On Sad Songs That Make Me Very Happy

I was on the phone with Liz yesterday and we were talking about my upcoming visit, during which we’ll take a side trip to Atlantic City. I’ve always wanted to see it even though it’s not the same as it was in its heyday, and Liz says that it’s pretty much the only big stretch of New Jersey beach we haven’t checked out, so I’m in.

Cove Beach
Gratuitous beach picture (Cove Beach, Cape May NJ)

As we were talking, I said, “I was listening to my ‘Wanderlust’ playlist on Spotify yesterday and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Atlantic City’ came on! I LOVE THAT SONG. It’s so beautiful!”

Then I thought for a second, and said, “Wait, well, I love it but actually I’m pretty sure the lyrics are depressing.” Indeed.

Well I got a job and tried to put my money away
But I got debts that no honest man can pay
So I drew what I had from the Central Trust
And I bought us two tickets on that Coast City bus

Everything dies baby that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on fix your hair up pretty and meet me tonight in Atlantic City

But that’s what I do. While I can get completely pumped up by the music of Pitbull and Bruno Mars and Fallout Boy, for some reason I get equally excited (as in happy) when a song containing sad or tragic lyrics comes on.

Years ago I told my sister that “Moby’s ‘Southside’ makes me SO HAPPY!!!”

here we are now going to the west side
weapons in hand as we go for a ride
some may come and some may stay
watching out for a sunny day
where there’s love and darkness and my sidearm

My Facebook friends are well aware that I get downright giddy when “Picture”, by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow comes on, especially when I’m in my car and can sing along with the windows down and sunroof open:

I called you last night in the hotel
Everyone knows but they wont tell
But their half hearted smiles tell me
Somethin’ just ain’t right
I been waitin’ on you for a long time
Fuelin’ up on heartaches and cheap wine
I ain’t heard from you in 3 damn nights

Heck, it’s been going on since I was a teenager. Did you know that Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” is actually about a 1981 riot in the Brixton area of London?

Now in the street, there is violence
And-and a lots of work to be done
No place to hang out our washing
And-and I can’t blame all on the sun

I LOVE THAT SONG. It’s so…bouncy! But riots.

Perhaps my favorite example? Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” and the original German language version, “99 Luftballons”, which I actually prefer (and can still keep up with most of the German when singing along). The “translated” version is slightly different but generally they’re about a bunch of children’s balloons floating over the Berlin Wall into the Soviet sector (when there were two Germanys, kids!), and when they are fired upon because the war minister can’t identify the balloons, nuclear war commences. Wheeeeee!

99 red balloons floating in the summer sky
Panic bells, it’s red alert
There’s something here from somewhere else
The war machine, it springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
Focusing it on the sky
As 99 red balloons go by.

I don’t do Karaoke, but if I did, “99 Red Balloons” would be my go-to.

So maybe my sense of Music Appreciation is a little warped because I allow myself to be carried away by the overall musicality rather than lyric analysis before I get too attached. I’m okay with it. I bet The Boss, Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock, Eddy Grant, and Nena are fine with it too.


  • Kir

    This actually makes me love you just a little bit more.
    Off the top of my head a song like this for me is
    “Lotta Love” by Nicolette Larson

    “it’s gonna take a lot of love to change the way things are
    it’s gonna take a lot of love or we won’t get to far”

    but damn if I don’t turn it up and belt it out. 🙂

    • Melisa Wells

      YES!! That’s a great example! (and I totally forgot about that song so I’m just gonna go ahead and add it to my Spotify master playlist. So thanks!)

  • Liz

    Hey! I just got the most brilliant idea! Meet me here and we’ll go to Atlantic City — makeup and fixed up hair not required!

  • daniel

    I get it – the music can really belie the true “meaning” of a song. Look at “Every Breath You Take” (which some people use at weddings).