Sadness is an all too universal feeling. And as something we all experience and know well, it features in several rock songs. So, without further ado, here are some sad rock songs – the saddest ever.
1. Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
Song Year: 1975
No list of sad rock songs would be complete without this masterpiece from the English band Pink Floyd.
“Wish You Were Here” pays tribute to former frontman Syd Barrett, who left Pink Floyd after beginning to suffer from mental illness. Its lyrics are both comforting and heartbreaking, reminding the listener of those they miss and wish were still here.
2. Cat’s In the Cradle by Harry Chapin
Song Year: 1974
“Cat’s In The Cradle” is a sing-along classic with a serious melancholy side. The lyrics tell the story of a father slowly becoming estranged from his child by work and other obligations. Once his child becomes a man, he sees that his son has become just like him – distracted from what matters and constantly busy – and it breaks his heart.
3. Hurt by Johnny Cash
Song Year: 2002
Though Trent Reznor performed the original song, Johnny Cash’s version so touched Reznor that he agreed it was now Cash’s song. This song, sung by a character looking back at his life after falling from grace, can make almost anyone cry – especially with its minor chord progression and heartbreaking video.
4. Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles
Song Year: 1966
Even though this song is a B-side on Yellow Submarine, its tone is far less joyous than the other side of the record. Eleanor Rigby is the story of two lonely folks – Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie. And as the song narrates their lonesome lives, the lyrics wonder, “All the lonely people, where do they come from?”
By the end of the song, we are still wondering.
5. How Soon is Now? By The Smiths
Song Year: 1984
This song was a B-side but came to define the band that released it. This 1984 tune became the anthem for many lonesome introverts who struggle with their loneliness and struggle to find love.
It is both a testament to the power of the song and a sad fact that it remains popular today.
6. Pictures of You by The Cure
Song Year: 1989
Make no mistake: “Pictures of You ” may sound like a happy song but is far from being so. This breakup song is the thoughts of someone recounting their life with their former significant other – and how they wish they could have “held onto their lover’s heart. But they ultimately conclude that it was impossible – and all they have left are pictures of a former life and love.
7. Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen
Song Year: 1982
The Boss produced many sad pieces. However, Atlantic City has a particularly sad arc among the saddest rock songs.
Atlantic City deals with the troubles of a young man reaching desperation as he struggles to make ends meet. He ultimately comes to a resolution: to hop aboard a bus to Atlantic City with his love. But it puts both of them in danger, as he will be working with the mob when he gets there.
8. Keep Me In Your Heart by Warren Zevon
Song Year: 2003
Warren Zevon’s last song has the power to make anyone tear up once they know what it is about. This tune is Zevon asking fans to remember him because he knows his time is short, as he is dying of lung cancer. Thus, he begs his listeners to keep him in their hearts.
These powerful lyrics turn the song into a prayer and a request to remember him and all his contributions to music and art.
9. Nutshell by Alice In Chains
Song Year: 1993
It is not just the beautiful instrumentation that carries this song and makes it one of the saddest rock songs; Layne Staley’s iconic voice laments through the song’s heartbreaking lyrics in one of Alice In Chains’s best songs.
He sings about loneliness, self-destruction, and how the world is slowly creeping in and changing him. But unfortunately – he also finds himself powerless to stop this process, and thus, thinks he may be “better off dead.”
10. Something In the Way by Nirvana
Song Year: 1992
Nirvana has no shortage of sad songs to choose from but “Something In the Way” is a unique breed of a depressing song. Kurt Cobain claimed that he briefly experienced homelessness and had to live underneath a bridge for a time. Though research has proven this bit of Cobain mythology is untrue, it remains true for the narrator.
The song, in a seriously grim minor key, takes us through the life of someone living under a bridge living on nothing more than fish, grass, and “drippings from the ceiling.” Though it is a very sad, moody song, it has nonetheless remained one of Nirvana’s most popular.
11. Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton
Song Year: 1992
Death is never easy to cope with. It is harder when someone dies before their time. Eric Clapton experienced this feeling as a new father in 1992 and the feeling prompted him to write “Tears In Heaven.”
The lyrics reference his son, who tragically fell from a 14th-story window in New York City at just four years old. Clapton wonders aloud to us, the listener, if his son would even recognize him upon seeing him in heaven after both of them had died.
He ultimately concludes that he has to be strong and keep going because he does not know if he can ever see his son again. This song will hit home to any parent who has lost a child.
12. Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day
Song Year: 2004
Like many other songs on this list, this song handles death. Specifically, it handles the death of Billie Joe Armstrong’s father, and what he said after finding out his father died of cancer on September 1st, 1982.
This song is another with an almost angry tone that combines with its sadness. Billie Joe is wondering why his dad, nothing more than an industrious, innocent person, could be so cruelly struck down with a disease as malicious as cancer.
13. Runaway Trains by Tom Petty
Song Year: 1987
In “Runaway Trains,” Tom Petty is lamenting after presumably leaving a longtime relationship. The heartbreak is setting in already.
He’s left her alone at her house in the dark. While she says she understands why he had to leave and that she will go on, Tom Petty still can’t get her out of his mind. He concludes that the only thing that will help him clear his head and stop thinking about her is time. But ultimately, he can’t forget her. Her face and words haunt him as he continues to try to move on.
14. November Rain by Guns N’ Roses
Song Year: 1987
“November Rain” is Guns N’ Roses’ only ballad. Even if they wrote others, it would still stand out. The lyrics tell the story from the perspective of a man who can sense that the woman he loves is not ready to commit to him and is restraining her love.
He tells her that he understands – she is doing it to avoid being hurt. But if it keeps on, they will both get hurt, because their relationship rests on an insecure foundation.
So, he reaches an ultimatum within the lyrics: they will have to break up if they cannot commit fully to the relationship because they will both get hurt. This is a conclusion many of us listening can relate to, especially if we have found ourselves in a relationship we have to let go of.
And it all builds to an outro where the singer is hoping she will come around and tries to convince her.
15. Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division
Song Year: 1979
Several things make “Love Will Tear Us Apart” one of the saddest rock songs. The lyrics portray someone truly on the edge of a breakdown due to a failing marriage. And the reason they so authentically portray someone who is suffering from internal anguish is that frontman Ian Curtis’s life was falling apart when he wrote the lyrics.
Ian Curtis was having an affair and facing a fork in the road regarding his marriage and his daughter. Shortly after he wrote the song, the weight of these decisions and the distress they brought him led him to kill himself.
The lyrics tell us that the narrator and their partner are facing a fork in the road and it is killing their relationship because both recognize that they have become different people. The narrator comes home to a cold bedroom, where his partner turns away from him. It becomes clear to him that their respect for each other has died away.
16. The 59’ Sound by the Gaslight Anthem
Song Year: 2008
“The 59′ Sound” is often regarded as the Gaslight Anthem’s “Born to Run.” Unlike Born to Run, the 59′ Sound does not celebrate being young, free, and the escape from a dead town; it explores coping with the death of a friend when you couldn’t be there for their funeral.
This sad song is based on a real experience frontman Brian Fallon had with the death of a friend. Upon leaving a concert he was playing, he found out one of the friends he grew up with had died in a car accident.
The lyrics track the process of coping with untimely death and ask what Brian Fallon’s friend experienced as he died.
Fallon asks what song he heard before dying, what song they played at his funeral, and what he felt as he left the world. The lyrics build to a bridge featuring one of the most crushing lyrics ever written.
17. Fade to Black by Metallica
Song Year: 1984
“Fade to Black” is one of Metallica’s most accessible instrumentals, but don’t be fooled by that fact: the song handles suicide and someone deciding to cope with the pain of existence by ending it.
This song came before James Hetfield’s voice deepened into the growl we know for now. Thus, his higher range adds a desperate quality and undertone to the heartbreaking lyrics.
Though the song builds to a thrilling musical crescendo with a fantastic guitar solo and outro, you are still left with a haunting implication by the time the music stops playing: the narrator has committed suicide and set themselves free from their feelings.
18. Snuff by Slipknot
Song Year: 2009
Among the saddest songs, there are many takes on heartbreak but few are as poetic as Corey Taylor’s timeless lyrics in “Snuff.” This beautiful ballad, atypical of Slipknot, begins with simple acoustic guitar before moving into its iconic opening lyrics. The song’s narrator then elucidates their heartbreak, criticizing the partner who broke his heart.
As the song plays out, it’s clear in the lyrics that his partner never committed to him and it’s left him questioning their entire relationship after it has ended.
To add to the sad quality of this song, it was the last song that former Slipknot bassist Paul Gray helped write before dying. Thus, every time Corey plays it, both he and the audience think of someone taken far before their time.
19. The Flame by Cheap Trick
Song Year: 1988
“The Flame” is yet another song about heartbreak but adds a unique take on this universally crushing feeling. While other songs talk about physical pain or take on other metaphors to represent pain, Cheap Trick uses the image of a flame to represent a love still burning and contrasts it with the cold feeling heartbreak leaves the narrator with.
Though their partner has left them, they are still ready to run to them in the cold and “be the flame” to bring them warmth and love.
20. Since I’ve Been Loving You by Led Zeppelin
Song Year: 1970
Led Zeppelin, as a blues-based band, created many sad songs but their masterpiece “Since I’ve Been Loving You” tops the list. Robert Plant takes us into the mind of someone who has been long hours and feels like they are succumbing to thoughts of depression.
The song’s subject has been suffering since they met their partner as they have been working incredibly hard to compensate for what they feel are their inadequacies in the relationship.
21. 1916 by Motorhead
Song Year: 1991
Motorhead is not known for sad songs, but “1916” certainly deserves a spot among the saddest rock songs. Lemmy takes us through the journey of 10,000 soldiers of the First World War as they learn to fight together, lie about their ages, and march to the trenches of the Western Front – to find that their vision of patriotism is a lie.
22. Cancer by My Chemical Romance
Song Year: 2006
“Cancer” stands out as a particularly brutally sad song on an album of sad songs. “Cancer” is the only song without hope on The Black Parade. Its narrator is recognizing that their time to die is already here and says their goodbye through the words in the song.
Instead of looking for hope or meaning in their life, the narrator dives deep into hopelessness and acknowledges the inevitability of death.
23. Celluloid Heroes by the Kinks
Song Year: 1972
Ray Davies ranks among the most poetic songwriters in all of rock music, and “Celluloid Heroes” proves why he deserves such a title. Instead of telling the story of a broken relationship, Davies tells the story of a street full of names of people whose lives we imagine to be perfect: actors and celebrities.
As he exposes the cracks and faults in each of their lives, he shows us as the listeners one of our most impossible wishes, and how it haunts us in our most vulnerable moments: the wish to be immortal.
24. Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley
Song Year: 1995
“Hallelujah” is the second cover on this list. Like “Hurt,” it is more associated with another artist than its original songwriter.
Jeff Buckley brings out the heartbreak lurking in the lyrics with this passionate rendition and makes the meaning clear; a relationship that once seemed holy and divine has soured, and that feeling is eating at both of the people in the relationship.
24. Dead Boys by Sam Fender
Song Year: 2018
“Dead Boys” is a newer song but it nonetheless counts among the saddest rock songs for its topic: suicide.
Sam Fender narrates as the surviving friend of someone who has committed suicide, watching the anniversaries of deaths come back around year after year. The town he lives in continues to ignore the epidemic of male suicide eating it alive, instead opting to say that no one could have ever predicted why someone would end their lives.
Instead of coming off as hopeful, Dead Boys comes across with two emotions: irreparable heartbreak and seething anger at a community that never let its male inhabitants reveal what they felt.
26. Halo by Boston Manor
Song Year: 2018
One of the newer additions to this list, “Halo” by Boston Manor still earns its spot even if it is a newer song. The opening lyrics reveal that the narrator is hopelessly addicted to drugs and it has ruined their life and isolated them.
As drug use continues to isolate them, they begin to notice their fall from grace, hence the lyrics in the heartbreaking chorus. This song also addresses the cycle that many people with addictive tendencies find themselves in and how it just continues to destroy their lives.
27. Landslide by Fleetwood Mac
Song Year: 1975
Few songs are more fitting to conclude this list than this heart-wrenching love song from Fleetwood Mac.
Stevie Nicks wonders over minor chords if she can keep not only a relationship but a marriage alive over time as she gets older.
She famously wrote the song in Colorado, where she could witness landslides and avalanches in person and see how sudden they were.
Sad Rock Songs, Final Thoughts
While being sad isn’t usually enjoyable, we hope you enjoy or at least find comfort in the songs we listed for the saddest rock songs. They span a wide range of breakup songs, heartbreak songs, songs about death, and many others. But what they have in common is that they are sad and each has a unique take on sadness. So, if you are looking for comfort in music, you can certainly find it in this list.