HUDDERSFIELD, United Kingdom — As much as we would all love to stay smiling 24/7, certain days just call for a sad song and some self-reflection. Music, like any other art, is that much better when it features genuine emotion – and no emotion is more universally relatable than sadness. So, what’s the absolute saddest song of all time? According to a recent survey of 2,000 adults, REM’s 1992 track “Everybody Hurts” holds the top spot, followed by Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” and Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.”
Rounding out the top five saddest songs of all time we have Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and “Yesterday” by The Beatles.
Interestingly, just under half of survey respondents believe a song can have a big impact on their mood (48%). Consequently, 36 percent opt for a sad song when they are feeling nostalgic, while another 24 percent can’t help but play their favorite somber tunes after a break-up. Notably, however, a little bit of melancholy can actually help us turn the page as well. Just under half of respondents also admit a sad song can brighten their day.
‘Music has a powerful ability to take us back in time’
Speaking of happiness, survey respondents listed Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, and “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and The Waves as some of the happiest songs out there. If it’s motivation you need, “Eye of The Tiger“ by Survivor, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” and “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John were named the most motivational songs ever.
Looking to kick back and relax after a long day? Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and “Let It Be” by The Beatles were listed as the most relaxing tunes by respondents.
This survey was put together by ear care brand Earex in collaboration with Robert Till, professor of music at the University of Huddersfield, and chair of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music.
“What’s interesting is many of the top choices in this survey weren’t simply about their overall popularity, some of the most mentioned sad songs have far fewer plays on streaming platforms than others, indicating there really is something special about these particular songs. As one might expect, people’s age affected their choices, with younger audiences voting for Adele rather than REM – but what’s revealing for the saddest song is the youngest age range selected The Beatles’ Yesterday. Perhaps this reflects the recent film of the same title and the importance of films and videos in providing context for songs,” Prof. Till explains.
“Music has a powerful ability to take us back in time where we associate particular songs with special moments in our lives, or memories of particular periods,” he continues. “Remembering how important music is right through our lives, this study is a timely reminder to look after our ears and our hearing while we are young, and throughout our lifetime, so that when we are older, we can continue enjoying the significant part music plays in our lives”.
We need good music
Participants were also asked what makes up a great song in general, and three main components kept coming up again and again: A good beat, a memorable melody, and the capacity to evoke a legitimate emotional reaction. Another 19 percent said a good song needs to be relatable.
When asked why music is important, the top explanation given by respondents was that it can “raise a smile.” Meanwhile, another 54 percent value music because it gives them a lift when they need it most, and another 30 percent enjoy sharing music with other people. Over a quarter (26%) usually listen to happy music with friends, and 25 percent can’t go to to gym without their headphones.
On average, the poll finds adults listen to about 25 songs per day. The most common places to listen to music include at home, in the car, and at work. Another 20 percent always have some music playing while out for a walk.
Many people, however, just can’t resist the urge to crank up the volume. A full 29 percent say they put their tunes on full blast in most scenarios. In fact, 48 percent say they listen to music at such loud volumes it may impact their hearing eventually.
Predictably, 80 percent of respondents say they would be absolutely devastated if they were never allowed to hear music again.
Here are the top 30 saddest songs ever:
- REM – Everybody Hurts
- Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U
- Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven
- Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
- The Beatles – Yesterday
- Adele – Someone Like You
- Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On
- Roy Orbison – Crying
- Eric Carmen – All by Myself
- Robbie Williams – Angels
- Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine
- James Blunt – Goodbye My Lover
- Toni Braxton – Unbreak My Heart
- Eva Cassidy – Songbird
- Coldplay – Fix You
- U2 – With or Without You
- The Beatles – The Long and Winding Road
- Al Green – How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?
- Sam Smith – Stay with Me
- Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
- Carole King – It’s Too Late
- Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved
- John Lennon – Jealous Guy
- Simon & Garfunkel – The Boxer
- Gary Jules – Mad World
- Adele – Easy on Me
- Boyz II Men – End of The Road
- Neil Young – Only Love Can Break Your Heart
- Passenger – Let Her Go
- The Fray – How to Save a Life
The survey was conducted via OnePoll.