As a young child, I sat on my mother’s bed listening to the radio playing in the background. Wistful songs lured me into sadness or melancholia. And some of the first songs I heard of this nature included, Theme from Love Story, Theme from Born Free, Diana Ross’ Theme from Mahogany and many jazz ballads.
However, the first tearful 45 that I purchased was Terry Jack’s Seasons in the Sun. I loved that song which came out around the same time as the novel, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It was far from the saddest pop songs that fueled my imagination. Other songs that swirled in my childhood heart were The Rollingstone’s Ruby Tuesday and the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby (probably the saddest pop song ever).
I listened to these songs while American television-watchers obsessed over movies about people dying from cancer (that was big in the 1970s). In fact, everything felt big and expansive in the 1970s such as bellbottoms, long hair, exaggerated clothing, exaggerated comedy, and exaggerated melancholia. After all, this was also the era of Watergate, the economic recession and the continuation of the Cold War. If people remember the 1970s or even the 1990s as happy times, then what rock were you hiding under?
In my adulthood, I explored melancholic music from the Elizabethan Era with a musician and composer by the name of John Dowland. He would later inspire (although not directly) the songs of Nick Drake, the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, and goth musicians.
In an age of positive psychology and positive affirmations, do we still have room for melancholia? Is it wrong to dwell in darkness once in awhile as John Dowland once sang? Is it wrong to spend a gloomy afternoon watching the rain pour out of gray clouds and listen to laments while sipping a cup of turmeric tea? And what does melancholic songs do the brain? For me, the process of listening to the songs brings catharsis. When I cry I release toxins from my body and this can’t be a bad thing.
If pop songs aren’t your cup of tea, listen to Portuguese fados, flamenco songs, Irish laments, or funeral dirges.
I will leave you with a few melancholic songs dear to my heart.
Ruby Tuesday (The Rollingstones, performed by Melanie Safka
Nick Drake, The Day is Done
Eva Cassidy (cover of Edith Piaf’s Autumn Leaves)
Sting performing John Dowland’s In Darkness Let Me Dwell