Published on February 1st, 2012 | by Alan Cross


And the Most Depressing Song of All Time Is…

According to a (very scientific, I’m sure) study by theatre producer David King, the most depressing song of all time is “Everybody Hurts” by REM.

He says one in five females “often” begin to cry when they hear the song.  There doesn’t seem to be any data for dudes.

Second most depressing?  Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind.”  (I agree, but I get depressed for different reasons upon hearing it.)  And in third place, Mike and the Mechanics and “The Living Years.”

To all of the above, I call “bullshit.”

Nothing–and I mean nothing–beats “Gloomy Sunday.”

What?  You’ve never heard of it?  That’s probably a good thing because it was banned by the BBC for its blow to morale and its rumoured ability to drive people to suicide.

“Gloomy Sunday” was written by a Hungarian pianist named Rezső Seress in 1933 with the first recording appearing in 1935.  An English translation came the following year.  The most famous rendition is by Billie Holiday in 1941–and that’s when the problems began.

The BBC ban resulted because programmers felt the song was a blow to wartime morale.  Meanwhile, urban legends began to circulate that the the song was so depressing that it caused people to kill themselves.  

What is true is that Seress himself committed suicide in 1968–on his second attempt.  First, he jumped out of a window in Budapest but failed to finish the job.  He later ended up choking himself with a wire–while in the hospital.

Here’s the song.  Is this or is this not more depressing that “Everybody Hurts?”  (WARNING:  If you’re feeling emotionally rocky, I’ve buffered things with a picture of some kittens.)



About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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9 Responses to And the Most Depressing Song of All Time Is…

  1. R. S. Sahsi says:

    I was working in the ER one night, having real trouble getting a regional anaesthetic to kick in one of my patients before starting a complicated laceration repair. It required multiple needles, which he didn't enjoy. The radio station which was providing the background music in the hall decided somewhere in there to start playing "Everybody Hurts" by REM… and yes, we both noticed. The universe has a really screwed up sense of humour.

  2. Andy says:

    C'mon,Billie's Gloomy Sunday by is a hell of a lot better that Mike + the Mechanics.

    Why? because it is sung by Billie Holiday.

    The Living Years is just a depressing soulless hole of depressing crap.

    R.E.M. is sad too, but it's a great song.

  3. Sheila says:

    The most depressing song, imho, is "Plea from a cat named Virtue" by The Weakerthans or maybe "Virtue the cat explains her departure". I can't even listen to it. Just thinking about it makes me want to go hug my cats and give them a bag of treats each. "Everybody Hurts" wouldn't even make it into my top 20

  4. James says:

    On the animals theme, how about Henry Gross's "Shannon"? As if the late 70s weren't depressing enough.

  5. Dylan says:

    I thought Coil's cover of "Tainted Love" was utterly grim, redefining the song. Then again, maybe it was the video that defines it rather than the song itself.

  6. JFK says:

    I think I would vote for Sing For Absolution by Muse.

  7. Wes says:

    Did you listen to The Shortest Story on Harry Chapin's The Greatest Stories Live album? You should. It is hand's down the saddest song ever.

  8. Iain says:

    I nominate "Knocking on Death's Door" by Depeche Mode, from the "Until the End of the World" soundtrack. If the song title and the movie title don't convince you that you're in for a rough time, I don't know what will.

  9. Rob J says:

    "Gloomy Sunday" by The Associates is heartbreaking, because the lead singer DID kill himself
    eventually but initially he chose the track because he liked it. However, here are my personal
    favourite songs of terminal misery :-

    Failure – Swans
    Frankie Teardrop – Suicide
    Mass Production – Iggy Pop
    Lunatic – Kevin Coyne
    One Hundred Days – Mark Lanegan
    Means To An End – Joy Division
    Borrowed Song – Neil Young
    Unloveable – The Smiths
    River Man – Nick Drake
    I Could Write A Book – OV Wright
    Just One More Chance – Coleman Hawkins
    I Keep Goin' Back To Joe's – Nat Cole
    Pretty Paper – Roy Orbison

    None of thse tracks can touch the "suicide sets" by Frank Sinatra in the 1950s, "In The Wee Small Hours", "Where Are You" , "Only The Lonely" and "No One Cares". I have owned those albums
    for over twenty five years, and I STILL can't play them back to back.

    Have fun……

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