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20 Best Sad Songs of All Time

best sad songs of all time

If you ever feel burned out, sometimes the best thing you can do is play a sad song. It can give you hope that you are not alone and that someone else has felt the same emotions at one point in time. Many artists draw inspiration from sorrow and grief. 

Emotional songs provide us with the comfort we need, so let’s explore our list of the saddest songs of all time. 

Pale Blue Eyes by The Velvet Underground

Released in 1969, Pale Blue Eyes is one of the best songs by The Velvet Underground. Lou Reid wrote it for his former college girlfriend and muse, Shelley Albin. The lyrics tell the tale of their relationship and unrequited love. Albin was married to another man when Reid wrote Pale Blue Eyes. The overall simplicity of the instrumental allows Reid’s voice to shine on this track, portraying the affection he still feels for Albin. The song has been streamed more than 26 million times on YouTube.

 

The Blackest Day by Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey knows how to write sad songs. Even her happier tunes have a hint of nostalgia and longing in them. The Blackest Day stands out when we look at Del Rey’s discography as a whole. Heavily inspired by jazz and Billie Holiday, the Blackest Day unpacks all the emotions you feel when a lover suddenly leaves you. This tune wasn’t a single, but it is still quite popular on YouTube, with more than 7 million views.

Between the Bars by Elliott Smith

The world lost Elliott Smith way too early. The indie darling rose to fame when Miss Misery received an Oscar nomination in 1998. Unfortunately, Elliott Smith struggled with addiction and mental illness. He didn’t shy away from singing about his problems. That makes Between the Bars even more painful to any listener vaguely familiar with Smith’s story. Altogether, this song has around 10 million views on YouTube at the moment, but it deserves so much more.

Love Is A Laserquest by Arctic Monkeys

Formed in Sheffield, England in 2002, Arctic Monkeys quickly became one of the best rock bands in the world. While they are known for their upbeat songs, the band has a couple of slower ones in their discography. One of them is Love Is A Laserquest, a song about the one that got away. Alex Turner bares his soul in this song as he sings about a lover who is no longer in his life. The studio version is amazing, but we recommend listening to the acoustic performance. That video has more than 6 million views on YouTube right now.

The Night We Met by Lord Huron

Recorded for Lord Huron’s second album, The Night We Met exploded when it was featured in a show called 13 Reasons Why. This indie-folk band has a recognizable sound, often relying on nostalgia and a dreamy atmosphere. The Night We Met is an incredibly melancholic tune, both haunting and sad. It transports a listener to a completely different timeline where the singer’s heartbreak is indeed their own. More than 135 million listeners on YouTube will probably agree.

Into Dust by Mazzy Star

Mazzy Star is undoubtedly one of the most enigmatic bands of the 90s. Released in 1993, Into Dust is their most recognizable song. After all, we can hear it in many shows, most notably in the teen drama the O.C. It introduced Hope Sandoval’s haunting vocals to a whole new generation. The song is about a woman who feels like she is disappearing, and we are entranced by it thanks to Sandoval’s stunning performance. Into Dust has more than 6 million plays on the band’s official YouTube channel.

Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd

Roger Waters wrote Wish You Were Here for Syd Barrett, a former Pink Floyd member who needed to leave the band to focus on his mental health. Barrett even dropped by the studio during the recording, and his bandmates didn’t recognize him. Wish You Were Here is a song about regret and sadness, in which Waters longs for an old friend and worries about their well-being. It is one of the most popular songs by Pink Floyd with more than 75 million listeners on YouTube.  

My Body Is a Cage by Arcade Fire

My Body Is a Cage is a song that closes Neon Bible, a fantastic album by Arcade Fire. It is the perfect placing for this tune because it will make you think about the lyrics and their meaning for days after. Win Butler’s voice that sounds like he is on the verge of tears goes well with the instrumental background. The result is a stunning song used in many movies and shows. It has more than 3 million views on YouTube across several videos.

Into My Arms by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

With 23 million views on YouTube, Into My Arms is a true masterpiece written by Nick Cave. According to Mr. Cave, he is very proud of this song, as he should be. While it is unclear what inspired this ballad, most fans agree that Cave’s doomed relationships with Viviane Carneiro and PJ Harvey had something to do with it.

The Trapeze Swinger by Iron & Wine

Iron & Wine is a musical project by a multitalented artist named Sam Beam. His songwriting often includes elements of the pastoral. The perfect example of that is the Trapeze Swinger. The song is more than nine minutes long but is incredibly hypnotizing. It is all due to Beam’s fluid storytelling. Beam sings about the beginning and the end of a relationship in a lovely way that almost makes you think you experienced the same thing. The Trapeze Swinger currently has more than 4 million plays on YouTube.  

Skinny Love by Bon Iver

Released in 2008, Skinny Love is a song by the indie-folk band Bon Iver. Justin Vernon, the songwriter, drew inspiration from his relationship with an ex-girlfriend. The term ‘skinny love’ means that a relationship is nearing its end. There is no love, only sadness. And these emotions can be felt while listening to this song. Skinny Love can be often heard in TV shows and movies, so the listener count of 33 million is not surprising at all.

Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O’Connor

Sinead O’Connor is considered to be one of the best female vocalists ever. She had a turbulent career, but Sinead’s cover of the Prince’s song Nothing Compares 2 U remains iconic even now. It is a pure breakup song, bursting with raw emotion thanks to Sinead’s performance. The video, which has more than 293 million views, is equally mesmerizing, with the singer dressed in black, shedding real tears as she looks straight at the camera.   

Black by Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten is now a grunge classic. Hits like Alive and Jeremy are still in heavy rotation more than thirty years later. But this album gave us one of the saddest songs of the nineties – Black. The heart-wrenching lyrics and Eddie Vedder’s performance capture the pain of losing the one you love but still hoping they are happy somewhere out there. It is a timeless tune with more than 175 million listens on YouTube.

Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley

Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah has been covered by different artists dozens of times. However, we can all agree that Jeff Buckley’s version is something else. With more than 190 million plays on YouTube, it is one of his most popular tunes. Buckley’s untimely drowning at the age of 30 gives Hallelujah a different meaning. However, we can’t deny his vocal performance that sends chills down the spine. So do yourself a favor – dim the lights, put on your headphones, and play Hallelujah. It is an unforgettable experience.

Mad World by Gary Jules

Gary Jules’ version of Mad World might be one of the best covers of all time. The synthesizer-heavy original was released in 1982 by the British new wave band Tears For Fears. Jules’ simplistic approach resulted in a tune every teenager can relate to. The song fits right in the Donnie Darko soundtrack for which it was recorded. This movie’s popularity helped Mad World reach the top of the charts, and it now has around 162 million streams.

Back to Black by Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse was one of the most iconic singers of the 2000s, with a bright future ahead of her. She captivated the audience with her soulful voice and unique fashion choices. Back to Black is a song about heartbreak, inspired by Amy’s relationship with her then-boyfriend Blake Fielder-Civil. The video, which has more than 700 million views on YouTube right now, is shot in black and white. The aesthetic fits the overall theme of the album. It reflects the song perfectly, but impossible to watch for some fans considering Amy’s tragic death in 2011.

Echo Home by The Kills

The Kills might be the most underrated band of their generation. The duo has a very distinctive sound and continues to make great music even today. Recorded for their latest album Ash & Ice, Echo Home is a stripped-down song about longing for a lover. The Kills are not a garage rock band on this track anymore. Instead, they have created a wonderful dream-pop duet filled with beautiful melancholy. Echo Home has less than 1 million views on YouTube right now.

I Know by Placebo

There are so many Placebo songs we could’ve included on this list. Brian Molko’s lyricism relies heavily on his personal experience, and he covers heavy topics like addiction and depression. But live performances of I Know are life-changing experiences. Molko pretty much breaks down on the stage, singing each line with such emotion that the audience is on the verge of tears every time. This masterpiece was released on Placebo’s debut album and currently has around 5 million views on YouTube.

Hurt by Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails released The Downward Spiral in 1994, and the concept album quickly became an absolute favorite among the fans of alternative sound. The overall theme centers around a self-destructive character going through a personal hell. Hurt is the last song on The Downward Spiral and is interpreted as the protagonist’s suicide note. Trent Reznor’s vocal performance is far from perfect, but one thing is for sure – you will get goosebumps. Hurt has more than 20 million views on YouTube across several uploaded videos. 

I Know It’s Over by The Smiths

Morrissey might be a polarizing figure, but we have to agree that he is a lyrical genius. The songs he wrote during the time he spent in The Smiths are masterpieces and beloved by all generations. So why is I Know It’s Over on this list? Superficially, the song is a simple ballad. But when you start paying attention to the lyrics, you realize that the narrator is envisioning the end of their life. Johnny Marr’s guitar manages to make the song less grim, resulting in a work of art that surpassed 6 million plays on YouTube.    

Final Words

When it comes to music it’s always subjective. But the songs listed above are not only the best sad songs of all time in our opinion, but they are also the most popular sad songs. Also, we know some of these songs are quite “old school” in perspective we’ll add a sad song playlist from Spotify right here at the bottom with some newer and for some of you more relevant artists. Just as any other person in the world – they get sad and they write sad songs and then they sing them.

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