Music is capable of many good things. Its capacity to elicit emotion in all forms and calibers from listeners is, in my opinion, unrivaled by any other sort of artistic expression. There are songs that lift you up, and then there are songs that make you ask ‘who hurt this person?'. Empathy is a powerful tool of the mind for understanding the emotions of others, and these ten songs are a few prime examples of those emotions, channeled into heartbreaking, tear-jerking, throat-catching poetry. I warn you, this is not a list for the faint hearted. On the piano of life, there are white keys and black keys, representing happiness and sadness. This list a reminder that the black keys often make beautiful music too.
1. Barns Courtney - "Goodbye John Smith"
I won't lie, this simple, quiet song has hit me hard every time I've heard it. If you're anyone who's ever lost anyone, Barns Courtney has a talent for bringing those feelings rushing to the top, swirling just under the surface. It's a stripped down piano ballad that's far too low for his voice, and a message that's far too aged and powerful for man as young as he is. There is a reason this is the first song on this list; I feel a little part of myself seize up on the inside every time I hear the chorus. Listen for yourself, and I dare you to hold it together as you do.
2. The White Buffalo - "I Got You"
Love is rarely so romantic. Movies and television have a knack for showing the ‘fantasy' of love, while sidelining the reality of it. Jake Smith is an unfiltered songwriter who digs deep with his craft; there is no room for rose tinted glasses, no room for censorship, no room for telling the story any other way than how it is. "I Got You" is a confessional duet that shows the irrational side of love, and the lack of choice people really have when it comes to falling in love, even when it hurts.
3. Keaton Henson - "You Don't Know How Lucky You Are"
If I could describe Keaton Henson in one sentence, it would be "a tiny, fragile voice, with an enormous, thumping heart". I cannot listen to this song and see this video without wiping tears from my eyes. I couldn't even finish listening to it when I was writing this list. It crushes you, shatters your composure just like the woman in the video, and it is so unbearably intimate that for a moment, you almost feel your worst heartbreak all over again.
4. Avenged Sevenfold - "So Far Away"
Losing someone is never easy, and the death of a loved one is a sensitive and fragile topic. Matthew Sanders of Avenged Sevenfold wrote this song shortly after Jimmy 'The Rev' Sullivan, the band's drummer, passed away. It was a defining moment in the band's career and led to the inception of their fifth studio album Nightmare
, as a tribute to their lost friend. Anyone who has followed Avenged Sevenfold previously likely knows the gravity of this song and how deeply personal it is for the band. Listen for the acoustic guitar in the bridge, and listen to Sanders pour his heart out during the conclusion of this message to his fallen friend. You can feel the heartache in every word.
5. Sixx A.M. - "Accidents Can Happen"
The Glam Rock lifestyle was an over-the-top thrill ride in its heyday, and it took a toll on those who lived it. Nikki Sixx wrote this song as part of the band's debut album, inspired by his book The Heroin Diaries: a Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star,
detailing his experiences as a using and then recovering heroin addict in the 1980s. The song gives you a glimpse into the struggles of addiction and recovery, and reminds us that having a friend there makes it that much easier.
6. Amber Run - "5AM"
The title track off of Amber Run's debut studio album, "5AM," is one of my favorite songs on this list. Every aspect of its lyricism and sound design put you right in the moment that Joe Keogh describes to the listener. Despite the beauty in the atmosphere the song creates, you can hear tragedy in Keogh's words; a direct address to a friend or lover falling apart in the verses, and a warning for those listening not to take for granted what they could lose at any moment in the chorus. His eyes catch you like a stop sign in the video, and you can see every word as clearly as his mouth speaks them.
7. Stephanie Rainey - "Please Don't Go"
You might hear it at first and think this song is about a breakup. But, if you listen to the lyrics it is actually much, much heavier on the heart than that. Stephanie Rainey wrote this song on the day her nephew passed away from meningitis. His first birthday was the day before. It is a profoundly wounding song that gets behind your eyes and tries to force the tears out of you. I don't believe anyone should ever have to feel what this songwriter must have felt when writing this song.
8. Keaton Henson - "Sweetheart, What Have You Done to Us?"
You might be asking why Keaton Henson appears twice on this list. It's because there has arguably never been a man more able to tug on your heartstrings with his voice. Some people might call him dramatic or over-the-top, but when I hear this man, I hear someone who loves completely. This is a rare song which shakes and trembles with a mix of heartbreak, bitterness, and hidden affection.
9. Calum Scott - "Dancing On My Own"
Here's a place we've all been. Everyone has known what it's like to want someone so badly, but know deep down you have no chance, or worse, lost that chance. To wish you could switch places with someone else, or do everything over again, but this time you would do it right, or that they will just notice you. This song has so many pieces of broken chances, shattered egos, and cracked picture frames all taken and fused into an immaculately crafted melody.
10. Beyoncé - "Sandcastles"
This one speaks for itself. You don't need me to sell it to you.