Top 12 Somber Songs


Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.

I love reading and writing, and I find philosophy fascinating. But if I had to pick a hobby completely unrelated to my major or minor, then that would definitely be music. I love playing it. I love listening to it. I love talking about it. In movies, music is used to set the tone and change the atmosphere according to the effect that the movie directors want you to feel. It can be fun, it can be dark, it can be emotional, it can be anything. And as this is my last full month as a band geek, I figured it would be appropriate to dedicate the next few weeks to the Month of Music. This week, I’m going to explore the soft side of music and count down the top 12 soft, whimsical, and/or emotional songs ever written.

#12: My Own Home from The Jungle Book

While I don’t find Wikipedia the best source for research, I think that the page’s description of “My Own Home” put it best when listing it as a “‘siren song’ with Indian overtones.” Darleen Carr sings the haunting melody at the end of the movie, when Shere Khan’s chased off and Baloo and Mowgli resolve to stick together in the jungle. And wouldn’t you know it? They just happen to be on the outskirts of the man-village and they make that promise mere seconds before Shanti comes out to fetch water from the river. The music and the vocals combine into a calming melody that people would remember in a good way…even if the lyrics are likely to piss off feminists.

#11: Deep in the Meadow from Hunger Games

“Deep in the Meadow,” written by Suzanne Collins for the Hunger Games trilogy, appears a couple of times throughout the series. It appears in the beginning when Katniss tries to calm her sister Prim, it appears in the Games when Katniss sings to Rue as she’s dying, and it appears at the very end of Mockingjay. In the midst of violence and turmoil, the lyrics tell the listener of a picturesque sanctuary, where flowers guard you from harm and the grass lulls you to sleep. Sting performed the song for the 2012 movie, and he gave it the proper respect it deserved. It’s very soft, somber, and soothing, like a lullaby is supposed to be.

#10: Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Imagination is a recurring theme in the 1971 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book, and “Pure Imagination” underlines it perfectly. When Gene Wilder sings it in the factory, the lyrics and whimsical atmosphere give viewers a taste of Wonka’s character. He’s intelligent, quick witted, well read, and creepy. He has the imagination of a child, and his ability to think outside the box made his business successful. But he’s also suave, mysterious, and capable of showing kindness to the people he feels deserve it most. Whenever I mention the movie to most of my friends, this song is usually the first thing that pops up in our heads, and for good reason. That’s one reason for why I prefer this film version to the Tim Burton remake in 2005. While the demented number from that movie kills brain cells every time people think about it, “Pure Imagination” reminds us of the good side of nostalgic artistry.

#9: Rainbow Connection from The Muppet Movie

If The Muppet Movie is the story of how the Muppets got started, then “Rainbow Connection” was a clever way to start it. The movie opens with Kermit playing the banjo and singing wistfully about something big waiting for him to claim it. The soundtrack as a whole to The Muppet Movie is impressive overall. But when anyone mentions the Muppets, “Rainbow Connection” is what we think of. It reappeared during the 2011 Muppets, and people started bawling in the theaters upon hearing Kermit singing it again. It’s one of the reasons for why the Muppets have stuck around so long, and I have a feeling that we’ll still be singing it in our head years from now.

#8: Jar of Hearts by Christina Perri and Drift by Emily Osment

I find these two songs very similar to each other. “Jar of Hearts” is a poignant ballad that tells a story of a girl telling her former love that she can’t take any more of his Machiavellianism, and bids him good-bye for the last time. The music video in particular is impressive, depicting the love interest as an emotional rapist who keeps taking as much as he can from women until they’re left with nothing.

And then there’s “Drift,” a song written and performed by Emily Osment for the 2011 movie Cyberbully. If you haven’t seen it yet…eh, don’t. I’ll give it credit for trying to teach viewers about how to deal with cyberbullies, but it has too many clichés and falls flat. To its credit, it did give birth to “Drift.” It feels like the symphonic way of describing depression. I like how the first two verses just have a monotone beat pulsing in the background while Osment sings. Much like “Jar of Hearts” and “Sound of Silence,” it’s simple and emotional at the same time.

#7: American Elegy by Frank Ticheli and It Is Well by Horatio Spafford

Ticheli wrote “American Elegy” as a response to the Columbine High School shootings of 1999, and Spafford wrote “It is Well” as a response to tragedies in his life. “American Elegy” tells a story of great disaster and sadness, but also finding hope in the midst of calamity. I especially like the faraway trumpet solo about halfway through the song; it sounds like sadness coming down from the sky. “It is Well,” in comparison, is a popular hymn that you might hear in church, at funerals, or in other Christian atmospheres. We like the song so much because it’s symbolic of Spafford standing tall despite the tragedies he suffered.

#6: God Help the Outcasts from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame

“God Help the Outcasts” is a sweet melody sung by the gypsy Esmeralda. Aside from sounding good, it underlines the theme of Victor Hugo’s novel and touches on faith and prayer. At one point in the song, we have a group of rich, well-off Christians asking God for wealth, fame, and love. Esmeralda, a penniless gypsy who confessed that she didn’t know if God was there, prays for her people and asks that they be shown mercy and love. I also love how Esmeralda points out that Jesus was also an outcast when he walked on this Earth, and that we’re all children of God no matter who we are or what we’ve done.

#5: I Dreamed a Dream from Les Misérables

By far the most remembered ballad from the musical based on Victor Hugo’s magnum opus. The song is a lament sung by Fantine after she loses her job. It carries levels of passion and emotion. My favorite version is Anne Hathaway’s performance from the 2012 movie. Not only was the different placement of the song a clever choice, but Hathaway also uses these four minutes as a chance to show what she’s capable of as a singer and as an actress. The raw emotion cuts through, it’s all filmed in one shot, and Hathaway knocks it out of the ballpark in her performance.         

#4: Beauty and the Beast from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

The ballad from the film of the same name that won three awards in 1992, “Beauty and the Beast” has my vote for the best love song written…well, except for one, but I’ll get to that in a bit. In this memorable number, Belle and the Beast have their first date as Angela Lansbury sings about the relationship they’ve had thus far. This is the first Disney love story that can’t be summed up in the “love at first sight” cliché, and it shows. The lyrics sing about how two people couldn’t mesh together well until one extends a hand of friendship. I also like how the song is sung from an outsider’s point of view, an outsider who understands what love is like and sees it being played out. The instrumental is also breathtaking. I included the instrumental alone in the links provided because that alto saxophone sings so beautifully.

#3: Song for Lyndsay by Andrew Boysen, Jr.

This is a different kind of love ballad. Andrew Boysen Jr. wrote this for his wife, Lyndsay, and unlike other love songs, he lets the music speak for itself. The instrumentation of this song is brilliant; it originally started as a song for the piano, with wind instruments worked into the score. Additionally, Boysen chose two instruments to represent him and his wife: the French horn for him and the flute for her. The music tells the story all on its own, and that’s why I think it’s better than “Beauty and the Beast.”

#2: Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel

Written in response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, “Sound of Silence” is one of the few popular songs from the 60s that have survived the test of time. Accompanied only by a guitar and a percussion set, Simon shares a dream he had about the emptiness of life and the oppression of humanity. The first two lines of lyrics really set the tone for the rest of the song. “Hello, darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again.” Doesn’t it sound like someone having a conversation with his own depression? I love its artistic edge, I love its relevance to its audiences, I love the simplicity of the music, I love the lyrics, I love it all.

#1: Feed the Birds from Disney’s Mary Poppins

Everyone who loves the Mary Poppins movie remembers this sweet melody. “Feed the Birds” is a haunting lullaby about an old woman who sits on the steps of a cathedral every day urging passersby to find the good in their hearts and spend a few coins to feed birds. It seems like such a simple song, but there’s so much depth to it. I especially love how the song appears again at the end of the movie when Mr. Banks is about to lose his job. There are no lyrics, no dancing, no flashbacks, nothing else. The music sings for itself as Mr. Banks takes a symbolic walk in the darkness. It’s one of the best cinematic moments ever, which was why I included it in the links provided. I just love how that music swells during that segment and speaks what words can’t express. And that’s why I can easily give this song the number one spot on this list.

And that’s my countdown for music expressing whimsy, romance, sadness, and other somber emotions you can think of. I hope you enjoyed the music provided and that you’ll stay tuned for more. Until next time, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “So long.”


One Comment

  1. Kenneth

    I actually like On My Own from Les Mis over I Dreamed a Dream much better. Come What May from Moulin Rouge is good too. I like that you are listing top songs. So if I were to do top 12 for this category I would pick in no particular order
    1. Live To Tell by Madonna from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack At Close Range. It is probably one of her better songs and I’m a fan if hers. It has an almost haunting feeling to it.
    2. On My Own from Les Mis. Yes I know the crowd pleaser is the Deeamed a Dream tune but it’s more somber to me to have a love that is unreturned versus a love that was rejected, leading to a life of misery…I’m crazy like that.
    3. What I Did For Love from A Chorus Line … One if my top 5 stage productions. The lead in to the song asks the question “what if you couldn’t act or dance any more, what would happen to you?”
    4. Leather and Lace by Stevie Nicks featuring Don Henly. Ok so I’m also a huge Stevie fan and there is something innocent and desperate about this song that love. Oh and I’m a Don Henly fan too.
    5. Tennessee Christmas by Amy Grant. Ok it’s a Christmas tune and who doesn’t get sentimental at the holidays? For some reason this reminds me of when I was little and your mom was in college and I would wait eagerly, in our living room for her to come home for the holidays.
    6. Find the River by REM. I think it’s a song about finding direction (I’m not really good at deciphering lyrics) but it could be about actually locating running water.
    7. No More I Love You’s by Annie Lennox. Love her and I could listen to this song on repeat. No clue what it’s about.
    8. New York State of Mind by Billy Joel. This song makes me think of people I thought I would be friends with forever some that I have remained close with and those who have faded into obscurity.
    9. Reflection from Mulan I like the movie version that Mulan sings in the movie but I really like the Christina Aguilera version that plays during the credits.
    10. A Long December by Counting Crows. Courtney Cox is in the video and it’s a great tune with great piano and accordion.
    11. Ave Maria there are good versions and bad versions of this song so I can’t pick 1 version that I like more than another.
    12. Homesick by Sheryl Crow. This is a newer song from her Feels Like Home album and I think I have replaced a Suzanne Vega song for this one in a top 12. Love this song I think I have worn it out on my iPod. And there is a great lyric where she says ” I get homesick, for anywhere but home” Love it!

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