Depressing Songs That Sound Happy

The wise scribe Elton John once said that "Sad songs say so much." And most of the time, we know exactly what they're saying: There's no mistaking a downer song by The Cure, The Smiths, Edith Piaf, Hank Williams, and all the other wizards of woe.

The vast majority of sad songs have music that is equally (or sometimes more) depressing than the lyrics that go along with them. There aren't many mournful, minor key songs about cupcakes, puppies, rainbows, and unicorns. But every so often a song with horribly depressing lyrics comes along with music that doesn't match, creating a lyrical dissonance we may not discover until that one listen where it all comes together. Country music excels at this trope, offering catchy and enjoyable tunes that shroud the often dark and disturbing lyrics contained within. But as we discovered, this musical incongruence shows up in pop, rock, and even punk as well. Here's a look at some songs that sound happy but are actually incredibly depressing.
"Mamma Mia" - ABBA

ABBA taught America a lot about itself. Operating out of their ABBA Fortress in Stockholm in the 1970s, the group studied the pop culture landscape of the United States and then made music that catered to the prevailing trends of the day, which at the time meant disco. Like most bands who followed the trends of the times and hit it big, they were saddled with the reputation of being soulless bubblegum pop or, at the very least, vapid mainstream tripe.

And in many ways ABBA embodied this ethos, but on deeper inspection we find some pretty screwed up stuff in their lyrics. Take "Mamma Mia," for instance. When you're shopping for handbags and you hear the familiar commercial-sound jingle coming through the store music speakers, you might tap your toe in spite of yourself. But if you pay attention you'll also hear this:

I've been brokenhearted
Blue since the day we parted
Why, why did I ever let you go?

Not exactly pleasant subject matter is it? The infectiously catchy music combined with the depressing prose makes it seem like a Mentos commercial written by Sylvia Plath. But it gets worse:

I think you know that you won't be away too long
You know that I'm not that strong
Just one look and I can hear a bell ring
One more look and I forget everything

Despite the cheery delivery from Agnetha and Anni-Frid, they can't help but admit that they're in a relationship with a real cad. And try as they might, they just can't will themselves to leave him for good. And just as we knew more Anthony Wiener photos would surface, the guy in the song keeps cheating, and the girls keep repeating the vicious cycle by giving him another chance.

"I'll Be Around" - The Spinners

The Spinners might be considered an early precursor of later groups like Boyz II Men and New Edition. Hailing from 1960s Detroit, the quintet were among the darlings of Motown's glory days. R&B, like Detroit itself, would never see such glorious days again. The Spinners, however, outlasted Motown and experienced their greatest fame in the early '70s, thanks to their breakout hit "I'll Be Around." The familiar slinky guitar riff and sensual drums are instantly recognizable, and rare is the person who doesn't start to feel a little better once this romantic ballad comes on. Especially the very well-known chorus:

Whenever you call me, I'll be there
Whenever you want me, I'll be there
Whenever you need me, I'll be there
I'll be around

A beautiful sonnet to a lucky girl and maybe a precursor to the Friends theme song. But the memorable hooks and touching chorus obscure the less well-known verse lyrics of this seemingly romantic tune:

This is our fork in the road
Love's last episode
There's nowhere to go, oh no

You made your choice, now it's up to me
To bow out gracefully
Though you hold the key

What fresh hell is this? It seems like this sensual ballad from one lover to another is actually a desperate plea from a recently jilted man, as he tells the love of his life that he'll still wait around for her no matter how many suns rise and set. Still romantic, but with an air of doomed futility, which always puts a bit of a damper on romance.

Fitting that the lyrics were written by a guy named Phil Hurtt, who it turns out is rather upbeat and affable. His heart was not aching at the time - he's just a good songwriter. "That's what part of the job requires you to do," he said in a Songfacts interview. "I was an early reader, so I read a lot of stories from the age of 3."

"What's A Simple Man to Do?" - Steve Earle

Steve Earle is no stranger to mixing catchy tunes with despair. His song "Johnny Come Lately" starts off as a toe-tapping, patriotic song about his grandfather finding love in England during World War II and then coming home to great fanfare and cheering crowds. The last verse, however, tracks the singer's own return from Vietnam, but this time nobody was waiting for him, nobody to cheer for his part in the unpopular war. So Earle is no stranger to lyrical dissonance.

"What's a Simple Man to Do," though, takes the discrepancy between upbeat music and depressing lyrics even further. Found on the Jerusalem album (a big stinking clue as to the depressing content of the whole album), this catchy number features electric organs, harmoniums, and other feel-good instruments. The song sounds like something Billy Joel would have come up with, and like Joel, pleasing tunes aren't always indicative of pleasant subject matter. If you listen to the lyrics, you'll see that the song is about getting arrested in San Diego for selling balloons full of heroin. Pay attention to the beginning of the song and you'll know right away that happiness and joy isn't on Earle's mind, despite what the music suggests:

Dear Graciella, I'm writing this letter, deep in the night and I'm all alone.
It's nearly breaking my heart to tell you, I'm so far away from home.

The singer then tells the story of his attempt to earn a little quick cash by selling drugs for a man he met in Tijuana. Sadly, we know what really happened. In the last verse, he asks Graciella to apologize to his mother for him. He laments the fact that he likely will die in prison and never see his loved ones again. Each verse is complemented by one hell of a catchy piano run. Score another win for Earle in his often successful attempts at making you tap your toe as you wipe your eyes.

"Let's Not S--t Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved)" - Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst is an expert in agony. A child prodigy who recorded his first album when he was 13, Conor has been a poster child for depression ever since. If you haven't heard Bright Eyes, imagine Elliott Smith without the merry and chipper spirit and you're there. In his first commercial album with Bright Eyes, Oberst sang a song called "Padriac my Prince" about his fictional brother who drowned in the bathtub. In other words, this is the kind of thing Conor fantasizes about to take his mind off his real problems. Dark, innit?

But most of Bright Eyes' songs are appropriately downbeat and depressing musically speaking. It is "Let's Not S--t Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved)" that stands out amongst the pack for its extremely enjoyable rhythm, playing in the background of some of the most depressing lyrics ever scrawled on paper.

The only thing longer than the song's title is the song itself. Over the course of ten minutes, Conor delivers a series of criticisms, jeremiads, and confessions that sum up his opinion of the world we live in. It is around the six minute mark that we hear Conor recount a possibly true suicide attempt, though knowing his penchant for fictionalized misery we can't be sure. At any rate, he recounts:

I awoke in relief my sheets and tubes were all tangled
Weak from whiskey and pills in a Chicago hospital.
And my father was there, in a chair by the window, staring so far away

Remember that, while this is going on, the background is filled with some rollicking good music. Conor then goes on,

I tried talking, just whispered 'so sorry, so selfish'
He stopped me and said 'child, I love you regardless.
And nothing you can do would ever change this, I'm not angry, it happens.
But you just can't do it again

In the same song Conor sings about mothers who take loans out to send their kids to colleges until "her family's reduced to names on a shopping list." Also, he references a coroner kneeling beneath a crucifix, knowing there are worse things than being alone. We can think of one thing worse than being alone: Being Oberst's shrink!

"Spanish Bombs" - The Clash

We can be forgiven for not immediately knowing that "Spanish Bombs" is more than just a catchy ditty. After all, both Joe Strummer and Mick Jones aren't exactly well-known for their articulation. Add to that a strong Essex accent across the board and you've got more problems than a posh Berkeley Hunt in Brixton, mate!

But it's even worse than that. Many of the lyrics in "Spanish Bombs" are in, not surprisingly, Spanish. And, as with other Clash songs featuring Spanish lyrics, the words and phrasings are butchered beyond recognition. But at any rate, this jaunty, beautiful ballad from their 1980 masterpiece London Calling is about the brutal and bloody Spanish Civil War, fought in the late 1930s. The war was between fascists and revolutionaries, not exactly the best of friends. At any rate, the song opens with mentions of "bullet holes in the cemetery walls" and "Fredrico Lorca is dead and gone." Then the chorus kicks in with what the Clash considers "Spanish":

Spanish Bombs, yo te quiero infinito.
Yo te quiero, oh my corazon

The Clash would often translate into other languages by simply looking up each English word's equivalent and then simply transposing the sentence with its English structure. Hey, they were punk rockers, not linguistics majors! But the lyrics they were going for in Spanish definitely don't mesh well with the poppy English pub feel of the music.

I will love you forever, oh my heart

Now this is sad because, as we see in the next verse: "Spanish bombs shatter the hotel, my senorita's rose was nipped in the bud." The song is about a rebel fighter lamenting the Spanish bombs that killed his one and only true love in the hotel. The song might be seen as the band's Hemingway moment: A beautiful yet heartbreaking combination of love and war; empathy and carnage; romance and repugnance.

"Supalonely" - Benee

At first glance, New Zealand-born singer Benee doesn't have much in common with '90s alt-rock icon Beck. Sure, they share B-fronted mononyms, but - more significantly - they're both losers. Beck hit the charts in 1993 with "Loser," declaring, "I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me." Nearly three decades later, Benee shoots herself down on "Supalonely," calling herself a loser when her club-dwelling boyfriend (voiced by guest vocalist Gus Dapperton) ducks out on her. The difference is, no one's dancing to Beck's sitar-swirled stoner anthem, while Benee's deceptively sunny tune spawned a viral dance craze on TikTok in 2020. As the breezy beat goes on, she sings:

I know I f--ked up, I'm just a loser
Shouldn't be with ya, guess I'm a quitter
While you're out there drinkin', I'm just here thinkin'
'Bout where I should've been
I've been lonely, mm, ah, yeah

Benee really was feeling all the feels after a breakup, but the lyrics aren't as depressing as they seem. She wasn't trying to get over the guy, she says, but was trying to get over herself by writing a self-deprecating song about heartache. The upbeat production doesn't betray the melancholy lyrics but serves as a reminder to not take them so seriously.

"Sometimes when you're sad you're just like, ugh, get over it!" she told I.D. "I think when I listen to music like 'Supalonely' where it's making fun of the feeling of being sad, in a way it kind of makes me feel good in a very weird way."

"LDN" - Lily Allen

Wow, another Brit on the list, and an Essex one to boot! Perhaps it is the constantly dour and dreary weather in London that causes melancholy and disenchantment to seep into even the most pleasant sounding numbers. "LDN" is just such a number, based (as you might have guessed) on London where Allen spent much of her adolescence. The lovely, intoxicating reggae beat flows beautifully with the enchanting melody and at first it seems that Ms. Allen has penned a loving ode to her old stomping grounds. It isn't until we analyze what she's saying that we realize she is actually quite adamant about asserting her lampshade hanging capabilities:

Everything seems to look as it should
but I wonder what goes on behind doors.
A fella looking dapper and he's sittin with a slapper
Then I see it's a pimp and his crackwhore

Though it is possible that the pimp and his crackwhore might have a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship, Allen goes on to describe somebody's grandmother being brutally beaten:

There was a little old lady who was walking down the road
She was struggling with bags from Tesco.
There were people from the city having lunch in the park
I believe that is called al fresco
When a kid came along to offer a hand
but before she had time to accept it,
Hits her over the head, doesn't care if she's dead
'cause he's got all her jewelry and wallet

Sadly, we are not told what happened to the old lady and are left to wonder why Lily herself didn't try to summon help. Perhaps this is another seedy aspect of London that Allen wants to highlight: Loose threads. The chorus is just as catchy as the rest of the song and just as dark, as Allen chants, "When you look with your eyes, everything seems nice. But if you look twice you can see it's all lies." The same can be said for the song itself and its subject matter, making Allen, if not one for filial attachment to her hometown, certainly a qualified expert at going meta.

"The Ballad Of Charles Whitman" - Kinky Friedman

Depressing doesn't even begin to cover the lyrics of this song. Kinky Friedman has always been known as a bit of a counterculture figure; Today he's more popular for his outspoken political career but there was a time not so long ago that he was the lead singer and brainchild of the Texas Jewboys. Clearly, this is a man who isn't afraid of letting people know what he thinks, and this was never made more apparent then when he released "The Ballad of Charles Whitman."

Whitman was the famed gunman who climbed the tower at the University of Texas in Austin and gunned down 16 people on August 2, 1966. It was an incredibly evil and horrific story that immediately became part of the grand and eerie mythos of the state where everything is bigger, including the shooting sprees. Kinky was actually a student at the university when the shooting occurred and thus he was in a special position, as a musician, to immortalize the tragic event and bring closure to his fellow statesmen.

Friedman's choice of homage, however, was to craft a toe-tapping honky tonk tune that was impossible not to dance to. Perhaps empathy is the one thing in Texas that isn't bigger. At any rate, the lyrics certainly held true to the events:

He was sittin' up there for more than an hour
Way up there on the Texas Tower
Shooting from the twenty-seventh floor

Now keep in mind that these lyrics are complemented by a wonderfully melodious saloon piano and you get the idea. But whereas the above songs had depressing lyrics that were meant to be depressing, this song is filled with depressing lyrics that are actually meant to be comical. Friedman goes on:

All the while he smiled so sweetly
then he blew their minds completely
They'd never seen an Eagle Scout so cruel

Whitman was in fact an Eagle Scout when he was growing up, and this leads us to what is easily one of the most depressing, discomforting, and acerbic comments in any form of music:

The doctors tore his poor brain down
but not a snitch of illness could be found.
Most folks couldn't figure just why he did it
and the good would not admit it: There's still a lot of Eagle Scouts around

What a great way to immortalize a tragic event: Make fun of it, and then remind the survivors of the massacre that this sort of thing could happen any time, any day, with any person. Ah well, they say comedy is tragedy plus time.

~Landon McQuilkin and Amanda Flinner
July 20, 2011, last updated April 24, 2020

More Song Writing

Comments: 219

  • Anon from AnonCorporal Clegg By Pink Floyd
  • Some Person from SomewhereRing around the rosie
  • Kay from AustraliaAm I Losing You by David cassidy and The Partridge family
  • Ashley from SomewhereIt's The Hard Knock Life- Annie
  • Joey from UsaDetroit Rock City by KISS; Some Nights by fun.; Electric Avenue by Eddie Grant; Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People; Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones; Careless Whisper by George Michael;
  • Someone from No99 Luft Balloons, Semi-Charmed Life, Jump,
  • Ausie from AustraliaFamous Blue Raincoat, Tower Of Song, and a host more from Leonard Cohen. Blood Makes Noise, Vega, Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands, Ain't Talkin', Simple Twist Of Fate, This Dream Of You. Bonnie Raitt has some sad songs.
  • Jr from UsaI think I'm going to kill myself - Elton John
  • Maisie from EnglandBuild me up buttercup ~ The Foundations
  • Manachan from ItalyHappy - 2NE1
    Delilah - Tom Jones
    Hey ya! - OutKast
    Just like heaven - The Cure
    Luka - Suzanne Vega
    Kristy are you doing ok? - Offsprings
  • Amy from MtPaper in Fire by John Melloncamp
  • Chris Carnes from Ok"Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen. It's still amazes me when politicians use it when it is so anti American government.
  • Jim from Mobile, AlLast Train to Clarksville.
  • Kevin T from UsaCrazy in the Night by Kim Carnes is a danceable song about anxiety and night fears.
  • Farky from Raleigh, Nc“Luka” by Suzanne Vega. Hummable upbeat song about child abuse.
  • Stephen Smith from Jersey City, NjThere are two 80’s songs that, to me epitomize this scenario. The first is “Feels Like Heaven” by Fiction Factory. That has such an upbeat tempo and melody, yet the lyrics are downright tragic. The other song is “Digging Your Scene” by the Blow Monkeys.
  • Aname from The Arctic CircleIntermission or i can't decide by scissor sister.
  • Egg from EggHELP by Joji. Even though it was made during his filthy frank era, it's incredibly personal and has cheery ukelele in the background as he sings about being depressed and "sleeping for fourteen hours on a thursday afternoon".
  • Holly Morgan from ColoradoBullet by Hollywood Undead is really upbeat and is about someone about to kill themselves (look it up it's a really good song)
  • Spee from The Two Forts, AustraliaThe Reaper, Blue Oyster Cult
  • AnonymousJump by Van Halen. The lyrics aren't that bad, but it was written when the band saw a picture of a guy standing on the edge of a bridge on the headlines.
  • Jim from ArizonaSister Ray, Velvet Underground
  • Animefan123 from From Weeaboo City, Japan"MY R" By Rachie (English cover of "WATASHI NO R" By Vocaloid singer Hatsune Miku)
    Sounds really upbeat and happy but it's LITERALLY about abuse and suicide (it was confirmed).
    Have a Nice Day
  • Gay from AfghanistanMurder she wrote
  • Damian from Somewherenot today by twenty one pilots
  • Deedee from Lasvegas,nv.what about "Pumped Up Kicks",by Foster the People? Turn it up,and rock out in the car!Dark lyrics
  • Mike S. from OmahaMack the Knife is very upbeat. Lyrics are dark
  • Terry from Colchester, Vt"Come Dancing" by The Kinks.
  • Ser Meliodas from LeonesBanana boat song
  • Craig B from Edmonton AbNot sure if this was caught by someone earlier, but for me the absolute most depressing "happy song" is "I Don't Like Mondays" by the Boomtown Rats.
  • Dave from Greer, ScOnly one I can think of off the top of my head is "the kids aren't alright" by The Offspring. It's an extreme example though, it sounds happy and upbeat and great but it's actually about how the years take their toll on once cheerful children, and the words are quite sad. One of my favorite songs for sure.
  • Ra from OregonNote about the Texas story: Actually the gunman did have a huge tumor pressing on his amygdala, the center of fear in the brain, which was found during the autopsy. He actually tried to get doctors to help him before the shooting, but they didn't. Google it. ;)
  • Angela from New YorkBe OK by Ingrid Michaelson??? I feel like I'm one only one who's ever noticed that! also Arms Tonite be mother mother is about suicide and dying in the arms of the person she loves
  • Arcospark from Dallas, Tx"The Theme From MASH"
    "Sukiyaki" by Kyu Sakamoto - with English Lyrics
  • Iana from ::))Bullet by Hollywood Undead. It's so upbeat but it's literally about numerous ways to kill yourself.
  • Loser from LoservilleBullet by Hollywood Undead
  • Lucas Brigham from UsaWonderful by Everclear.
  • Lilly from Nowhere"I don't like mondays" by boomtown rats. The music is all cherry but the song is about a school shooting
  • Jermizzle from Honolulu! Hey Ya by Outkast
    Slide by Goo Goo Dolls
    Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind
  • Vallin Sfas from The Night TrainOrdinarily everyone knows me as MEES-TAH-MO-JO Mötörhead Maximum Sex-And-Rock-And-Roll, but all this week I've been practicing The Carpenters. "Rainy Days And Mondays" and "Goodbye To Love". I really love the chords and the bass continuo. Moreover the lyrics are totally torchy, Billie Holiday-style cry-in-your-scotch sad.
  • Jun from South Carolina I think Dead! By MCR should be here
  • Jewels from MichiganDon't forget Delilah by Tom Jones. The man in the song murders her for cheating on him.
  • Dj Harrie from Forest Gate/southendWhat actualy brought me here is that i'm looking for a motown song that has the lyrics or along the lines of 'you know I love you girl/took you round the world but you don't even care' It's an upbeat song sang by a man with a high pitched voice, sounds similar to The Four Tops - Sugar Pie Honey Bunch but it's not that song but with a similar melody. Does anyone know what song i'm on about. i'm sure i'm not imagining it!!! Please help anyone!!!
  • Dj Harrie from Forest Gate/southendPet Shop Boys - Go West, West End Girls, So Hard, Domino Dancing, I'm not scared....the list is endless!
  • Dj Harrie from Forest Gate/southendWhat about Sting and The Police - Roxanne! 'Roxanne, you don't have to put on the red light
    Those days are over
    You don't have to sell your body to the night
    Roxanne, you don't have to wear that dress tonight
    Walk the streets for money
    You don't care if it's wrong or if it's right
  • Dj Harrie from Forest Gate/southendHi, I think we all missed a BIG ONE here! STEVE HARLEY AND THE COCKNEY REBEL - COME UP AND SEE ME (MAKE ME SMILE) it's so obvious! Can't see how people missed it!
  • Brian from ChicagoThe Unicorn Song by the Irish Rovers - This played for years as the zoo theme on Ray Rayner (an old kid's TV show that played mornings in Chicago back in the 60's and 70's), but is actually about how all the unicorns in the world died.
  • Girl from The Internet"When you're rife with devastion
    there's a simple explaination
    You're a toymaker's creation
    Trapped inside a crystal ball.

    And know which ever way he tilts it
    know that we must be resilient
    We won't let them break our spirits as we sing our silly song.

    When I was a little filly
    A galloping blaze overtook my city.
    So they shipped me off to the orphanage.
    Said 'ditch those roots if you wanna fit in.'

    So I dug a thousand holes
    and cut a rug with orphan foals.
    Now memories are blurred and faces obscured
    But I still now the words to this song!

    When you've bungled all your bangles
    and you loved ones have been mangled
    Listen to the jingle jangle
    of my gypsy tambourine!

    'Cause these chords are hypnotizing
    and the whole worlds harmonizing.
    So please children stop your crying
    and just sing along with me!"
    -Gypsy Bard (fan made song)
    -_- WTF
  • Michael Diamente from Woodland Park, New Jersey What about Your Love Alone is Not Enough by the Manic Street Preachers and featuring Nina Persson of The Cardigans? That song sounds so upbeat and sentimental you'll swear it's a love song, but The Manics singer James Dean Bradfield said the songs title was the last line in a suicide note left by a friend of the band. So in fact it's actually about either suicide or a breakup depending on how you interpret the lyrics (I think it can be about both).
  • Payta Radiounion from Mexicali, MexicoI think most of the posts miss the sad lyrics and happy music theme. Here's 2: Tears for Fears - Mad World (about suicide) and my favourite New Order's - 1963 (where the the lead man is a wife killer).
  • Me from UsaBullet, hollywood undead. "My legs are dangling off the edge, the bottom of the bottle is ,y only friend. I think i slit my wrist again and I'm gone gone gone gone.
  • Reshi from Denmark99 luftballons... It's pretty damm deppressing and dark
    but sounds happy as hell
  • Al from Houston, TxWhat about "Summerteeth" by Wilco?
  • Jenna from Southern NhThe drums, the best singing he's ever done, the bravado, "I Don't Care Anymore," by Phil Collins. That's my pick.
  • Droughtquake from Bay Area, CaNo one has mentioned the Pet Shop Boys yet? They love this juxtaposition.
  • Lauren from LondonYeah, I agree with 'Today' by Smashing Pumpkins. But also 'Always Your Way', by My Vitriol. Which is a very beautiful song, by the way. My Vitriol are a British band, and hell do they deserve more recognition...
  • Anonymous"i think im gonna kill myself" by buddy knox. Has the happy "doo wop" musoc to it but the subjecy matter is rather dreary.
  • Lyric from St AugustineMost of the songs by ABBA....the lyrics were really very sad. Knowing Me Knowing You, Mama Mia, SOS but the song that shocked me the most was the groupie inspired Does Your Mother messed me up when I realizing it was about an underage groupie.
  • Savannah from LawrenceMilo Greene-What's the Matter? And Ross Cooperman-Holding on and letting go
  • Joris from Belgium"At Least It Was Here" by the 88, the theme song of community is also kind of sad if you listen closely
  • Kurt from Chicago, Il"Table for One" by Liz Phair is a BEAUTIFUL Spanish guitar piece that puts a painfully human face on alcholism.
  • Jon from SouthportYou're Wondering Now by The Specials. Incredible song!
  • Cam from BrisbaneLittle Talks by Of Monsters and Men is such a sad song - about a lady who is being lost to mental illness, and her lover being constantly supportive but unable to help
  • Kieran from Brisbane, AustraliaShould have included band of gold.
  • Nick from MinnesotaI have to agree with Emie that Bullet by Hollywood Undead is quite dissonant.
  • Anonymousno rain - blind melon, and today - smashing pumpkins
  • Nadia from Malaysia"breaking down" by florence and the machine. deserves more than a million views!
  • Emily from PaIt Doesn't Matter Anymore by Buddy Holly is about how his girlfriend or somebody left him but if you don't listen to the words it sounds really happy.
  • Ryan from Hawaii"Hey Ya!" by Outkast is a catchy but depressing song.
  • Andrew from CanadaTime to Pretend by MGMT is one of the saddest songs ever written. It's about rock stardom and its ephemerality. Also like the whole albumGossamer by passion pit
  • Kjk from MassI haven't read all the comments so they may have already been said but off the top of my head, “Veronica” by Elvis Costello (about aging and Alzheimer’s disease) and “Hits of the Year” by Squeeze (about plane hijacking and terrorism).
  • Cw from UsaIf there is any song that is depressing but sounds happy, it's "I Think I'm Gonna Kill Myself" by Elton John. I mean, it sounds like tha happiest song ever written!
  • Ken from St. Louis, Mo2 fave happy sounding songs with depressing lyrics: 1) Boomtown Rats- "I don't like Mondays" about a 16 year old girl shooting up a school yard. 2) Billy Joel-Piano Man. Everyone in the song is a raging alcoholic whose dreams have died!
  • Jack from Scotland"Maxwell's Silver Hammer" by the Beatles is the ultimate upbeat sad song.
  • Dave from MinnesotaTo Beaux: That song is not by Guns N Roses you bozo. Also, I think everyone knows what that song is about, you can tell by the title.
  • Beaux from Kansas City, MoHow about Every Rose Has It's Thorn by Guns N Roses?
  • Jim from VirginiaIf you want to hear a very depressing song that sounds happy look up Bullet bu Hollywood Undead
  • Cj from L.a.Definitely "Seasons In The Sun" FTW... Happiest melody on earth, followed by 'Goodbye Papa, it's hard to die, when all the birds are singing in the sky... Goodbye, Michelle, my little one.
    You gave me love and helped me find the sun.
  • Ellyn from CaliforniaThey left out a couple of other songs performed by Elton John: "Think I'm Gonna Kill Myself" and "Better Off Dead". (And while we're on the subject, the opening line of this otherwise well-written and amusing article is incorrect. I quote: "The wise scribe Elton John once said that 'Sad songs say so much'." A wise composer/performer he may be, but the SCRIBE in this case is Bernie Taupin.) Another depressing lyric with lighthearted-sounding music--by another Prince of the Piano--would be "Carrying Cathy" by Ben Folds.
  • Doof from Kycopacabana is pretty upbeat but man its depressing
  • Katie from St. James, Mo"Bullet" by Hollywood Undead is definitely a sad song with a cheerful tune! I love it! It's about suicide, but it's beat just makes you want to dance!
  • Marion from Anderson, ScKentucky Headhunters make a bouncy version of Oh Lonesome Me, but Neil Young makes it sad.
    Sukiyaki is extremely depressing but sounds pretty&nice You have a page for it here.
  • Danny Schuerman from Usahow bout brown sugar by the rolling stones? it has a catchy rock and pop guitar riff and a fun chorus but its about a slave master and his son raping their young female slaves! Oh brown sugar how come you taste so good?
  • Layne from Antarctica"Headfirst for Halos" by My Chemical Romance - The melody is pretty happy and energetic, but the lyrics themselves are really depressing. Sample lyrics: "I think I'll blow my brains against the ceiling /
    And as the fragments of my skull begin to fall / Fall on your tongue like pixie dust just think happy thoughts"
  • Zoe from EnglandBullet-Hollywood Undead. Happy tune, depressing lyrics
  • Valerie from LloydLovefool by The Cardigans. and Hey Ya by OutKast
  • John from New YorkThe One I Love by R.E.M. - Michael Stipe repeating "Fire" is part of it, but also the song is about a "simple prop to occupy my time"
  • Ubfunkaneer from My HouseWhat about "Burning Bridges" by Mike Curb Congregation? It sounds so upbeat and cheerful, but it's about regret.
  • Nick from Buffalo, NyMany songs in the Smiths and Morrisey's catalog. I'm convinced no one is better at combining sarcastic, even sorrowful lyrics and happy-sounding melodies.
  • Tar Heel Fan from Chicago By Way Of North CarolinaI just heard a tune by Ry Cooder that definitely fits this theme: "Christmas Time this Year." Very peppy sound with the accordian backdrop, but the lyrics are brutal. Sample lines: "All I want is two good arms so I can hold my kids,
    Then they'lI know it's Christmas time this year"
  • Charlie from UsaRadioactive by marina and the diamonds. I second the person who chose build me up buttercup. Love love that song.
  • Alyssa from Florida"I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" by The Beatles, maybe?
  • Zak Kogen from Chicago, Il"Happy Together" has to be on here. It sounds so happy, but in reality its about unrequited love
  • Jeffers66 from FloridaA few that come to mind are "Having A Party" by Sam Cooke, "Happy Together" by the Turtles (it's all in his imagination; in reality, he can't get past "How is the weather" when talking to her), and "This Calls For A Celebration" by the Fantastic Zoo.
  • Zoe from South AfricaAlso Tears of a Clown by The Miracles
  • Her from FloridaNewest depressing song that sounds happy? ...Pumped Up Kicks by the Fosters. It is so upbeat, but the lyrics are horribly sad.
  • Splat from Williamsville, De'Brite Nitegown' by Donald Fagen - the most lively, upbeat, vivacious song about... DEATH ...I've ever heard. Great song, though!
  • Dubiousraves from San FranciscoTears of a Clown.
  • Jack from St. Louis, Mook, 1. a lot of the songs suggested bellow don't fit into the "sound happy" part of "depressing songs that sound happy". 2. my suggestion would be coldplay's viva la vida
  • Erik from South Carolina'Ship of Fools' by Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band, 'Crystal Ship' by The Doors
  • Wendell from Milton, PeHeres an oldie Eleanor Rigby by the beatles. It has a fast beat but is very sad.
  • SeanHow could they miss Springsteen's "Hungry Heart" ?
  • Ken from Phoenix, AzPaint it Black by the Stones should be on the list!
  • LiaAlso, Pumped Up Kids by Foster the People and Chloroform Girl by Polkadot Cadaver
  • Mtja from PolandFranco WAS NOT a fascist. Actually He saved Jews from Hitler.
    I know not everybody must possess knowledge, but please keep in mind that you keep the myth going when repeating it thoughtlessly.
  • Valo from Moscow, Russia FederationPictures of Lily is both happy and depressive too(
  • Valo from Moscow, Russia Federation'It's Too Late' by Small Faces
  • Ken from Winter Park, FlAbout A Girl (Unplugged Version) - Nirvana; Depressing in a middleground soothing way as its about a girl he was dating, but sounds rather uplifting.
  • Terry from Colchester, VtI forgot "Ship of Fools" by The Doors. Give it a listen.
  • Cat from MassachusettsAnother Lily Allen song- literally called "F*** You".
  • Nikolai from MinnesotaToday by The Smashing Pumpkins is probably the most deep yet happy sounding songs I've heard
  • Terry from Colchester, Vt'It's The End Of The World As We Know It" - R.E.M.
  • Enogabal from Jax FlI've heard an unusual instrumental treatment of "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town". Very poppy, jaunty, upbeat, and quite out of keeping with the story of the disabled war vet who sings "...if I could move I'd get my gun and put her in the ground..."
  • Chemicalcandy Way from EnglandHeadfirst for Halos-My Chemical Romance
  • Ryan from Abingdon, VaToday by Smashing Pumpkins. It's about suicide
  • Akm from Collinsville, IlI'll take PFHarlock's comment a step further and say that there are quite a few Elvis Costello tunes that fit this genre. Maybe that's why I like him so much...bouncy tunes, cynical messages.
  • Diamond from BaltimoreMisery by Maroon 5 "I am in misery, there ain't no body who can comfort me. Why won't you answer me? The silence is slowly killing me.
  • Joe from MassachusettsTears of a Clown - Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
  • Ash from NyThe Wombats have a song called "Let's Dance to Joy Division" that is like that. Also, most of Streetlight Manifesto's songs fit the bill.
  • Mia from KrakowMadness: "Cardiac Arrest", "Embarassment", "Tomorrow's (Just Another Day)" to name but a few.
    Also, "Oasis" by Amanda Palmer.
  • Matt from North CarolinaNot gonna read 98 comments, but - "Copacabana"
  • K from Indiana"I Don't Like Mondays" sounds good enough.... I mean, we can all relate right? Who wants to face the week after a weekend. But, instead it actually tells the true story of a young, mentally unstable girl who shot-up a schoolyard full of children and teachers in 1970's California. Check it out.
  • Dave from NycAny of Steely Dan's big hits would fit this bill. Who else can write a song that sounds like a generic ballad, but is actually about prostitution? I think the real genius in writing this sort of song is to not only use a happy melody, but to write lyrics that SEEM happy to someone who isn't really paying attention to them or analyzing them carefully.
  • Pfharlock from Tokyo"Veronica" by Elvis Costello.
  • Tina from Pennsylvania"Papa was a rolling Stone" is another depressing tune, but sounds very chipper
  • Tara Lynn from Ny"LAST KISS" by Pearl Jam. Also: "I hate everything about you" by Ugly Kid Joe.
  • Anon1486 from D TownCrippled Inside by John Lennon, from the album Imagine
  • Ak from New York City"King of Wishful Thinking" by Go West (off the Pretty Woman soundtrack). Listen to the tune, then go read the lyrics. It's about a guy who's been devastated by a girl who's gonna try his best to convince himself he doesn't miss her, even though he knows he wont' be able to pull it off.
  • Paul from WdsdHow about Billy Currington's song "Love Done Gone"?
  • Ken from Pennsylvania"Bad Moon Rising"--the most cheerful apocalypse ever!
  • Hypatia from Washington, Dc"Crippled Inside" by John Lennon. Like a skeleton in a clown suit.
  • Kevin from Rorketon, Manitoba, Canada"Run For Your Life" by Jarvis Church - a peppy little dancehall number about a guy being stalked by a psychotic, obsessive fan.
  • Catherine"Love Machine" by Wham. It objectfies the subject in a really depressing way
  • EI always feel like this for "Hammer to Fall" from Queen. My ultimate depressing-lyrics-with-killing-riff!
  • Biglips from DallasI'm sorry but a lot of these examples are depressing songs that sure enough sound depressing. I really expected more glaring examples
  • Tamsin from Australia"Luka" by Suzanne Vega.
    It's a song about a young boy who gets abused often and he tries to hide it from evryone. The happy sounding guitar riff and the bouncy beat takes all the interest out of what she sings.
  • Jeff K. from Los AngelesWhat about 99 Balloons by Nena. The peppy melody and German language cover up the more serious topic of a nuclear war started by trigger-happy generals.
  • Larry from London, OnI suppose "Shiny Happy People" by REM is too obvious for this list?
  • Justin from Long Island NyI immediately thought of "Run For Your Life" by The Beatles.
  • David from Leamington Spa, UkHow about: 'Billy Don't be a Hero' by Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods; 'Tie me Kangaroo Down Sport' by Rolf Harris; 'Everybody's Somebody's Fool' by Connnie Francis; 'Mack the Knife' by Bobby Darin; 'Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde' by Georgie Fame.
  • Ron from Curitiba, Brazil"Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die" - Country Joe and the Fish
    "Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation" - Tom Paxton
    are two songs that immediately came to mind when I read this topic title. (I inaccurately attributed the second song to Phil Ochs in my previous submission. Sorry)
  • Ron from Curitiba, Brazil"Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die" - Country Joe and the Fish
    "Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation" - Phil Ochs
    are two songs that immediately came to mind when I read this topic title.
  • Andy from EuropeWhat about "It's Raining Again" by Supertramp?
  • MMost happy Death Cab (pre-Codes and Keys)
  • Peter from KoreaAmerican Pie by Don McLean
  • Evan from DelawarePumped Up Kicks by Foster The People is a textbook example of this. It sounds like a really happy song unless you're listening to the lyrics, "All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, you better run, better run, outrun my gun".
  • Casey from TexasLed Zeppelin-Fool in the Rain
  • Jim from North Billerica, Ma"Hey Jealousy" by the Gin Blossoms. A very pop sounding song with lyrics that are quite desperate sounding. They are even more poignant When you consider that the writer kill himself some time afterwards. Also "Driver's Seat" by Sniff'n the Tears. Yea, like other posters have said, most of the Smith's Catalog could be listed, but "Headmaster Ritual" I think tops them all.
  • Sadie from Sebastopol, CaYou've been the hole in my sky. My shrinking water supply.
    ---From The Indigo Girls "Fill it up again."
  • Becky from OntarioBad Moon Rising by CCR, really upbeat but about it's about the world ending.
  • Annie from London'Seasons in the Sun' by Terry Jacks is a jolly little song about suicide.
  • Lasse from NorwayWhat about: Help - Beatles?
  • Laurie from San Francisco"Copacabana" gets most peoples' toes tapping, but it's about murder and madness. "She lost her youth and she lost her Tony, now she's lost her mind!"
  • Annelies from UkAnything by The Smiths... They're the master of putting depressing lyrics to catchy melodies
  • J Man from Los Angeles, Ca"Piano Man" by Billy Joel.
  • Taylor from Georgiaguns n roses - i used to love her
  • Jeff from Austinabout 75% of The Smiths' catalog could be on this list
  • Emie from VirginiaBullet by hollywood undead is the happiest song about suicide that i've ever heard.
  • Mary from NjBorn in the U.S.A. is a classic. Sounds very patriot and upbeat, but it's a sad song about a Vet trying to get back to the real world after serving Viet Nam. Went down to see my V.A. man
    He said "son don't you understand now"
  • Dwight from Austin, Texas"Hey Joe" has the most depressing lyrics I know of.
  • Michael from Rockford, IlWouldn't It Be Nice by the Beach Boys gets me.
  • Patmua6'Hurt ' By johnny Cash
  • Bruce from Kansas"Oh, Lonesome Me" by Don Gibson is the first song that always jumps to my mind when thinking of sad songs that sound happy.
  • Sasha from Floridagirlfriend in a coma by the smiths. "there were times when i could have murdered her....i know i know its serious". also american city suite by ??. i have the 45. "everything i love is locked inside her..they tell me that my friend is dying. oh new york city..can you say it ain't true.."
  • Debbiew from West VirginiaDon McLean did not sing "Alone Again Naturally." Gilbert O'Sullivan dod.
  • Debby from NycI always thought "Untill You Come Back To Me That's What I'm Going to Do" as sung by Aretha Franklin was unusually jaunty about having to stalk an ex-lover
  • Ivan from DallasThe Carpenter's version of "Please Mr. Postman"......supposed to be an unhappy song but sounds very upbeat and cheerful.
  • Jasmin from Germany"Se Me Olvidó Otra Vez" by Mana - a man is left by the woman he loves. In hopes of her return, he stays in the same old town, sticking around the same old people, so that in case she ever returns, she will find everything the same as she left it. Extremely sad to hear that one can't get over someone who is obviously long over him, but can't help himself hoping she once will come back to him. But listen to the tune! One of the merriest ever. Talking about mixed messages...
  • Lance from Clinton Corners, NyJust about any song on Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" album, especially "Go Your Own Way" (Best album ever, BTW). I would also add "Across the River" by Bruce Hornsby and the Range. It's about a woman who left town to make it on her own and didn't succeed. Catchy and great to listen to because of Hornsby's piano and Jerry Garcia's guest appearance on guitar.
  • Andy Siviter from Birmingham, England.Happy Hour from the House Martins, probably one of the most jolly tunes around, for a long time I dismissed it as a happy litle pop tune, until one day I actually stopped to listen to the words!
  • Gian Sanders from Beuningen, NetherlandsGirlfriend in a coma - The Smiths. Een heerlijk nummer met een vrolijk deuntje. Zingt ook lekker weg.
  • Tommy from NashvilleAlone Again Naturally is by Gilbert O'Sullivan not McLean. Another song is "Happy Together" by The Turtles. It starts "Imagine me and you, I do". He is just wishing. And it ends "How is the weather?" like he is trying to change the subject. Pretty clever.
  • Kevin from Chicago"The Green, Green Grass of Home" by Tom Jones - the singer dreams nostalgically about his home town and then wakes up and remembers that he is in prison about to be put to death.
  • Renee from San Francisco Ca"Ruby don't take your love to town" by Kenny Rogers. Creepy,sad,enough said.
  • Billy Cee from Cambridge Ontario"Bad Moon Rising" by CCR. The opening riff get's everyone dancing.... to a song about the demise of the world
  • Gayle from Peekskill, NyAlone Again, Naturally - Gilbert O'Sullivan
  • Darylglyn from IdahoMakes me think of another one: I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die. By Country Joe and the Fish.
  • Sandra Dodd from Albuquerque"My grandfather's clock was too big for the shelf..." I heard it on a calliope at a steam fair in England the other day and said "This is the happiest song about death EVER!"
  • Funkspiel from Soggy Bottom, MaldivesLadytron by Roxy Music
  • Brett from Parma Heights"Hey Ya" by Outkast. Come on, a song that popular gets looked over for this? That was the first song I thought of.
  • Eyekahn from Nc"Alone Again, Naturally" by Don McLean tops this list. Actually everything he wrote...
  • Guyser from SeattleOne of the most upbeat songs you can't help but sing along to is "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival. OMG "Hurricanes OVERFLOWING...end is coming soon...rage and ruin...HOPE YOU'RE QUITE PREPARED TO DIE!" all sung to the most cheerful little tune imaginable. The ultimate mixed message!!
  • James from MinneapolisOlivia Newton-John "I Honestly Love You" - So many people use this in their weddings but then are shocked to find they have to change the words because it is a star-crossed impossible lovers song, not a happy one
  • AnonymousWhat about "Moody River" by Pat Boone, seeing as the song has a peppy, 1950s pop melody but listen to the lyrics! It is about a dude who is standing by a river waiting to meet his girlfriend there for a date, only to find her suicide note, which states that she drowned herself because she felt to intolerably guilty over her unfaithfulness. How about "Missing You" by Everything But The Girl, a catchy 1990s techno song about a girl who is more or less incapable of moving on from her break-up that was long ago.
  • Phly23 from San Francisco"No More I love Yous" by Annie Lenox....i LOVE Happy Sad Songs!
  • Anthony from Adelaide, SaAnother one to be added is "Bullet" by Hollywood Undead. It's so catchy and a happy tune, yet, it's about suicide.
  • Alicia from ItalyI think it's safe to add "I Don't Like Mondays" by the Boomtown Rats to this list. Upbeat tune but inspired by a teenage girl, Brenda Ann Spencer, who went on a shooting rampage at an elementary school in the '70s, killing several people. The title is the girl's actual reply to a reporter who asked her why she did it.
  • Deadcomic from IndianaNo Mr. Brightside? One of the more sad songs about the girl he loves sleeping around while he is forced to just sit back and take it. Extremely catchy, yet extremely sad.
  • Vince from ParmaSpringsteen's "Glory Days" Singer is living in the past.
  • Sydney from St. LouisBruce Springsteen- Dancing in the Dark. sounds all fun but the lyrics are super depressing. "i check myself in the mirror wanna change my clothes my hair my face" "this guns for hire even if were just dancing in the dark" Also, Mumford and Sons- Little Lion Man. "weep for yourself my man you'll never be what is in your heart weep little lion man youre not as brave as you were at the start" "your grace is wasted in your face your boldness stands alone among the wreck"
  • Mr Dobbs from Tallahassee FlCould we add "Timothy" to this list? It is a thigh-slapper about cannibalism in a mining disaster.
  • Kevin from MaineI'll be - edwin mccain
  • Brad from Redmond, WaWhat about "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People? Happy, upbeat song about a German mass shooting at a school in the model of Columbine.
  • Dale from Laguna Niguel"Boogie Wonderland" by Earth Wind and Fire. The first time a read the lyrics on paper I was actually shocked to learn how depressing the sentiment was. Sample lyric: "The mirror stares you in the face and says, "Ba-by, uh, uh, it don't work" You say your prayers though you don't care You dance and you shake the hurt"
    See excellent commentary on this very website:
  • Erin from PortlandGeorge Harrison's "All Those Years Ago". It's a bright, bouncy tune - and the song is about the murder of his dear friend, John Lennon.
  • Bookbabe from New York, NyWhat about Nick Drake's "Pink Moon"? When it was used in a VW commercial a quarter century after Drake's death, most people didn't realize it was a song about the apocalypse.
  • Dave from EnglandHouse of Cards by Radiohead - the instruments sound jolly but the lyrics are REAL depressing
  • Antonis from GreeceFade Away, by Celine Dion (ξέρεις εσύ...)
  • Andrew from The Twilight ZoneBullet by Hollywood Undead. It's a song about suicide but it sounds so cheery and happy. I find it funny, honestly. I really hate to say it since suicide definitely isn't funny, but they just made it so. (Sorry if I offended anyone.)
  • Frank from EnglandI like Snow patrol you could be happy!!! :) Its really sad and ment to be depressing but makes me feel happy and makes me go 'WOW!' everytime.
  • Jeff from Washington, DcHow is CCR's Bad Moon Rising not on this list? I would think that any upbeat song about the apocalypse would be a shoo-in for this kind of feature. Oh well.
  • Harrison from SeattleWhat about Semi-Charmed Life? Emo poem lyrics right there.
  • Henrik from BerlinI don't like mondays from the Boomtown Rats!
  • Bryan from Dade CityNik Kershaw's "Wouldn't It Be Good"
  • Tina from Norcross, GaChicago's "Call On Me". I liked the song as a child; I learned as an adult that Lee Loughnane (trumpet player for the band) wrote it as a response to going through a divorce--he said he would soon be leaving her, she had to find someone else to take his place--but if she needed a friend, she could always call on him.
  • K.c. from Nh"Walking On Sunshine" She sounds so sure of herself, but she's still just waiting...for a letter, or a knock on the door...and waiting...and waiting...
  • Monika from Rzeszow, PolandBob Geldof " I don't like Mondays"
  • Gabriel from Chicago, IlYoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part One.
  • Tony from Vero Beach, Fl"House at Pooh Corner" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Loggins & Messina's recording sounds a little less cheery - but still, cheerier than the subject matter (outgrowing the joys of childhood).
  • Tony Rozensky from JacksonTimothy by the Buoys Cannibalism in a mining disaster.
  • Brooke from OhioLily Allen's 22 is also slightly sad in the lyrics, but very bouncy. I discovered Matt Kearney's Closer to Love is kinda sad too, but sounds fairly upbeat. And let's not forget Pearl Jam's Last Kiss.
  • Amit from SingaporeBob Marley's "No Woman No Cry". Gets heavy airplay in pubs and bars around the world as a happy song. only when I listened to it for the gazzilionth time did I realise that the line means, "no woman, don't cry". ditto for "Gimme hope Joanna"
  • Tony from Dallas"No Rain" by Blind Melon
  • Hmijail from Spain"Cut here", by The Cure. Surprisingly upbeat and happy sounding for The Cure, and not as empty as say "Friday I'm in love". But when you listen to the lyrics, it's about a friend commiting suicide, and the singer lamenting that he neglected their last contact and wondering what he could have done to stop him.
  • Sauce from Pittsburgh, Pa"Under the Bridge" by Red Hot Chili Peppers. The lyrics are horribly depressing- Anthony, the lead singer, remembers how he used to shoot speedballs (aka abuse heroin) with gangsters under a bridge in L.A. This excessively strained his relationship with not only his bandmates, but with his former girlfriend and his family. While he contemplated suicide, he became closer to his home city through his loneliness, and he personifies Los Angeles by describing her as the "she" in the song. Truly a beautiful song.
  • Matt from Home"What a fool believes" by the Doobie Brothers
  • Jeff from Nesconset NyEarly 70's pop had several notable examples: "Alone Again Naturally", "Seasons in the Sun" and "Billy Don't Be a Hero".
  • Ryan from Atlanta Gabad moon rising-credence clearwater revival, pumped up kicks-foster the people
  • Stuart from Nampa, IdA couple more upbeat songs with not so upbeat lyrices are "Fill Me Up Buttercup" and "Mack The Knife".
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