Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Depressing songs seemed to define the 1970s

It’s been 40 years since the 1970s, and while the nostalgia industry hasn’t caught the “’70s” bug like the “’50s” bug that took hold in the ’70s, I keep hoping it will.

I was a pre-teenager and then a teenager in the 1970s, and music was a big part of my life. Back then, the radio was the source of the latest sounds. What did Led Zeppelin’s or Queen’s latest album sound like? You had to listen to WPLJ or another rock station in New York to find out. It was a golden age of rock.

But it was also a tin age of some of the most depressing songs to ever vibrate a speaker. I wonder if the suicide rate in the 1970s was affected by songs that just were such downers. I am going to list some songs, and you readers can submit more to me for a future blog posting.

I suppose it’s because my Chevrolet Cruze has Sirius/XM radio, and I have been spending way too much time listening to the “oldies” stations like “70s on 7” that I keep hearing these songs.

In no particular order, the songs I am thinking of are:

  • “Same Auld Lang Syne,” by Dan Fogelberg (actually 1981, but close to the 1970s in tone)
  • “Leader of the Band,” again by Dan Fogelberg (again, actually 1981, but a downer nonetheless)
  • “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be,” Carly Simon, 1971
  • “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” Carly Simon again, 1974
  • “Seasons in the Sun,” Terry Jacks, 1974
  • “Wildfire,” Michael Murphey, 1975
  • “At Seventeen,” Janis Ian, 1975
  • “Danny’s Song,” 1971 by Loggins & Messina; 1972 by Anne Murray
  • “You Light Up My Life,” 1977, Debby Boone
  • “(You’re) Having My Baby,” 1975, Paul Anka and Odia Coates

I’ll attack each one now.

“Same Auld Lang Syne,” by Dan Fogelberg (actually 1981, but close to the 1970s in tone)
I swear, this song makes you want to just run a tube from the car exhaust into the window. It’s a depressing story about a man who meets a former love on Christmas Eve and ends up knocking down a sixer in the front seat of his car with her. She tells him she’s married but just pretending to love the guy, and when she leaves the snow changes to rain. Gray, gray, gray, so 1970s and brutally depressing. I hear this song and I think of the scene in Woody Allen’s suicidally depressing 1978 film “Interiors,” where Diane Keaton’s character tells her unstable, alcoholic husband, who is sitting in a bleak and dark living room grading papers (he’s a college professor, his latest job), that she just became conscious of her body and she’s at the age in which her mother first began showing signs of mental illness. Outside, it’s a bleak, gray Connecticut winter day, and there’s no love heating or lighting up the house. See? This song really brings out my moroseness.

“Leader of the Band,” again by Dan Fogelberg (again, actually 1981, but a ’70s downer nonetheless)
For some reason, this song makes me sad. “The leader of the band is tired/And his eyes are growing old … My life has been a poor attempt/To imitate the man/I’m just a living legacy/To the leader of the band.” I don’t know who to feel more sorry for, the leader of the band or the person singing about him. Either way, even a dose of Pink Floyd at its most nihilistic is uplifting after this song.

“That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be,” Carly Simon, 1971
See my comments on “Interiors” above, especially for the beginning of this song. I think there’s a reason why the man being sung to should run like hell from Carly Simon. Marry her, and you’ll be dealing with the most depressing in-laws in history. And her father smokes in the house. And her married friends fight with their spouses. And their children hate them. And the piano’s tone makes me want to bury my face in my hands and cry.

“Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” Carly Simon again, 1974
If hearing this song doesn’t make you want to find a window in a tall building and jump, you have ice water in your veins. This song even makes “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd sound like a soulful feelings-fest. And if that’s not enough, there’s a three-note intro to the “Suffering was the only thing …” verse that makes you want to swear off music for life. And don’t even get me started on the long, pointless orchestral ending that is usually cut off by DJs during its fade-out.

“Seasons in the Sun,” Terry Jacks, 1974
The post-Watergate 1970s was a really awful time, and this song made many people wish they’d been born deaf. The radio played it relentlessly, and I can still hear the four opening notes (played twice!) in my head. And those lyrics: “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun/But the … blah blah blah was just seasons out of time.” Apparently, the uplifting message is that the guy is on his deathbed and saying goodbye. “Goodbye Papa/Michelle it’s hard to die/When all the birds are singing in the sky.”

“Wildfire,” Michael Murphey, 1975
Well, the idea is that a woman’s pony, Wildfire, decided a blizzard was a good time to bust down its stall and go out into the snow. “She” follows and the singer hears she died trying to retrieve the horse, who’s lost in the blizzard. “She ran calling ‘Wildfire’”/“She ran calling ‘Wildfire’”/“She ran calling ‘W-i-i-i-i-ildfi-i-ire’”. There’s talk about owls, and that she’s coming for the singer and they’ll leave on Wildfire. More “Wildfire” by the chorus, and by this time you want to just turn off the radio. The lesson? Secure the horse before the storm. And the long piano postlude is a waste of time.

“At Seventeen,” Janis Ian, 1975
I heard this song the other day and just wanted to drive into a ditch. It’s the most depressing song ever, even if you’re a guy. And the fun never ends as things get worse and worse. “The small-town eyes will gaze at you/In dull surprise when payment due/Exceeds accounts received/At seventeen.” A good reason to avoid accounting, if nothing else.

“Danny’s Song,” 1971 by Loggins & Messina; 1972 by Anne Murray
There’s something about this song that just irritates me. “Pisces, Virgo rising, is a very good sign/It’s warm and kind/And the little boy is mine.” OK, Kenny (Quick-Pickin’, Fun Strummin’ Home Guitar Course) Loggins, time to learn that astrology is B.S. I feel like singing a sad song for songs that push pseudoscience. And hey, we’re broke but let’s have kids anyway!

“You Light Up My Life,” 1977, Debby Boone
I’d call her a one-hit wonder, but to me Debby Boone is a no-hit wonder, because this song, played relentlessly back in the day, sucks canal water. The daughter of white-bread, my-career-is –in-the-can-better-have-a-religious-conversion-now Pat Boone, Debby Boone achieved fame, fortune and more with this ballad that makes my skin crawl even today. There was a film of the same name that blew gigantic chunks.

“(You’re) Having My Baby,” 1975, Paul Anka and Odia Coates
When people talk about horrible songs that just make you want to give up on life, this one comes to mind. Paul Anka hadn’t had a hit since 1959 and turned up with this horribly misogynist tune. People had two questions: Why? and Who or what is an Odia Coates? This anthem to pro-natalism was derided for its caveman approach to women and the story, according to Wikipedia, is that Anka left it off his personal list of his own Top 10 songs.

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December 22, 2011 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. When one thinks of Dan Fogelberg, one might think of sappy love ballads from the late 70s. This is an unfair reputation to Dan Fogelberg, who has had a very good career spanning three decades. On this collection, “The Very Best of Dan Fogelberg” we get a good sampling of some of the best material by Fogelberg. The best way I look at Dan Fogelberg’s career is that he provides a more mature spin on the Folk Music from the late 1960s and early 70s, yet is the Prototype for the “Coffee House” music that is popular today. While Fogelberg is often seen with an acoustic guitar, there is plenty of piano and other instrumentation that is worth looking at as well. It is also worth noting that Fogelberg is an incredible songwriter. Many of his songs are terrific narratives in which he establishes a near virtual “visual” for the theme of the song.

    Comment by Sugel | January 9, 2012 | Reply

  2. I think the most depressing song of the 70s is Alone Again, (Naturally) by Gilbert O’ Sullivan. What was the deal with the 70s anyway?! Viet Nam and Watergate? In relation to that song, see the book, Waking From the American Dream: 10 Mile.

    Comment by Mike | July 10, 2012 | Reply

  3. Even songs that are supposed to be uplifting still have a depressing sound… i.e. “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

    Yes, you are correct. The 1970’s have the most depressing top 40’s songs ever recorded. That’s why I listened to hard rock during the 1970’s. Hard rock was king in the 1970’s and still is to this day!

    Comment by Seademhawks | November 3, 2015 | Reply

    • I agree. I miss the hard rock sound, too. But nowadays they mix them all together.

      Comment by Vincent Safuto | November 4, 2015 | Reply


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