Cheerful songs about maudlin things

Hello chaps, I wonder if the Dopers’ collective knowledge can help me find some songs. I’m specifically looking for songs that sound cheerful, upbeat and/or poppy at first, but when you listen to the lyrics you actually realise it’s a miserable, misanthropic, maudlin piece of work.

And I don’t mean your “Always look on the bright side of life”-type songs where the narrator jauntily shares their optimistic view of a bad situation; the song lyrics should be truly depressing while the tune itself is pleasantly chipper.

Can anyone raid their memories and/or playlists and offer some suggestions?

try almost anything by “Sublime”

The Cure - Close to Me (Closer Mix) is a perfect example of what you mean.

Tom Lehrer was a master of these, with “We Will All Go Together When We Go” being one of the best – an upbeat, revivalist-type song about nuclear holocaust.

(“We will all go together when we go
Every Hottentot and every Eskimo
When the air becomes uranious…
We will all go simultaneous…
Oh we’ll all go together
Yes we All Will Go Together
Yes, We All Will Go …To…ge…ther … when… we…GO…”)
But thyere’s also “I Hold Your Hand in Mine”, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”, “Masochism Tango”, and others.
Weird Al Yankovic has had a few songs on this type, too, but I can’t recall the titles.

Hank Williams’s “I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive” and “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” come to mind. From the latter:

I’m gonna find me a river, one that’s cold as ice.
And when I find me that river, Lord I’m gonna pay the price
I’m goin’ down in it three times, but lord I’m only comin’ up twice.
She’s long gone, and now I’m lonesome blue.

Well, LOADS of Bruce Springsteen songs fit this description. “Glory Days” and “Hungry Heart” are two of the best examples.

You hear “Glory Days” being played at NFL and major league baseball games all the time… which is odd, because the lyrics are saying, essentially, “We’re only young, vibrant and happy for a little while. Then, before you know it, we’re boring old farts in a bar, waxing nostalgic over our lost youth.”

Hooray for Hollywood fits the bill nicely, if you think about the sarcasm dripping from the lyrics:


The downbeat Ray Charles version sounds positively morose.

This may not be exactly what you’re looking for as it’s more black humour than truly depressing, but Harry Chapin’s song 30,000 Pounds of Bananas concerns a fatal trucking accident.

Christmas at Ground Zero, for one. Cheery ditty about life after the nuclear holocaust.

There’s a song by Stiff Little Fingers called Silver Lining that has an uplifting, sentimental sound unless you read the lyrics…
*They tell you not to worry, they say they’re terribly sorry
But that’s the way it has to be, for the likes of you and me
Just be good and know your station
Always look on the bright side
Keep you faith and keep your patience
Your reward is after you’ve died

So don’t be told, don’t be consoled
Things are so bad, you can never make do
And there’s always someone better off than you*
There’s plenty of examples of bright melody/dark lyrics in pretty much every genre. Rarer is something that has a dark melody/happy lyrics. Bus Stop by The Hollies comes to mind. You spend the whole song waiting for the tragic part to happen, but it never does.

Queen’s Don’t Try Suicide always seemed to me to be, if not upbeat, at least a bit jokey.

I especially like the fact that after that last line there’s a quick double-tap on a cymbal - tsk tsk.

Until I read the lyrics, I didn’t know the 10,000 Maniacs’ song “About the Weather” was about lying in bed too depressed to get up.

“Somebody Got Murdered” by the Clash.

Clear Spot by the Pernice Brothers. A cute, poppy song about heartbreak.

What about “Nothing but Flowers” by the Talking Heads?

I nominate *Help! * by the Beatles.

The music is so upbeat, bouncy, effervescent, and catchy, yet the lyrics talk about a guy who going through a period of depression, self-doubt, and insecurity.

Two off the top:

Hell by Squirrel Nut Zippers (the absolute happiest song I’ve ever heard about going to hell–including bones being ground into cakes to eat and suits of flame)

Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself by Elton John from Honky Chateau. I may have the title, but it is a bit of tap dancing while singing about killing oneself.

Tom Leher is great The Irish Ballad, My Home Town, The Old Dope Peddler, and the aforementioned We Will All Go Together When We Go are all great too.

Happy Boy by The Beat Farmers

Mr. Bad Example by Warren Zevon

What, I’m the first to mention The Smiths? The OP’s description practically defines them. Their song Girlfriend in a Coma is a good example.
I like Sweet and Tender Hooligan:
“Poor old man had an accident in a three bar fire
But that’s okay because he wasn’t very happy anyway
Poor woman
Strangled in her very own bed as she read but that’s okay
She was old and she would have died anyway”

Soleil D’hiver by Niagara. It’s in french, but it’s a peppy, upbeat song about a girl committing suicide, complete with descriptions of how her hair floated in the water…