Looking for more catchy, funny, depressing songs!
April 14, 2015 11:19 AM   Subscribe

There are some really catchy up-lifting sounding songs that are absolutely horrible once you listen to the music. My top examples are the Counting Song and the Shop Vac Song. I guess they both share the idea that you're looking forward to this thing (adulthood, starting your life, etc) that is utterly disappointing and completely a trap. I'm looking for similar songs, in style and content, and sing-along-able.
posted by ethidda to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Perfect by Rob Cantor is kind of the more love songy version of that sentiment.
posted by KernalM at 11:30 AM on April 14, 2015

Marie Provost by Nick Lowe.
posted by holborne at 11:32 AM on April 14, 2015

Whoops, ignore above example: fits "catchy but depressing" but not subject matter. Sorry -- read too fast. :/
posted by holborne at 11:33 AM on April 14, 2015

I feel like Magnetic Fields is good for this, but it's been years since I listened and I can't come up with an example. Maybe All The Umbrellas In London? It might not be super-happy-pop-y enough for you, but it certainly fits in the style of 'music doesn't quite match subject matter'.
posted by kitcat at 11:46 AM on April 14, 2015

Like everything by They Might Be Giants ever.
posted by the_blizz at 11:47 AM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Earn Enough for Us" by XTC.
posted by sesquipedalia at 11:58 AM on April 14, 2015

Paradise by the Dashboard Light, of course! I also think the same of Little Boxes, which is bouncy but sad when you think about it.
posted by kimberussell at 12:02 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

9-5 by Dolly Parton!
posted by kitcat at 12:03 PM on April 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

Song for Whoever by the Beautiful South, and lots of their other stuff too
posted by crocomancer at 12:05 PM on April 14, 2015

Oasis by Amanda Palmer is another good example of this.

If you're familiar with Shop Vac then you're probably already be aware of Blue Sunny Day and I Feel Fantastic, Good Morning Tuscon by Jonathan Coulton.
posted by edbles at 12:05 PM on April 14, 2015

The Rakes Song by the Decemberists (exceptionally dark subject material)
posted by crocomancer at 12:07 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Many titles by the Smiths, or by Morrissey solo, might fit your criteria.
posted by gimonca at 12:08 PM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Up The Junction by Squeeze?

Also I found a few other listicles on this topic, and a couple songs that seem to come up frequently therein are Semi-Charmed Life and Mamma Mia (although Mamma Mia is about a breakup, but it's Abba which is fun; there is, however, another Abba song about Money, Money, Money which could work better).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:09 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:09 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you know JoCo I assume you are familiar with They Might Be Giants, for whom Happy Horrible Song is their entire catalog.

But I especially like Man It's So Loud In Here and Destination Moon.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:14 PM on April 14, 2015

I've always thought So Lonely by the Police is inappropriately peppy-sounding given the subject matter.
posted by lovableiago at 12:17 PM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Housemartins are great at this. Happy Hour

You also may like some of the picks from this previously
posted by Mchelly at 12:18 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

That super-catchy Outkast song, "Hey Ya?" It's a divorce song.
posted by Gilbert at 12:26 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Counting Song for Bitter Children and No Children by The Mountain Goats
posted by MsMolly at 12:26 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Get me away from here I'm dyin' by Belle & Sebastian - "Oh, I'll settle down with some old story / About a boy who's just like me / Thought there was love in everything and everyone / You're so naive! / They always reach a sorry ending..."
posted by monkeymonkey at 12:28 PM on April 14, 2015

Seconding other JoCo songs, and TMBG's entire catalog, which I've always described as "Ridiculously Happy Songs About Sadness".

One I discovered recently that I think would hopefully fit into this category, even if it doesn't quite match the theme you're after, is 1930 by Gaslight Anthem. It's not quite as relentlessly peppy as Shop Vac, but still sounds fairly upbeat, with a nice pop-punky intro and a sweet, somewhat anthemic chorus ("And I wish you could see me now / she's a better side of me now / and I'm doing the best I can / it's what you wanted / and I see you like you were there / and I know just how you'd smile / Mary, you looked just like / it was 1930 that night.")

Then you listen more closely, and realize it's a song of mourning for an older relative dying of Alzheimers -- based on the singer's grandmother in real life, IIRC. The last lines just crush my heart every time, standing in tragic contrast to the mostly-sweet rest of the song: "If I recall the last thing you said to me / before it broke up /before it took you from me / you said 'I love you more than the stars in the sky / but your name just escapes me tonight'"

(Sorry to be wordy instead of just shooting a link, but this is one of those things...)
posted by jammer at 12:29 PM on April 14, 2015

Foster The People Pumped Up Kicks
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:32 PM on April 14, 2015

Lily Allen Not Fair. Cheery, bouncy, pop/country song about a sexually frustrated woman and her selfish lover.
posted by billiebee at 12:34 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Moe Tucker's Spam Again (about her experience working at Wal Mart).
posted by carrienation at 12:52 PM on April 14, 2015

Jammer's mention of a song about Alzheimers reminded me that Veronica by Elvis Costello fits this question perfectly.
posted by MsMolly at 1:02 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've always thought So Lonely by the Police is inappropriately peppy-sounding given the subject matter.

Similarly, Can't Stand Losing You, which ends with Sting contemplating suicide.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:20 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Mountain Goats are great for this, and "No Children" is the classic. One of my favorite things about seeing them live is a whole club full of people cheerfully singing along to a song about a failing relationship (which I consider to fit the theme of disappointing things about adulthood) with the chorus, "I hope you die!/I hope we both die!"
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:41 PM on April 14, 2015

Blind Melon. Skinned. Many others.
posted by effluvia at 1:55 PM on April 14, 2015

following up on the_blizz, TMBG's Older
posted by zepheria at 2:08 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

99 Red Balloons is about a war triggered by balloons being mistaken for missiles.
posted by Weeping_angel at 2:16 PM on April 14, 2015

The Monkees are great for this. Last Train to Clarksville is about a guy shipping off to Vietnam. Pleasant Valley Sunday is about the loneliness and tedium of the suburbs. Cuddly Toy is an absolutely vicious put down of a girl even though it sounds like this bouncy little pop thing. Daddy's Song is a story of parental disappointment that's more heartbreaking than Cat's in the Cradle. A lot of the Monkees' peppy songs have a surprising dark streak.

Born in the USA, famously, was widely interpreted as a rah-rah USA anthem when it's anything but. Future's So Bright by Timbuk 3 is about nuclear holocaust. The One I Love by REM is not a happy love song. It's Not Unusual sounds pretty peppy but it's peppered with stuff about Tom Jones crying and how he wants to die. Staying Alive is some pretty grim, desperate stuff under that driving disco beat.

I could go on. I'm starting to think that pop music may be a lot more depressing in general than we think.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:09 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Smiths' entire catalog.
posted by Brittanie at 4:35 PM on April 14, 2015

Avenue Q is Catchy Depressing Songs About Starting Your Adult Life: The Musical, with the prime example It Sucks to Be Me.

The great Tom Lehrer was doing cheery depressing songs before Jonathan Coulton was born, though with more of a "We are all going to die in a fiery apocalypse" slant. Notable favorites: We Will All Go Together When We Go, Bright College Days, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park (the best song for spring!)

Mates of State - My Only Offer

This kind of music makes up an alarmingly high percentage of my music collection.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:13 PM on April 14, 2015

Yup-yup-yup-yup-yup-yup-yup-yup-Yuppie drone!
posted by drlith at 3:39 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh! Sail On Sailor. It's by the damn Beach Boys and sounds like it's this hearty, adventuresome piratey "away and off to sail the seas" thing - but if you read the lyrics it's more like "I have been totally beat to shit by life but I'm just keeping plodding on because honestly what else can you do".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:48 AM on April 15, 2015

The Mountain Goats are great for this

I agree and was personally coming in to mention Foreign Object off the new album because it's the catchiest possible song about stabbing someone in the face.
posted by capricorn at 8:09 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

The French write a lot of up beat but depressing songs like this. For a recent example Emily Loizeau's "Je Ne Sais Pas Choisir "

In terms of songs that about the disappointment of growing up "Is that All there Is?" is a classic.
posted by rongorongo at 9:01 AM on April 15, 2015

R.E.M.: It's the end of the world as we know it.
posted by effluvia at 9:04 AM on April 15, 2015

Joe Pernice was big into doing this in the early 00s. "Working Girls (Sunlight Shines)" is one example, with cheery lyrics like she summered every winter with a calendar from paradise/cheap dress up temp job and a tan by cold florescent light/"I was here" she scribbled in a restroom to prove she was alive...contemplating suicide or a graduate degree over shimmery, nostalgia-inducing old-timey radio pop.
posted by ifjuly at 9:37 AM on April 15, 2015

And I forgot, "7:30" from the same album is a great example too, if love-inflected. There's this insane harmony part at the end that is just amazing given he kept singing prior to that there's nothing there/just bitterness.
posted by ifjuly at 9:41 AM on April 15, 2015

A little bit further afield, but any Tom Lehrer song with a bit of tempo in it will probably be catchy and singable with pointedly depressing (but humorous) content.
posted by gimonca at 10:10 AM on April 15, 2015

Oh man, and how could I forget Green Day? Practically their entire catalog is this, but the most standout examples are probably Dominated Love Slave, the similarly-themed but maybe less negotiated Pulling Teeth, F.O.D., Having a Blast, and most of all Ha Ha You're Dead.
posted by capricorn at 10:41 AM on April 15, 2015

dada: dizz nee land
posted by effluvia at 11:29 AM on April 15, 2015

Barbie Girl by Aqua is actually dark and sarcastic when you listen to the lyrics. rather than the poppy techno piece it appears to be.
posted by edbles at 2:24 PM on April 15, 2015

Imperial Teen: Last to Know. Kind of hard to say exactly what it's about, but it's a lot of sad disappointment and ennui set to one of the dancing-est tunes I've ever heard. You'll be shaking your booty to lines like, Based on what we both know, it's goodbye...
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:24 PM on April 15, 2015

dandy warhols: I like you.
posted by effluvia at 3:18 PM on April 15, 2015

I found "The Top 10 Happy Songs that are Actually Depressing". These are interesting since they are mostly so much part of the everyday musical background that we almost don't notice their topics:
Pumped Up Kicks - Foster the People;
LDN - Lilly Allen;
Some Nights - Fun (with credits to Simon and Garfunkel's equally appropriate "Cecillia");
Electric Avenue - Eddie Grant;
Rock the Casbah - The Clash;
You can Call me Al - Paul Simon;
Detroit Rock City - Kiss;
Jump - Van Halen;
Semi Charmed Life - Third Eye Blind;
- And the previously mentioned 99 Red Balloons.
Also mentioned - but not yet in this thread: Paper Planes; MIA; Big League - Tom Cochrane; Born in the USA - Bruce Springsteen
posted by rongorongo at 1:59 AM on April 16, 2015

(Goddamn Right) It's a Beautiful Day - The Eels
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 4:44 AM on April 16, 2015

There's definitely some Too Much Joy that fits this:

I'm Your Wallet
You Will, which alludes to the AT&T You Will ad campaign

Lyrics for both at Too Much Joy's webpage for the album, Finally.
posted by kristi at 9:30 AM on April 16, 2015

Going old-school, I've always thought that Supertramp were masters of this.
posted by thebrokedown at 7:24 AM on April 18, 2015

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