Bob Marley once said, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” But the same can’t be said about the songwriters who wrote these ten heartbreaking albums. Guaranteed to grab you by the tear ducts, these records will leave you blubbering for their enigmatic content, their solemn messages and their authentic emotion.
By peeling back the curtain, the tumultuous personal lives that often ended in tragedy are revealed, giving a lot of insight into why these albums were so imbued with sadness. The record not only provides a reminder of the artist behind the artistry but also helps us all to connect with our own emotions.
That’s the real beauty of sad music, it allows one, sometimes, to find happiness again. There’s a camaraderie that permeates truly fraught music, a knowledge that somebody else feels or has felt the same as you, all with the added bonus of creating beautiful music along the way. It’s why sad music has become such a joyful experience for many who revel in it. Cathartic and authentic, these albums are perfect for a good cry.
So, pull out your tissues. Here are our picks for the ten saddest albums of all time.
10 saddest albums of all time:
10. Miles Davis – Blue Moods (1955)
Consisting of only four songs, Miles Davis’s 1955 release is the epitome of cool jazz while also bringing in an edge that would become his signature moody sound for years to come. In songs like ‘Alone Together’, Davis mixes sorrow and nostalgia with his masterful touch.
While Davis’s trumpet playing is the true shining star of the record, he also collaborated with Charles Mingus (whose record label Debut Records it was released on) on bass, Britt Woodman on trombone, Teddy Charles on vibraphone, and Elvin Jones on drums.
It’s some of his most arresting work and charged with complete emotion.
9. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence (2014)
Lana Del Rey’s third studio album proved to trade her pop princess image, favouring a new vision of a dark monochromatic anti-heroine. Working with The Black Keys member Dan Auerbach, Del Rey crafted a jazz-infused, Lou Reed-Esque album, equally dark in tone and subject matter.
Speaking in an interview shortly after the album’s release, she shocked the interviewer by stating, ”I wish I was dead already.” It provoked an outpouring of controversy but underlined the message of the record.
With reoccurring themes such as abandonment, misery, and heartbreak explored in tracks like ‘Sad Girl’ and ‘Pretty When You Cry,’ it isn’t one to lift your spirits. Seeing the state of mind she was in during that era, it’s no surprise why Ultraviolence turned out so grim.
8. Joy Division – Closer (1980)
Released two months after the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis, Closer is now associated with tragedy, and as a result, forever remembered as a devastating piece of art.
When recalling Curtis’s state of mind during the albums recording, Joy Divison’s lead guitarist, Bernard Sumner, mentioned that “He [Curtis] had this terrible claustrophobic feeling that he was in a whirlpool and being pulled down, drowning.”
The use of moody synth creates an almost claustrophobic atmosphere underneath melancholy lyrics certainly reflects Curtis’s state of mind. But despite the sadness surrounding it, Closer became a pioneering force in the post-punk era.
7. Nirvana – In Utero (1993)
In the third and final studio album released by Nirvana, the band ditched the polished pop-adjacent sound they achieved in Nevermind and opted for a more natural feel that would showcase the emotional rawness of Cobain’s lyrics— but the lyrics were far from soothing.
Cobain tragically passed away from suicide only seven months after its release, which gives an insight into the masterful lyrics that showcase his possible emotional state during the album’s recording.
It’s one of the most poignant records released in that decade and still breaks our hearts when we drop the needle. Written by a man dealing with serious pain, it’s no surprise it can still make us weep.
6. Lou Reed – Berlin (1973)
Coming off the back of his glam rocking release Transformer, which revived his career and sent him into newfound commercial stardom, Lou Reed’s 1973 release Berlin seemed to flip his cheery discography on its head.
The concept album showcases heavy themes such as abuse, addiction, and depression, and was initially received poorly by the public. But over the years, it’s gained a new appreciation for its brutally honest depiction of the culture’s underbelly.
There’s something heartbreaking about hearing Reed’s descent into depravity, one that he was more than happy to push along. The singer struggled throughout his life to come to terms with himself and this album reeks of the desperation for contentment.
5. Billie Holiday – Lady Sings The Blues (1956)
Released simultaneously with her ghostwritten autobiography of the same name, Billie Holiday’s Lady Sings The Blues seemed to encapsulate her heartbreaking account of struggle— mentally, physically, and racially.
The album’s content was taken from taped session recordings from 1954 to 1956, where she was backed by tenor saxophonist Paul Quinichette, trumpeter Charlie Shavers, pianist Wynton Kelly, and guitarist Kenny Burrell.
Heavily addicted to heroin and trying to come to terms with her childhood traumas, Holiday sings with an unbelievable rawness, which is at its prime in the album.
4. Joni Mitchell – Blue (1971)
No album has so fittingly represented its title better than Joni Mitchell’s 1971 release. Submerged in blue on the cover, Mitchell’s lyrics are equally so as she sings of loss and heartbreak.
Despite being recorded in sunny California, where Mitchell was spending time with friends and contemporaries like David Crosby and Graham Nash, it seems she was living in a much darker place emotionally.
“The Blue album, there’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals,” reflected Mitchell in a 1979 interview. “At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either.”
Poised and poignant, it’s easily one of Joni Mitchell’s best albums and certainly her saddest.
3. Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994)
For a debut studio album release, Jeff Buckley’s Grace appeared to be the moodiest of his work to date. But from its dreaminess and sorrow came a trailblazing album that almost defied genre, prioritising the music’s ambience and feel above all.
Despite its poor initial sales and reception, Grace has become critically acclaimed, with Jimmy Page deeming it his “favourite album of the decade” and David Bowie calling it the one album he would take to a desert island.
Buckley’s unexpected drowning in the Mississippi River three years later only adds to the intoxicating allure and unbelievable sadness of the singer’s only studio release.
2. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (2015)
Inspired by the 2012 death of his mother, Carrie, while also referring to her second husband Lowell Brahms, Stevens created an unbelievably raw depiction of grief in Carrie and Lowell. On the record, he comes to terms with his mother’s mental health issues and his own abandonment. It’s pure heartbreak in every note.
Stevens later recalled that during the process of creating the album: “I was recording songs as a means of grieving, making sense of it. But the writing and recording wasn’t the salve I expected. I fell deeper and deeper into doubt and misery. It was a year of real darkness. In the past my work had a real reciprocity of resources—I would put something in and get something from it. But not this time.”
There are few albums that are capable of leaving whoever hears it in tears, but this album is certainly one of those rare gems.
1. Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)
In contrast to his previous album, for Pink Moon, Nick Drake wanted to strip down his sound and get back to the basics. Using only acoustic guitar and a brief piano riff overdubbed onto the title track, Drake recorded the entirety of the album in only two late-night sessions at London’s Sound Technique Studios.
Drake would die tragically only two years later at the young age of 26 and knowing what we know about his battle with depression, the raw lyrics and simple composition hit even harder, making it arguably the saddest album of all time.
Pure in its poignancy, the album deserves all your attention and a truly active listener.
We’ve got the ten saddest albums of all time for you in one handy playlist, below: