IT SEEMS OBVIOUS but listening to sad songs when you're depressed is nothin' but trouble. Because if you're truly low and beat down to the dirt—not just pissy after a breakup—romanticized melancholia for art's sake isn't so romantic anymore. Mid-level bummed? By all means have at these songs. But if you've got the real-deal, nuclear-winter Big Bummer coming on, tread lightly.
Johnny Cash, "Hurt"—When Trent Reznor did this one he sounded like a melodramatic little bitch, but Johnny's bare, mortality-haunted version ACHES.
Bright Eyes, "Amy in the White Coat"—This slow, tape-hissy, lo-fi ballad of a teenage girl raped daily by her father, taunted by classmates, and slowly pulling into herself is staggeringly ice cold. This'll freeze you up in three seconds like the ice-age shit from The Day After Tomorrow.
Loretta Lynn, "Miss Being Mrs."—This will kick the knees out from under anybody that's ever been terrified to the point of paralysis over the death of a soul mate. Aloneness—not just loneliness—personified.
Rolling Stones, "Wild Horses"—Best song about being in denial of snuffed-out love EVER. Mick can sound like a huge, wrinkled, coke-snuffling phony sometimes when he sings but this one he's feelin' it. So are we.
Van Morrison, "TB Sheets"—Like Loretta Lynn's track, the death of love ain't got SHIT on the death of a lover.
The Pogues, "Fairytale of New York"—A song about hope for the coming new year but GODDAMNIT life is rough for the narrator and his lady. Good companion piece to Angela's Ashes and The Dubliners. We Irish got it hard, man.
Death Cab for Cutie, "Styrofoam Plates"—Deadbeat dad songs can be harrowing, especially ones that take place at Catholic funerals.
Elvis Presley, "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"—The fact that Big E was just a sad, confused, homesick child comes through—intensely—in this one from '68. Can you "mean it" when you sing somebody else's words? Fuck yes. No wonder he took so many drugs and wore ugly sunglasses all the time.
Kind of Like Spitting, "All Else Failed"—Dude's DESTROYING himself over a girl in this one. Hope she was worth it.
Marty Robbins, "Feleena (from El Paso)"—Before the Decemberists, '60s country star Marty Robbins was singing the hell outta detailed, elaborate, pseudo-historical murder ballads. My grandma says he was a big asshole, though.