Sad Songs Make The Sweetest Remedy


Photo by Gavin Whitner (

“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing
with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will
take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally
thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I
listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I
listened to pop music?”

Those opening lines from the film High Fidelity really strike a chord with you
when you first hear them, but any music fan can tell you that the answer to
the question is glaringly obvious. Sad songs are often the first place we turn to
when life gets us down. It seems very counter-intuitive that wallowing in
miserable music can cheer you up, but you ask music lovers their go-to tracks
for dreary days and you’ll begin to see the pattern emerge. I imagine that
millions of bad days the world over have been improved to listening to the likes
of The Smiths or Nick Drake, but the real question is how do these sad songs
make us happier?

Like most animals we humans are sociable creatures, we have a basic primal
need for companionship, but where we differ is in our need for understanding.
Even when we’re surrounded by people we can still feel inescapably alone if we
think that not one of them understands what is going on within our thoughts.
Most of the time we can never find the right words to articulate how we’re
feeling to make them understand. The fact is no matter how alone you may
feel, at some point in time someone else has felt the exact same thing that
you’re feeling, and odds are one of those people found the right words. We
listen to sad songs because often it seems like they know us better than we
know ourselves. They offer reassurance in knowing that the artist has had
those same thoughts that plague us, and has perhaps overcome those same
obstacles that we ourselves face.

It’s not just in the lyrics though, but in the music itself. Sometimes we need
some time alone in order to process our thoughts and recharge before we can
face the day. Cheerful songs have no power here, most of them are bold and
immediate, like a flash of colour before fading to black. Sad songs however
often have a greater scope and a more refined sound. It is here you find
elegant orchestration and calm empty soundscapes that you can just get lost in
for a while, the kind that you can listen to a hundred times over and still find
new things. Songs like that allow us to escape, to delve into another world
where there’s a chance that all of our problems can fade to just a distant

Music is a powerful thing, and it gives us the ability to fight sadness with
sadness. Each song that is written by the artist as a means of release can then in
turn offer the listener catharsis, sometimes even generations down the line. To
answer the question posed by High Fidelity, misery has been around as long as
there have been people to be miserable, music is the resultant remedy. The
saddest songs are often the most beautiful as the artists imbue part of
themselves in the music that speaks to something inside all of us. There’s a
song for every occasion, and no matter what ails you there is likely a sad song
out there to provide the surest solution you’re ever likely to find.