "Being Boring," "West End Girls"
posted by citron at 5:05 PM on April 18, 2008


The Pogues - Hell's Ditch
posted by dilettante at 5:15 PM on April 18, 2008


That Smell -- Lynyrd Skynyrd

Me and My Uncle - Grateful Dead (It is one of Bobby's cowboy songs that goes along telling the story of a cowboy and his uncle teaching him to be a badass. The last line is, "He taught me so well, I left his dead ass there by the side of the road." Always struck me as sad.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:15 PM on April 18, 2008


New Order again, but 'Bizarre Love Triangle' - it's hard not to try and dance along

and for another take, there's Frente's version
posted by pupdog at 5:16 PM on April 18, 2008


Soaky in the pooper, by Lambchop.

Darn, someone else already said everything by the Beautiful South. I would add to Beautiful South recommendations: The Table and Should've Kept my Eyes Shut (these links are just to the lyrics, btw). Should've Kept my Eyes Shut is one of my favorites because of its unique genre--kind of a horror-movie/domestic violence scene sung by Briana Corrigan's preternaturally sweet, trilling voice.
posted by dreamphone at 5:17 PM on April 18, 2008


More Pet Shop Boys "What Have I Done to Deserve This?"
New Order "Blue Monday"
Mary J Blige "Real Love"
posted by citron at 5:24 PM on April 18, 2008


Veronica - Elvis Costello
Both sad and terrifying - Johnny Hit and Run Pauline - X
posted by louche mustachio at 6:16 PM on April 18, 2008


Ricky Martin 'Livin' la Vita Loca': about a hot crazy girl who rips him off.
posted by jacalata at 6:17 PM on April 18, 2008


Fifthing (I think) They Might Be Giants, and adding a couple of their newer releases:
Upside Down Frown
Withered Hope
We Live in a Dump
...etc.
posted by LolaGeek at 6:29 PM on April 18, 2008


Don't hate me...
Cher- Gypsies Tramps and Thieves
Jethro Tull- Fat Man
The Bouyes - Timothey
ELP- KarnEvil 9- (Welcome back my friend to the show that never ends.)
Ed's Redeeming Qualities - Lawn Dart (may not qualify as it is a bit more slowly paced, but hey its catchy)
posted by Gungho at 6:35 PM on April 18, 2008


Barry Manilow's "Cococabana".--love triangle ends tragically, and the showgirl loses her mind over the murder of her boyfriend. Song ends warning us "Don't fall in love".

The music is as bouncy and upbeat as the lyrics are depressing.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 6:36 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Bleeding Heart Show - The New Pornographers

(The University of Phoenix is a little confused about this song, too.)
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:24 PM on April 18, 2008


The first song I thought of when I read this question was Camera Obscura's Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken.
posted by esd at 7:42 PM on April 18, 2008


Seconding of Montreal. Basically anything from Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? but in particular 'Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse' and 'A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvenger' (the latter opens with the line 'I spent the winter on the verge of a total breakdown'). Also, 'Catch', 'Inbetween Days', among numerous others from the Cure.

OH AND 'I Am a Rock', of course!!
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 7:49 PM on April 18, 2008


I used to work in a doctor's office that catered to the elderly, and we often listened to songs from the 40s, 50s, and 60s all day long. I remember a lot of them stuck out to me because they were just what you're looking for - upbeat music, sad lyrics/subjects.

The one that sticks out the most in my mind is "This Ole House" by Rosemary Clooney.

Terribly catchy and fun, until you realize it's about a guy dying....and the singer spends more time talking about how crappy his house is then him. Pretty weird, if you ask me!
posted by Squee at 8:08 PM on April 18, 2008


And country. And rock. And gospel. I sense a pattern.
posted by jayCampbell at 8:09 PM on April 18, 2008


Also, nearly everything Matthew Sweet has released, most obviously 'Sick of Myself'.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 8:14 PM on April 18, 2008


Jeremy Fisher - Scar That Never Heals
posted by diamondsky at 9:07 PM on April 18, 2008


California Dreamin' - The Mamas & the Papas
posted by juva at 1:21 AM on April 19, 2008


Definitely LDN by Lily Allen.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:04 AM on April 19, 2008


Hurricane - Bob Dylan
Live And Let Die - The Beatles
posted by zouhair at 6:19 AM on April 19, 2008


Super Trouper by ABBA, I didn't notice at all until I heard Camera Obscura's cover of it. It's actually about how the singer hates performing and the only thing that makes it better is the unnamed lover.
posted by pocketfluff at 8:32 AM on April 19, 2008


A lot of things by The Format. From Tie The Rope:

"Just tie the rope and kick the chair
Leave me hanging there, gasping for air
Yeah, don't mind me three feet from the ceiling."
posted by lizzicide at 9:40 AM on April 19, 2008


Jefferson Airplane - Somebody to Love
posted by Sys Rq at 9:55 AM on April 19, 2008


One of my all time favorites - Lemon Tree, by Fools Garden.

"I wonder how,
I wonder why,
Yesterday you told me 'bout the blue blue sky
And all that I can see is just a yellow lemon tree"

Very happy cheerful.. almost kiddy music bouncy lilt to the entire song.
posted by frwagon at 11:11 AM on April 19, 2008


Also... Scissor Sisters - I don't feel like dancing... always seems to have a somewhat .. remorseful, regretful tone to it lyrically (But a nice 70's disco beat melody ... aahh, irony).
posted by frwagon at 11:21 AM on April 19, 2008


"Untitled" - The Cure
posted by BenzeneChile at 11:45 AM on April 19, 2008


"Sucked Out" by Superdrag.
posted by limeonaire at 1:10 PM on April 19, 2008


Mary Provost by Nick Lowe. Her dogs ate her for chissakes!
posted by Gungho at 2:01 PM on April 19, 2008


Glory Days, Bruce Springsteen.
I Love LA, Randy Newman.
LA County, Lyle Lovett.
posted by ibmcginty at 3:40 AM on April 21, 2008


Well, not a dancey song thats for sure, but:

Smashing Pumpkins - Today

You need to know the context in which Billy Corgan wrote the lyrics:

Corgan: "I was really suicidal. I just thought it was funny to write a song that said today is the greatest day of your life because it can't get any worse."
posted by rasmerack at 7:42 AM on April 22, 2008


I Gotta Dance to Keep From Cryin', Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. I love this song.
posted by creeky at 5:23 AM on April 24, 2008


No Crowded House? Come on!
posted by chunking express at 9:14 AM on April 24, 2008


From going out tonight - 'Beautiful Girls' by Sean Kingston. It's really kind of creepy to see everyone tapping along to the words 'You'll have me suicidal...suicidal'.
posted by jacalata at 10:36 AM on April 24, 2008


I'm late to this thread, but I Want To Die by The Deadly Snakes is a high energy Sam Cooke style dancer. The lyrics:

I don't get tired, tired anymore
I just don't try, try like before
I can't remember, remember last time I cried
Don't feel alright, I think I want to die

I haven't always done the best I can
But I learned to be alone and I learned to be a man
Now everything I see I think I've seen before
And I don't think I want to see a thing anymore

I want to die
Oh Lord, I want to die
I said, I want to die
Oh no, I want to die

I used to tremble, I used to shake
I used to wonder what it was like
I used to dance and sing
I used to drink and fight
I used to sleep well almost every single night
I used to stand up in the face of my adversity
I used to think I had a woman that would care for me
I used to get up when someone put me down
I used to think I loved and cared about this spiteful town
I used to be around on every holiday
I used to walk and talk but I got stopped along the way
I said I used to walk and talk but I got lost along the way
I said I'm through with walking tall because I realized today
That I got something else, when I saw the light
When I lost the faith everything I ever thought was right

I want to die
Oh Lord, I want to die
Oh Lord, I want to die
Oh Lord, I want to die
posted by Simon! at 7:40 PM on April 24, 2008


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