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Readers recommend: melancholy songs | Peter Kimpton


Bittersweet, articulate, beautiful or bold? Suggest selections for a special form of sadness in songs for this week’s sorrowful but strangely uplifting topic

“Misery is the river of the world,” grunts out an energetically downbeat Tom Waits. “Melancholy is sadness that has taken on lightness,” replies the eccentric, upbeat author Italo Calvino. And, now also entering the Readers Recommend bar (you never know who might turn up), here’s Rob Spragg, aka Larry Love, from Alabama 3. He decides to do a spontaneous gig, as I’ve seen him do a couple of times, and, no matter how what the subject matter or how upbeat the style, he dryly remarks, with a twinkle in the eye, and that gravelly voice - ‘Here’s another sad song for ya!”

For what is melancholy? It is more than sadness. It is a nuanced mix of emotions that seems steeped in articulacy. It implies there’s something to say about a state of mind and the state of the world. Arguably melancholy is as much a driving force to songwriting as any idea or emotion. Is it a functional form of depression? Perhaps. If so, it certainly served to be so for the likes of Nick Drake, or Joni Mitchell, who later admitted to suffering from such a state throughout the writing of several of her most acclaimed albums.

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