A regular feature in which our writers and photographers share their favourite tracks on a certain theme. This week, the songs that get them reaching for their hankies…
Stars – ‘Calendar Girl'(chosen by Kara Manning)
Much to my shame, I cry quite frequently along with songs, especially when in the thick of some romantic travail or melancholic mood. I’m a weeper. I’ve cried to New Order (‘Regret’), I’ve sobbed to Fleetwood Mac (‘Silver Springs’) and choked up over Radiohead (‘House of Cards’). I got very teary-eyed about two weeks ago when I saw Elbow perform ‘Lippy Kids’ at Terminal 5 in New York. Unfortunately, I also have a vivid and painful memory of hearing Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ at LaGuardia Airport just minutes after my stepmother called to tell me that my father had died. I was trying to catch the first flight to Florida to see him in hospital after he took a very dire turn following a heart attack, his sixth. I was too late. To this day, although Martin’s lazy lyric of “ignite your bones” irritates me, I still have an uneasy relationship with that song: I resent that it touches me so deeply since it ranks high as both treacle and a tune for Gwyneth. Yet I can’t dismiss it either; it makes me think of my dad. However, the one song that made me burst into tears the very first time I heard it – and I always cry when I listen to it – is Stars’ ‘Calendar Girl’ from their remarkable 2005 album Set Yourself On Fire. It’s a brilliant song. Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell never sounded as sweet and very sad together. And it hits the mark rather soundly. But as beautiful as it is, and although I rank it as one of my twenty favorite songs of all time … I tend to avoid it.
Leonard Cohen – ‘There Ain’t No Cure For Love’ (chosen by Dara Higgins)
Your heart is a machine, a clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous cardiac tissue that doesn’t come with a manual. All you get is a sprocket wrench and a pencil, and you end up writing “poems” with the pencil. One day, it breaks, and you don’t know how to fix it, because you’re young and you don’t know anything, and you’re fatalistic and you think; that’s it, I’m fucked, so there’s no other recourse than to sit in the dark with a box of Rothmans and the ashtray on your lap and dig out the most miserable tape you can think to listen to. I’m Your Man, by laughing Len Cohen. When he, like a kindly granddad brandishing the Werther’s Originals of doom, glumly intones “there ain’t no cure for love” you think that might just as well be it. Where do you go from there, this long dark babysitting your younger siblings night of the soul?
Then one day you realise it working again, and all it took was a was sugar on the cogs. In your impetuous, youthful fervour you thumb your nose at laughing Len and his ilk, skipping gaily through the emptied naggins of life. But Len is right, and it’s best to accept that, even take comfort in it, and gaze through that glass darkly at your younger self, blubbing like a charlie and laugh. There’s no cure, but it ain’t fatal. Giving up the Rothmans was also a good idea.
Lykke Li – ‘Possibility’ (chosen by Lucia Orlandi)
Lykke Li kicked off 2011 with Wounded Rhymes, a dark and expansive record, but track back to two years earlier and there’s ‘Possibility’, a song that utterly pulls at the heartstrings. When trying to choose something for this piece, I kept circling back to a recent memory of this song. A few months ago Lykke Li performed at The Phoenix in Toronto. Dressed in all black on a dimly lit stage, she played ‘Possibility’ towards the end of the set. Every emotion felt on that track played out right in front of me. The lyrics, the stripped back instrumentation, everything on this song fit perfectly, you could almost hear Lykke Li’s heart break with every word. I’m not a known fan of tearjerkers, but since then every time I listen to this song I can’t help but get a lump in my throat.
‘Theme to E.T.’ – John Williams (Chosen by Darragh McCausland)
Depending on how emotional I feel, a lot of songs can make me cry sad tears, such as Wayne Coyne singing about his deceased father in ‘Waitin’ for a Superman, or Glenn Campbell’s existential yearnings in ‘Wichita Lineman’. However, there is only one piece of music that is guaranteed to make me well up and splutter in a completely reflexive Pavlovian snotfest every single time I hear it, and that is John Williams’ extraordinary theme to E.T. Specifically the major theme swelling as Eliot. E.T. and the other kids fly through the twighlit suburbs and across the moon on their chopper bikes.
My tears at this scene aren’t sad per se. In fact, I don’t find myself crying at the really sad bit earlier, where E.T. is all wizened, grey, and shivery in the forest. The tears are instead a sort of cathartic release at an evocation of the magic of childhood; at a moving image set to music that communicates, very purely, something that we lose as we grow older. To recognise that depicted on screen, but realise at the same time that it is lost, is a deeply moving experience. Emotional overload, in fact. Whatever magic ran between Spielberg and Williams at the time should have been bottled, because it produced the absolute perfect movie soundtrack moment. Now hand me a tissue, before the snot wrecks my laptop.
Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism (chosen by Simon Roche)
On some idle day out walking with the headphones on I decided to compile a list of funeral songs – my final playlist as it were. Top of the list of songs that you hope would tug at the tear ducts of any girl you ever knew would have to be this, despite it tinting things in the style of a North American indie movie. From the first piano-struck minor chord the beautifully detailed narrative would fit into any given situation of loss (could be the loss of a cat or, eventually, the lost of a two-bit designer with music writing pretensions). As the “I need you so much closer” refrain repeats and the music builds and pulses, a mere change in the afternoon light could have you wailing publicly. When the voices multiply for the epic closing part, well, all bets on decorum are off. The full wet-cheeked effect can be enjoyed by watching the fan-shot edit of it performed live with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at The Hollywood Bowl, July 5, 2009. On a grand scale it may be the most tearjerking live performance of any song ever.
Ben Folds Five – ‘Brick’ (chosen by Phil Udell)
As our fellow editor Alan Reilly is about to find out, becoming a father puts you in touch with a range of emotional responses that you never knew you had. ‘Brick’ gets me every time, a pathos laden tale of a young couple and the child they choose not to have. Folds’ imagery is, as ever, spot on and the inevitably sad ending still hits you hard.
Steely Dan – ‘Reelin’ In The Years'(chosen by Alan Moore)
Ok, so your probably wondering why Steely Dan would make anyone shed a tear, but don’t forget that it’s the theme tune to the RTE program of the same name. Reeling In The Years has documented various memories of the Irish population from the 60s. Everything from Bloody Sunday in ’72, to Packie Bonners penalty save in the 1990 World Cup against Romania, has been pumped through our TVs since it first aired in 1999. Every time I hear the intro, I remember being 6 years old and I was taken up to The Square in Dundalk. We had just got through to the quarter finals. The town centre was awash with tri-colours, spilt beer, beeping car horns and similarly dressed drunken men celebrating the success of the Irish football team with tears of joy in their eyes. There’s probably a tearful memory for everyone in the 47 years currently covered by the series, but you’ll never see as many emotional men at one time then after a major sporting triumph.
Led Zeppelin – ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ (Chosen by Lisa Hughes)
Crying? ME? Course not. There’s something in my eye. It’s windy outside. I’ve been cutting onions. I’ve just seen those Jodie Marsh bodybuilder pics. Actually, no, I’ve been crying, but only because those heathens Page & Plant made me do it. Those women who drunkenly cry in pubs, while singing their hearts out to Michael Buble drive me crazy but if there’s one song that can make me run out of the pub, shop, movie, wherever it happens to be playing, in a hysterical heap it’s Led Zeppelin’s ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’. From the opening drawl of “working from 7…” to the moody, bluesy influences, this track plucks at my heart-strings with its claws.
Famed for their “I’ll kick your ass out of bed” hedonism, this track sees the mighty Zep forego mysticism in favour of good old-fashioned heartbreak and it seems even that Adonis himself, Robert Plant, isn’t immune to the ache of infidelity. Everytime I hear “I’ve really been the best, the best of fools” it’s hard not to feel the familiar pangs of betrayal. If someone’s played you for a fool, stamped across your heart in steel-capped boots or find yourself bedridden and a slave to the tears, let this be your soundtrack.
Foreigner – ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ (chosen by Josh Clarke)
In lieu of ever having anything majorly sad or traumatic happening to me thus far in life I have to settle for the genuine tears of others. Pop music is a treasure trove of heartache and pain. In Foreigner’s epic 1984 hit, tears are jerked on a number of levels. He lives a lonely, desperate life. He is a shell of a man, nothing alone. But there’s hope. A woman’s love would complete him. Coupled with balladry of a power rarely matched, the last ditch effort of this man, to find “the one” will have you bubbling with belief in the redemptive power of love. And cry to fade.
Jeff Buckley – ‘Lover You Should’ve Come Over’ (chosen by Dave Donnelly)
I remember clearly the day that I fell totally, involuntarily for Jeff Buckley. I was 15, it was 6.30 on a Friday evening and I’d just got my first ever pay check after a week of laying carpets on a building site in Celtic Tiger Dublin. My young body was incalculably shattered, I could barely keep my eyes open, yet I was determined to stay awake as far as ‘Hallelujah.’ Today I love every second, every note, of the album, but that day I was just determined to make it as far as what had become my favourite song. Anything else would have been a bonus, and so it turned out with the next song. ‘Lover, You Should Have Come Over’ stunned me. The hum of the church organ, the elegance of the vocal harmonies – it was so evocative of something I couldn’t even understand it was disarming. The song is a complete fiction – Buckley was imagining the untimely funeral of his one true love – yet it’s a tragically immersive experience. For me at least, it epitomises that precise moment, when your chest tightens and you feel that indescribable, euphoric pressure coming straight from your guts, when you understand why it is you’re the critic and he’s the musician.
Mumford & Sons – ‘Sigh No More’ (chosen by Lisa Marie Cunningham)
The tender opening guitar chords of ‘Timshell’ delicately sets the tone for Marcus’s haunting vocals, which intermingled with the mesmerising harmonies of the band; leaves you frozen in hushed reverence as the tender lyrics engulfs you in a kaleidoscope of emotions. Memories of loved ones pour through you as the song pulls at your heart-strings, and you are left reflecting on old relationships, friendships and family. The first time I heard this song live, I was left in a muted trance, tears trickling down my face as my mind kept racing to all the people I missed in life, while reminding me those who are always there for me. At the best of times Mumford and Sons have heart wrenching, tear jerking lyrics down to a T but this song is the climax of them all for me.
Four Tet – ‘My Angel Rocks Back and Forth’ (chosen by John Joe Worrall)
People, as Jerry Seinfeld once said, they are the worst. In terms of tearjerkers, they certainly are for me anyway. I find that people, or more precisely singers, get in the way when it comes to letting emotions vent. I really only ever feel fragile during this wordless tune, which is usually followed by 40 minutes of trying to build myself up again with the similarly sparse Bassplayer album from The Beans. The four songs on that album, combined with Four Tet’s most recognisable moment are my go-to tunes when remembering a friend who died about a decade ago. There’s something about the open landscape of instrumental music that the rude of interruption of lyrics can never match.
Take something as drop dead gorgeous as ‘Atlantic City’ and the line “everything dies baby that’s a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back”. Never once do I listen to that and not think of my friend, but by the time Bruce has told his girlfriend to put her make up on and get her hair real pretty, I’m back in his world and out of mine. The night before he died, I was also listening to Campag Velocet, and in similar fashion to pretty much everyone else out there I never want to hear from them again, so that rules them out too.
But ‘My Angel Rocks Back and Forth’ gets me every time. For the first year of listening to it I didn’t even know its name. Another friend gave me a copied CD with no titles on it other than “Fourtet” scribbled across the cover. It was just ‘the fourth track’ and it was magnificent. A simple, gentle five minutes, where you’re free to insert whatever you’re feeling into the notes be it anger, fear, heartbreak or simply trawling back through memories. People, they are not the worst.
The Fall – ‘I’m Going to Spain’ (chosen by Conor McCaffrey)
Mark E Smith in poignant song shocker. It’s not often the Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall veers down a heartfelt path, but this cover of an obscure 1978 Steve Bent track captures the small town naivety of a no-hoper who’s cashed in his chips for a life in the sun. Amid breezy synths and clumsy castanets, Smith croons about following his cousin Norman to Spain, with his tearful mum’s premium bonds and “some tapes of Elton John” from the lads on the factory floor. “I think it’s time I saw the world,” he sings, but I dare you not to go all glassy-eyed when you realise he’s heading to some grim resort and he’ll be back home before Christmas, asking for his shitty job back.