My Top 5 Sad Bastard Songs
11 Jun 2016 by Jordan Lawrence

My Top 5 Sad Bastard Songs

I have a huge, raging penchant for all things sad bastard. There, I said it. Every time I sit down to write a song I attempt to mine another nugget of melancholy from the already ravaged quarry of my past. I don’t know how else to write. I know there are plenty of artists who’ve made careers out of singing about cheeseburgers and yachts, but Jimmy Buffet never really inspired me to write a song. For whatever reason, the sound of loneliness has always made me happier. Here’s my top 5 favourite sad bastard songs:

5) I Know It's Over - The Smiths

Including Morrissey in a sad bastard list is almost cheating. The opening line in this song is ‘Oh mother, I can feel the soil pouring over my head’. That’s the kind of lyricist we’re dealing with. ‘I Know It’s Over’ is a song written – nay, designed – for the sort of self-obsessed wallowing only encouraged in a city as dreary as Manchester, my current home. Listening to this song after a breakup would be tantamount to treating third-degree burns with Tabasco sauce and sea salt. One might call it cathartic, putting on a Smiths record while heartbroken. I call it being a sad bastard.

Key sad bastard lyric:
If you’re so funny, then why are you on your own tonight? 

4) Have You Forgotten - Red House Painters

Some songs encourage a dream-like state of reminiscence in the listener. Mark Kozelek’s slow-motion masterpiece, ‘Have You Forgotten’ is so wistful and yearning in its recollection of past friends, antiquated radio shows and Christmas ornaments, it’s impossible not to slip into your own bittersweet review of bygone seasons and long lost bonds. Like watching your life projected back at you on Super 8 film, ‘Have You Forgotten’ just
feels like the past.

Key sad bastard lyric:
Have you forgotten how to love yourself?

3) Poison Oak - Bright Eyes

Conor Oberst sings stories. ‘Poison Oak’ is perhaps his saddest and most personal. Detailing the death of a loved one, Oberst weaves a eulogy out half-remembered bedtime conversations and recollections of seemingly inconsequential details from childhood, ie. a tin can phone, a yellow bird. All these fragmented images and allusions come together in a hushed mosaic of grief and regret. Not all questions are answered but Oberst’s lyrics touch upon closeted desires, drug addiction and suicide. What’s perhaps most tragic about ‘Poison Oak’ is Oberst’s use of the second-person narrative structure. The song is a letter to someone who is not alive to read it.

Key sad bastard lyric:
I’m glad you got away but I’m still stuck out here, my clothes are soaking wet from your brother’s tears”

2) A Case of You - Joni Mitchell

My father thinks Joni Mitchell is one of the world’s greatest storytellers because she is not afraid of being vulnerable. Growing up, whenever Dad was low and being a bit of a sad bastard, he’d crank Blue on the living room sound system and go willfully plunging into the warm, swirling waters of Joni’s wounded falsetto. On ‘A Case of You’ Joni manages to be at once helpless, resilient and self-aware, all the while teasing intimate threads of heartbreak into a tapestry of experience that is endlessly relatable and universal. She recalls exchanged dialogues, exposes her own shortcomings and divulges the messy details of one tiny corner of her life, and listeners like my father, in turn, uncover their own forgotten messes, recognise their own flaws. In this sense, Joni Mitchell can make you a better person.

Key sad bastard lyric:
“I’m frightened by the devil and I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid”

1) It's a Motherfucker - Eels

Mark Oliver Everett is the reigning king of sad bastards. The man’s family history alone reads like some twisted Shakespearean tragedy, complete with numerous deaths and suicides. In fact, his own cousin was a flight attendant on the plane that hit the Pentagon on 9/11. He has poured himself into more than ten albums all concerning themes of love, loss and death, creating a musical cannon built from tragic autobiographical snapshots.

‘It’s a Motherfucker’ is the quintessential sad bastard song. In two minutes Everett distills grief, heartbreak and anguish into three piano chords and a perfect melodic refrain. Lyrically, this is as simple as songwriting gets, but Everett’s performance lends his words a sense of ‘lived-in’ authenticity. ‘It’s a Motherfucker’ is your friend confiding in you over a beer. It's conversational, casual, but heartbreakingly intimate at the same time. When the song is over, you're barely aware of how close Everett let you get. 

Key sad bastard lyric:
It’s a motherfucker, getting through a Sunday


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