Top Ten Most Depressing Alternative Rock Songs

In his most recent newsletter, radio consultant Sean Ross asked for nominations for the most depressing hit song of all time.

It began with a discussion with a program director about a song that tested well, but happened to be incredibly depressing. In Thursday’s ROR, we’ll revisit some of radio’s biggest downers. And we’ll look at whether radio can still find love with a hopeless lyric in the tempo-loving PPM era. And we’re taking your nominations for most depressing hit song now.

This got me thinking:  What are the most depressing alt-rock songs of all time?  Specifically, what songs from the alt-rock canon can (1) kill any good buzz; and (2) provide the perfect soundtrack to your sad, depressed state? Let me begin with this top ten most depressing alternative rock songs:

1.  The Smiths, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”

If someone has been able to express self-pity and whininess better than this song, I haven’t heard it.  How many kids have sobbed along with this song in their bedroom?

 2.  Joy Division, “Atmosphere”

A personal favourite.  Best heard in the dark with a glass of alcohol and with the knives safely locked away.

3.  Nine Inch Nails, “Something I Can Never Have”

Equal parts anger and heartbreak.  I can’t hear this song without thinking about all the kids who must have cut themselves while mouthing the words.

4.  Johnny Cash, “Hurt”

Speaking of cutting, have you seen the video?  Impossibly, the Man in Black makes this NIN song even bleaker.

5.  The Cure, “One Hundred Years”

Pornography is the Cure’s darkest record.  What more can you say with an album that opens with the line “It doesn’t matter if we all die?”

6.  Gary Jules, “Mad World”

The Tears for Fears original was dreary enough, but slowing it down into something nearly suicidal was sheer genius.

7.  Radiohead, “How to Disappear Completely”

There are many sad and lonely Radiohead tracks to choose from, but this one will kill any postivie thoughts you might still harbour.

8.  Lou Reed and John Cale, “Open House”

Their 1990 album Songs for Drella was one long elegy/eulogy for Andy Warhol, their former patron.  The whole record is a downer but this particular track somehow resonates with me.

9.  Jeff Buckley, “Hallelujah”

It’s sad because he’s dead.  Did you know that before he drowned in the Mississippi River, he was singing Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Live” as he waded in?

10.  Depeche Mode, “Somebody”

Lonely, sad and slightly whiney.  Now let’s analyze why my wife and I chose this as one of the first dance songs as our wedding.

What else have you got?

Alan Cross

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.

57 thoughts on “Top Ten Most Depressing Alternative Rock Songs

  • April 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    I think that the Cowboy Junkies and 'Cause Cheap is How I Feel has to rank high (low?) in the list.

    • May 12, 2021 at 1:09 pm

      Nah.Just breathe by pearl jam

  • April 6, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Great list, picked off a lot of the ones I would have had.

    Nirvana – Something in the Way also comes to mind.

  • April 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Fantastic list; I'd throw Alice in Chains' "Down In A Hole" on the list just because (as you said about Buckley) it's sad because he's dead.

  • April 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Beth Orton's "Galaxy of Emptiness". The Verve's "The Drugs Don't Work" (or, if you're willing to dig into the album, "Another Velvet Morning" is even worse). Counting Crows' "Long December". Elvis Costello's "Veronica" always gets me down. Bonnie "Prince" Billy's "Raining in Darling". "#1 Crush" by Garbage. "Synchronicity II" by the Police. And I can't believe nobody's mentioned "Everybody Hurts" yet.

    Mind you, you could pretty much fill this list up with nothing but the Smiths.

  • April 6, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    The Johnny Cash version of "Hurt" is incredible. For a bit of a folk-y Canadiana option: The Weakerthans "Plea from a cat named Virtue" swiftly followed by "Virtue the cat explains her departure".

  • April 7, 2012 at 12:13 am

    If your going to pick a pearl jam track would "black" not rank higher?
    As far as Cash goes… there are parts of american iv that are heart breaking the way he sings

  • April 7, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Down in a Hole by Alice in Chains or Mayonaise by Smashing Pumpkins. Also older RHCP – Soul to squeeze or I Could Have Lied. When you're feeling depressed, these tracks go right along.

  • April 7, 2012 at 1:41 am

    Record Body Count– The Rheostatics

  • April 7, 2012 at 2:01 am

    Or how about these two opening back to back songs on Alice in Chain's "Jar of Flies": Rotten Apple and Nutshell. Real gems but real downers, and neither were singles (I think).

  • April 7, 2012 at 3:21 am

    Radiohead's No Surprises is brilliantly depressing. Another very strange and quite prescient piece is GYBE!'s Deadman's Blues. Released in 1999, it's altogether creepy and very much a downer. Not sure if I'd classify it as rock, but I have no idea how to classify GYB!E anyway.

  • April 7, 2012 at 4:19 am

    wow, what does it say about me that 8 of the 10 of these have been on rotation in my ipod/record player for the past 20-odd years?! but i don't find them depressing, so perhaps that's why. to me, the most depressing song in the world is disintegration, by the cure ('it's easier for me to get closer to heaven than ever feel whole again'). coldplay's amsterdam is a close second. and i echo the verve's the drugs don't work. and–oh! wonderwall. but, admittedly, no one i know else finds that depressing. but really, it's all subjective, innit?

  • April 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Brand New – Jesus Christ
    Jimmy Eat World – My Sundown
    Matthew Good Band – Running For Home (actually lots of Matt Good stuff)
    Our Lady Peace – 4AM
    The Postal Service – This Place Is a Prison
    The Gaslight Anthem – The '59 Sound (especially the acoustic version – there's a few versions up on YouTube, this one's my favorite

  • April 8, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    I dunno, if we're going with a depressing Pearl Jam song I'd throw up Indifference as opposed to Black or Alive.

  • April 8, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    Radiohead – Exit Music and I agree that if you're putting up a Pearl Jam song it should be Indifference. I also find Wicked Game by Chris Isaak depressing.

  • April 9, 2012 at 2:51 am

    Foo Fighters "Friend of a Friend"

  • April 9, 2012 at 3:22 am

    “Perfect Day” – Lou Reed


    "Goodbye Cruel World" – Pink Floyd

  • April 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    I think the list has moved away from alt-rock, so can I throw Fleetwood Mac's Landslide into the mix?

  • December 2, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Not bad, but none of those tracks are a patch on Frank Sinatra's "suicide" sets, namely "In The Wee Small Hours", "Where Are You", "Only The Lonely" (Sinatra's personal favourite recording) and "No One Cares". I can tell you, NOBODY can listen to those albums back to back.

    Here is my alternative list of the Ten Depressing Tracks Of All Time :-

    Swans – Failure
    Kevin Coyne – Lunatic
    Mark Lanegan – One Hundred Days
    Iggy Pop – Mass Production ( The last track Ian Curtis heard before his suicide.)
    Billie Holiday – God Bless The Child
    Roy Orbison – Pretty Paper
    Nick Drake – Fruit Tree
    O.V Wright – I Could Write A Book
    Neil Young – Borrowed Tune

  • March 7, 2013 at 6:08 am

    "Falls Apart" Rapture
    "Snuff" Slipknot
    "Hate Me" Blue October

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  • January 28, 2014 at 11:59 pm

    A song that i believe that is really dark is ‘The Light Behind Your Eyes’ by My Chemical Romance. Its a sad song that sounds like a suicide note and the story behind it makes it darker.

    • April 18, 2015 at 6:20 pm

      i knew i would see my chemical romance somewhere here

  • February 1, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Well me personally love to listen to depressing songs, it seems to me as if it helps me “get it out of my system” faster, you know? As for my Top Depressing/Sad Songs, I’ll list them here (not in order, hard to rate them). Keep in mind that a lot are from the same artist, I don’t really have that wide of musical interest. Here we go:

    Like a Stone by Audioslave
    Give Me a Sign by Breaking Benjamin
    Without You by Breaking Benjamin
    Dear Agony by Breaking Benjamin
    Where’d You Go (feat. Holly Brook & Jonah Matranga) by Fort Minor
    Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day
    Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day
    Crawling by Linkin Park
    Pushing Me Away by Linkin Park
    Castle Of Glass by Linkin Park
    Roads Untraveled by Linkin Park
    Powerless by Linkin Park
    My December by Linkin Park
    Breaking the Habit by Linkin Park
    Numb by Linkin Park
    Leave Out All the Rest – Linkin Park
    Shadow of the Day by Linkin Park
    Valentines Day by Linkin Park (oh the feels with this one v.v)
    In Pieces by Linkin Park
    The Little Things Give You Away by Linkin Park
    Iridescent by Linkin Park
    The Messenger by Linkin Park (this song has got me through so much…)
    Fade To Black by Metallica
    Something In The Way by Nirvana
    Guardian Angel by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
    Hero of War by Rise Against
    The Approaching Curve by Rise Against
    Roadside by Rise Against
    Dead Memories by Slipknot
    Snuff by Slipknot (wow…this song is just…wow…)
    Vermillion (or Vermillion, Pt. 2) by Slipknot
    Lonely Day by System of a Down
    Lost in Hollywood by System of a Down
    Roulette by System of a Down
    Streamline by System of a Down
    Last to Know by Three Days Grace
    Over and Over by Three Days Grace
    Gone Forever by Three Days Grace
    I Hate Everything About You by Three Days Grace

    When I’m Gone ; Here Without You ; Your Arms Feel Like Home by 3 Doors Down – great songs to listen to when there’s something up with your love life or you miss a special someone.

    Anyway, that’s pretty much it. Some of you might not find that they’re sad or depressing, but I mostly chose them because they speak to me on a deep level, and some of the songs (especially the Slipknot ones .___.) have so much emotion in them, all you have to do is pay close attention to the Lyrics. Anyway, hope you guys like the list, and if you agree with some of the songs let me know ^_^

    • September 21, 2016 at 12:19 am

      You seemed to have missed Don’t Look Back In Anger By Oasis.

      And Bleeding Me by Metallica.

      And Cemetery Gates by Pantera.

      And It’s Been Awhile by Staind.

      And Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

      And Welcome Home by Coheed and Cambria.

      (List could continue, but I’m feelin lazy)

  • February 8, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    There are hundreds of songs I could refer to but I just can’t believe how no one mentioned Stranglers’ Midnight Summer Dream (the most nostalgic synth I’ve ever heard) or something like NIN, A warm place, such a beautiful track, I would like that played at my funeral.

  • April 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Porcupine Tree-Lazarus

  • August 11, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Funny but all the bands mentioned above are my happy music. Love Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins and especially the Verve. I find that all music released prior to my ex makes me happy no matter how depressing but my memory of all music post bf had to be put into quarantine. A whole part of my brain had to be cordoned off, My idea of depressing is
    ‘Love Hurts’ Nazareth. Anyone out there like me, or am I alone as usual?

  • August 18, 2014 at 7:19 am

    Save me, Tonight the world ends, Seize the day, Dear god, Fiction, So far away, Avenged Sevenfold I will always one of “The Kids” foREVer R.I.P Reverend..
    Buckcherry, Sorry
    Crossfade, Cold
    Thriving ivory, Angels on the moon
    U2, One
    Blue october, Its just me , Weight of all the world
    Amy Lee, Hello , Angel of mine , Bring me to life , My Heart is Broken, Broken , Lithium , Last song I’m waisting on you , Good Enough , fallen , sallys song , My Last Breath , My Immortal.
    The Eagles, Hotel California
    Justin Nuzaki, Save Him
    Deftones, Change (In the house of flies)
    Creed, My own prison , My Sacrifice , Hold me now/ six feet from the edge , With arms wide open.
    Black Sabbath, Changes , Mama I’m coming home… Ozzy, Dreamer
    Awolnation, Sail
    Cage , I Never Knew You , Ballad Of Worms A Fine Frenzy , Almost lover
    Flyleaf , Sorrow , All Around Me , Fully Alive , There For You , Cassie ( Tribute to the shooting at Columbine shoot Rachel and Cassie R.I.P
    Guns N Roses , November Rain
    Hollywood Undead , My Black Dahlia , Pain ,
    Limp Bizkit , Behind Blue Eyes
    Queen , Bohemian Rhapsody
    Tegan and Sara , Divided
    Hoobastank , The Reason
    i can go on an on but I’m done for now Enjoy

  • December 3, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Snuff by Slipknot…nuff said

  • January 30, 2015 at 12:25 am

    I like to think of these songs as beautiful melancholy rather than depressing.
    Doubts Even Here – New Order
    Fade Into You – Mazzy Star
    Never Known – Durutti Column (take your pick, Vini is manic depressive)
    Black Boys On Mopeds – Sinead O’Connor

    The saddest song is Skeletons, by Rickie Lee Jones.

  • February 20, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    Alice in Chains – Nutshell

    And yet I fight, and yet I fight this battle all alone. No one to cry to, no place to call home

  • February 22, 2015 at 11:11 am

    No rain – Blind Melon and Something to Believe in – Poison

  • April 16, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    Not really alternative but
    Cancer by My Chemical Romance

  • April 18, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    i would say the ghost of you, the ligjht behind your eyes, demolition lovers by my chemical romance are all pretty depressing. (honestly, any song by mcr could make you cry)

  • August 27, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    I believe Pieces by Red is depressing, or any song by them to be honest.

  • September 22, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Black – Pearl Jam

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  • November 30, 2015 at 2:32 am

    You definitely forgot “what Sarah said” it’s about someone’s wife dying. You also forgot “a lack of colour.” That one is the most realistic song about depression I have ever heard.

  • March 9, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Dude, Foo Fighters’ “Let it Die” should have been on this list for sure…

  • May 7, 2016 at 12:41 am

    None of these songs were sad for me. I don’t think that we can put a label over what makes people sad because everyone gets triggered emotionally by different songs. Some of mine are Bleeding out (Imagine Dragons), How Far We’ve Come (Matchbox 20, ESPECIALLY this song. I can’t hear it without breaking down), and Down (Jason Walker).

  • May 8, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    Release – pearl jam. Miss u & adams song – blink 182. Pyramid song & fake plastic trees – radiohead. Hummer & soma – smashing pumpkins. Everything’s not lost – Coldplay. Running to stand still – u2. Somewhere I belong – linkin park. Seasons – Chris cornell.

  • September 24, 2016 at 5:57 am

    I love Alice in Chains but listening to them now at 31, feels so different from when I was 15. It’s more depressing……

  • November 25, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    If you want wrist-cutting or just jump-off-a-bridge worthy songs, I recommend you listen to this little medley.
    1. A Beautiful Lie – 30 Seconds to Mars
    2. I Don’t Love You – My Chemical Romance
    3. Ohio is for Lovers – Hawthorne Heights
    4. The Reason – Hoobastank
    5. Never Too Late – Three Days Grace
    I think you get the point. 1, 4, and 5 always make me want to run into oncoming traffic because I depress myself even further by listening to these songs when I’m depressed. If none of these make you cry/question your existence. then you my friend, are winning. And I envy you.

  • April 2, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    Any song off “The Black Parade” album by My Chemical Romance.
    River of deceit– Mad Season (alice in Chains Layne Staley on lead vocals)
    Say Hello 2 Heaven — temple of the Dog ( tribute to Andy wood from Chris Cornell and Pearl Jam)

  • September 19, 2019 at 2:58 am

    tbh welcome to my life by simple plan though i don’t know if that counts as alternative rock?

  • May 12, 2021 at 1:16 pm

    “Tired of you”-Foo Fighters
    “Something in the way”-Nirvana
    “Like a stone”-Audioslave
    “I am the highway”-Audioslave
    “The night we met”-Lord Huron


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