Life as much as we like to admit it at least from my personal perspective is an up and down experience. We see the ultra rich and powerful run and ruin everything, family issues like health, divorces, kids in school, jobs or job loss take their tolls on us and it’s only natural that once in a while the doldrums pay us a visit.
I believe that’s natural, however, as our systems react accordingly to the stimuli presented to us. I have music practically for every occasion, when I want to feel deliberately stupid to relieve stress and play something really oddball and goofy, like Frank Zappa’s many lunatic compositions, ZZ Top’s funny tunes like “Ten Foot Pole”, The Residents, who are musical heroes to me, and I’m glad to see them getting their own Top Ten in ClassicRockhistory.com today, and others I have written about in the past when the BB’s in my skull were rattling around more than usual.
Heavy music of course for the multitudes who have read my articles here is my bread and butter usually in the afternoons. God help me, at 60 I still love it as much as when I first heard seminal albums like the first few KISS albums, Aerosmith’s Rocks, Boston, Rush and other heavy bands that set me on the course to guitars and headbanging for life. As I write, I’m listening to the self titled Candlemass, a must have for Sabbath devotees, Flotsam & Jetsam, and Nile, who is as brutal as death metal gets with Egyptian themes and musical influences. That stuff will make your tea come to a boil in a freezer.
But there are times I feel like something that reflects my wish to hear something truly beautiful, sometimes mournful and soul reaching. As a kid my dad played those horrible mail order classical albums off TV or in a bargain bin because we couldn’t afford “proper” albums with entire pieces for the most part. So we had bits and pieces of the best known classical stuff, but I didn’t know the difference and those handfuls of scratchy cheap records are as deeply ingrained in my soul as anything possible, as I did love what glimpses of real beauty there was to offer.
It makes me miss my dad that much more remembering how occasionally we’d sit in front of one of these super old record players with a radio in huge cabinets with one speaker and listen together, lost in the moment, soaking up the music and just bonding on a level the other kids, not liking that music at all couldn’t experience. So, I dedicate this list of songs and albums to my dad. I miss him and Mom dearly, love them both and hope they have music where they are today, and I’m positive it’s a good place because they were so good as people and parents.
10) You Want It Darker – Leonard Cohen
The late great Leonard Cohen recorded this incredibly beautiful, lyrically deep masterpiece, released it and sadly died falling in his home shortly after, but by then his health was in such poor shape he had to do his vocals on a laptop with his son’s help. But this album is just incredible. A real sense of ennui, having seen enough for one go ’round, regrets in a spoken word (nearly) bass vocal and ultra intelligent and touching lyrics make this almost too much sometimes, but that’s when your soul is stirred up. I personally cannot recommend enough all Leonard Cohen albums, especially his latter day material.
9) I’m Not In Love – 10cc
I can’t really include the entire album as one of these types of songs, but this song from early in the 10cc’s career is truly one of the most beautiful pop songs ever. Singer Eric Stewart according to liner notes layered vocals in a hypnotic fashion, composed just brilliant music and lyrics that denied and unsuccessfully his being in love with a woman that is never made obvious whether left him or he regrets having to leave her. I doubt even Paul McCartney could have beat this ballad.
8) Losing It – Rush
As Rush continued their superb career, like the best bands they did not stay stuck in the creative mud, so to speak. On their follow up to the huge Moving Pictures, the album Signals was one that was squarely in the computer mode and guitarist Alex Lifeson showed off chops that were all the technical advanced and ethereal of other players like Andy Summers, Robert Fripp and others. Tucked away on Side Two, the ballad “Losing It” ranks as Rush’s most mournful and beautiful song, as drummer Neil Peart wrote lyrics about people contemplating the days nearing the ends of their lives, a very very touching and frankly, tear jerking song with music by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson that reaches the ethereal with additional violins and Lifeson’s opting for swaths of color and texture that fit the overall song perfectly.
It turns out that after the tragic loss of Neil Peart, at least on a few web sites I have frequented, that this has been a long time fan favorite for its class and beauty. I have never seen internet commentary go as long in mourning for a musician in recent time as Neil Peart. Rush was truly loved by their fans, and as such loyal fans and band probably occupy a place of total adoration no other band enjoyed, not even The Beatles, where most people now are a little less afraid to call a bad song from them a bad song. “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” anyone? Didn’t think so.
7) Ten Years Gone – Led Zeppelin
For me, Jimmy Page’s biggest strength has always been his arranging and production work. Anybody who plays guitar can tell you if they’re being honest that he is not the hottest player ever – rocking, yes. Heavy, yes. But he had a sense of abandon and a tad of sloppiness that actually endeared us because it was the opposite of what guitar can be today – super slick, anonymous and impossible to recognize as anybody’s. But Physical Graffiti for me is Led Zeppelin’s masterpiece, and this forlorn ballad of a lost love of Robert Plant’s is treated delicately and with guitar banks that are almost orchestral by Page, much as he did with “Kashmir.” For those who might want to check out some of Plant’s more recent solo work, he has done several top notch albums including Carry Fire, possibly his best or close to best solo album. Plus, he and Alison Krauss have announced a new follow up to their stellar album Raising Sand.
6) Emotion & Commotion – Jeff Beck
I was reading an article on this greatest living guitarist in rock a while back, and it was obvious the author was pretty young and didn’t, judging from his descriptions of Jeff’ Beck’s other albums like anything but Jeff’ Beck’s hardest hitting music. That was, frankly, stupid. Not to mention denying the most brilliant aspect of Jeff’ Beck’s playing – an astonishing touch on the guitar that is almost equal to a violin in delicacy, considering it’s being played quite loud. Emotion & Commotion is truly an album for grown up minds, but young people into it are welcome, too!
What sets it apart from the usual guitar hero album, like all Jeff’ Beck albums is his sense of melody first, but how he reconstructs classics and makes them his own. This album is just stunning. But no electric guitar player in my knowledge or opinion has ever reached the heights of delicacy he does, first on “Over The Rainbow” and then a segue into Pavarotti’s “Nessun Dorma” a few cuts later. These two songs are truly the sound of a guitar singing its heart out. No exaggerations – I have never heard an electric guitar done with so much emotion, hence the album title. It is an album of the cosmos, the soul, and a damn shame if some lunkhead can’t grasp its beauty and spirit.
5) Street Of Dreams – Grant Green
This all too often overlooked jazz guitar great of the early ’60’s up to his death in 1979 played with a beautiful tone, and usually deferred rhythm and chord work to those working with him, including tons of session work on Blue Note Records, the premier jazz label in the country. This album isn’t particularly long, but it a very mellow laid back affair with B-3 organist Larry Young, and is as beautiful as any jazz album can be, and doesn’t suffer from solo overkill like many jazz masters tended to slip into. Yes, it’s hard bop but it’s contemporary enough not to sound dated. Very mellow, a good one for a rainy drizzly day where the best option is to just stay home, read, nap and relax.
4) Riders On The Storm – The Doors
Of all the great bands, if there was one singer capable of becoming a full blown crooner, it would have had to been Jim Morrison. He was an oddball, drunk, could be a real jerk and sometimes totally out of control. However, when it counted, he delivered many ballads that showcased a baritone that was on par with any torch singer out there. Whether he would have pursued that direction is anybody’s guess. As a member of the “27 Club” we’ll never know. But maybe the last song on LA Woman was a clue.
Sedate, almost whispered vocals and light jazzy piano chords bring to mind a desert road at sundown, the orange and then red orb turning the surrounding mesas, buttes and landscape on virtual fire, with only one dark figure just outside a mirage in the road you don’t know whether or not is real. “You’re Lost Little Girl”, “Wishful Sinful”, “Blue Sunday” and others showcased his mellower side.
3) 1916 – Motorhead
The surprise inclusion here shows the side of Lemmy Kilmister, as gnarly and gritty as any rock and roller ever that reveals his historical knowledge and does it in a very touching way, more so because it’s one of the last songs of this type you’d expect from a rock and roll icon who sang like he gargled with Drano. “1916” is the stark tale, with just an organ and snare drum to accompany Lemmy’s clean voice of two young British soldiers who had “added two years to our ages” and were in the heat of a horrible battle, although we don’t know for sure which one it was, as in WWI there were far far too many to choose from.
The dialogue is one boy who has been mortally wounded along with his friend, and his efforts to get a response from his friend but it’s too late, and the narrator himself loses his life at a very sad song’s end. The album 1916 otherwise is a slammer in the finest Motorhead tradition, but this song really does make you feel terrible for the boys, and Lemmy wisely put it at albums’ end, as any song after it would be anti-climatic and do disservice to the tune.
2) I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times -The Beach Boys
If an alien predatory species ever landed in my yard and demanded why it shouldn’t obliterate the planet right now, I’d run to my CD collection and ask it to listen to Pet Sounds. The album is one of the most beautiful albums ever written in the 20th century, thanks to the utter genius of Brian Wilson, and “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is the most gorgeous song from said album. Some accounts have the band providing back up vocals, others have Brian Wilson doing all the vocals as the band was out touring while he worked in the studio during that time.
Whatever the story, the song is as sad as a song can be. Lonely, feeling totally out of place with the world around him, being surrounded by phonies, etc., Wilson created a harmony vocal line that is like no other. The other rumor about those harmonies says the band simply didn’t “get” it, couldn’t get it down, and Brian Wilson pressed for time, shooed them out and did them by himself. But we are lucky to have a song of that magnitude.
1) Clair de Lune – Jean-Claude Debussy
One of the best known classical pieces, this song was pulled basically from a longer and frankly boring suite and is performed usually by itself. You know the tune when you hear it, so familiar its melody. But what a melody! This song is so sweet as it starts and gradually crescendos into a peak of absolute perfection, reaching into your soul and on its way back down on the second part of the song taking it with you to cushion you as you land back on the planet, having been allowed at least aurally to get as close to the stars and cosmos and spiritual realms as you can.
My wife and I used this song for our wedding procession. My dad was crying as he heard the song begin because I had not told him I was including it. It was my wedding gift to him. The rest of the wedding was up to the wife’s side of the family, but I insisted that the most beautiful song in the history of music be the start of it all. It must of worked. This month will mark our 28th anniversary. A deeper more bonding musical selection I cannot imagine. There simply is no more gorgeous song in existence.
10 Sad Songs That Will Make You Happy Article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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