What Do You Listen To When You’re Sad?

Today is Blue Monday, a junk science ‘theory’ plugged by PR companies to sell garlic bread and budget flights. It decrees we’re at our most miserable towards the end of January because it’s dark, cold and cash is low. It’s a ridiculous construct – but it does trigger an interesting discussion that throws into sharp relief the mystery of music.


What do you listen to when you’re sad? A song that makes me feel better could lower your mood even further. One that recalibrates you back to normal might have absolutely no transformative power on me. Perhaps a song contains a lyric that speaks to your situation and stops you feeling so alone, or a key change or bridge evokes nostalgia. Perhaps choosing music you listened to as a child mimics a feeling of safety. Or hearing ‘We Are Your Friends’ reminds you of a euphoric night out. But, really, we have no idea why music creates different emotional reactions in our brains.

When the blues descend, some of you will head for the Beach Boys or ‘Walking On Sunshine’. Others may choose songs that match your mood, such as ‘Everybody Hurts’, ‘On My Own’ or ‘Hurt’. If I’m feeling gloomy, songs that are gentle, familiar and old, without any disturbing associations, usually do the trick. Upbeat songs only grate, so I’ll go for Al Green, John Martyn, Elbow, or, more recently, Chilly Gonzales’ ‘Solo Piano II’.

We asked a few musicians what they’d listen to to cheer themselves up.

Jehnny Beth, Savages

I’d listen to Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Why D’ya Do It?’ It’s extremely rude. I’m obsessed with it. It’s this sort of punk reggae song from ‘Broken English’ and it’s really aggressive. It reminds me of a Gainsbourg song from his reggae period, when he used to sing with the Wailers and stuff. It’s a song called ‘Lola Rastaquouère’ from his ‘Aux Arms Et Cætera’ album. That’s a rude song as well, they both definitely cheer me up.


Taigen Kawabe, Bo Ningen

I can’t choose one song but I listen to this Japanese music called Idol music. It’s really hyped up and extreme. I used to hate that kind of pop music when I lived in Japan. Since I moved away, I’ve discovered it’s actually really different to other music cultures, especially in the States and the UK and it’s changed my point of view. When I feel sad, I put some Idol music on and it cheers me up.

Brett Anderson

I don’t really cheer myself up, but when I’m feeling like I just need to go somewhere else in my head, I always put Brian Eno’s ‘1/1’ from ‘Music For Airports’. When life’s getting too much for me, it takes me somewhere else. I wouldn’t say it cheers me up, but it’s incredibly beautiful and allows me to drift off to another place – you can almost be a different being. I love the piano playing on it, it’s so simple and melodic. I’m always bumping into Brian Eno – he lives quite close to me – and we always have a nice chat, but I never quite tell him how much that song means to me. I always feel like blurting it out, like a silly little fan, but I never quite do so – I always hold it back and we talk about Hyde Park, or something. If I had to listen to just one piece of music for the rest of my life, then that would possibly be it.


Justin Young, The Vaccines
Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Right Down The Line’ would cheer me up – it’s the band’s feelgood song of the moment. It’s basically about singing to a woman who’s amazing and who’s helped Gerry Rafferty come out of the dark and into the light. It’s awesome.

Little Boots

Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’. I’ve always loved that album, I love her voice – she’s got the most amazing tone. It’s the opposite of the music that I make, and there’s something really peaceful about it. It’s got a mood about it that’s really thoughtful. It was my New Year’s morning hangover album; I was cleaning up the sorry remains of the night before to ‘River’.


What do you turn to? Let me know your suggestions. Listen to artist suggestions and Gavin Haynes’ playlist from this week’s NME below.