I am not fishing for sympathy here, but the last few weeks have been pretty hard on me. My father passed away in early October after a long battle with cancer. Then, two weeks ago, I learned that I would lose my job at the end of the year. I know that most people endure the loss of a parent or a job, so there is nothing special about my predicament. Still, 2013 has been a shitty year and, when things get shitty, I often find myself turning to an unlikely source for commiseration: easy-listening rock from the 1970s.
I’m not proud of this fact. Normally, I hold my nose when one of those syrupy, emotion-filled ballads from the Me Decade finds its way on my radio. I quickly switch the dial to something a little less sentimental, like Soundgarden or Guns & Roses, or maybe Sublime, even though I’m pretty much sick of all three of them. I will do anything to ward off the spot-on harmonies, woodwind accompaniments and minor key progressions of adult contemporary pop.But, when I find myself in times of trouble, I actually seek out this kind of music. A few years ago, when I was struggling through an especially tough time, I started listening to songs on YouTube by the early 1970s hit machine, Bread. I then took the next step, actually purchasing Bread’s Anthology on CD. Once my depression passed, the Bread disc was safely tucked away in my office closet, stacked somewhere between Bad Company and the Beatles. But last week, I pulled it out, popped it into my car’s CD player, and drove down the highway listening to the heart-wrenching strains of “If,” the majestic autumn colors whizzing past me like golden-hued clouds floating through a Zoloft-induced haze.
Again, I am not proud of this. But maybe it’s proof that there is a place in the world for slickly produced, emotionally manipulative and shamelessly unsubtle songs. Maybe it’s nice to know that, somewhere out there, there once was a millionaire pop star who felt just as miserable then as you do now.
In celebration of this service provided by the music industry, I have come up with my unofficial Top Five Songs to Be Depressed To. Maybe you’ll find something in here that can help you through your own bad times.5.) Jackson Browne, “Here Come Those Tears Again.” Browne was a big piano-playing troubadour during the Sensitive Seventies, but his vocals were about as versatile and interesting as Velveeta cheese. In this song, he gets some much-needed help from back-up singers Bonnie Raitt and Rosemary Butler, whose searing harmonies pack all the emotional punch of the jilted lover Jackson Browne is trying to portray. A good song for the post-break-up blues.
4.) Bread, “Diary.” I found her diary underneath a tree/And started reading about me, sings frontman David Gates. Which begs the question, what kind of person leaves her diary lying around under some tree? Only a woman who intends for it to be found and read by David Gates, apparently. The song’s protagonist quickly learns that the lover his wife is fawning over in her journal isn’t him. Somehow, he finds the inner strength to wish his lady and her new flame well, which must make him some kind of a saint. Either, that, or he’s sleeping around with someone else, too. It was the Free Love Age, after all.
3.) Glen Campbell, “The Wichita Lineman.” Jimmy Webb wrote some amazing songs in the late 1960s and ’70s, and “Wichita Lineman” is one of his best. It’s also very depressing and patently uncool, the kind of song you turn the volume down on when pulling next to another car at an intersection. The Wichita lineman in this song likes to listen in on the phone conversations of his main crush. Nowadays, he could just stalk her on Facebook, but back then you had to climb up a telephone pole on some freezing Kansas blacktop to get your creep on. A haunting, lonely song with some strange effects that, I guess, are supposed to sound like live telephone wires.
2.) Harry Chapin, “W.O.L.D.” I could have put “Cat’s in the Cradle” on this list, but that would be too obvious. And, to be honest, it is only the most famous of a whole career of hard-luck songs Chapin recorded before his untimely death in 1981. “W.O.L.D.” tells the story of a morning radio DJ who is past his prime, and may even be a metaphor for rock music itself. Anyway, this DJ is calling his ex-wife and asking her to take him back, even though he’s overweight and got a spot on the top of my head, just beggin’ for a new toupee. Naturally, the ex wants nothing to do with him, so the DJ goes back on the air, pretending to be a happy guy. Fake it until you make it, I guess.
1.) Bread, “Guitar Man.” This song starts out innocently enough. There’s this great guitar player who draws big crowds and makes the girls swoon. Perfectly standard rock star stuff, really. But, this being Bread, you know things will take a bad turn by the third stanza. The Guitar Man gets old, people no longer flock to his shows, but he keeps on playing, because that is what defines his detached, lonely, wandering life. Fade away, are the last words you hear on the fade-out of this song, which further entrenches Bread as The Most Depressing Band Ever.