It isn't easy. The characters in a lot of Springsteen's songs face really desperate situations, but they hope. Like in Meeting Across the River. The singer is pulling off some illegal deal, but he says "And all we gotta do is hold up our end," and then things'll work out, his girl will "see this time I wasn't just talking."
Or the music is hopeful. Ronald Reagan was silly to try to claim Born in the USA, but its sound -- at least the album one -- is hopeful.
I decided to limit myself to official releases and only one song from any album because Springsteen has several albums with so many sad songs. You could do a top 10 from Nebraska alone.
I ruled out Born in the USA for its sound. I really like the song Downbound Train, but that dude has so much go wrong. Three jobs. His girl leaves. Just a comedy of crap. It's too much.
In Streets Of Philadelphia, written for the movie Philadelphia, the singer has AIDS. It's pretty sad, but there is a speck of hope. "Oh brother are you gonna leave me wasting away," he pleads. There is also Dead Man Walking. But both of these tell the movie stories so I did not pick them.
Here are the 10, then, but there are a ton more.
The title track to The River is pretty bleak, but neither member of The River couple resorts to stealing cars, hoping to get caught.
9. Reno, Devils & Dust
Devils & Dust is hard. Do you pick the title track;
And tonight faith just ain't enoughOr The Hitter about the son who becomes a street fighter/boxer, which ends with the line: "I move hard to the left and I strike to the face?"
When I look inside my heart
There's just devils and dust
In the end, I chose the song about the prostitute: Reno. I could not know the lyrics, which make sex into something totally mechanical and creepy, and I'd still want to cry. It sounds a lot like The Hitter.
We laughed and made a toast.
It wasn't the best I ever had,
Not even close.
Any song that has the singer begging in the refrain "don't you shut out the light" gets my vote for a sad song. Makes me feel good that Mom and Dad leave all sorts of lights on. It also reminds me of when Gram died. A neighbor told Mom that Gram always asked the neighbor why she left so many lights on. The neighbor told Mom that she turned all her lights on for Gram the day she died. It is about a guy returning from something, Vietnam? But nothing fits anymore.
sick of doin' straight time," and you know he goes back to crime.
I have to ignore Highway 29, about a shoe salesman turned murderous bank robber, and favorite Youngstown, when the singer hopes "the devil comes and takes me to stand in the fiery furnaces of hell" after his life at a steelworks.
6. I Wish I Were Blind, Human Touch
All the beautiful things in the world don't matter to the singer. He wishes he were blind "when I see you with your man." A friend in college said, Not a man alive doesn't know just what he means.
5. Rockaway the Days, Tracks
Yes, two from Tracks, but not the same disc. You know this song is going to be bad from the first lines:
4. Brilliant Disguise, Tunnel of Love
Anything from the second half of this album would fit. But all songs detailing a cheating spouse should sound this good. It is so catchy, I almost ruled it out. If I ever get married, I am not putting a willow underneath the bedroom window.
3. You're Missing, The Rising
Another album you could find most of a top 10 of sad songs if wanted. But You're Missing has always hit me hard. The line "God's drifting in heaven, devil's in the mailbox" just kills me. Seems to me a brilliant way of saying how far away and inaccessible God can seem, while sadness and evil are around all the damn time. That certainly was true around 9/11 when not everyone came home.
Yikes. That's bleak. I really hope manufacturing work is not that bad. Racing in the Streets is not much better, with its references to "one who hates for just being born."
I am not sure where to stand on Reason to Believe. Someone argued that it was mocking the little things people grasp to keep hoping. I hope it is a tribute to humanity's ability to hope in the face of overwhelming evil or sadness.
Highway Patrolman, about a good and bad brother, reminds me of a family who lived nearby. They were all good folks but for one who was in and out of jail his whole life. Now his brain is fried from drugs, prison, everything, and it is sad. I don't wish he had a highway patrolman brother to help him elude the law, but I wish he did have a brother who would, or maybe the right word is could, take care of him.