Most movie audiences will be choosing between two big releases for the upcoming holiday weekend: Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables. If you don’t mind secretly sobbing in a dark theater, and your mom is tagging along (moms really love Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman), you’ll probably find yourself transported to 19th-century France for the adaptation of Victor Hugo’s famous novel. The trailer for Les Mis reveals footage of Anne Hathaway as the ill-fated prostitute Fantine performing a weepy, whispery rendition of the beloved “I Dreamed a Dream.” Whether you appreciate movie musicals or not, the song instantly turns on the waterworks for a lot of people. It’s a heartbreaking lament. This got us thinking about other tunes that call for Kleenex and a shoulder to cry on. For a song to tap into such emotion is an incredibly intimate thing, and not all of the reasons are sad ones. Sometimes the sheer magnificence of a piece of music elicits a few tears. We selected a group of tracks that tend to make people sob. What songs really bring out your cry face?
Jeff Buckley — “Hallelujah”
The late singer-songwriter’s famous cover of Leonard Cohen’s song (Buckley turned to John Cale’s later cover for inspiration) appeared on his 1994 album Grace. It’s an incredibly tender rendition that opens with a gentle chord progression and leads into a raw, restrained vocal. The cover took on another facet of emotional heft after Buckley’s tragic death. Rufus Wainwright perhaps described the power of “Hallelujah” best in The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”:
“I think with that song, as is the case with a lot of Leonard’s work, there are certain phrases that really jump out and hit you in different ways, and mean different things to different people — ‘Learn to shoot at someone who outdrew you.’ I think it’s more about those tiny nuggets of words than any broad meaning, but then once ‘Hallelujah,’ that word, is placed in there, it kind of gathers up all of these elements, which is the essence of existence anyway: There’s no general theme for the world — it’s all little tiny pieces.”
Johnny Cash — “Hurt”
A frail Johnny Cash nearing the end of his life covered Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” in 2002. The vocal version alone was enough to make eyes brim with tears, but Mark Romanek’s video for Cash’s stark, quavering interpretation broke the floodgates for most people. The footage was shot at Cash’s home and is intercut with moments from the singer’s younger days. The clip also features the love of Cash’s life, wife June Carter Cash. Both died months after the video was shot. Trent Reznor later shared some candid thoughts about the cover:
“I pop the video in, and wow. Tears welling, silence, goose bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.”
The Smiths — “I Know It’s Over”
When it comes to the Pope of Mope there’s an endless supply of songs that will mess you up, but we swear Morrissey’s crying during the soaring end refrain of “I Know It’s Over” when he belts out, “Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head.”
PJ Harvey — “Silence”
A stunning expression of unrequited love that especially haunts during its conclusion.
Julee Cruise — “Questions In a World of Blue”
This Angelo Badalamenti composition sung by David Lynch favorite Julee Cruise appears in the Twin Peaks prequel-sequel film, Fire Walk With Me. We see Cruise perform the track during the bar scene, and troubled homecoming queen Laura Palmer is immediately drawn to the somber ballad that speaks to her personal unraveling. The song is emotional on its own, but the imagery Lynch pairs it with leaves an indelible impression upon us.
Beethoven — “Moonlight Sonata (Piano Sonata No. 14)”
Classical music enthusiasts might choose Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Variation No. 18)” amongst the songs that make them well up, but almost everybody has heard Beethoven’s famous piano sonata — a large-scale work he created during his emergence in the classical music world. The nocturnal arrangement has been featured throughout pop culture — including video games and films — but that hasn’t diluted its emotional power for many. The name alone conjures a kind of teary romanticism often associated with the great composer (personally and professionally), and its captivating simplicity speaks to the soul.
Cat Power — “Good Woman”
Since we’re not sure the lyrics to the devastated “Nude as the News” are universally understood, we chose a more obvious Cat Power tearjerker. Dirty Three violinist Warren Ellis backs the serenely sad song that features a ghostly vocal contribution from Eddie Vedder — the perfect accompaniment to Marshall’s goodbye ballad.
Kermit the Frog — “Rainbow Connection”
Big dreamers face big loss. Kermit’s wistful tune is by all accounts an uplifting tune filled with hope, but there’s also a twinge of anxiety in his quiet delivery about facing the struggles and defeat that sometimes comes with chasing rainbows. It’s also hard not to hear the song and associate its hope/loss message with the unexpected death of Muppets creator, Jim Henson.
Antony and the Johnsons — “Hope There’s Someone”
Are you sobbing just glancing on Antony Hegarty’s song title? We might be. “Hope There’s Someone” is the soundtrack for an entire lifetime — the celebrations, the epitaph, the laughter, and the howling pain.
Elliott Smith — “King’s Crossing”
Spare yourself, and don’t listen to this song on Christmas:
“It’s Christmas time And the needles on the tree A skinny Santa is bringing something to me His voice is overwhelming But his speech is slurred And I only understand every other word”