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Top Ten Indie Music Tearjerkers

Posted on 29 September 2010 by Joe

Time for a bit of emotion now as we look at some of our favourite tunes that make us weep. Some are so emotional that the artists themselves can barely play them live without crying. Some take on issues of grief, mourning, the end of a relationship and in one case the decline of an entire country. Sit back, make sure you’ve got a good supply of tissues and chocolates and weep to  our list of the top ten indie/alternative music tearjerkers of all time.

1. Sufjan Stevens – Casimir Pulaski Day

This track from Sufjan Steven’s classic album Illionoise for us at Neonfiller.com is the most heart-wrenching, tear jerking indie/alternative music track of all time as he remembers the death of a former girlfriend from bone cancer.

The song opens powerfully, with the protagonist finding out about the disease and her eventual death. He remembers their past and moments of teenage love. The father’s grief as well is laid bare. “Your father cried on the telephone, And he drove his car to the Navy yard, Just to prove that he was sorry.”

As the song goes on the man’s grief worsens as he struggles to reconcile the devastating loss with his faith. The final lines sums this up perfectly, “Oh the glory when he took our place, But he took my shoulders and he shook my face, And he takes and he takes and he takes.” A true weepy.

2. Hefner – Good Fruit

Hefner’s Darren Hayman excels in songs about lost love and relationship breakdowns. ‘Good Fruit’ from Hefner’s third album, We Love the City, is one of the band’s best singles and probably their saddest.

Sung on the last day of a failing relationship as Hayman tries and fails to convince his lover to stay. The sound of the song perfectly reflects the feelings it portrays. Playful and melodic as he sings of their first moments “You were just there, in the right place, You smoothed out the wrinkles on my face” and shouty and more abrasive at the final point of her leaving. His final emotions being at odds with the situation he finds himself in.

“Cause I’m not supposed to feel like this, not when you’re leaving”

3. Yo La Tengo – Tears Are In Your Eyes

Yo La Tengo are well known for their wall of sound and squealing feedback, but few bands do soft and tender better. Georgia Hubley’s soft, almost broken, vocals are perfect and the instrumentation is sad and beautiful.

Sung to someone who is suffering, possibly from a bereavement (although this is never stated) it is an offer of hope that they can come back from the darkest place. If anything the positive undertones make the song, and the suffering of the individual, seem even sadder.

“Although you don’t believe me, you are strong, darkness always turns into the dawn. And you won’t even remember this for long, when it ends alright.”

4. Shipbuilding – Robert Wyatt

Shipbuilding by Elvis Costello, about the decline of industry and working communities  in 1980s  Britain, is arguably one of the greatest political songs of all time.

But when covered by Robert Wyatt it also because one of the greatest tearjerkers of all times. The song looks at a  declining ship building community who are given hope that some big contracts are coming in. But there’s a rub to “this rumour that was spread about town.”  The ships to be built are for the navy to take their sons to war in the Falklands.

When sung by Wyatt the song takes a new twist. He actually sounds like one of the dock workers struggling for money, desperate for work and waving goodbye to his son, “who could be home before Christmas.”

5. The Miserable Rich – The Knife Throwers Hand

There’s room for interpretation here, but whichever way you look at it Knife Thrower’s Hand will leave you an emotional wreck. It tells the tale of a knife thrower who has either killed the woman he loves by accident, or fears he will. I take it that he already has.

Drink is involved and he has the shakes, but is that the cause of the accident or does he drink to forget. “Why can’t your dress have been made of tin” he begs. On another level this could be a metaphor for loss of confidence and depression of any artist, unable to carry on with their craft. Whatever interpretation tears are guaranteed.

04 The Knife Thrower’s Hand by The Miserable Rich

6. Sad Eyes – Josh Rouse

Josh Rouse is another master of the mournful masterpiece. The song itself doesn’t need much analysis, the lyrics speak for themselves.

“You’re so young and so bored, you were staying out ’til late cause it was what your husband hated. But, oh, it’s too bad cause he’s stolen all your happiness
and good times.”

The original version is the one to listen to, originally on the Bedroom Classics EP and also on the Rykodisc ‘Best Of’ collection. It is a beautiful arrangement that fits perfectly with the mood of the lyrics. The version on Nashville is good as well, but sacrifices emotion a little for the more bombastic instrumentation in the final third.

7. The Mountain Goats – Pale Green Things

John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats has written reams of tearjerkers but it is this, the final track on Sunset Tree, an album recalling his teenage years drunk, on drugs and living with an abusive stepfather where the tears really flow.

Pale Green Things finishes the album perfectly, in which he is told of his stepfather’s death and remembers a rare good time with him, at the horse track. The sense of grief, anger, happiness and even ambivalence all rolled into this masterpiece make it a true tearjerker. Darnielle is also clearly moved by it. In an interview with 3:AM magazine in 2007 he said: “I am especially fond of Pale Green Things which I think is maybe the deepest down I’ve ever reached, which is why Ive only played it live once or twice.”


8. Killdozer – Knuckles the Dog

Teary songs aren’t what you’d normally expect from gravel voiced, faux-Communist, dirge-grunge act Killdozer. However, this tale of a dog saved from the glue factory by a handicapped boy (the songs narrator) is worthy of Simon Bates’ ‘Our Tune’.

Knuckles trips to the nursing home to visit the elderly “abandoned by their own children” is heart warming, but when you get to his untimely death there will not be a dry eye in the house. His leap in front of a bullet, meant for his wheelchair bound master, is a real choker.

“Knuckles the dog who helps people, now you are forever free”

9. Grandaddy – Jed The Humanoid

‘Jed the Humanoid’ is our second non-human subject for a tearjerker, but it is no less sad for that. In the song a group of humans build a thinking, feeling robot that ends up teaching them how to solve problems.

Despite this he is just a gadget to them and they lose interest in him over time. Finally, sad, lonely and abandoned, he drinks all their booze and dies.

It is only then that they realise how much he meant. “Last night something pretty bad happened. We lost a friend”.

10. Ryan Adams – Come Pick Me Up

Ryan Adams has a reputation for his erratic performances and tossing off albums (under a variety of guises) but his song writing is often very heartfelt. His first solo album, Heartbreaker, is sad songs of break-up and lost love from start to finish and ‘Come Pick Me Up’ is its masterpiece.

He is so desperate to have his lost love back that he begs her to fuck him up, steal his records and screw his friends, all with a smile on her face. These acts are presumably what lead to their break-up in the first place.  And now that he has lost her he misses her so much he is desperate for her to do those things again, just so they can be together.

If you have any other suggestions for great indie tearjerkers please post a comment below, or add them to our Spotify Playlist.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers.

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13 Comments For This Post

  1. Leon Says:

    A fantastic list, though I am not (yet) familiar with every last track on there. Everyone has their own personal weepies of course, which tend to change as the years go by. One that chokes me up every time these days is BMFA by Martha Wainwright. A song totally personal to her but of course the sentiment is universal & that makes it a crowd favourite (which must be weird). The ludicrously powerful/tender vocal performance is more than the icing on the cake.

  2. admin Says:

    I love that track too. About her dad I think.

  3. emma Says:

    got to be monterrey honey by cotton mather… gets me every time

  4. matt Says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ucN4DActxA

    how can there be no mention of daniel johnston?? i can’t listen to his music without getting a little depressed

  5. admin Says:

    keep ‘em coming…all these are great additions to our list. Love the last Daniel Johnston album by the way…ironically a contender for one of the happiest albums of all time.

  6. Sam Says:

    Elliott Smith’s ‘The Biggest Lie’ and ‘Miss Misery’

  7. Matt T Says:

    It’s a sad re-working of an otherwise jaunty number that gets me everytime! If you can find CUD’s version of ‘Only a prawn in Whitby’ that was put out on the Airspace Album – then play it and feel the yearning. I think it’s in my last remnants of Vinyl that I can’t bear to bin.

  8. Nick P Says:

    Great list and some new to me, enjoying listening through each one…
    That guy who has CUD on vinyl must be quite elderly. (Hi Matt)

  9. Steve Z Says:

    Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters) – I’m Sorry
    Flaming Lips – They Punctured My Yolk
    No Bright Eyes? May I suggest ‘It’s Cool, We Can Still Be Friends’
    Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Maps
    Daniel Johnston – Hey Joe

    I could go on all day :)

  10. The Prince of Eridge Says:

    the saddest song I know is “brick” by Ben Folds Five

  11. Joe Says:

    Prince of Eridge, love that song too

    …Ben Folds did make this top ten tho about parenthood.

    http://www.neonfiller.com/wordpress/?p=1328

    and another, for his excellent cover of Bitches Ain’t Shit

    http://www.neonfiller.com/wordpress/?p=383

  12. MAQ Says:

    erm. Lyle Lovett – She has already made up her mind. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofv9goALt3c

  13. Matt Says:

    How about transcontinental by pedro the lion?

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