by Keidra Chaney & Raizel Liebler
Have you ever listened to a song, humming cheerfully along and then gone “wait, this is a really depressing song!?!”. Then this is for you. Below are some of our favorite and most memorable depressing songs that sound happy — and happy songs that sound down in the dumps. No acoustic “thoughful” covers welcome.
Too Hot – Kool And The Gang (1979)
Outside of Celebration, I would reckon that most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the music of Kool And The Gang. Even so, Too Hot is a midtempo jam that doesn’t get the credit it deserves as a great song, but it’s also depressing as all hell; written from the perspective of a man in a loveless marriage with his teenage sweetheart and lamenting their lost love. The heartbreak of the song comes from its matter-of-fact, almost low-key delivery. It’s not an overly emotional song at least not into the end fade out, which makes it all the more depressing at the end, when JT Taylor starts singing “long ago, we took our vows” and all that. I heard it in a coffeeshop and started to tear up when I paid attention to the actual lyrics. See also: Band of Gold by Freda Payne – Keidra
Perfect Kiss — New Order (1985)
If you have ever wanted a dance floor classic, backed up with both frogs and sheep, about the narrator’s best friend committing suicide, then this is your song. Not only is the subject matter uber-depressing, but it is based on the actual suicide of Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division, whose members later formed New Order. And it has one of the longest four-on-the-floor, get down and boogie 12 inch single versions at nine minutes, if you want to extend your depressive dance time.
But without listening to the lyrics, the music is one of New Order’s most upbeat — and is considered to be a classic by fans who will deign to list in on any best of New Order list. Want more truly depressing New Order dance songs? Perhaps you would like 1963, called by its producer Stephen Hague as “the only song about domestic violence that you can dance to.” Fun times. - Raizel
Kiss Me Son of God — They Might Be Giants (1988)
They Might Be Giants are the KINGS of upbeat songs about supremely dark topics. My favorite song that takes this approach is Kiss Me Son Of God, a brutal ditty written from the perspective of a dictator of some sort. In true TMBG fashion, the lyrics don’t get into specifics about whether the speaker is a corporate dictator, a political fascist, or a religious zealot leaving the listener to come to their own conclusion.
“I built a little empire out of
Some crazy garbage called the blood of the
Exploited working class
But they’ve overcome their shyness,
Now they’re calling me ‘Your Highness’
And the world screams,
‘Kiss me, Son of God!’”
Either way, the music sounds like the final act of an off-Broadway musical of some sort. - Keidra
Junkhead — Alice in Chains (1992)
Junkhead is likely the most exuberant song that Alice in Chains ever recorded. It also includes the lyric of “what’s my drug of choice? Well, what have you got?” This is also the first song to the second side of Dirt, followed up by the crash to the high that is it’s sister song, Dirt. The only other song with the same in-your-face musical optimism that they recorded was “We Die Young” so, yeah, upbeat music didn’t change the overall downerness of the lyrics.
Junkhead is literally the status of Layne Staley, lead singer of Alice in Chains, who had been a long-time heroin addict, but also became a recluse in the months up to his death, making the supposed high of this song all the sadder. - Raizel
살만찌고 (Only Gained Weight) — Brave Brothers & 4Minute (2014)
In this song, 3/5 of 4Minute (GaYoon, SoHyun, and Hyuna) join mostly producer and songwriter Brave Brothers (only one person) on this upbeat song about being so broken up about a romantic breakup, the narrator just sits around gaining weight. This is a super bouncy mid-tempo song that just doesn’t fit the lyrics — and unless you know Korean, it likely sounds like any other similar kpop song. But the music lies, likely just like that heartbreaking ex! Considering most of 4Minute and Brave Brothers’ songs together or apart tend to sharply veer into sexy and/or sassy, this song is quite different for both halves. - Raizel