Bingo Bops is a semiweekly playlist curation series. Each playlist includes written commentary on the theme as it relates to each song. If you have any questions/comments, you can email here.
One of my first playlists I made on my beloved iPod nano was titled “Songs to cry to.” When I remembered that I was like, “ok, that’s pretty cringe” but actually what I’ve found out is that I’m not alone! My favorite part of playlists is that they can act as time capsules or journal entries, they're entirely personal and contextual— you might listen to different things based on emotion, or time period, or where you live. For example, this playlist my friend Justus made for when your roommate is going through some shit circa 2015. As a side note Justus is super cool and smart and you should hire him; you can check out his brand new IMDb here.
This playlist is a sampling of my own personal favorite sad songs from a variety of genres and decades. By no means is it complete (obviously) since there’s only 10 songs, but it’s meant to be a well-rounded flight of melancholy tunes. Feel free to send any sad playlists you’ve made, I can share them here to provide a more complete picture of sad music, or I can listen to them alone in my bedroom and cry!
1. Moon Song by Phoebe Bridgers
This is an instant classic for alt kids in their 20's (me). I’m always disarmed by how vulnerable Bridgers’ lyrics and vocal performance feel. This feels like someone telling me a story they’ve never told anyone.
Reminds me that at my most vulnerable, I cling to things that bring me comfort. Which makes me sad whether that comfort is healthy or not; it makes me angry at myself for holding onto things I should let go of but can’t, and it makes me feel so moved to know that lots of the comfort in my life is a result of supportive friendships and habits I’ve worked hard at developing. This is a strong start. I’m feeling confident.
2. Futura Free by Frank Ocean
Ryan Breaux’s interview at the end of this song made me break down today. He’s a snapshot of young joy and love, he reminds me of my own little brother. His recent death made me disproportionally sad compared to the many deaths I hear about every day. I've been wondering why; is it because the tragedy of his death stood in juxtaposition to the joy in this interview, the only thing I know about him? Or was it because I saw my own brother in him, that I think I can relate to what his family might be feeling? Maybe there’s not one reason. It’s just so sad. “sometimes I feel like a god but I’m not a god” is one of my favorite lines in any song.
3. I Don’t Smoke by Mitski
This one’s a sing-along:
To me, this is a similar feeling to listening to Phoebe Bridgers in that the lyrics admit these feelings of complete devotion to someone or something, a recognition of how vulnerable we can become when consumed by love of any kind. This leo szn I’m thinking about self-love, and how I can admit and work on weaknesses of mine while still loving and nurturing myself. I’ve been thinking about the many people and ideas I love, and how I’m able to critique them and love them completely at the same time. When I listen to this song, I offer myself my own heart to break. (lol) This is getting a little emo and corny. But what else would make sense for this playlist.
4. Half-Light (feat. Kelly Zutrau) by Rostam
This song makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time, the heartbreaking intro is so sparse and intimate, and the instrumentals build and build to sweep me up off my feet—sometimes I literally laugh out loud because it makes me feel so happy. It feels close to musical theatre to me, like the most dramatic version of some kind of sadness I feel. I think that makes whatever pain I’m feeling seem part of some long human drama, the play of life or something. Maybe that’s part of the urge to relate to anything or anyone, that you feel part of something larger and, as a result, feel less alone.
5. A Case of You by Joni Mitchell
My mom showed me the Joni Mitchell album Blue when we were driving a lot together for college visits, and this is my favorite song from that album. It was one of the first times I remember thinking of her as a person in her own right rather than my mom. Very Lady Bird (2017) vibes. To paraphrase my friend’s review of Lady Bird, that movie wasn’t my favorite but I did still cry at the end. The album Blue functionally served as my complete crying playlist from the years of, like, 2012-2014.
6. I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt
I used to play this all the time at the cafe I worked at in Boston but at, like, 7am lol. The chorus is like coming to terms with a dynamic in, for example, I Don’t Smoke; there’s an acceptance that however much you love or devote your energy to something, it still may not work out. There’s a great Bon Iver cover of this song, too. I designate this one a sing-along song also.
7. Killing Me Softly With His Song by Roberta Flack
I usually listen to this song with a glass of wine in one hand kinda swaying back and forth in the living room. I’d call it lush. Flack’s vocals cast a spell over me, her voice feels grounded and calm but filled with subtle emotional movements that make the whole song feel elegant and smooth and full of despair at the same time. In some ways I think of this as a happy song, it’s more upbeat than some of the others I’ve listed. But I think basically it’s a sad song, or a longing song at least. Either way, it’s a classic that I think is under-appreciated sometimes!
8. Something to Believe by Weyes Blood
Similar to Rostam songs, I expect most Weyes Blood songs to build to some majestic, orchestral swell. Bringing to mind Linda Perhacs and Kate Bush, this whole album feels intricately crafted, vibrant, and ethereal. Mering’s vocals in this specific song also bring to mind The Carpenters. In an NPR interview with Ari Shapiro, Mering talked a little about this song as it related to her Christian upbringing:
“I am somebody who feels a bit of a void there from having, you know, had that be such a big part of my life. I think, yeah, once you kind of have that structure within your mind, you would like to fill it with something else.”
I think my listening to this song is a little self-indulgent in some ways. Like Half-Light or I Can’t Make You Love Me, I’m listening to it to remind myself that my pain or sadness isn’t unique, that I’m feeling bad in pretty much the same way as everyone feels bad. Like those songs, too, Something to Believe feels so anthemic that it’s almost theatrical. Check out her new album with Tim Heidecker of Tim & Eric, the video for their song “Fear of Death” is out now and I love it.
9. J’attendrai by Rina Ketty
I like listening to this when I’m not sad so much as melancholy. It’s nice on rainy days or when I’m walking in the fall or something. I don’t know what makes me associate so many French songs with sadness, like I get that lots of people have a similar association, but why? Who told me that? Maybe it’s because my parents had Le ballon rouge (1956) on VHS and I’d watch it over and over. Or the Madeleine CD-rom I’d get to play when it was raining.
I think overall there’s this conflation of all things French with “sophistication” which I think is a dangerous capitalist idea. Like, I think the positioning of French art as really exceptional often has more to do with their general status as a colonizing nation than merit. Which isn’t to say I don’t like French art! I just think I should investigate why I’m drawn to things. I don’t know. I still listen to it when I’m sad and associate it with being sad so I’ll keep it on the list.
10. Married Life by Michael Giacchino (from the Up soundtrack)
If you haven’t seen Up then this probably isn’t great for the list. The melody is more playful or thoughtful than sad, I think. But every time I start this movie I have to pause 10 minutes in because I’m crying so hard. Now this song moves me to tears by association, I guess. It reminds me how close the sensations of love and grief are, and how expansive and life-changing both can be.
Playlist title lifted from a Rilke poem, "The Rose-Window." The last stanza reads:
"so out of darkness once in times long past/
the great Cathedral's glowing window-rose /
thus seized a heart and drew it unto God."
This is a playlist for laid-back chill hangout time. Pair with some soft blankets and a nice porch or stoop if you have it. These songs make me feel like it’s springtime even though it was literally… 100 degrees yesterday. Maybe it’d be good on a walk, idk let me know if you try it. When I lived in Boston I would walk e v e r y w h e r e and this is the kind of thing I would play if it was like a 30-40 minute walk on a nice day and I’d dawdle and look at flowers or get a cup of coffee or something. I think of these as happy songs, but they're probably not, like, awesome pump-up songs. More like if you're watercoloring or reading a book or something at home in a comfy chair.
1. terminal paradise by Adrianne Lenker
I love love love Big Thief, but the relative instrumental sparseness of Adrienne Lenker’s solo work suits my taste even more. Her vocal performance here gives me the same feeling of quiet wonder I feel walking into an old church, and the same sense of interconnectedness I feel in my closest friendships. This song makes me want to cry in a similar way to how I want to cry when I watch Joe Pera Talks With You.
2. Clean Elvis by Dan Reeder
Dan Reeder’s proximity to John Prine (via record label) is evident in this song. It’s dry, witty, nice, and silly. It reminds me of reading Kurt Vonnegut, or maybe Carl Hiassan. I was quick to qualify the statement to myself when I decided I’d call it Americana, I think I wanted to say it was a satire of Americana or something. But what’s the difference? The song mentions aliens, kung-fu, Coca Cola—I can’t deny these are each images from the American zeitgeist.
3. “…Inside the House Was Getting Darker” by Bedbug
Bedbug songs make me feel hopeful. “heaven is a place/It’s a goal we have to work towards”— what a sentiment for the current political landscape! The samples of anti-capitalist speeches along with the laughing and talking of friends in the background lend me a feeling of community when I'm far away from my friends, and with it the shared responsibility we have to take care of one another. I feel it would be incomplete to talk about Bedbug songs without mentioning their politics, since they've stated it's one of the current purposes of the project. Plus, a lot of the songs explore ideas surrounding liberation from capitalism and building meaningful communities. The genre tags on Bedbug's bandcamp strike me as a succinct summary of the project:
When I listen to this song, I am reminded to find solace and hope in the community around me, and I think that's a really important, grounding idea right now.
4. Come Here by Kath Bloom
I first heard this song in Before Sunrise (1995). Like the movie, the song never feels rushed (Well I’m in no hurry/You don’t have to run away this time). It feels easy and happily aimless—impressionistic of a quiet summer romance, or a personal meditation on vulnerability. Kath Bloom’s new album "Bye Bye These Are The Days" is out August 14th on Dear Life records.
5. Step to My Girl by Souls of Mischief
I learned about this song because it was referenced in Vampire Weekend’s “Step” (“Every time I see you in the world/You always step to my girl”). Souls of Mischief was never able to officially release the track due to clearance issues, but responded positively to the the VW song (though Soul of Mischief’s Tajai pointed out it was “crazy that we were never able to put that song out, so it’s interesting that they’re gonna profit from it,” in an interview with Hip Hop DX in 2013). The samples in the song are also incredible in their own right: a saxophone arrangement of “Aubrey” as performed by Grover Washington Jr., a funky number by Marvin Bliss, a thematically and instrumentally similar song “Who’s That Girl” by YZ, and KRS-One’s “Why is that?” which has the topical line “the government you have elected is inoperative.” All contribute to a warm tonal feeling I associate with the analog (cassette tapes, vinyls, VHS) and an emotional feeling I associate with being a kid in the early 2000’s.
6. Telstar by The Tornados
I just think this is a great song but also I have a reason for putting it on here
On New Year’s Eve 2017, I went to Boston from Syracuse to move to my new apartment, and I brought along my friend from home. The apartment felt bare without my roommates, and my friend and I shared pasta out of the only bowl we had. I was remembering happier (warmer) places as the blizzard raged on outside. I asked him what kind of music his mom liked, since I didn’t know much about her, and he thought for a while then played this song. I was laughing so hard, I don’t know why! I guess it reminded me of, like, Star Trek or something. Not sure. But now every time I hear this song it makes me feel like laughing like that.
7. I’d Like To Walk Around In Your Mind by Vashti Bunyan
This song used to come up on YouTube autoplay for me back when that was how I listened to most music. The speckled audio quality reminds me of some early Karen Dalton recordings, or Elizabeth Cotten, the same lo-fi warmth is there that makes the song feel like an intimate conversation. I should put some Elizabeth Cotten on this playlist, she’s got a lot of great summer songs. Bunyan has a kind of ethereal, breathy vocal vibe going on that I love, calling to mind other memorable vocal performances from Jessica Pratt, Devendra Banhart or Joanna Newsom.
8. Freight Train by Elizabeth Cotten
I’m putting some Elizabeth Cotten on the playlist, she’s so great. Her effortless picking translates the busy melody to something that seems simple and true: it reminds me of a really excellent teacher who can communicate huge, complex, nuanced ideas in a way everyone can understand. I feel like I’m learning when I’m listening to her, that she’s reintroducing me to things I’ve forgotten, like the sublime beauty of the mundane (lol what does that mean). Not that there's anything mundane about Cotten's performance. I think her technical brilliance as a guitar player is one of the most salient takeaways from listening to this song, a product of a lifetime of learning and creating. Listening to this makes me excited to play scales or do stretches or do anything that can make me better at something when I commit to practicing.
9. Clay Pigeons by Michael Cera
This is a cover of a Blaze Foley song, a contemporary and close friend of Townes Van Zandt. I group this with Clean Elvis in that they both conjure imagery from the American imaginary (lol) (like cowboys and road trips and freedom and stuff), but through a veil of quiet critique, or… disappointment. Maybe I’m projecting Cera’s characteristic acting style onto his performance here, but this cover is positioned in my head as an example of the current iteration of the English Major Guy (Kerouac, David Foster Wallace, Thoreau, etc.).
LOL this is an unhelpful review ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I was just thinking about all the Greyhound bus stations I've been at throughout my life. I never got my driver's license plus I lived in Boston where there was plenty of public transport, so that was mainly how I got places in college. One time I was visiting friends in Philly and got my ticket back to Boston on the day of the Superbowl but I didn't realize it.... and it was the Eagles and the Patriots.... big goof
10. Sunny Duet (feat. the Mind) by Noname, the Mind
The sonic landscape of Noname songs is so LUSH and WARM and BEAUTIFUL. She always covers so many things lyrically that I would do injustice to by writing about too much, I think I should leave in-depth analysis to people who know better. Like Noname herself in this recent interview with Desus and Mero. You can join Noname's Book Club here, they focus on reading and discussing works about capitalism, the prison-industrial complex, race, gender, and the interaction between all these things.