This is going to be tricky. What is sad to one person might not be to another. And many of the saddest Rock songs might be about situations that apply only to particular people. So, while a song may give one person deep feelings, it might mean little to others.
But, if music does one thing, it generates emotions. It always has. And Rock music is no different. I am not even going to start to define Rock music. The vast majority of the performers we have these days can fit into the category of Rock music.
So, let’s just get on with looking at the saddest Rock and Roll songs around.
Top 50 Saddest Rock Songs
Love Hurts by Nazareth
I am going to start this list of the saddest Rock songs for a reason which will become evident a bit later. Nazareth was one of the best British Rock bands of the late 60s and early 70s.
They had a powerful sound and a great singer with the most distinctive voice. And they didn’t come from Liverpool or London, they were formed in Scotland. “Love Hurts” was a track from their 1975 album, Hair Of The Dog.
There are plenty of versions of this song…
It was written many years ago by Boudleaux Bryant. One of the most well-known versions is by the Everly Brothers. But Nazareth took, if we are honest, a rather corny 50s love song and turned it into a Rock music classic.
It reached #15 in the UK, #8 in America, and hit #1 in five other countries. In Norway, it was the highest-selling single for years. It stayed on their chart for 61 weeks, 14 of them at #1.
Hitting a Nerve
No doubt about that. The main reason for that is Dan McCafferty’s voice. It was unique and still is. A timeless performance. So, why did I put this first on this list of sad Rock songs? We lost Dan in December 2023, so I placed them first on the list as a tribute to him.
Dan had something very special. Amid Soft Rock dominating at the time, along came his voice. To say it woke us all up is an understatement.
My Immortal By Evanescence
“My Immortal” was the third single taken from their album Fallen. It was written by singer Amy Lee, David Hodges, and guitarist Ben Moody. An excellent album that also included another fixture from their concerts, “Bring Me To Life.”
Somewhere between Gothic and Metal…
“My Immortal” is a power ballad with a difficult subject matter. Amy sings about a person who has been close to her. The person has died, but she says she can feel their spirit close to her, which seems to help her deal with the grief. When she eventually realizes they aren’t coming back, her feelings change, and she wishes the feelings would leave her alone.
It offers Amy Lee the chance to show her vocal talent and put a full range of emotions into the song. It reached #7 in the UK and America.
Eleanor Rigby By The Beatles
This is a track taken from their Revolver album. Much is spoken about The White Album and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But, the creativity that made those albums started with Rubber Soul and Revolver.
Revolver had some magical tracks, and “Eleanor Rigby” was one. The story of the song is full of imagery of post-First World War Britain. Not the least of which is Eleanor waiting at the window for her soldier husband, son, or father to come home as so many did.
The decline of the Church of England is also graphically displayed with the lines, “Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear – No one comes near.”
There has been plenty of conjecture if these were real people…
I read recently that McCartney had said they were made up. Really? In the graveyard of St Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool, there are the graves of both Eleanor Rigby (a scullery maid who died in 1939) and Father McKenzie yards from each other.
And that’s the church where John first met Paul. Coincidence? I think not.
One Of Their Best
Undoubtedly, The Beatles were reaching their creative best. The song takes you on an emotional journey through the realities and sadness of loneliness. Sir George Martin’s string arrangement completed the effect.
It was #1 in the UK, of course, and in other countries. But, only reached #11 in America. Perhaps, the saddest Rock songs aren’t the Americans’ cup of tea, er, coffee.
Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits
Taken from one of the biggest-selling albums ever, this was a Mark Knopfler masterpiece. “Brothers in Arms” captures the tragedy and the sadness of wars and conflicts. It uses the inspiration of the 1982 war in the Falklands Islands between Britain and Argentina as its backdrop.
But, of course, it applies to any war anywhere…
It was Dire Strait’s fifth studio album, also entitled Brothers in Arms, and was released in 1985. The album went to #1 in every country where it was released.
The song seemed to touch an emotion with people in so many ways. It is played at funerals and other such memorial situations. But, it is also relevant in the context in which it was meant.
I went to the battlegrounds at the Somme and Thiepval in France to visit the grave of my father’s eldest brother, who died there in 1916. I heard this unforgettably sad Rock song being played very quietly.
When I looked around, I saw a lady sitting amongst the gravestones playing it on her cassette recorder. The tragedy and resulting sadness of war were encapsulated in that one brief moment.
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue by Bob Dylan
It isn’t possible to have a list of songs on any subject without including something from one of the masters of rhyme himself. This was a track from his Bringing It All Back Home album from 1965.
It is a simple song, but there is a heartbreaking atmosphere to it. This was his third album after The Times They Are A-Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan. Both of those albums ended with a song that seemed to be saying farewell.
This album is the same…
The question is, a farewell to who or what? There is much conjecture on that subject, and true to form, Dylan never lets on. Just a set of cryptic messages in the lyrics that seem to haunt you and pull at your heartstrings. “Strike another match, go start anew – And It’s all over now baby blue.”
Some think it was a parting message to Joan Baez, with whom he had been in a relationship. But she did a cover version with him, which makes that a bit unlikely. Others claim that it may have been aimed at a friend of Dylan, David Blue, but that is far too obvious.
It could be about a beautiful woman who is using her looks which she has relied on to get what she wants. But is there a deeper message?
This song was the last acoustic song he played at the infamous 1965 Newport Festival. He resumed the concert with his electric guitar and band and was booed. Maybe it was a message to the fans that he was moving on. His days as the protest singer they adored were over.
“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” sent a similar message to another famous Dylan tune, “It Ain’t Me, Babe.”
Whatever the real reason, it is a great Rock song filled with sadness. And the line included above has a certain finality to it.
Mandolin Wind by Rod Stewart
I will lay cards on the table here and admit I am not a big fan of Mr. Stewart. There are reasons for this, but I won’t go into them here. That said, he did make a couple of very good albums. One of them was Every Picture Tells A Story, and that album gave us “Mandolin Wind.”
The song was written by Stewart and features that great-sounding mandolin. When asked who played the mandolin, Stewart said he had forgotten his name. Nice one, Rod. It was probably Lindsey Ray Jackson from the English folk group Lindisfarne.
So, why is this a sad Rock song?
It is thought the song is about an aging farmer and his wife who stayed with him through a dreadful winter despite preferring to be somewhere else. The intimation is that the cold could be dangerous for her for some reason.
Maybe she didn’t survive, as the lines hint at, “I recall the night we knelt and prayed – Noticing your face was thin and pale – I found it hard to hide my tears – Felt ashamed I felt I’d let you down.”
Whatever, it is a great song packed with a depth of feeling and strong emotions. The best song on an album that also included “Maggie May.”
Kathy’s Song by Simon and Garfunkel
This is a song where Paul Simon lays his heart on his sleeve and opens up his innermost feelings, and lets us share them.
It was first released on his solo album, Paul Simon Songbook. Most of that album was written during his time in England in the 60s. It was also later included in the Simon and Garfunkel album, Sounds Of Silence.
Kathy was Paul’s girlfriend during his time in the UK…
He loved her deeply, but she couldn’t handle all the attention he was getting, even then. They split, but he never forgot her, and in “Kathy’s Song,” the heartbreak is evident for all to hear. He also mentions her in the song “America.” “Kathy I’m lost I said, though I knew she was sleeping.”
And, again, in “Homeward Bound,” written at a railway station in Widnes, Lancashire, while he was waiting for a train to take him back to Essex, where she lived. There is a plaque on the station today, recognizing the fact he was there.
You can even see her on the cover of Paul Simon Songbook…
No doubt she left a mark on the man. And, so he writes, “I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets – To England, where my heart lies – I stand alone without beliefs – The only truth I know is you – I know that I am like the rain – There but for the grace of you go I.”
You want sad? You’ve got it.
Wish You Were Here By Pink Floyd
A very quick mention now of this from Pink Floyd. “Wish You Were Here” was written about Syd Barrett, the original leader, and frontman. He lost everything, including his mind, after his drug-taking overwhelmed him. And still, people think you can get away with it.
The story goes…
A man wandered into the studio while they were recording the album, and no one knew who he was. It was Sid, who they hadn’t seen for years and was now a wreck. He had written some of their early stuff, including “See Emily Play” and “Arnold Layne,” amongst others.
Largely instrumental, “Wish You Were Here” brings the feeling of seeing their friend in that state to the surface and lets the music portray it. If you want a tearjerker from Pink Floyd, then this will be it.
He tried a comeback in 1970, but it was never going to work. He left music soon after and devoted the rest of his life to painting and gardening. Sid died in 2006 from cancer. Thankfully, we have one of the most memorable Rock songs about sadness to remember him by.
So Far Away by Carole King
Moving towards the end now and time to include something from Carole King. In her 1971 album, Tapestry, she produced a piece of musical and lyrical genius that still stands today.
The song is about a lady who longs for her lover, who is “so far away.” The clever part of the song is that she uses the physical distance between them to describe the emotional distance that exists.
The extraordinary sadness in her voice allows us to feel what she is feeling. A masterpiece of vocals that carry you away with her and express the sadness in the song. The song was also released as a B-side to the single “Smackwater Jack.” Her good friend James Taylor played guitar for it.
Long Long Time by Linda Ronstadt
Over the years, there have been some great female singers. Very few have been as good as Linda Ronstadt. It is not unfair to say she could sing anything and sing it brilliantly. She covered everything from Country through Pop and Rock and even Light Operatic.
This song was a track from her album Silk Purse from 1970. It was written by Gary White and is a tender love song about the sadness of missing someone after they have gone.
In many ways, a tragic but familiar situation of loving someone too much. And a vocal performance that captures the emotion of having tried everything she knows for nothing.
She’s Leaving Home by The Beatles
So, let’s leave these famous sad Rock songs by choosing a situation that may well cause as much personal pain as anything we have looked at before. A track, of course, from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
When a child finally leaves home, whether it be to get married or go to college, it is always a difficult time. But, when the child leaves without any warning to go off with someone, it is heartbreaking.
For those that thought there was no collusion between Lennon and McCartney by this time, this was written by both of them. Lennon gave us the chorus, McCartney the verses.
A true story…
It’s about a young girl who ran away from her home with her older boyfriend. Some interesting lines show how lonely someone can be even though they are living at home surrounded by family. For example, “She’s leaving home after living alone – For so many years.”
She viewed leaving as getting her freedom, “Stepping outside she is free.” And, then, reverting to the parents who still view her as a child as some parents do, “Our baby’s gone.”
But, even amid such a beautiful song…
There was controversy within the band. Sir George Martin was on another project, and McCartney wouldn’t wait for him. He brought in Mike Leander to create the string arrangements. He didn’t tell the others. The “Fifth” Beatle was ostracized. Another nail in the coffin.
In My Life by The Beatles
Everybody Hurts by R.E.M.
The Needle and the Damage Done by Neil Young
Black by Pearl Jam
The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel
Cats in the Cradle by Ugly Kid Joe
Landslide by Fleetwood Mac
Yesterday by The Beatles
Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel
The End by The Doors
The Unforgiven by Metallica
Behind Blue Eyes by The Who
Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O’Connor
Behind the Wall of Sleep by Black Sabbath
Hello by Evanescence
My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion
Hurt by Johnny Cash
November Spawned a Monster by Morrissey
Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton
Runaway Train by Soul Asylum
A Tout Le Monde by Megadeth
Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division
Yesterday Once More by The Carpenters
Wish You Were Here by Incubus
The End of the World by Skeeter Davis
Creep by Radiohead
Man on the Moon by R.E.M.
Wasted Years by Iron Maiden
Sober by Tool
Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult
Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper
Blurry by Puddle of Mudd
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day
All I Want by Kodaline
How to Save a Life by The Fray
Numb by Linkin Park
Nothing Else Matters by Metallica
Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd
Iris by Goo Goo Dolls
Want More Songs that Deal with Painful Emotions?
Well, find out our thoughts on the Best Breakup Songs, the Best Sad Songs, the Best Goodbye Songs, the Best Songs About Loneliness, and the Best Songs About Crying for more songs that will pull on your heartstrings.
Of course, you will need to listen to them. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best Headphones for Music, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, and the Best True Wireless Earbuds you can buy in 2023.
Saddest Rock Songs – Final Thoughts
We don’t want to be sad, but sometimes, it can be a good thing. In the case of relating to another person we may have been close to, it can make us still feel connected to them. A song we looked at addresses that issue.
But perpetuating those feelings can cause problems. Sadness is something we all go through, it is just another emotion, and we all have them. But it can also focus our minds on what is important.
Sadness is not so good at the time, but when it passes, we can always take the good things from it. There are some of these songs that seem to understand that.
Until next time, happy listening.