96 Tears...But Hopefully More
January 30, 2008 2:13 PM   Subscribe

What's a good example of a song whose emotional power affects the artist performing it? I'm trying to compile a list of songs whose musical landscape and/or lyrics are so emotionally potent that the emotion emerges clearly in a recorded version of the song.

Specifically, I'm looking for rock or pop songs with sung lyrics, and easily-accessible (album) recordings in which you can clearly hear the performer affected by the emotion of the song.

A couple of examples that rise immediately to mind are:

Michael Jackson's She's out of My Life (yes, it's sort of a mediocre song, but I like the bit when you hear him break down near the end), and

Nina Simone's live version of The King of Love is Dead, recorded soon after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.

Can you guys come up with any other examples? Any good tear-jerkers where the singer him/herself gets overcome while singing? I keep trying Google, but try as I might, I keep ending up at that godforsaken Roy Orbison song.
posted by AngerBoy to Media & Arts (96 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Nothing Compares 2U, the video (thought the tale is Sinead was just fucking sick of being filmed, and that's why she cried.)
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:19 PM on January 30, 2008

Two that leap to mind are "The Story" by Brandi Carlile (no earth-shattering lyrics, but a lot of emotion) and "Those Three Days" by Lucinda Williams (lots of heartache and melancholy are audible in that one).
posted by mudpuppie at 2:22 PM on January 30, 2008

"Daddy" from Korn's first album.
posted by dogwalker at 2:23 PM on January 30, 2008

You know, I saw this and for some reason Annie Lennox popped into my mind..."A whiter shade of pale"...although, maybe not so much for some people on that one. I think Social Distortion's "Live at the Roxy" album has a lot of songs where you can feel the emotion. Of course, so do a lot o N.W.A. songs like "Fuck the police". I don't think that's what you're really looking for though, so in that case I suggest the previously mentioned Annie Lennox song.

Oh, and Soko. I just found her a couple weeks ago, but I wants to marry her.
posted by TomMelee at 2:23 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Any Xiu Xiu song. Ian Curtis Wish List? They've kind of made a career out of this.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:23 PM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven about his son's death as pretty poignant. Look for an unplugged performance.
posted by Nelsormensch at 2:24 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Joe Cocker, You Are So Beautiful


Maybe emotion, maybe can't hit the note. Kill's me every time anyway.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:24 PM on January 30, 2008

Bob Dylan in Most of the Time sounds fairly cut up during parts of it. Jeff Buckley in Satisfied Mind sounds so raw, so real. And both of these are wonderful songs, so that's nice.
posted by twirlypen at 2:26 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 'I Want You' by Elvis Costello from the 'Blood and Chocolate' album.
posted by punilux at 2:28 PM on January 30, 2008

I Know, by Fiona Apple.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:29 PM on January 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

The first thing that came to mind was R.E.M.'s "Let Me In", about Kurt Cobain and his death. There's a lot of raw emotion in Stipe's voice.
posted by Gianna at 2:32 PM on January 30, 2008

...and have you ever heard of Jeff Buckley? What a sexy weeper! "Lover, you should have come over" is one of his more sleeve-twisting face-wiping sounding ones.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:32 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sorry about that unnecessary apostrophe up there. Preview is a good thing.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:32 PM on January 30, 2008

Adam Duritz sounds so. damn. sad. on pretty much every song of "August and Everything After" by Counting Crows. Man, I love that album.
posted by vytae at 2:32 PM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: This is the demo version of Basta de llamarme así, available for free at last.fm

The story behind the song is that the vocalist's sister died of an overdose, the title means "Stop calling at me like this", and the lyrics say something like: "stop calling at me like this, I'll go, I'll go up there when my time comes." You can clearly hear the singer crying towards the end of the song.

The band is Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, it's an excellent band from Argentina and many of their songs can be downloaded for free there.
posted by micayetoca at 2:35 PM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit".
posted by Anonymous at 2:38 PM on January 30, 2008

I have no idea how I saw part of the country music awards, but Kellie Pickler broke down in her performance to the point that I almost started crying too. Here's a story about the somewhat autobiographical song. I'm sure there's video out there somewhere.
posted by vytae at 2:40 PM on January 30, 2008

"You outta know" Alanis Morissette ...I'm thinking it wasn't an amicable break-up

"Untouchable Face" Ani Difranco

And, I'm thinking you cannot go wrong with anything Tori Amos has produced. I think she's been through some shit.
posted by AlliKat75 at 2:40 PM on January 30, 2008

I don't know if there was actual crying, but . . . pretty much every cut on the "Our New Orleans" compilation released in late 2005 as a post-Katrina fundraiser. Of particular note are Davell Crawford's "Gather By the River" and Eddie Bo's "When the Saints Come Marching In," and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's recording of "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" All tracks were recorded post-storm, most of the artists (excepting Randy Newman, who still manages a mean re-recording of "Louisiana 1927") are, or have been, New Orleans-based musicians. Pretty riveting stuff.

Might be less what you're up for, but some of the old gospel performers, clearly are in for the visceral. Not crying, again. More like complete over-the-top exuberance. See Sister Gertrude Morgan.

Didn't intend for this to be a fully New Orleans specific comment, but there you go.
posted by thivaia at 2:42 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

No More Drama by Mary J. Blige.
posted by SoulOnIce at 2:49 PM on January 30, 2008

Seconding Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit.

Long ago and far away I read (though now I can't remember where) that young white fans at music clubs would ask her to sing the song with no clue of the emotional toll this had on her.
posted by subajestad at 2:56 PM on January 30, 2008

KD Lang singing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah (The live version, not the one on the Hymns of the 49th Parallel album).
posted by ramix at 2:57 PM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: Hah, the earliest example of this I remember noticing at the time was Michael Jackson's "She's Out Of My Life."
posted by kimota at 2:58 PM on January 30, 2008

Nothing beats Otis Redding's performance at Monterey Pop for watching a guy truly feel the music. Less so on "Satisfaction" than on the "Try a Little Tenderness" that follows.
posted by peacecorn at 2:59 PM on January 30, 2008

If you watch Daniel Johnston's documentary "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" (amazingly beautiful film btw) he breaks down and cries during several performances. Apparently, it's quite common for this to happen.
posted by Espoo2 at 3:00 PM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: Jacques Brel: Ne Me Quitte Pas
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:00 PM on January 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

Some I like:

Fiona Apple's live cover of Elvis Costello's I Want You, cited above, on which he plays. Even he claimed it outdid the original!
X -- Come Back To Me, Exene's song about her sister is heartbreaking
Lucinda Williams, Change the Locks. Sweet Old World, Essence (for very different reasons)
All Tom Waits, but Waltzing Matilda is a typical tear-jerker
Patti Smith, too numerous to list, but Redondo Beach hits it pretty hard.
Peggy Lee, Send in the Clowns, yeow.
Ol' Blue Eyes, My Way
Sid Vicious, My Way
Elvis Costello with Burt Bachrach, God Give Me Strength (you need some to listen to this song!)
Bruce Springsteen, Streets of Philadelphia
The Band's version of Whispering Pines is wrenching.
Big agree on Dylan's Most of the Time.
posted by thinkpiece at 3:02 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Offspring's Gone Away. I don't know if it's the singer or the lyrics or the song, or all of the above, but it just seems to capture the emotions of losing someone close to you.
posted by forforf at 3:02 PM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: Tracy Chapman, At This Point In My Life...

It may be just me, but I always feel her sadness in that one.

The Pogues, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Same thing...
posted by Pantengliopoli at 3:04 PM on January 30, 2008

Ooh, one more, I love the Talib Kweli song about Lauren Hill, I choke up every time. Is it called Miss Hill?
posted by thinkpiece at 3:05 PM on January 30, 2008

Billy Bragg - Accident Waiting to Happen. When he sings the line "You're a dedicated follower of fascism" he sounds like he's ready to rip someone's ears off.
posted by Jimbob at 3:06 PM on January 30, 2008

"Ted's Waltz", by Beth Orton. It's on her amazing Daybreaker record.

"The Luckiest", by Ben Folds, especially the version on Ben Folds Live.

"I Was Made to Love Her", Stevie Motherfucking Wonder.
posted by secret about box at 3:13 PM on January 30, 2008

Oh, one more. This performance of "Down Is the New Up", by Radiohead, which is on Jigsaw Falling Into Place single:

posted by secret about box at 3:16 PM on January 30, 2008

Damaged I by Black Flag. They sound frustrated and fucked-up and sort of break down as it goes on.
posted by ignignokt at 3:20 PM on January 30, 2008

Okay a few more.

"LMA" by The Mark of Cain
"While you were Out" by Carter USM

In all these songs I'm coming up with, the emotion is anger, and that's probably something that's easier to turn up at the tap than joy or sadness.

However, "Everything's Turning to White" by Paul Kelly probably fits into the last category.
posted by Jimbob at 3:25 PM on January 30, 2008

Garnet Roger's "Frankie and Johnny" is about his brother Stan Rogers, who had one of the more stupid, senseless deaths out there. You can hear him start to choke up near the end.

Edith Piaf's "Non, Je ne Regrette Rien" always seemed so full of feeling, moreso than even the rest of her recordings.
posted by kalimac at 3:40 PM on January 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

First thing that came to mind, Richie Havens at Woodstock playing Freedom. (Starts about five minutes in, although Hansom Johnny is pretty damn good too.

Although on second thought, it could just be the drugs...
posted by jckll at 3:47 PM on January 30, 2008

kd lang singing "Crying." It was beautiful when she sang it with Roy Orbison, but I think it's even more moving to hear her sing it now that he's passed. At his memorial/tribute concert, she came out and sang it solo, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house (including hers). Look for that one, or her performance from Unplugged, or from Live By Request.
posted by spinturtle at 3:49 PM on January 30, 2008

This is probably just me projecting - but the song "Daniel" as performed by Elton John use to really touch my father. As a child my dad had witnessed his younger brother Danny get hit by a bus and whenever he heard that song he got emotional and would talk about his lost brother. When I hear that song now I can't help but imagine Elton John's emotion performing it.
posted by vito90 at 3:51 PM on January 30, 2008

Jimbob: how did you choose that particular Mark of Cain track to represent anger? Dartboard? Numbers in a hat? Tarot-reading chicken? Cane toad race? I really want to know!
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:57 PM on January 30, 2008

Kurt Cobain singing Leadbelly's Where Did You Sleep Last Night? To make a long story short, it's haunting.
posted by princesspathos at 4:05 PM on January 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

Have to add
Fruits of My Labor, Lucinda Williams, live version. She sounds half in the bag and teary.
Caroline No, the Beach Boys.
My Man, Barbra Streisand, the Funny Girl version.
My Man, Judy Garland
You'll Never Walk Alone, Judy Garland
Valentine's Day, Bruce Springstein
Jimmy Durante version of September Song, by Kurt Weill
Creep, Radiohead
Idiot Wind, Bob Dylan
Hello Young Lovers, Sinatra
Chain Gang, the Pretenders
Kid, the Pretenders
I Remember it Well, Maurice Chevalier & Hermoine Gingold
posted by thinkpiece at 4:06 PM on January 30, 2008

Well, UbuRovias, the story is that it's about an ex-girlfriend of John Scott's, who's motto was "Loud Music Always". Who died of a smack overdose. And since the song is (unusually) not about shellshock in some godforsaken war zone but about the death of someone close to him, the emotion always cuts through a bit more. It's not just anger, it's also sadness and helplessness all in together. Always seemed pretty real to me.
posted by Jimbob at 4:18 PM on January 30, 2008

Stay by Sugarland, especially the video
posted by tamitang at 4:32 PM on January 30, 2008

Iris Dement: "Our Town"
posted by jamjam at 4:36 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Steve Earle, Fort Worth Blues.
posted by dilettante at 4:44 PM on January 30, 2008

T.B. Sheets by Van Morrison, in which he sings about the death a teenage girl; at several points in the song you can hear him on the verge of tears.
posted by saladin at 4:50 PM on January 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I always found 'Maps' by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs emotional, and I think you can hear her heartrending pleas so, especially "Wait...they dont love you like I love you..."

....Im going to listen to that and cry with her now I think.
posted by Neonshock at 4:51 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Spiritualized - Broken Heart
posted by Free word order! at 4:51 PM on January 30, 2008

The version of "My Death" (Jaques Brel) sung by David Bowie on the double live album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars Live.

and some minor ones;

The Ghost of the Girl in the Well - Willard Grant Conspiracy from Regard the End, with Kristen Hersh on vocals.

So Much Song from Ms. Hersh's half sister Tanya Donelly from her album Beautysleep.

And I know this isnt pop, but any comment about emotional impact in songs is not complete with a nod to Dawn Upshaw's vocals in Gorecki's Symphony No. 3. Just sayin.
posted by elendil71 at 5:00 PM on January 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

a perfect sonnet - bright eyes
posted by rooftop secrets at 5:20 PM on January 30, 2008

Excellent question.

(and excellent call on the Otis Redding Try a Little Tenderness from Monterrey Pop. Also one of his last performances before his death.)

Add to the list: 10,000 Maniacs Unplugged, Because the Night. I believe she gets a little emotional during other songs in this show, but that one always jumped out at me when her voice breaks near the end. Always sounded very 'real' to me.
posted by gjc at 5:21 PM on January 30, 2008

Murdo Macfarlane's Canan nan Gaidheal, a lament for the loss of Gaelic culture, tends to bring out an emotional performance in the singer. I heard it first sung by Catherine-Anne MacPhee; YouTube has a fine version from the BBC's Transatlantic Sessions, sung by Karen Matheson of Capercaillie, but MacPhee's singing more closely fits your requirements.
posted by Abiezer at 5:24 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Melanie singing "Leftover Wine" makes me completely tear up when I hear it. I'll post a download link later in the thread, if you're interested.
posted by parilous at 5:24 PM on January 30, 2008

Okay, here you go. Seriously, give this a listen and see if it's along the lines of what you were looking for.
posted by parilous at 5:34 PM on January 30, 2008

Most of the songs off of the Lauryn Hill Unplugged album would fit the bill. I tend to think that Sam Cooke was also pretty emotional when he sang A Change Gonna Come, but I don't know if he's overcome in the way that you want.
posted by hue at 5:39 PM on January 30, 2008

Blind Faith - Can't Find My Way Home

Bell Bottom Blues Derek and the Dominos
posted by Phred182 at 5:39 PM on January 30, 2008

I can't support enough anyone above who mentioned Jeff Buckley. Whether it's his definitive version of Cohen's "Hallelujah," or the the uber-sexy "Everybody Here Wants You," you cannot not ever go wrong.

But I would ad a song by his father, Tim Buckley (well-known 60's folk artist) called "Sing A Song For You." Great tune.
posted by Detuned Radio at 6:00 PM on January 30, 2008

Morrissey - Late Night, Maudlin Street and if jazzishness is ok, anything by Jimmy Scott. These singers wear their hearts on their sleeve, so it can be difficult to decide if the emotion is real or just "performance". Judge for yourself, great shows behind both links.
posted by Free word order! at 6:02 PM on January 30, 2008

Stevie Nicks' voice breaks from emotion several times during the live version of "Landslide" (and there are some very poignant glances between her and Lindsay Buckingham).
posted by amyms at 6:12 PM on January 30, 2008

Not a Day Goes By, sung by Bernadette Peters
Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell live in 1970
Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You, Stevie Nicks (there's another version on YouTube from Woodstock 1998 where she breaks down at the end, but she wasn't in as good voice.)
Just about anything from Joni Mitchell's album, Blue
posted by chihiro at 6:24 PM on January 30, 2008

Oh, and I recently heard an interview with Bonnie Raitt where she said that she is affected every time she sings I Can't Make You Love Me
posted by chihiro at 6:31 PM on January 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Seconding UbuRoivas with Ne Me Quitte Pas (the link is malformed), also here is a better quality version.
posted by tellurian at 6:43 PM on January 30, 2008

Bell Bottom Blues Derek and the Dominos
posted by Phred182

Good call- that album, in my opinion, is the best album ever made. It all fits, it's all great, the songs stand on their own, and it's great for mending a broken heart.
posted by gjc at 6:54 PM on January 30, 2008

Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead. Thom Yorke actually broke down in tears after recording the main vocals in the song.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:59 PM on January 30, 2008

(Dum Dum) The Happy Song by Otis Redding. There is a part were he does a little laugh

Bring my breakfast to the table
When I go to work She knows I'm able
Do my chore I come back in
You wanna see my babys face
[Laughing] Grin, grin grin grin
posted by 4Lnqvv at 7:18 PM on January 30, 2008

Mellow My Mind by Neil Young.
That one high note where his voice just breaks and he doesn't care. In fact, the majority of songs from Tonight's the Night would fit the bill; it's a pretty intense downer of an album about drugs, death and sleazy phoniness. It's my favourite.
posted by chococat at 7:28 PM on January 30, 2008

"Again" by Janet Jackson (I can't believe nobody's mentioned it yet)

'Because of You" by Kelly Clarkson (check out the video)

Anything by the Henry Rollins Band (Henry Rollins give me the creeps just thinking about him).
posted by mynameismandab at 7:43 PM on January 30, 2008

One last song: "I hurt myself today" by Johnny Cash.

It's a Nine-Inch-Nails cover, but it's better than the original. And it might just be his age, but Johnny sounds pretty vaklempt.
posted by mynameismandab at 7:47 PM on January 30, 2008

And here's the video
posted by mynameismandab at 7:48 PM on January 30, 2008

Townes Van Zandt's cover of "Old Shep" on his live album "Abnormal".
posted by skwm at 7:49 PM on January 30, 2008

Syd Barrett - Dark Globe
Syd Barrett - Opel
The Rolling Stones - Love in Vain
posted by Afroblanco at 7:58 PM on January 30, 2008

And holy crap, how could I forget?

Neil Young - Thrasher

Jesus christ, you wanna talk about a song and a voice that reach out across a gulf of 30 years to express the sadness of seeing friends fall to their own demons, and the realization that you have to leave them behind. It's even more effecting when you learn that it's about him leaving CSNY.

Song is *intense.*
posted by Afroblanco at 8:05 PM on January 30, 2008

One last song: "I hurt myself today" by Johnny Cash.

It's a Nine-Inch-Nails cover, but it's better than the original. And it might just be his age, but Johnny sounds pretty vaklempt.

It's "Hurt", for the sake of me being a ridiculous goddamned pedant who can't stop himself. And it definitely stopped being a NIN song after Cash did his rendition, so to speak.

Johnny Cash:Hurt::Jimi Hendrix:All Along the Watchtower
posted by secret about box at 8:15 PM on January 30, 2008

On "Renaissance Affair" by Hooverphonic, I'm almost sure I can hear Geike sniff a tear after the last line: "miss your touch and your embrace."
posted by OneOliveShort at 8:37 PM on January 30, 2008

On a happier note, you can hear Michael Stipe giggle in "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" on Automatic for the People. It makes me smile and giggle right along with him every time.
posted by minervous at 8:49 PM on January 30, 2008

prince gets pretty histrionic on "temptation" from around the world in a day -- you'll note at the end of the linked lyrics he gets into an argument with god about lust and god smites him.
posted by Hat Maui at 9:09 PM on January 30, 2008

also, there are several ween songs from the earlier days where they crack themselves up mid-song. i'd list them, but i'm of course too lazy.
posted by Hat Maui at 9:11 PM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: I read an article once that stated that George Jones couldn't get the sound quite right on "He Stopped Loving Her Today" until Tammy Wynette walked into the recording studio with her new husband. All I know for sure is, that is one of the sadder songs ever recorded.
posted by librarylis at 9:22 PM on January 30, 2008

It's not a tearjerker, but you can definitely hear the anger in Darren Hayes's "Unlovable". "Void" (both from The Tension and The Spark) is also emotionally raw; apparently they were going to make it the first track on the album but it spooked Darren's family a bit too much. (I'm not sure how raw it is live but the album track is definitely spooky if nothing else.)

TTATS and This Delicate Thing We've Made are both very emotionally honest, though TDTWM is a bit more upbeat (TTATS is definitely dark). Savage Garden's two albums also were quite honest but not quite as strong as Darren's solos, though "Two Beds and a Coffee Machine" was a great example of the song you're seeking - Affirmation was the more direct of the two.

Spin, his first solo album, is a lot more commercial and not so honest emotionally (Darren has described it as playing a character and there was some turmoil in that time), but the B-sides had Darren's honesty again. "Where You Wanted To Be" in particular is an EXCELLENT example - he hasn't stated publically who or what the song is for, but it's really obvious that it's directed in parts towards his ex-wife and his ex-bandmate.

(note on the videos: only Unlovable and the live version of Void are official. The rest are fanvids.)
posted by divabat at 9:47 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree that Johnny Cash singing "Hurt" is on top for this. Even Trent Reznor said it's a Johnny Cash song now.

Taking a quick look for some random suggestions:

David Bowie - Five Years and Rock and Roll Suicide from Ziggy Stardust

This is embarrassing: Guns and Roses - Don't Cry

Radiohead - Videotape

A Silver Mt. Zion, which is an offshoot of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, does this in a very "avant garde" way. Think really sad/pissed off communists. You probably won't like them.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:49 PM on January 30, 2008

To take things in a different direction stylistically - I know the OP calls for rock/pop songs, but at 80 posts deep, I thought this post needs a little Miles Davis. Listen to him play a ballad - ANY ballad. Pure emotion. My faves, off the top of my head - Old Folks, from "Someday My Prince Will Come", and "My Funny Valentine" and "Stella By Starlight" from the live album "My Funny Valentine".

But really, ANY of those all ballads from the 50s and early 60s in particular will do.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:06 PM on January 30, 2008

Definitely K.D. Lang singing Hallelujah. She is so clearly moved. Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow at Carnegie Hall.
Can you tell I'm gay?
posted by HotPatatta at 10:17 PM on January 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

thinkpiece: Tom Waits' "Tom Traubert's Blues"? I agree. (No one speaks English and everything's broken...)

Really, really seconding Kurt Cobain's cover of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" on MTV Unplugged.
And Michael's Stipe's giggle. I love it!

"When the Tigers Broke Free," Pink Floyd.

Basically anything Tender Forever does, but it doesn't translate to video that well...

"My Man's Gone Now," Nina Simone.
posted by hippugeek at 11:02 PM on January 30, 2008

While these aren't examples of full on overcome breakdowns, they each have their moments.

"If I had a Rocket Launcher" - Bruce Cockburn - Protest song that runs at kind of an even keel until he hits "some son a bitch would die" - you know he means it.

"Tell me there's a heaven" - Chris Rea. About child abuse. I don't know how he can sing this without breaking down completely.

"The Killing of Georgie" - Rod Stewart.

"A Gentleman's Excuse Me" - Fish (of Marillion).
posted by sciatica at 12:06 AM on January 31, 2008

I could second a full third the the above, so I'll just note Nick Cave "People Ain't No Good"
posted by dawson at 1:26 AM on January 31, 2008

Paul Westerberg's voice cracks in The Replacements' "The Ledge."
posted by rhizome at 2:19 AM on January 31, 2008

Bob Mould - Explode and Make Up. I've got a live version on a CD single somewhere that's just devastating.

And in the same vein, Husker Du - I Will Never Forget You

Seconding Elvis Costello's I Want You

PJ Harvey - O My Lover
posted by tim_in_oz at 3:35 AM on January 31, 2008

Damien Rice has some songs where some lyrics are delivered emotionally in a sad, aggressive way.

Cheers Darlin' (especially when he sings "and I..die..")
Rootless Tree
Prague (a hidden track from his O album)
I Remember
posted by howiamdifferent at 7:31 AM on January 31, 2008

You need to listen to Lady In Satin by Billie Holiday. Not quite what you want, but it's powerful stuff. I haven't read the rest of the thread, but i'm just going to go right ahead and confirm that it will all suck in comparison.
posted by chunking express at 7:48 AM on January 31, 2008

Son House
posted by Otis at 8:26 AM on January 31, 2008

Best answer: Seconding Gorecki's Symphony No. 3 with Dawn Upshaw. It is one of the most profound recordings I have ever heard.
posted by malaprohibita at 9:52 AM on January 31, 2008

The lines:

I'm trying to find my way home.
I'm sorry...
and I miss you.

at the very end of the Slint song "Good Morning, Captain" (on the album Spiderland) always struck me as affecting the singer in a way that it would be very difficult to fake...
posted by cadastral at 3:07 PM on January 31, 2008

Best answer: Wow!

What a great list of responses. Thank you so much.

I went ahead and marked-as-best-answer those responses whose songs I actually wound up using for the project.

Just as an FYI, and in addition to the two in my OP, I also included these:
Ben Harper - I'll Rise
Randy Newman - God's Song
Bruce Springsteen - My Father's House
From the Langley Schools Music Project - little girl singing The Long And Winding Road

Thank you all SO much. This has turned into a hell of a greatest-hits post.
posted by AngerBoy at 12:46 PM on February 1, 2008

I'm too late, but I wanted to mention Mark Eitzel. Many of his songs have an incredibly emotional delivery, and he kind of breaks down on a couple of tracks on "songs of love live".
posted by edlundart at 3:38 PM on February 1, 2008

Also too late, but "Young Female Caucasian" by Chris Knox, cannot escape mention here. Oh, the sorrow and tears.
posted by Coatlicue at 5:08 PM on February 7, 2008

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