The A.V. Club caused a sensation today with its list of eighteen “Songs That Make The A.V. Club Cry.” It’s been up about 12 hours and has 241 comments. Everybody wants to contribute a list of songs that make them cry. (Only a few people want to pooh-pooh the whole idea, thankfully.)
Rather than putting my personal sob-fests in the comments, I thought I’d list them here. These are songs that I absolutely cannot hear without weeping. In most cases, merely thinking about them is enough to have me reaching for a tissue. In no particular order:
1. Josh Rouse, “Michigan” This is one that Noel contributed to the main list, but it’s also the one that comes instantly to mind for me in this category. In this quiet recitation of a letter written by a teenage runaway to his parents, backed only by an acoustic guitar, Rouse sings about playing cards with his Uncle Ray and passes along a message from Aunt Terry — “She wants you to know she wrote a song” — before suddenly, without warning, in the middle of a verse, bursting out with “Mom, I’m sorry, I was wrong.” After pleading with them to understand why he couldn’t stay in Wichita (“where everyone knows everything about me”), he closes quietly: “Just want to be happy, love, your son.”
2. Lambchop, “Theone” This trembly plea from Kurt Wagner to his wife — “Scary sights/are the things that haven’t happened, but just might/Don’t think it over too quickly” — has the fragility of unilateral certainty. Wagner is trying to convince her to feel as he does, but all he can offer is his own metaphors: “I am the state/You are the flag/You are the one.” By the end, he is out of words and can only leave it up to her: “There’s the phone/and here’s the number/You are the one.”
3. Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, “Coma Girl” In the joyful/hopeful category — songs that make me cry not because they are sad, but because their particular brand of happiness touches me deeply — is this unlikely evocation of youth culture in the 1950’s. The part that turns on the waterworks is just after the bridge, heading into the final, driving choruses: “Into action everybody sprang/And the radio was beating out/Doo-lang, doo-lang …” Something about that speaks to my belief in the transcendence of pop music, its ability to provide the perfect aspiration for our lives.
4. Bruce Springsteen, “Atlantic City” “Put your makeup on/Fix your hair up pretty/And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.” A million Springsteen songs make me cry — “Thunder Road,” “Meeting Across The River,” “Stolen Car,” “If I Should Fall Behind” — so this will have to stand in for all of them. Again, it’s the exhortation to someone over whom the speaker doesn’t have control. All he can do is try to persuade her — often of something he doesn’t himself fully believe.
5. Stephen Sondheim, “Move On” And this will stand for just about the whole cast album for Sunday in the Park With George. I’m a puddle throughout at least three songs from that show. “Finishing the Hat” (“Coming from the hat/Studying the hat/Entering the world of the hat/Reaching through the world of the hat/Like a window/Back to this one from that”) tries desperately to explain the effort to make art that partakes of that transcendence. And “Sunday” (“By the cool blue triangular water/on the soft green elliptical grass/as we pass through arrangements of shadow/toward the verticals of trees/Forever…”) posits complete achievement of that transcendence in a single painting. “Move On” is a perfect example of that patented Sondheim closing song that helps the characters accept what’s happened to them but gives them hope as well (“No One Is Alone” from Into The Woods, a song Noel plans to have played at his funeral, is perhaps the epitome of this genre). “Stop worrying if your vision is new/Let others make that decision — they usually do” is a line that goes through my mind frequently.
6. Todd Rundgren, “Initiation” I’ll close with two songs from my formative years that still strike the perfect note with me — a clear, clarion call to beauty and yearning and hope. This lengthy number grabs me when the ringing guitar solo takes over from the distorted sax, then hits the gut when it segues into the chorus: “When the bells ring out/And the fire burns within and without/Initiation …”
7. ELO, “Bluebird” And here it’s the sudden, hushed acoustic section leading up to the final chorus: “I see it all, rainbows in fall/I see her face upon my wall/But it’s only make believe/Fly away, bluebird fly away for me/To a place somewhere far across the sea …”
What songs make you cry?