Science Says Our Music Is Getting More Depressing


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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33 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Some songs with a low happiness index in 2014 include “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith, “Whispers” by Passenger and “Unmissable” by Gorgon City. Some from 1985 with a high happiness index include “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen, “Would I Lie to You?” by the Eurythmics, and “Freedom” by Wham!

    I have never heard of Sam Smith, Passenger, or Gorgon City.

    Maybe the problem with kids today is that they’re listening to people nobody has ever heard of.

    More to the point, Glory Days is the most depressing song in the world. What is is about? A couple of alkies sitting in a bar and one of them refuses to talk about how he is doing today because he is talking about the past and how the past used to be good compared to today.

    Would I Lie To You? is similarly depressing. Here’s some lyrics for you to enjoy:
    Tell you straight – no intervention.
    To your face – no deception.
    You’re the biggest fake.
    That much is true.
    Had all I can take.
    Now I’m leaving you

    And Wham’s Freedom is a song about a guy whose… I don’t even know if she’s his girlfriend… is running around on him. Some more lyrics for you:
    Like a prisoner who has his own key
    But I can’t escape until you love me
    I just go from day to day
    Knowing all about the other boys
    You take my hand and tell me I’m a fool
    To give you all that I do
    I bet you someday baby
    Someone says the same to you
    But you know that I’ll forgive you
    Just this once twice, forever
    ‘Cause baby, you could drag me to hell and back
    Just as long as we’re together
    And you do

    You want a happy song? Here’s a goddamn happy song:

    Come up with *ANYTHING* from the 80’s that is *HALF* that upbeat.

    Even the best, seriously, the absolute best song from the last 50 years (which happens to be from the 80s) is pretty dang melancholy.

    This article is topsy-turvy. And now I’m sitting here yelling at the computer because, seriously, this is so wrong that I can’t think that the researchers have a bet that say “seriously, nobody’s going to read this and point out that these songs aren’t upbeat” “YOU’RE ON!”.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine says:

      You want a *really* happy song?

      Go-on I dare ya’ to click that link, not this one.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I don’t know if Puddles negates those.Report

      • fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

        I love those guys. I love what they do. There are at least four or five songs where I VASTLY prefer their version to the original.Report

        • Avatar Marchmaine says:

          Yeah… I’ve contemplated a digital play list: Covers Better than the Original.

          But it would pretty much be just a PMJ list. My kids were out in the wild and heard an original version and paused perplexed until they realized it was a cover of a PMJ cover by the original band. At least that’s how their musical taxonomy worked.Report

          • Covers are really their own animal now. YouTube is full of them, Spotify and Pandora are full of them, Sirius XM has a whole covers channel. My children actually know some songs far better from the covers. Its almost its own genre at this point.Report

            • Avatar Marchmaine says:

              Yeah, that’s what makes digital music interesting… but then there are covers and then there are *covers*

              I’m interested in the *covers* that musically flip (and enhance) the original… not tributes to the original. I haven’t found the meta-tag to wade through covers without having to listen to covers. So wade I do.

              My sub-specialty is Christmas Music; I’ll spend hours upon hours digging through the dross to find the very best versions in different thematic tones: Classical, Country, Crooner, etc., etc.Report

              • I agree I appreciate creativity such as turning pop songs into jazz-era swing tunes, or roots/bluegrass covers of metal songs. Something like Hugo Rock covering Jay-Z’s 99 problems as an almost alt-country thing, and Ice-T doing Motorhead. And a full symphony doing anything is just wonderful when done right.

                As far as Christmas music goes I get more traditionalist the older I get. Bing, Dean, and Nat, etc-hold the new stuff.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                Bing, Dean, and Nat” that *is* the new stuff… 🙂

                Even there… finding the recording that has been remastered the best can take a long time.Report

              • Not in a house full of Taylor Swift fans it isn’t 🙂 but I take your point.Report

              • Avatar InMD says:

                You should check out Iron Horse. They do bluegrass covers of Metallica. It goes together shockingly well.Report

              • Hayseed Dixie redid a bunch of AC/DC songs as bluegrass and they work. Bluegrass being the traditional music of us mountain people I find an appreciation of it used this way.Report

  2. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    It’s pretty easy to disguise a downbeat pop song with an upbeat melody. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is about a serial killer, FFS. If you want real sadness, listen to everything in a minor key. You’ll instantly weep.

    As far as happy songs go, this one is the happiest ever written:

  3. Lets talk about “I Wish It Would Rain” as made famous by The Temptations.
    Sunshine, blue skies, please go away
    A girl has found another and gone away
    With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom
    So day after day I stay locked up in my room
    I know to you, it might sound strange
    But I wish it would rain, oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
    ‘Cause so badly I wanna go outside (such a lovely day)
    But everyone knows that a man ain’t supposed to cry
    Listen, I gotta cry ’cause crying eases the pain, oh yeah
    People this hurt I feel inside
    Words could never explain,
    I just wish it would rain, oh let it rain, rain, rain, rain, ooo baby
    Let it rain, oh yeah, let it rain
    Day in day out my tear-stained face
    Pressed against the window pane
    My eyes search the skies desperately for rain
    ‘Cause rain drops will hide my tear drops
    And no one will ever know that I’m crying
    Crying when I go outside
    To the world outside my tears
    I refuse to explain, ooo I wish it would rain, ooh, baby
    Let it rain, let it rain
    I need rain to disguise the tears in my eyes
    Oh, let it rain
    Oh yeah, yeah, listen
    I’m a man and I got my pride
    ‘Til it rains I’m gonna stay inside, let it rain

    Rodger Penzabene wrote a large part of it, and committed suicide not long after it’s release. That’s a sad song.Report

  4. Avatar Aaron David says:

    It’s like Joy Division never happened.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      They’d jump ahead to the upbeat grunge songs such as when Eddie Vedder was triumphantly announcing that he was still alive or Kurt Cobain talking about how he’s found a place under the lights where it’s “less dangerous”.Report

      • Avatar Aaron David says:

        Its almost as if whoever wrote this never really listened to the music, never took classes on music appreciation. I mean seriously, what are they doing working for BillBoard? What is BB doing hiring them?Report

        • Avatar j r says:

          Billboard hired him (if he’s not an unpaid intern) to produce #content. And it worked, because we’re clicking on it and talking about it.

          But yeah, this is a pretty solid example of how when the internet says “according to science,” it’s the exact opposite of science that’s happening.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Music that was happy and upbeat:

    Disco. Good, solid 4-on-the-floor time. You can dance to it. You’re *EXPECTED* to dance to it. The Bee Gees. The Village People. Abba. Good God, Abba.

    The music *HAD* to be happy. We were all going to die! And music videos as we knew them didn’t exist yet!

    Then the 80’s happened, disco died, and Christopher Cross did that damn “moon and New York City” song and we slipped into a funk that we didn’t fall out of until Destiny’s Child started singing about Independent Women and/or their butts and Pink got the party started and Jay-Z told us something about an “Izzo”.

    I suppose we had a small blip in the 80’s due to David Lee Roth being in a good mood all the dang time. Maybe.Report

    • That is the best/worst accounting of recent music history I’ve read in a long time. It’s glorious in its unabashed bastardization of popular music. Well done.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David says:

      Point of fact; the Van Halen album DLR most influenced was Fair Warning, containing gems such as this:


      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Yes, but when left to his own devices?

        He creates stuff like this. And, of course, this.

        Now *THAT* is a guy in a good mood.Report

        • Avatar Aaron David says:

          True that.

          To kinda get off the subject, but I was thinking about bands getting back together, and they just aren’t as good? Like when VH reformed a couple of years ago with DLR. It sucked. Same people, same instruments, but a different time. They were no longer the hungry dudes coming up out of the back end of LA, playing every party and dance they could, nor were they the suddenly fat, languid cats riding the wave of a zeitgeist. Same with the Pixies or American Football. They simply are not the same people they were when they made that music that screamed across our frontal lobes.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Notorious BIG has an track on “Life After Death” in which he’s just talking and the focus of his little speech is how he made his money and he’s not angry anymore.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine says:

      I’m not sure if you’ve fully accounted for the Ukelele uptick of the upper aughts.Report

  6. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Simon and Garfunkle, The Sun Is Burning, 1964
    The Sun Is Burning

    The sun is burning in the sky
    Strands of clouds go slowly drifting by
    In the park the lazy bees
    Are joining in the flowers, among the trees
    And the sun burns in the sky
    Now the sun is in the West
    Little kids go home to take their rest
    And the couples in the park
    Are holdin’ hands and waitin’ for the dark
    And the sun is in the West

    Now the sun is sinking low
    Children playin’ know it’s time to go
    High above a spot appears
    A little blossom blooms and then draws near
    And the sun is sinking low

    Now the sun has come to Earth
    Shrouded in a mushroom cloud of death
    Death comes in a blinding flash
    Of hellish heat and leaves a smear of ash
    And the sun has come to Earth

    Now the sun has disappeared
    All is darkness, anger, pain and fear
    Twisted, sightles wrecks of men
    Go groping on their knees and cry in pain
    And the sun has disappeared

    The authors of the piece fell for one of the greatest blunders of all time, the first of which is never get involved in a land war in Asia, followed by this, never go in against folkies, when depression is on the line!Report

  7. It took all of music to fill the gap left by Townes Van Zandt: