The saddest songs I ever heard

sad-emoticon“Why am I treated so bad?” sang Mavis Staples, backed by the Staples family. The show was a Public Television-produced revival of Gospel’s Jubilee Showcase, a Chicago Sunday morning TV program from the 1960s. The program showcased the best gospel singers in what was considered the golden age of gospel music.

It’s a powerful medium, this music. The intensity and complexity of the sentiments expressed—the joy, the sorrow, the anguish, the faith—find expression in some of the most emotional singing and complicated rhythms of any kind of music. There’s nothing quite like it. But in this instance, the song was just plain sad. In fact, the very young, smiling  Mavis Staples was singing one of the saddest songs I’d ever heard.


Why, am I treated so bad?
Why, am I treated so bad?
You know I’m all alone as I sing this song,
Hear my call, I’ve done nobody wrong
But I’m treated so bad

It reminded me of one of the other saddest songs I’ve ever heard, not a gospel song but something country and western: Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”


Hear the lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I’m so lonesome I could cry

I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind a cloud
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die
That means he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry.

In most songs, in most poems, in most works of art of every kind, the emotion is more complex, more varied and complicated by anger, guilt, even love. But in these two songs, it’s just sadness – naked, painful, unrelenting.

In a story about murder, there should be room for that kind of sadness.


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One comment on “The saddest songs I ever heard
  1. Ardie Stockmoe says:

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