Relationship heartache is a common theme of many melancholy songs, as demonstrated by this 2007 track by Alison Sudol -- better known as A Fine Frenzy -- where she looked back regretfully on her "almost lover." "So long, my luckless romance / My back is turned on you," Sudol sang in resigned fashion. "I should've known you'd bring me heartache / Almost lovers always do."
Producer Rick Rubin suggested that 70-year-old Johnny Cash record the Nine Inch Nails song 'Hurt' in 2002, and the music legend ended up with one of the defining songs of his career. In Cash's hands, the song about drug addiction became a haunting rumination on mortality and one of the most melancholy songs of the '00s.
'Wish You Were Here'
Pink Floyd wrote 'Wish You Were Here' partly about former member Syd Barrett , who left the band and had a mental breakdown. Bassist Roger Waters has stated that 'Wish You Were Here' was one of the few Pink Floyd songs where the lyrics were written before the music.
In 2001 singer-songwriter Gary Jules teamed with film score composer Michael Andrews to record the Tears for Fears hit 'Mad World.' Featured in the final scene of the film 'Donnie Darko,' the stripped-down remake, that prominently features piano and Jules' voice, was a worldwide success, hitting No. 1 in the UK.
First appearing on LaMontagne's self-released 'One Lonesome Saddle' album, 'Shelter' was re-recorded for the singer's 2004 major-label debut 'Trouble.' "If you shelter me too, I will shelter you," LaMontagne sang earnestly. American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson turned new fans onto the song when she performed it at the benefit for Hurricane Katrina victims.
'The First Days of Spring'
Noah and the Whale experienced an upheaval when background vocalist Laura Marling broke up with singer Charlie Fink and left the band before their second album. Fink proceeded to write the introspective 'The First Days of Spring,' a lovelorn track with majestic string swells that included Fink's optimistic wish, "I'm still here hoping that one day you may come back."
Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice has been dubbed "The King of Pain" by some publications because of his penchant for writing gut-wrenchingly sad tunes. '9 Crimes' was a duet with Lisa Hannigan, whose angelic vocals contrasted beautifully with Rice's brooding delivery. The 2006 track from Rice's album '9' has been featured in 'True Blood,' as well as 'Grey's Anatomy.'
'Fade Into You'
With a dreamy melody and wistful, slide guitar, Mazzy Star's 'Fade Into You' wasn't a typical pop ballad -- but achieved success nonetheless, reaching No. 3 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and earning heavy airplay on MTV and VH1. Though the Santa Monica band never earned another significant hit, this masterpiece is widely regarded as one of the best melancholy songs.
'Don't Bring Me Down'
Australian singer Sia is known for her vocal work with electronic duo Zero 7, but her solo material has garnered plenty of attention on its own. "Don't bring me down / I beg you / Don't bring me down / I won't let you," Sia sang on this down-tempo, trip hop-influenced track from her 2004 album 'Colour the Small One.'
With a title like 'Sorrow,' it's no surprise this 2010 track by Brooklyn-based band The National ends up as our choice for the best melancholy song. The glum opening line, "Sorrow found me when I was young / Sorrow waited, sorrow won," delivered by deep baritone singer Matt Berninger, set the tone for a gripping tale of longing and loneliness.