What's the saddest song ever? Science knows

Anyone who’s ever lost a pet, a girlfriend, a job — or just had a really crap day — has their go-to Sad Song. You know, the one you put on repeat while you lie splayed on the kitchen floor, in the dark, slowly soaking the linoleum with your salty, salty tears.  Now, a British scientist, Dr. Harry Witchel, has officially catalogued and ranked these songs according to their "tune trigger quotient" and announced his findings of the Saddest Songs Ever.

According to Dr. Witchel’s formula, which measures the listener’s heart rate, respitory response, and skin temperature, the all-time saddest song is… the Verve’s devastating 1997 dirge "The Drugs Don’t Work. (Though commonly misperceived as a song about recreational narcotics, it’s actually a tribute to singer Richard Ashcroft’s dying father. How’s that for sad?). The runners-up on this (admittedly very Anglocentric) list? Robbie Williams’ "Angels" and Elton John’s "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word."

Americans undoubtedly have their own opinions; surely, many of us would choose from among the following: The Beatles’ "Yesterday," Eric Clapton’s "Tears In Heaven," Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah," U2’s "With or Without You", Roy Orbison’s "Crying," R.E.M.’s "Everybody Hurts"… and, for whatever reason, every classic wedding song with which the newly married choose to start their lives together (why is that?): Sinead’s "Nothing Compares 2 U," the Righteous Brothers’ "Unchained Melody," Whitney’s "I Will Always Love You."

Just by checking my iTunes playlist, I see I am something of aveil-of-tears afficianado; in my top plays: Elliott Smith (wellanything of his, really, but especially "Angeles" and "Fond Farewell toa Friend"), the Kinks’ "I Go to Sleep," " Antony & the Johnsons’"For Today I am a Boy," Bloc Party’s "Tulips," Bright Eyes’ "LandLocked Blues," Cat Power’s "Where Is My Love," Modest Mouse’s, "Bankrupton Selling," Love’s "Always See Your Face," Neil Young’s "Only Love CanBreak Your Heart" (and the St. Etienne cover too, for when I’m feelingEuro), Ratatat’s "Everest," Skeeter Davis’ "The End of the World,"Beck’s "Lost Cause," Sufjan Stevens’ "To Be Alone With You"… man. I’mstarting to think I might actually need some serious meds.

Still, I know I’m barely scratching the surface of Sad. There areartists, from Boyz II Men to Bette Midler, that I haven’t even touched(but for now, let’s just say the whole Smiths catalogue is implicitlyincluded). What’s your Sad Song playlist?


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  • Fatima

    For today I Am A Boy is sad, but if you really want tragic Antony and the Johnsons, listen to the opening track, “Hope There’s Someone”
    Dying alone without anyone noticing may be one of the most depressing thoughts imaginable.

  • justin

    Sorry, this is an open and shut discussion. THE saddest song EVER…and I mean E-V-E-R: “Another Man’s Done Gone”, words by Woody Guthrie, music by Wilco.
    Sometimes I think I’m gonna lose my mind
    But it don’t look like I ever do
    I’ve loved so many people everywhere I went
    Some too much, and others not enough
    Well I don’t know
    I may go
    Down or up or anywhere
    But I feel
    Like this scribbling might stay
    Maybe if I hadn’t seen so much hard feelings
    I might not could’ve felt other people’s
    So when you think of me, if and when you do
    Just say, “Well, another man’s done gone”
    Well, another man’s done gone

  • Nose

    I know it isn’t his song, but Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” is just about the saddest thing ever. I defy anyone to watch the video and not burst into tears.
    Also, anything by Leonard Cohen.

  • Kate

    James Blunt’s song “goodbye my lover” is pretty dang sad too.

  • GeeMoney

    “All At Once” by Whitney Houston is pretty sad, as well as “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”.

  • zigra

    Lou Reed’s album (yes, I’m old) “Magic and Loss” is just devastating to listen to – not sure if I can pick a saddest song. Maybe “Sword of Damocles” because of the strings and the lyric “to cure you they must kill you”.

  • You must be Joking

    Without a doubt “Wind Beneath My Wings” is THE saddest song EVER! No matter who you are, it makes you nostalgic/sad!!!
    “Must Have Been Love” by Roxette is also very sad, but not sure why.

  • Darby

    Jim Croce’s ‘Operator’ about a man trying to find his gal’s phone number after she ran off with his ‘best old ex-friend’ is THE saddest song. At the end, when he gives up on trying to reach his lost love, and tells the operator ‘Thank you for your time. You’ve been so much more than kind. You can keep the dime.’ …the quiet despair in his voice gets me every time…

  • Lesha

    Lost by Sarah Mclachlan. The ending of the song says it all
    I want it all to go away I want to be alone
    Sympathy’s wasted on my hollow shell
    I feel there’s nothing left to fight for
    No reason for a cause
    And I can’t hear your voice and I can’t feel you near
    I wanted a change knowing all I could do was try
    I was looking for someone…

  • Stephanie Travitsky

    Shannon- Henry Gross
    Broken Hearted Me- Anne Murray
    Luca-Susanne Vega
    Every day is like Sunday-Morissey
    Love Hurts-Nazereth

  • Rae

    ‘When Angels Cry’ by Janis Ian kills me everytime I hear it. I literally break into tears. In fact a lot of songs by Janis Ian are pretty sad. The other one that breaks my heart is ‘1000 Oceans’ by Tori Amos.

  • Kimberly

    I always thought that Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” was both sad and incredibly powerful. It’s one of the few songs that actually makes me stop whatever I’m doing and just listen to it.

  • poochie

    “It’s so Hard to Say Goodbye”-Boyz II Men

  • MissDona

    Toss up between: Everybody Hurts, Luka and Fast Car.

  • Jamie

    “Feels like Home” org. by Randy Newman, but with a very powerful version by Chantal Kreviazuk always gives me goosebumps. However, its sort of a happy-sad. A real sad-sad song would have to be the “I’ll cover you (reprise)” from angel’s funeral in Rent. Now that can make anyone cry.

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