Goodbye, England's Rose
The British tradition of keeping a stiff upper lip fell apart when Elton John sang at Princess Diana's funeral, and a month later—this week in 1997— his song became a No. 1 hit. Click through for 20 songs that make you cry, starting with "Candle in the Wind," rewritten as a tribute to Lady Di.
"Candle in the Wind" (1997 version)
"Your candle's burned out long before / Your legend ever will"
Originally written as an ode to Marilyn Monroe, "Candle in the Wind"—with new lyrics by Bernie Taupin—moved an entire country to tears when Elton John performed it at Princess Diana's funeral. It went on to become the second-best-selling single of all time (after Bing Crosby's "White Christmas").
"Tears in Heaven" (1993)
"Would you know my name / If I saw you in heaven"
Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" gets to you even if you don't know its backstory. But, sadly, most of us do: The legendary guitarist wrote the song after the death of his 4-year-old son, Connor, who accidentally fell from a window of a New York apartment building in 1991. Clapton hadn't intended to release "Tears in Heaven." It was, as he wrote in his 2007 autobiography, "just what I did to stop from going mad."
"Both Sides Now" (2000 version)
"I've looked at life from both sides now / From win and lose and still somehow / It's life's illusions I recall / I really don't know life at all"
No one ever cried listing to the original track from Joni Mitchell's 1969 album "Clouds," released when she was 23 years old. But the lyrics resonate in a whole new way in her 2000 version, performed when Mitchell was approaching 60.
"For No One" (1966)
"And in her eyes you see nothing / No sign of love behind the tears"
John Lennon called this track from "Revolver" one of his favorite songs by Paul McCartney. "For No One," recounts a breakup from differing perspectives, each adding a layer of sadness. That mournful French horn solo just kills us.
"Keep Me In Your Heart" (2003)
"Sometimes when you're doin' simple things around the house / Maybe you'll think of me and smile"
Warren Zevon wrote "Keep Me in Your Heart" in 2002 after learning he had terminal cancer. This restrained plea of a dying man would have emotional power even if you didn't know the truth behind it.
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (1972)
"The first time ever I saw your face / I thought the sun rose in your eyes"
The lyrics talk about endless love and joy. So, why does Roberta Flack's version of this song, the No. 1 hit of 1972, invariably bring us to tears?
"And it's not a cry that you hear at night / It's not somebody who's seen the light / It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah"
Jeff Buckley's moving cover of Leonard Cohen's masterpiece became even more poignant when it was released as a single in 2007, a decade after the singer accidentally drowned at the age of 30.
"Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" (1972)
"Tell me lies but hold me tight / Save your goodbyes for the morning light, but don't let me be lonely tonight"
Maybe romance can stave off loneliness in this James Taylor song, but not for long.
"Many Rivers to Cross" (1969)
"And this loneliness won't leave me alone / It's such a drag to be on your own"
A reggae classic that captures the pain of a lonely struggle. Jimmy Clift's voice just cuts right through you.
"Smile though your heart is aching / Smile even though it's breaking"
This Charlie Chaplin song is based on an instrumental theme the silent-movie legend composed for 1936's "Modern Times." Rickie Lee Jones takes it to a new level.
"Unchained Melody" (1965)
"Time goes by so slowly / And time can do so much / Are you still mine?"
Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley both wanted to sing this one solo, so they tossed a coin and Hatfield won. Even with Medley on the sideline, it's one of the Righteous Brothers' most stirring songs.
"Kentucky Avenue" (1978)
"I'll steal a hacksaw from my dad / And cut the braces off your legs / And we'll bury them tonight in the cornfield"
Tom Waits is a master at evoking the melancholy of a long-ago past, and this autobiographical ballad, about a childhood friend with polio, is one of the most poignant songs he ever wrote.
"I Can't Make You Love Me" (1991)
"'Cause I can't make you love me / If you don't / You can't make your heart feel /
Something it won't"
The title of this song, a Top 20 hit for Bonnie Raitt, says it all.
"Cat’s In the Cradle" (1974)
"'When you coming home, Dad?' / 'I don't know when / But we'll get together then ...'"
Harry Chapin's only No.1 hit, "Cat's in the Cradle" sets a somewhat distant father-son relationship against the passage of time. Chapin acknowledged that the lyrics refer in part to his relationship with his own son. "Frankly," he said, "this song scares me to death."
"If You See Her, Say Hello" (1975)
"She might think that I've forgotten her / Don't tell her it isn't so"
Bob Dylan's masterpiece "Blood on the Tracks" is filled with shattering songs, from the regretful "Tangled Up in Blue" to the bitter breakup anthem "Idiot Wind." But none gets to us more than this one.
"Sweet Old World" (1992)
"Didn't you think anyone loved you / See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world"
This song is even sadder if you know what inspired it: Lucinda Williams wrote and performed it as a tribute to a close friend who had committed suicide.
"The River" (1980)
"Now those memories come back to haunt me / They haunt me like a curse / Is a dream a lie if it don't come true / Or is it something worse"
Bruce Springsteen's elegiac ballad "The River" contrasts youthful dreams with the disappointment and everyday struggle of a working man. Just listen to that harmonica wail and try to keep your composure.
"Everybody Hurts" (1992)
"If you're on your own in this life / The days and nights are long"
R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" drags you down from its opening notes and only gets sadder from there. Written primarily by drummer Bill Berry, the song conveys a message about loneliness and isolation—one that, as the title suggests, everybody can relate to.
"Someday We'll All Be Free" (2001)
"Brighter days will soon be here / Take it from me / Someday we'll all be free"
A song that captures that universal sense of longing. Alicia Keys sang it on "America: A Tribute to Heroes," a benefit concert broadcast on four major networks in the aftermath of 9/11.
"I hurt myself today / To see if I still feel"
Johnny Cash's "Hurt" is an unlikely cover of a Nine Inch Nails single, but with his trademark baritone growl, the country legend transforms the song and makes it his own. Oh, did we mention that it tears you apart from the inside?
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