Happy Music with Downer Lyrics
I like a wide range of musical genres. Putting my iPod playlist on shuffle can be a trip. It’s not uncommon for it to go from Metallica, to Bach, to Lady GaGa, to the Monkees, to some video game soundtrack, to Norwegian rap, and then to a mash-up of Bach with a video game soundtrack.
Really, my music collection is a good demonstration of my attention span.
I find that I do have a favorite category of music, however. I love songs that have peppy, upbeat music with really depressing or dark lyrics. I like the contrast of feel-good, bouncy rhythms and melodies with words that run in the exact opposite direction. Also, as someone whose only real coping mechanism in life is humor, songs which treat unhappy topics in such a weirdly lighthearted way is very appealing to me.
John Linnell of They Might Be Giants puts it well.
“It’s not interesting to just publicly cry. I think what’s really sad is to express an inner sadness in some other way.” -John Linnell, Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns
So, I’ve decided to share some of my favorite songs that fit this theme.
“Don’t Let’s Start” by They Might Be Giants
I already quoted John Linnell above, and just about anyone who knows me know that TMBG is my favorite band, so of course I’m going to start the list off with one of their songs. TMBG has a lot of songs that fit the theme, but if I have to choose one, it has to be the one with the line “Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful.”
“Good Morning Tucson” by Jonathan Coulton
I think most people who know of Jonathan Coulton are familiar with him for his humorous songs about zombies, depressed mad scientists, and outdoor fornication. While I like those songs too, my favorite JoCo songs are the ones that range between dark humor and serious. In this list, I didn’t want to repeat artists, but I had a really hard time choosing between this one and “Shop Vac”. I ended up picking this one because the fact that the video for this song about someone whose job finally drives them mad consists of cheerful iPhone footage of a family vacation puts it over the top.
“You Can Love Yourself” by Keb’Mo’
I went back and forth on whether to include this one. Using a blues artist in this list kind of seems like cheating. Also, it’s really kind of a positive message, but it’s also a song about a constant effort to not wallow in self-pity.
“Skipper Dan” by ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic
It definitely feels a little strange to include a Weird Al song on this list, but this song is depressing as hell. I love it, but it’s only funny in a “It’s either laugh or cry” kind of way.
“All Alone” by Fun.
I was really resistant to liking this band, though I’m not sure why. It may just have been that I found the very popular “We Are Young” to be underwhelming. A friend convinced me I should give a listen to some of the other songs on this album, and then I was hooked. This song is absolutely my favorite.
“99 Luftballons” by Nena
Finishing off with this one even though including German pop songs is definitely cheating. Here’s a translation of the lyrics for those who need one (we need not speak of the English remake of the song).
I think this is a fair place to end this list before it gets insanely long.
And part of my motivation for writing this post was the hope that folks will suggest other songs that fit the theme and I might find something new. So have at it!