When trying to pick out some of the most depressing songs from an artist that has been considered to be one of the most troubled songwriters in history, it can get difficult narrowing it down. Not to mention, different people will relate differently to certain songs. We present to you the top songs that are likely to choke you up, and not necessarily from Smith’s disheartening lyrics and how we interpreted them.
Also, new for this feature - we've embedded a Grooveshark playlist of the songs below, so you can click through and listen as you read. Enjoy.
Although this song had been in Elliott Smith’s repertoire for years before a studio recording, it’s often associated with Smith’s alleged suicide. Due to his history of addiction and struggles with depression, it’s most commonly interpreted as a song about hopelessness and heroine, despite it reportedly being written before his addiction started. It’s hard not to feel anything when you hear, “I can’t prepare for death anymore than I already have,” as a dark undertone builds up in the background. The final heart- wrenching detail is that it was one of the last songs he recorded before his death.
Between the Bars
Lyrically, this is one of Smith’s best. “Between the Bars” is pretty much the musical equivalent of someone stumbling around drunk and self-loathing. The dreary atmosphere set from the beginning is enough to drain your energy. Then, Smith vocally wallows through the song with lyrics that appear to be from the point-of-view of a bottle. It’s seductive nature and promises of circumvention are enough to express how miserable and desperate whoever the narrator’s talking to is.
Needle in the Hay
One of Smith’s most emotionally moving songs. A mixture of his walk-in-the-park like melody, soft-spoken vocals, and cathartic lyrics, sometimes written like diary entries, are enough to choke anyone up. However, it’s not just the elements of the song, but it’s usage in the film, The Royal Tenenbaums, that puts you in a somber mood. Many who have seen the film will remember the disturbing scene where "Needle in the Hay" plays while a character breaks down and attempts to kill himself. This basically turns the song into a soundtrack for suicide.
He manages to rip your heart to shreds with the airiness of the music and vulnerability in his vocals. Then, you get to the lyrics that can be interpreted in so many ways. Some think it’s self-referential and about Smith’s abuse as a child since his nickname was supposedly, "Pitseleh." Others think it’s about someone losing a loved one and feeling insecure. Either way, just about everyone is able to relate to this song one way or another and crack when he declares, "no one deserves it."
It’s such a painstakingly beautiful song. Smith’s crooning vocal performance tugs at your heartstrings like no other. The soothing melody is the kind that’ll lull you to sleep. It doesn’t take lyrics for this one to bring you to tears. If you think you can stand that, then read the words and try to keep a straight face. He pulls you into this crushing story that seems to be about someone incapable of being in a relationship because of their addiction problem. It’s so hopeless.
If this feature tugged at your heartstrings, have a read of our Remembering Elliott Smith feature, posted shortly after Elliott's untimely death.