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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Saddest Songs of All Time

Your picks include ‘Cat’s in the Cradle and ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’

weekend rock

Eric Clapton

There's no shortage of sad songs in the history of popular music. Artists have a tendency to channel their sorrows into their work, leaving us with countless sad songs about everything from breakups to addictions to death. Picking the very best of these songs is no easy task, but that's exactly what we asked our readers to do last week. Votes poured in by the hundreds. Click through to see the results. 


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4. Harry Chapin – ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’

AM radio was full of tearjerker songs in the 1970s, but Harry Chapin's 1974 hit "Cat's in the Cradle" is the king of them all. As everyone who ever attended summer camp knows, it's about a father who is too busy to spend time with his son. At the end, the grown-up son is too busy for his elderly father. It began as a poem by Chapin's wife, Sandy; her first husband's father was a New York politician and they had a strained relationship. Chapin died in a car accident in 1981 and he never got to see his own children grown up, making the song somehow even sadder. 

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3. R.E.M. – ‘Everybody Hurts’

There weren't a lot of R.E.M. songs with a straightforward message before "Everybody Hurts." "The One I Love" is an anti-love song, "Gardening at Night" is just confusing and we're still trying to figure out "Losing My Religion." But there's no mistaking the message of "Everybody Hurts" – it's right there in the title. The iconic video showing depressed people in a traffic jam was filmed in San Antonio, Texas. MTV played it all the time in 1993, making this one of R.E.M.'s most well-known songs. 

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2. Nine Inch Nails – ‘Hurt’

Here's a line straight from the Associated Press' recent review of a Nine Inch Nails concert: "NIN closed the night with a slow and smoky cover of Johnny Cash's 'Hurt.'" The Internet had a field day making fun of the wire service for the glaring error, and the article has since been removed from the site, but it's easy to understand how such a thing happened; Johnny Cash's 2002 cover has basically supplanted the original in the hearts of the public. Cash was a year away from dying when he cut the song, and he turned the tale of heroin abuse into a look back on his life while barely changing any of the lyrics. June Carter Cash appeared in the video just three months before she died. Without any dispute, it was Cash's final masterpiece and the perfect epitaph. When you hear Trent Reznor singing it today, it's nearly impossible to not think about Johnny Cash. 

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1. Eric Clapton – ‘Tears in Heaven’

Eric Clapton's son Conor was just four years old when he fell to his death from the 53th floor of a New York building in 1991. Not long after the tragedy, Clapton and songwriter Will Jennings penned "Tears in Heaven" as a tribute to the child. They never imagined it would become a huge hit, but within months, it was Number Two on the Hot 100 and swept the Grammys. The song first appeared on the soundtrack to the widely forgotten Jason Patric movie Rush, but the version most people remember comes from Clapton's 1992 Unplugged special. By 2004, Clapton could no longer bear to perform the song at his shows and he dropped it; it returned earlier this year. 

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