15 Saddest Rock Songs That Will Break Your Heart Every Time
Why do people listen to sad songs? Because it makes them realize that somewhere out there, someone is feeling the same thing. Everyone can relate to the pain of breakup, the passing away of a loved one or depression.
So dim the lights, grab a box of tissues, prepare a tub of ice cream and weep your heart out.
15. Suicide – “Frankie Teardrop”
“Frankie’s lying in hell…
We’re all Frankies
We’re all lying in hell…”
A few seconds into the song and you can’t help but notice how eerie and haunting it sounds. It’s more than just depressing, it’s actually pretty terrifying too. This 10-minute track tells the story of a 20-year old factory worker who was unable to cope with his problems. He lost his job so when he came home, he picked up his gun and shot his wife and six month-old baby. He then shot himself and after he died, he went to hell.
“Oh, my God! That’s one of the most amazing records I think I ever heard. I love that record.” – Bruce Springsteen on “Frankie Teardrop”
There’s something raw and primordial about the song. It’s highly disturbing and heart-wrenching and will leave you emotionally broken for days after listening. It’s one of those tracks that leave you speechless.
14. The Verve – “The Drugs Don’t Work”
“Now the drugs don’t work
They just make you worse
But I know I’ll see your face again
‘Cause baby, ooh, if heaven calls, I’m coming, too
Just like you said, you leave my life, I’m better off dead…”
It gets to you. Written by lead singer Richard Ashcroft, it captured the difficulty of his battle with drug addiction and also the grief that gripped him when his father died.
“There’s a new track I’ve just written […] It goes ‘the drugs don’t work, they just make me worse, and I know I’ll see your face again’. That’s how I’m feeling at the moment. They make me worse, man. But I still take ’em. Out of boredom and frustration you turn to something else to escape.” – Richard Ashcroft
It’s so powerful and full of emotion that it casts a heavy shadow over anyone daring to listen to it on full blast.
13. Johnny Cash – “Hurt”
“I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real…”
The title says it all. Originally recorded by Nine Inch Nails, Johnny Cash covered the song in 2002 and it was one of his final hits before his death following his wife’s a few months back which is what made it more tragic and devastating. We don’t know if it’s the poignant acoustic guitar or his hauntingly fragile vocals – either way, it’s heartbreaking on so many levels.
“I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form.” – Trent Reznor, songwriter for “Hurt”
It reduces anyone to tears. And add in the music video, it never fails to turn anyone into an emotional wreck after watching.
12. The Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby”
“All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?”
It may not have a tragic back story or a terrifying message but the questions they asked just make you think of all the sad people and how the world seems to have forgotten about them. From the unforgettable lyrics to the double string quartet arrangement, it basically catapulted The Beatles to legendary status.
“I was sitting at the piano when I thought of it. The first few bars just came to me, and I got this name in my head … “Daisy Hawkins picks up the rice in the church”. I don’t know why. I couldn’t think of much more so I put it away for a day. Then the name Father McCartney came to me, and all the lonely people. But I thought that people would think it was supposed to be about my Dad sitting knitting his socks. Dad’s a happy lad. So I went through the telephone book and I got the name “McKenzie.”” – Paul McCartney
How can something that talks about loneliness sound this good?
11. The Velvet Underground – “Pale Blue Eyes”
“Thought of you as my mountain top,
Thought of you as my peak.
Thought of you as everything,
I’ve had but couldn’t keep.”
Perhaps nothing is more relatable than a love lost. And if this doesn’t move you to tears then maybe you have a heart of stone, like seriously. Rumor has it that the song was inspired by Lou Reed’s first love, Shelley Albin who got married to another man. Ouch.
“[John] Cale’s departure allowed Lou Reed’s sensitive, meaningful side to hold sway. Why do you think ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ happened on the third album, with Cale out of there? That’s a song about Lou’s old girlfriend in Syracuse [University]. I said, ‘Lou, if I wrote a song like that, I wouldn’t make you play it.’ My position on that album was one of acquiescence.” – Sterling Morrison
The low-energy singing also makes you feel as if Reed didn’t have the strength to go on anymore.
10. The Smiths – “How Soon Is Now?”
“How can you say I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does…”
It may be a masterpiece but it’s chilling all the same. Reading the lyrics, it’s almost like you can feel the writer’s sadness and anguish. It’s basically about Morrissey’s crippling shyness and his desire to find a partner thus the verse “I am human and I need to be loved.” If that doesn’t hit you right in the feels then nothing else will.
“The tremolo pulse that opens ‘How Soon Is Now?’ is the kind of sound musicians and listeners spend a lifetime chasing after: something never heard before and never successfully replicated since.” – Philip Sherburne, Pitchfork
But nothing will ever prepare you for this line – “And you go home and you cry and you want to die.” That in itself just speaks of so much loneliness it’s almost unbearable.
9. Elliott Smith – “King’s Crossing”
“I can’t prepare for death any more than I already have
All you can do now is watch the shells
The game looks easy, that’s why it sells
Frustrated fireworks inside your head
Are going to stand and deliver talk instead…”
How can something so beautiful be so horrible and awful at the same time? And when he sings “Give me one good reason not to do it,” we just totally lost it. The lyrics deal with Elliott Smith’s heroin addiction and it tells the sad, heartbreaking tale of the possibility of self-destruction and the changing thought patterns that go with it.
“Elliott’s unquestionable masterpiece, drug-addled and suicidal, as if through dark magic, he dragged it out by the hair, kicking and screaming.” – William Todd Schultz on “King’s Crossing”
It’s a cry for help and listening to it makes you want to reach out and somehow remind the person there’s still hope.
8. Radiohead – “How To Disappear Completely”
“I’m not here
This isn’t happening
I’m not here, I’m not here…”
This isn’t just the saddest Radiohead song but it’s one of the most depressing tracks ever written. The lyrics in the chorus was inspired by Thom Yorke’s friend R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe who suggested that in order to cope with the stress associated with touring and being on the road, he should pull the shutters down and say, “I’m not here, this isn’t happening.”
“I dreamt I was floating down the Liffey and there was nothing I could do. I was flying around Dublin and I really was in the dream. The whole song is my experiences of really floating.” – Thom Yorke
The dreamy vibe of the song just works. It might mean differently to different people but the fact remains that it sounds pretty darn depressing. It’s the track you hear playing in the background while looking out the window on a gloomy, rainy afternoon.
7. The Cure – “Pictures of You”
“You were bigger and brighter and wider than snow
And screamed at the make-believe
Screamed at the sky
And you finally found all your courage
To let it all go…”
If you think The Cure has plenty of sad songs in their catalog, we guarantee that “Pictures of You” leaves them all in the dust. There’s so much ache in Robert Smith’s voice and he flawlessly and effectively channeled the sadness to the listeners.
“It’s about the idea you hold someone. It goes back a bit to a song like ‘How Beautiful You Are.’ The idea of you hold someone isn’t really what that person is like. Sometimes you completely lose touch with what a person has turned into. You just want to hold onto what they were.” – Robert Smith in Music Box TV interview
While most believed this was about a devastating breakup, others think it talks about death – either way, the sense of loss is just overwhelming.
6. Beck – “Lost Cause”
“I’m tired of fighting
I’m tired of fighting
Fighting for a lost cause…”
“Lost Cause” is one of the tracks in Beck’s fifth studio album “Sea Change” which, aside from heartbreak, had themes of loneliness, desolation and solitude – basically, all of the songs sound depressing enough. The back story is nothing new – Beck speaks from experience and in this case, he just broke up with his girlfriend of nine years who cheated on him.
“the best album Beck has ever made, and it sounds like he’s paid dearly for the achievement.” – Rolling Stone critic David Fricke on “Sea Change”
The fragile voice you hear almost feels like he’s breaking down during the recording. And seriously, who can’t relate to a painful breakup? We’ve all experienced it at least one point in our lives. And doesn’t that make everyone sad? Just thinking about what Beck must’ve felt just tears you into pieces.
5. Ben Folds Five – “Brick”
“Can’t you see
It’s not me you’re dying for
Now she’s feeling more alone
Than she ever has before…”
This is yet another example that something can be so exquisitely beautiful but can also make you feel genuinely sad at the same time. Most listeners thought this was about a relationship heading to splitsville or a couple’s breakup. The truth is so much sadder than that. Ben Folds explained:
“People ask me what this song’s about… I was asked about it a lot, and I didn’t really wanna make a big hairy deal out of it, because I just wanted the song to speak for itself. But the song is about when I was in high school, me and my girlfriend had to get an abortion, and it was a very sad thing. And, I didn’t really want to write this song from any kind of political standpoint, or make a statement. I just wanted to reflect what it feels like. So, anyone who’s gone through that before, then you’ll know what the song’s about.”
This is by far the saddest back story.
4. Bonnie Raitt – “I Can’t Make You Love Me”
“’Cuz I can’t make you love me
If you don’t.
You can’t make your heart feel
Something it won’t…”
Ah yes, unrequited love – one of the common themes in music. The thought alone makes us sad, even more so when we hear Bonnie Raitt’s ache-filled voice. It’s no wonder it’s among her most successful singles.
“And we’d worked on this song for more than six months. One day, he said, ‘Come up to the living room,’ where his piano was. He sat down and started playing this melody, and it was one of the most moving pieces of music I’d heard. I mean, it hit me in a hard way… Instantly, I knew it was the best thing I’d ever been a part of.” – co-writer Allen Shamblin
Well if we learned anything here it’s that love KINDA sucks (okay maybe it sucks big time) especially when the one you like can’t even love you back.
3. ZZ Top – “Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell”
“And it sure got cold after the rain fell
Not from the sky, from my eye
Somebody, can you tell me just what make a man feel this way?
Like river without its water, like night without a day…”
Let us just say that this is one brilliant musical masterpiece. It’s definitely our favorite cut from the album “Rio Grande Mud”. So, what’s the big deal? Apparently, the lyrics are so sad it makes you want to indulge in a big tub of ice cream and cry your heart out.
“With their second album, Rio Grande Mud, ZZ Top uses the sound they sketched out on their debut as a blueprint, yet they tweak it in slight but important ways.” – AllMusic review on Rio Grande Mud
The woman leaves him so he sings about the heartache. Cheesy and too dramatic? Maybe but it would still painful when you’re in his shoes.
2. The Doors – “The End”
“It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end…”
There’s something raw and primal about this song. And it’s both haunting and terrifying, not to mention extremely sad what with the words that echoed so much pain. The twist is creepy and weird but still, it makes you depressed just hearing this on the radio.
“Every time I hear that song, it means something else to me. It started out as a simple good-bye song… Probably just to a girl, but I see how it could be a goodbye to a kind of childhood. I really don’t know. I think it’s sufficiently complex and universal in its imagery that it could be almost anything you want it to be.” – Jim Morrison
Maybe for some of us, what makes this sadder is Jim’s sudden death. The title alone is enough to send chills down your and make you cry like a baby.
1. Nazareth – “Love Hurts”
“Love hurts, love scars, love wounds
And marks, any heart
Not tough or strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain…”
If we had to choose an ultimate sad song, it would definitely be this. It’s like when you listen to it, everything becomes dark and gloomy. It could be the lyrics or the ache in his voice, either way, it hits a raw nerve every single time.
“When you play “Love Hurts,” fifteen thousand lighters are held aloft before you, as befitting one of the mightiest of power ballads.” – Rob Smith
Well, you know, it goes without saying that this is just pure magic. There may be several versions of this song but this one is gold – it’s our favorite and it’s timeless. A few decades from now, this will still be everyone’s go-to sad song. Because really, if you feel like crying a ton, just plug this in.