36 Songs To Soothe the Pain

Wondering Sound Staff

By Wondering Sound Staff

on 02.09.12 in Lists

Whether you’re happily married or told Cupid to shove it a long time ago, we can all agree on one thing: to quote the one-and-only Nazareth, “Love hurts/ Love scars/ Love wounds/ And mars.” Or something.

That’s why we went ahead and compiled a list of 36 Songs To Soothe the Pain, from the bloodletting confessionals of Neko Case, Bright Eyes and Sunny Day Real Estate to the melancholic melodies of Sigur Rós, the Shangri-Las and Radiohead.

As Tom Waits once put it, “Misery’s the river of the world/ Everybody row.”



Joni Mitchell

The Song: For many people, Christmas is the best time of the year, but in one of Joni Mitchell's most-loved songs, the Canadian songwriter would rather be anywhere than in the middle of a celebration, as she sings about losing a lover and wishing she could teach her feet to fly away. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "I'm so hard to handle/ I'm selfish and I'm sad/ Now I've gone and lost the best baby/ That I ever had/ I wish I had a river I could skate away on" Laura Leebove


The Song: Canadian singer-songwriter Julie Doiron excels in writing songs for when a relationship leaves you feeling completely gutted. "In This Dark" finds her in tears, wearing an ugly coat and foggy, broken glasses, wondering why things always go sour just when they were just starting to look up. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "Every time things go so well/ I think of all the things that have gone this wrong/ Timing's never been worse." Laura Leebove


You (Understood)

Samantha Crain

The Song: Samantha Crain's voice is soothing and soulful, and while much of her music is rich folk-rock, the stripped-down "We Are the Same" sounds like a lullaby. But even in its comforting finger-picked guitar and hushed vocals, it's also devastating: It sounds like it tells the story of watching someone you're in love with get hurt by their lover, and wishing you could be with them instead. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "That night when I saw your eyes, I knew it was the worst thing/ I wanted to find her and tell her all the hurting she put you through" LL


Fake Plastic Trees


The Song: "Fake Plastic Trees" is one of Radiohead's most bombastic, arena-ready anthems a straightforward sky-scraper that drove Thom Yorke to tears by the third take. Fun fact: guitarist Ed O'Brien once said that early versions of the single sounded like Guns N' Roses at their most elegantly bloated, a.k.a. "November Rain." The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "She lives with a broken man/ A cracked polystyrene man/ Who just crumbles and burns/ He used to do surgery/ For girls in the '80s/ But gravity always wins" Andrew Parks


The Song: Years before they wrote a ravenous indie rock record (2011's No Devolucin LP), Thursday covered "n Batter," a chilling standout from Sigur Rs's breakthrough album. While the link between Icelandic pixies and Jersey-bred punks may seem loose at best, the connection clicks right into place as the original patiently builds to a cacophonous climax that'll leave you feeling cleansed and sufficiently clobbered. The Line That Gets Us Every Time (translated from Hopelandic): "The electricity is gone/ I want to cut and slice myself to death/ But I don't have the courage" AP


The Song: Leave it to Conor Oberst to spend an entire song lamenting the lust vs. love quotient of a road-tripping rock star and make it work someway, somehow as "Lover I Don't Have To Love" unloads Oberst's emotional baggage and bottles of cheap red wine in equal measure. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "I want a lover I don't have to love/ I want a boy who's so drunk he doesn't talk/ Where's the kid with the chemicals/ I got a hunger and I can't seem to get full" AP


Remain In Light

Talking Heads

The Song: We know what you're thinking: what's Talking Heads' cheeriest hit doing on a list of Debbie Downers? Well, depending on how bleak your world view is, "Once in a Lifetime" can either be interpreted as a relatively harmless midlife crisis or an existential exploration of just how absurd our very existence is. It's as if David Byrne's answer to "What does it all mean?" is a simple "Who cares? It's all bullshit anyway!" Brutal; absolutely brutal. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "Same as it ever was" AP


The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground

The Song: Inspired by the troubled life of Candy Darling a fellow Factory figure/Warhol superstar "Candy Says" follows a simple chord progression down a path that's marked by reversed gender roles, indecision and death. Five years later, the 29-year-old actress lost a battle with leukemia, leaving the following note behind: "Unfortunately before my death I had no desire left for life I am just so bored by everything. You might say bored to death. [Did] you know I couldn't last? I always knew it. I wish I could meet you all again." The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "What do you think I'd see/ If I could walk away from me" AP


The Song: Speaking of Candy Darling, the cover of Antony and the Johnsons's I Am a Bird Now LP is a noir-ish shot of the trans icon on her deathbed. A fitting sleeve when you consider Antony Hegarty's own gender-bending ideals, and the specter of inescapable sadness that haunts spare, spellbinding songs like the opening track on this award-winning album, "Hope There's Someone." The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "Oh I'm scared of the middle place/ Between light and nowhere/ I don't want to be the one/ Left in there, left in there" AP


The Song: Explosions in the Sky aren't the first band to tread a peak/valley/peak path to post-rock (Hello Mogwai! How you doing, Dirty Three!), but there's no denying the tear duct-tapping prowess of instrumental epics like "Your Hand In Mine." While we probably would have cried our way through Friday Night Lights without the string-laced version that's featured on the film's score, these Texans helped push the T.V. show translation into blubbering mess territory. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: Probably the part where everything suddenly gets loud AP


An Introduction to Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith

The Song: As if the suicide attempt scene in The Royal Tenebaums wasn't dire enough, Wes Anderson went ahead and scored Luke Wilson's slashed wrists with the Elliott Smith song "Needle in the Hay." A beautiful tune, sure, but also one of the quietest storms in a catalog that was tumultuous to begin with. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "I can't beat myself/ And I don't want to talk/ I'm taking the cure so I can be quiet" AP


The Song: Like many LPs that were cut in the Year of Chillwave, Beach House's breakthrough is a nostalgic affair. Not musically so much as lyrically, however, as evidenced through the longing and loss of "Walk in the Park." If there's any song on Teen Dream that proves the Baltimore duo's stadium-sized aspirations, it's this bleak power ballad. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "The face that you saw in the door isn't looking at you anymore/ The name that you call in its place isn't waiting for your embrace" AP


Movement [Collector's Edition]

New Order

The Song: The surviving members of Joy Division didn't have to scrap their name after Ian Curtis's suicide; they chose to, rebooting the band with a slightly tweaked sound and no clear frontman. Not yet, at least. If anything, Curtis's ghost presides over the comfortably numb haze of songs like "Senses," a track that may or may not be about the questions a suicide can leave forever unanswered. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "No reason ever was given" AP


The Song: Where to start with Sunny Day Real Estate's finest hour easily one of emo's greatest contributions to the indie rock canon? How about "In Circles," a gold standard of broken soft/loud poetics that makes us want to weep and punch a wall at the same time. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "And I dream/ To heal your wounds/ But I bleed myself/ I bleed myself" AP


Closing Time

Tom Waits

The Song: Before Tom Waits became Tom Waits, he was playing the part of a lonesome barfly on his 1973 debut, Closing Time. Free of carnival barker chaos and clattering noise, it begins with the lovelorn, married-to-the-road lyrics of "Ol' 55," a song the Eagles famously covered, and Waits rightfully decried. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "Just a wishin' I'd stayed a little longer/ Oh lord, that feeling's getting' stronger" AP


The Song: Tim Kasher channels his own divorce on Domestica, a concept album starring "Sweetie" and "Pretty Baby," a plate-throwing couple far more doomed than their sappy names suggest. "The Martyr" is cynicism at its finest, laughing in the face of crocodile tears and self-lacerating singers. Like Cursive's labelmate Conor Oberst, only more likely to have a genuine nervous breakdown. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "Get on that cross/ That's all your good for" AP



Bill Withers

The Song: Don't be fooled by its lithe, loosely-funky instrumentation. Beneath the simmering surface of "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh" is a bruised-but-beating heart. In this expertly-controlled tearjerker, Withers gets at the cruel duality of love that it's precisely the intensity and passion that makes love worth experiencing that causes it to sting so badly once its gone. It's a sentiment expressed just as eloquently, and perhaps more famously, by one Juliet Capulet, "My only love sprung from my only hate!" The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "I've given all I have to give/ And if you don't want me, I don't want to live" J. Edward Keyes


When The Pawn...

Fiona Apple

The Song: The catalog of Fiona Apple doesn't want for heartbreakers, but even amongst such dewy-eyed competition, "Paper Bag" feels especially wrenching. Its central conceit is brilliant: Apple starts the song optimistic, convinced the man she loves will be hers and spotting a dove in the sky as confirmation of this belief. But as the bird dives to earth, so do Apple's hopes, as her high-flying friend is revealed to be nothing more than a piece of trash. It's all downhill from there, Apple slowly breaking down until she considers, at the last second, perhaps the boy really isn't worth all the fuss. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "I know I'm a mess he don't wanna clean up" JEK


Fur And Gold

Bat For Lashes

The Song: Unlike many of the other songs in this roundup, in "What's a Girl to Do," it's Bat for Lashes's Natasha Khan who's doing the ditching. Not that she sounds especially happy about it. She spends the song's opening verses stalling as her lover tries to get an answer from her on Where They're At, until she finally caves in the chorus. What makes the song sting so much is its sense of sad inevitability. Neither Khan nor her beloved did anything wrong, the whole endeavor just lost steam. Having someone to blame would at least have allowed for some healthy venting. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "When you've loved so long/ That the thrill is gone/ And your kisses at night/ Are replaced by tears" JEK


The Very Best Of Otis Redding

Otis Redding

The Song: You can hear the desperation in Otis's voice right out of the gate on this slow-burn R&B classic a panicked man making one last heartbroken plea to a lover who's standing in the doorway, coat on, bags packed. From that moment on, "I've Been Loving You Too Long" seems to unfold in real time. The song unnerves because it perfectly conveys the feeling of a man staring into the romantic void and finding it simply too bleak to comprehend. Its crescendos are meted out carefully, bursting in like panic attacks and vanishing just as quickly. The song ends without resolution, leaving an increasingly worked-up Redding hollering "Please, please, please" as the band swells behind him. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "You are tired/ And you want to be free/ My love's grown stronger as you've become a habit to me" JEK


The Best Of

Joy Division

The Song: All the more devastating because it's true, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" ruthlessly chronicles the final days of Ian Curtis's marriage to his wife Deborah before he killed himself in May of 1980. If any song sounds like it's floating in from the afterlife, it's this one. Curtis's magnificently morose voice delivers sets a scene of loneliness and emotional desolation that's worthy of Raymond Carver as synths settle in like mist on a fresh grave. That it somehow managed to become the band's biggest hit is proof indeed that misery loves company. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "Do you cry out in your sleep?/ All my failings exposed?/ And there's a taste in my mouth/ As desperation takes hold" JEK


Sings Lonely And Blue

Roy Orbison

The Song: If ever there was a voice made to sing sorrow, it was Roy Orbison's. In both of its forms the tendor, trembling tenor as well as the big, weepy falsetto it never fails to sound less than genuinely anguished a quality on devastating display on "Only the Lonely." But the trick of the song is the backing vocals. They appear like a cynical, mocking Greek chorus, punctuating Orbison's laments with frivolous doo-wop syllables that render him the pop music equivalent of the tragic clown. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "Only the lonely/ Know the heartaches I've been through/ Only the lonely/ Know I cried and cried for you" JEK



The Cure

The Song: OK, true story: Philadelphia, circa 1999. I'm driving home from the dance party Making Time. It's 3 a.m., and I'm somewhere on the vast stretch of I-95 that connected Center City to my home in suburban Lansdale. I am listening to Pornography, trying not to fall asleep. It's pitch black, and my headlights are only illuminating a few feet of road in front of me. And then, as if I was a participant in one of the most chilling horror film sequences of all time, the second the skin-crawling, stomach-churning cellos that open "Cold" kick in, I hit a long patch of road that is covered in animal blood. Needless to say, I was wide awake for the rest of the ride. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "Screaming at the moon/ another pastime/ your name/ like ice into my heart" JEK


The Song: "November" is the musical equivalent of that first bitterly cold day of autumn, when you realize you that spring is a long way off, and your only friends are your couch and an old blanket. Credit the sweet harmonies of folk pop duo Azure Ray for reminding us that although Seasonal Affective Disorder sucks the life out of us, it can also be so pretty sometimes. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "I was afraid to be alone / Now I'm scared that's how I like to be" Maris Kreizman


The Rakamonie EP


The Song: It's heartbreaking enough when the Swedish pop dynamo brings her songs of unrequited love to the dancefloor. But when the songs are stripped down acoustically to just a tinkling piano and Robyn's fragile vocals, get ready to be destroyed. As a ballad, "Be Mine" bypasses whimsy and becomes downright devastating in the very best way. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "It's a cruel thing you'll never know all the ways I tried / It's a hard thing faking a smile when I feel like I'm falling apart inside" MK


The Song: It will surely always be awkward when you run into an ex at a party, but Canadian indie rockers Stars take such mortification to a darker place in their he-said/she-said tearjerker. If their vocals are reserved and their demeanor decisively cool, then it's the instrumental buildup towards the song's conclusion that hints at the raw emotions that still linger, the hearts that still pound, still break. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "I'm not sorry I met you / I'm not sorry it's over / I'm not sorry there's nothing to save" MK


The Song: Here's a classic example of why frontman Will Sheff's lyrics are so often described as literary. "A Stone" is a sinuous metaphor about unrequited love, the story of a woman who prefers the company of a cold and dead-inside rock of a person instead of the warm and passionate man who adores her. Okkervil River's sound has since grown bigger and more complex, but this cathartic little fable of a song still cuts deep. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "You're out singing songs / And I'm down shouting names / At the flickerless screen, going fucking insane" MK


The Song: The songs on performance artist Mikhaela Maricich's breakthrough album with YACHT's Jona Bechtolt are mostly a mix of sparse electronic beats paired with clever lyrics always cute, never cloying. So "True Affection" comes as a closing jolt, a wellspring of straight up sadness that follows more playful confections, a heartfelt lament for a love that no matter how all-consuming and intense was never meant to be. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "I love the place where we shared our tiny grace / But just because it's real don't mean it's gonna work" MK


The Song: It's the classic girl group song in which every verse sounds like a sob, each line a perfect little howl of teenage angst. But then we get to the chorus, with its cool-girl finger snaps and softly sung words and whispered shouts of "Remember!" as if reminding us that, even when your guy finds another girl and you're left lonely and bereft, style is just as important as substance. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "Oh, what will happen to / The life I gave to you? / What will I do with it now?" MK


The Song: How can you go out and have fun when you know you've made a huge mistake, when you're haunted by the smell of an ex-lover you foolishly let go? With equal parts sweetness, rage and regret, British folk trio Peggy Sue explore this predicament in "Yo Mama," a song on which only the title is jokey. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "We're only young for just this once and then we're done / I couldn't stay to watch you gray but now I see your face in everyone" MK


Stoned And Dethroned

Jesus And Mary Chain

The Song: Sometimes what you really need is that sweetly valedictory kiss-off, the goodbye song to play to yourself while you walk around feeling magnanimous. This honeyed, sighing little Hallmark card is just the thing. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: Does it get anymore direct than "I can't live without you/ But I'll try/ You make the comedown easy/ You've been a friend"? Put that in your senior high-school yearbook signing and smoke it. Jayson Greene


Let It Be

The Replacements

The Song: This lovelorn, prolonged hangover of a song could be about anything, really; it's mostly a repetition of the song's title over a fumbling bunch of sweet-toned guitar chords. But that means that it can be about Everything: wandering around with Paul Westerberg hollering roughly in your ear is one of the surest ways to dig yourself to the bottom of whatever hole of self-pity you are traveling towards at the moment. Trust us: this one's a tonic for the worst heartache. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: It's a two-way tie between the simple, roughly hollered "Look me in the eye and tell me that I'm satisfied," which really cuts to the heart of things, or the broken, disconnected way he mumbles, "Everything I've ever wanted/ Tell me what's wrong." JG


The Tigers Have Spoken

Neko Case

The Song: Lots of choices on this live album, but we have to go with "If You Knew," a classic little story of "I can treat you better than she/he can." These songs are often sung by mousy, retiring types, both male and female: this one has the distinct advantage of being sung by, well, Neko Case. When she hollers "If you knew what I know," it's hard not to stop dead in your tracks. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "Cause if you knew what I know/ Babe you wouldn't leave me/ You wouldn't turn away from my love/ It's what you said that you believed in." Shades of Ray Charles in his classic, downcast "You Don't Know Me" mode. JG


The Song: Undersung Detroit folk-rock genius Sixto Rodriguez had a way with wistful, heart-squeezingly direct love songs: "Forget It," off of Cold Fact, is a warm goodbye that plays like Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" drained of bile and rancor. But if you truly want to be flattened, there's no beating "I Think Of You," from his earlier record Coming From Reality. Over a sun-shot flamenco tumble of acoustic guitar, Rodriguez reflects and reflects, and reflects on a lost love. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "Now these thoughts are haunting me/ Of how complete I used to be." The hollowed-out flipside to the Jerry Maguire saccharine of "You complete me." JG


Be My Baby: The Very Best of The Ronettes

The Ronettes

The Song: Ronnie Spector could sell Eternal Heartbreak like no voice before or since, and on this one, Phil Spector's Wall of Sound grows so huge it threatens to topple down around everything. The Line That Gets Us Every Time: "All of my dreams, I dreamed with you/ Now they will die and never come true" JG