This past Saturday night was a relatively quiet one at our home. But then the iPod pulled a sad song up from its depths, flooding our household with strains of abject woe. After a knowing glance from my 13 year-old daughter, it was ON: A Musical Sad-off.
It’s a favorite game between my daughter and I (we’re kinda sadistic that way). We used to play just your run-of-the-mill Storytelling Sad-Offs, but after the mini-household breakdown I caused with my fanciful tale of a swollen, elderly woman wearing a velour robe and faded rhinestone turban rummaging through clearance chocolate bins in Walmart the week after Christmas, we decided to stick with just the musical variety.
Why not try a Musical Sad-Off this week for Family Game Night? There are only a few simple rules:
- No Leonard Cohen or Neil Young. Too easy.
- The entire song must be played to ensure that the full sadness quotient is realized.
- Anything with harmonica gets bonus points.
- Tap-outs MUST be respected.
Here are some of my personal favorite Sad-Off staples to get you started:
Yellow Ledbetter – Pearl Jam (1992)
I’d love to tell you what this song is about, but I have no idea. Eddie Vedder could tell me he took care of my massive student loan, is paying for my daughter’s braces and filled my gas tank, and I’d probably still cry. There’s something in his voice that just doesn’t leave room for joy. The only thing I can glean from “Yellow Ledbetter” is something about coming home in “a box or a bag,” and I’m pretty sure he’s not talking about crispy take-out fried chicken.
Ho Hey – The Lumineers (2012)
He’s been trying to do it right. He’s been living a lonely life. And you’re STILL gonna go off with that other dude? He doesn’t think you’re right for him. You belong with him! He belongs with you! WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING?
The River – Bruce Springsteen (1980)
Ah, teen love. We’ve all been there, right? Some of us more than others…ahem. And what do teens in love do? They go driving in cars. They go down to the river. They get pregnant, conceive a baby, get married by a sour-faced judge, get shitty blue collar jobs and die unfulfilled. YAY FOR TEEN LOVE!
Springsteen brings it home in “The River.” Parents of teens, forget everything you had planned for “the talk” about birth control. Simply play “The River” on low volume all night while your teen sleeps. It’ll become so engraved in their subconscious that they won’t be able to get it on in spite of their raging boners.
Also, they’ll be able to play harmonica. Win/win.
I Can’t Make You Love Me – Bonnie Raitt (1991)
If Bonnie Raitt can’t make someone love her, I guess we’re all fucked.
Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – Gordon Lightfoot (1976)
When American Great Lakes freighter the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in stormy waters on Lake Superior in November 1975, resulting in the deaths of 29 men, no one sat up and said, “Hey guys, this is gonna make a great song!”
Except that someone did, and it is indeed awesome. Gordon Lightfoot’s haunting rendition of the men and their final moments before becoming doomed to a frozen watery grave is a must for any musical sad-off:
“And all that remains is the faces and the names/of the wives and the sons and the daughters.”
Good times, good times.
Space Oddity – David Bowie (1969)
From the time Ground Control says, “Your circuits dead, is there something wrong?” we knew. WE KNEW. Major Tom is not coming home, he’s not going to be able to tell his wife he loves her, and he’s definitely not going to be able to tell the paper whose shirts he wears.
This song is extra sad because it’s space. You get lost up there? You’re done. It’s hopeless. Earthly problems like an unplanned teen pregnancy and unrequited love aren’t looking so bad now, are they?
Sam Stone – John Prine (1971)
If you’re not acquainted with John Prine, become so immediately. Warning: do not attempt your first listen unsupervised, post break-up, or within 10 miles of a liquor store. He’s that good at making you feel bad. Prine has long been underrated as a musician but the fact is the man writes a song and picks a guitar like no one else. (DO NOT argue this with me. I’m small, but I’m mean, and when it comes to Prine, even my kids won’t cross me and they are not afraid of anything.)
I chose “Sam Stone” as the Prine selection for this list but any one of these of his would work also:
Angel from Montgomery – bonus points for version by Bonnie Raitt: “If dreams were lightning, and thunder were desire/This old house woulda burnt down a long time ago.”
Hello in There: “We lost Davey in the Korean war, and I still don’t know what for, Don’t matter anymore.”
Christmas in Prison: “It was Christmas in prison, and the food was real good, We had turkey and pistols carved out of wood.”
I swear to God these are real songs.
So, the next time you’re gathered around a formal dinner table with extended family, and there’s a lull in the conversation, start a Musical Sad-Off! Make that bitch sister-in-law cry for the first time in her frigid, tight-assed life. It’ll be fun!
What would you add to the list? C’mon, make me cry, I dare ya! Leave your addition(s) in comments!