Music evokes emotion, that is kinda the point. There are some really sad songs, like Eric Claptop's "Tears in Heaven" about loss of a loved one, or Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" about an awkward father/son relationship. There are however only three songs I can think of that have ever brought me to tears.
Mike + the Mechanic's "The Living Years" is one of them, about death and regret. It did have a little bit of hope in the end. Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut" is about depression leading to attempted suicide. Yikes, that one doesn't have any hope.
But the last one, which I reckon has taken my sad song top place, is from the most unlikely of places - Rebecca Sugar's Steven Universe's "Drift Away". When the animated kid's movie came out last year I watched it with the kids, and when that song came on I couldn't believe it, I lost composure and teared up. It is a song about rejection and loss of innocence that leads to the main protagonist's anger/revenge/insanity. The way the movie portrayed it certainly added to the sadness, but the music itself and the lyrics, whoa.
My eldest daughter learned to play it on the ukulele when it came out, I come across it again the other day, and still whoa, teared up. In order to understand why, I looked into it and noticed a few things:
- 6/8 time signature is a good choice for sad songs, not quite a dirge but you can't bop to it;
- An unusual verse chord progression G-G7-C-Cm which equates to establish-tension-release-sad really adds to the lament feel;
- Melody off beat, has that slow falling-behind sad feel;
- Keeping the verse range down low, then having the chorus up high, for despair-frustration-despair;
- A nice bridge that leaves the established feel, offering some relief, but then takes you straight back to where you were but sadder;
- Well written poetic lyrics, good imagery, music alone could make you cry but effective lyrics certainly help;
- It has a slightly Pink Floyd/Roger Waters feel with a hint of psychedelic era The Beatles, I would say the author is a fan.
This song is masterfully crafted and achieves its goals, my hat is off to the writers. During my obsessive research into it I of course arranged it for solo guitar, watch this space.
I have listened to it enough now that the sadness impact has been dulled - but like "The Living Years" and "The Final Cut" - if I hear them infrequently, whoa. Emotionally manipulative song writers! Grr! :-) Watch it here https://youtu.be/lRS2ciJ5rOk