Depression… The songs that saved your life

"Don’t forget the songs that made you cry and the songs that saved your life
Yes, you’re older now, and you’re a clever swine, but they were the only ones who ever stood by you"

Morrissey summed it up very well in the Smiths song "Rubber Ring" (in which the title is a metaphor for a rubber ring you throw to someone in sea who is drowning ; music can save you when you are drowning in sadness, hence the title). In times of despair, when you’re feeling as if the world crashed down, or when you feel lost and without a trace to follow, music can be of crucial importance. Either because the songs express a sadness that sounds so familiar that it gives you the feeling you’re not alone with your emotional pain, or either because they have a strange uplifting feeling that injects new hope and courage directly into your veins.

I have unipolar depression. A nice scientific metaphor for what others would call "clinical depression", but that sounds so… well, depressing. It comes, it goes away again, but you know it will come back again too. For those who haven’t been there themselves or haven’t had a close relative or friend who has gone through it, it can be hard to imagine how it must be to just wake up with the feeling there’s nothing to look forward to, or to just feel terribly sad without even having a clear reason why. It just happens, and it is very unpleasant to deal with. Luckily there are some songs that can be better than any anti-depressant that the medication producers ever came up with. Here is a small selection of songs that have something strangely uplifting to me, and which I often play when I feel bad. They have been very helpful to me and managed to make me feel better quite often already.

Please note this is not a "positive hit parade". The songs are just numbered randomly. All of them have been very helpful to me, and it is not to be interpretated as a countdown like a hit parade. I sum up the songs in random order without wanting to state that one would be better than the other. They’ve all been very helpful to me so please don’t consider this to be a hit parade of any sort.

1) THE PRETENDERS – I’ll Stand By You

One thing that can be very important when you feel bad, is a person to assure you you’re not alone with your struggle, the shoulder to cry on. The Pretenders summed this feeling up in a beautiful way with this song. While the band is often described as punk or punkrock, this ballad is probably the best known song Chrissie Hynde and her band produced. And very justified so.

The first part of the song already has something soothing. "Oh, why you look so sad? Tears are in your eyes. Come on and come to me now. Don’t feel ashamed to cry. Let me see you through, ’cause I’ve seen the dark side too." It feels as if a friend is sitting next to you, telling you it’s OK to feel sad, and that things will get better.

The most powerful part to me is the second verse (the first one after the chorus):
"So if you’re mad, get mad. Don’t hold it all inside, come on and talk to me now.
But hey, what you got to hide? I get angry too, well I’m a lot like you"

That one is reaching right to your deepest emotions: it’s OK to cry, it’s OK to be afraid or to scream of despair ; you’re never alone with your pain. You can listen to this song multiple times, this verse never loses its strength.

The chorus also spreads the same message: you don’t have to go through this alone. "I’ll stand by you, take me in into your darkest hour, and I’ll never desert you". Simple yet very powerful. A song that I’m sure has been a lifesaver to many.


Northern Irish/Scottish band Snow Patrol can claim this is their ultimate breakthrough single, the song that launched them into stardom and made them one of the UK’s biggest musical acts. But also one of their most lyrically strong songs.

"I sing it one last time for you, then we really have to go.
You’ve been the only thing that’s right in all I’ve done.
And I can barely look at you, but every single time I do
I know we’ll make it anywhere away from here"

There’s already something uplifting in that alone, but the power of this song is in its chorus.
"Light up, light up, as if you have a choice…
Even if you cannot hear my voice, I’ll be right beside you dear…"
Again, power in all its simplicity. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be complex to be powerful.

The chorus is completed with two more lines that, in each repetition of the chorus, change. The best one is saved for last:
"Have heart, my dear. We’re bound to be afraid.
Even if it’s just for a few days, making up for all this mess"

Soothing and hopeful. The promo video of this song also doesn’t exactly shine in its complexity but there is simply no need for that. At the moment the words "Light up" are said, you see the band in the dark shining flares. Simple but it works somehow.

The song was written by vocalist Gary Lightbody as a message of hope to… himself. He was going through some very rough times, even ended up in hospital. When his family visited and he realised the mess he was in, he wrote this song as a message of courage to himself. Very likely not many people realised that this was written to himself, but in interviews he has said to be very comfortable with people giving their own interpretation to the song. For a while he even did not mention the backgrounds of the song in order not to take away illusions from the listeners. I’m quite sure that after the confession, the song has kept its emotional strength for anyone that loved it prior to hearing the story behind the song.

3) THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO – I’ll be Your Mirror

From the legendary album with the banana on the sleeve (thank you, Andy Warhol!) this ballad brings us vocalist Nico (for all clarity: this is the female vocalist of the band at that time) singing a slightly psychedelic ballad which could just as well be the perfect lullaby to sing to someone who has a low self-esteem for no reason whatsoever:

"I find it hard to believe you don’t know the beauty you are
But if you don’t, let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won’t be afraid

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you’re twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands, ’cause I see YOU"

Combine this with the beautifully healing music and the warm vocals of Nico, and it would be very strange if this does not lift you up. And saying we may just as well never have heard this beautiful music… It took a lot of attempts to do the vocal part and went wrong each time. When Lou Reed told Nico to give it one last attempt and if it didn’t work they’d just forget about recording the song, she did it just perfectly. Thank you, Nico!

4) INDOCHINE – Comateen I

A song from the album "Paradize", which was released not long after the death of former band member Stephane Sirkis, brother of lead vocalist Nicola Sirkis. The album was a drastical change to the Indochine lyrics. No more stories about androgynous adventurers or mala fide tzars, but an album about the meaning of life, the meaning of death, and losing your believes. This song is about a girl who got into a coma after an overdose of drugs (notice the Sirkis-slang line "Tu seras tombée dans les crystals" in which crystals is a metaphor for white powder aka drugs) ; the vocalist in this song sits next to her while she is fighting for her life. Sounds sombre…

The power of this song is however the chorus, which is one big message of hope so strong that is overpowers all sadness in the song and –despite the subject of the song– makes you remember mainly that message of hope. Nicola, in a guitar-driven chorus, sings with very warm vocals how he will always be proud of her, no matter what. Amazingly powerful in a song about this specific subject.

"Et moi, je suis fier de toi
Oui moi, je suis fier de toi
Et de tous ce que tu vas faire, même de rien d’extraordinaire
Et bientôt tu verras, et bientôt tu sauras
que personne ne te remplacera
Montre-moi quand tu reviendras"

Translated from French (but losing its poetic undertone):
"And I am proud of you
Yes I am proud of you
And of all that you will do, even the least extraordinary thing
And soon enough you will see
Soon enough you will know
that nobody can ever replace you
Show me when you come back again" (or in this context: when you wake up again)

5) EELS – PS You Rock My World

Has been described earlier in my blog but it just cannot be missing in this article. An album about death and decay, in which vocalist E tried to come into terms with the suicide of his sister Elizabeth and death of his mother, is closed with a statement of hope. A song that shows the recovery has begun, and that there is always something to live for. The vocalist, after an album full of songs about decay, finds renewed pleasure in even the simplest things in life, such as a woman mistaking him for a garage employee who should fix her car. The album closes with the line "Maybe it’s time to live". That one line makes you forget all the sadness that came before this song. A masterpiece, and even that is in fact an understatement.

Here are some of the most powerful lines from the song:
"I was at a funeral the day I realised I wanted to spend my life with you
Sitting down on the steps at the old post office, the flag was flying at half mast
And I was thinking about how everyone is dying
Maybe it’s time to live…"

"Laying in bed tonight I was thinking, and lisning to all the dogs
and the sirens and the shots
And how a careful man tries to dodge the bullets
While a happy man takes a walk
And maybe it’s time to live…"

6) AMANDA MARSHALL – Believe in You

The title sums it up quite well. Obviously the song would not be as powerful if it wasn’t for the fact that there are a lot of poetic lines in it, such as "Somewhere there’s a river, looking for a stream / Somewhere there’s a dreamer, looking for a dream". But the power and core of the song are summed up in this line : "And everybody’s listening, ’cause we all need to hear… I believe in you."

7) SOPHIA – Something // If a Change is gonna come

Robin Proper-Sheppard has never been known as a happy soul. A lot of his songs, both when still in The God Machine and when being the sole permanent member of Sophia, deal with subjects such as isolation, loneliness, despair, depression. However, there is a lot of hopeful lines in his music if you just listen carefully enough.

"Something", a duet with Astrid Williamson, is a dialogue between Robin lamenting how much of a mess he is, and Astrid trying to convince him he is a beautiful person. The core part is this:

Robin: "Sometimes I feel so stupid"
Astrid: "What’s stupid?"
Robin: "Or ugly" (Astrid: "Or ugly?")
Robin: "and I wonder how you could love me"
Astrid: "But I love you"
Robin: "Cause I’m a f*ck-up and a nightmare"
Astrid: "No you’re a dreamer, I can see a light there"

Especially that last line can save lives. Because aren’t we all dreamers to some extent? Don’t we all have that dream to chase?

Another Sophia song that can be equally uplifting is however very different in approach: "If a change is gonna come" uses no ballad-like strings but heavy distorted guitars while Robin shouts out how you better not waste time thinking about the bad things, but just take them as it comes and move on:

"To think is good but to know is best
And there’s no time, no time to rest
Cause life’s a b*tch yeah, and then you die
And it’s too short to wonder why
It’s just a b*tch yeah, and then you die
Don’t waste your time wondering why"

Uplifting both because of the energy in the sound and the words in the chorus. It is indeed clear and simple: don’t waste time looking back on the bad moments, but just leave them behind and move on.

Other uplifting material from Sophia is the song "Portugal" with the core line "I decided that I’m gonna be a better person – no it’s never too late to change"

8) VNV NATION – Standing

That last line brings us to the motto of this band. VNV stands for "Victory, Not Vengeance" and means we should look forward with expectation rather than to look back with regrets.

The song "Standing" has taken me back very often to my time spent in Turkey. If there is one moment that I treasure it was one night by the shores of the Bosphorus. Looking out over the sea with the shadow of a beautiful mosque on the other side, just listening to the waves and let the warm sun swamp me. It was one of those rare moments when it all felt like things were falling into place.

"It wasn’t you, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t anything
It was a day so long awake and a chance to be as me
I let the wind run through my hands before I turn to walk away
In distant days I long to sense it all so clear

And fighting time so hard I pray to let this moment last forever
And will the world stay standing still at least for me?
Through my eyes stare into me, I bear (bare?) my heart for all to see
With my face turned to the sun, there am I standing still"

Whenever I hear this song, I remember Turkey. For sure a lot of people will have a blissful memory of their own when hearing this song. This song is pure poetry, synth-driven beauty.

9) THE CONNELLS – Darker Days

Maybe not such an expected choice, because in the early days of their career, The Connells had a quite dark and melancholic sound. Lyrically there was some mild gloom as well. Enough anyway for a local magazine to dub the band "Raleigh’s local depressants". Much to my disagreement, I must add. Darker Days (the song from the identically named debut album) has been discribed as melancholic and sad, and I don’t know why. To me it sounds uplifting and hopeful, telling the listener to leave those darker days behind and move on to better times.

"I can see the season for today
There’s no need to reason, I’d just run away
Oh, I have seen darker days… Oh I have seen darker days…
Darker days, the days you left behind
Don’t have to wait till tomorrow, it’s on my mind
Don’t have to wait till you come looking for me
Don’t have to wait on the sorrow, it’s on my mind"

Maybe except for the last line where I guess it’s up for interpretation, does this sound gloomy or sad? To me it sounds more like someone who decided to move on, and to leave his sadness behind. If you hear the song’s full-of-energy guitar-driven chorus, for sure this song is uplifting more than gloomy I’d say!

10) ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN – Evergreen

I’ll Fly Tonight, My Kingdom, … a few of the optimistic tracks the Bunnymen wrote. While the sad and anxious ones were the majority, especially in the early days of the band when they had a very angst-driven post punk sound, the Bunnymen did deliver some songs that inject some fresh energy in your veins. The song that makes that clear most of all must be "Evergreen". The title track of their comeback album contains this paragraph that always reminds me to not give up and keep desire alive and kicking:

"I know I never gonna learn, but fingers fit to burn
and you can’t let the fire die
Keep it flaming your desire, always rising higher
Aim for stars and hit the sky"

"Aim for stars and hit the sky". A motto to live by.

11) PLACEBO – Slave To The Wage

Written as a retrospective look on vocalist Brian Molko’s unhappy days as a teenager in Luxembourg, the song was actually a message to all businessmen in Luxembourg, telling there’s more to life than making career and money. But when listening to this very uplifting tune, there are some words in there that should be remembered by anyone, no matter where from or no matter what’s their background.

"Run away from all your boredom, run away from all your whoredom and wave
your worries and cares goodbye
All it takes is 1 decision, a lot of guts, a little vision to wave your worries and cares goodbye"

12) ORPHANED LAND – Sapari

The last track in my list is maybe an unexpected choice. After all, Orphaned Land is a heavy metal band full of Middle Eastern sounds, with lot of songs that directly or indirectly reflect the politically shattered background of their native Israel and Middle Eastern region. But then, a band trying to bring people of different cultures together, spreading a message of peace and mutual respect, is hopeful in itself, especially when you see they very much succeed in that goal.

The song Sapari is based on an ancient Yemenite poem. Orphaned Land built a very energetic metal song around this poem, a song in which the struggles of the poet are the main theme. The song is mostly in Yemenite dialect of Hebrew, but there is a small portion added in English which to me symbolises breaking out of a cage (which you can interpretate, if you wish, as the cage of your own sorrows), spreading your wings and fly free.

"It soared from the arc, the dove within me
Sings forever in my dreams
Call to Thee, my torch in darkness
Thou art born
Ornaments of gold shine so bright
You are the way, you are the light
I dwell in this, my shelter, and Thy birth do I foresee"

Combine this with the energetic guitars that reach a climax during this part of the song, and it becomes very uplifting. Like an injection of fresh courage and energy that no energy drink (a very controversial multinational with an unlikely coloured bull suddenly crosses my thoughts) could ever approach.


About thepathslesstravelled

An Aspie who has had a lifelong fascination with travelling, discovering new cultures and discovering new ways of life, and with a strange attraction to the less known and often forgotten places in the world. And very obsessed with sports and music.
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